5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 6:1-7, Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19, 1 Pt 2:4-9, Jn 14:1-12
Three questions about Faith.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles today describes how the first seven Deacons were called to serve the Church. Because I am a Deacon, this reading is especially precious to me.
Three Questions, Three Symbols and Three Deacons
To help us dig into these readings I want to propose three questions on our faith, three symbols that illustrate faith and three deacons who lived as witnesses to our faith. The three questions are; “Are you and I men and women filled with Faith and the Holy Spirit”, “Do we have faith in God?” and “Do we have faith in Christ?” The three symbols of faith are; Faith is a fire, Faith is a coral reef and Faith is a Bridge. Finally the three Deacons are St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Phillip.
Is our Faith on Fire? Does it illuminate, attract and purify?
Fire is such a wonderful symbol for faith because it has three characteristics that are true of both fire and faith. Faith that is on fire illuminates our lives – it helps us to know where God is leading us. Faith that is on fire draws others to bask in its light – they come to us for advice and to know what to do. Faith that is on fire purifies us and leads us to holiness.
Francis rebuild my Church
St. Francis of Assisi lived in Italy in the twelfth century. When he was in his twenties he had three goals in life – wine, women and song. These are not bad things when pursued in balance, but Francis pursued them recklessly! One day he stopped by a ruined field chapel to pray before the crucifix, and Jesus touched his heart with his love. “Francis,” he said, “rebuild my church which you see is falling down around you.” This encounter with the risen Christ transformed his life. His faith was set on fire and he let the world know about it by telling everyone he met about the magnificence of God’s love.
Instead of chasing after wine, St. Francis fell in love with Christ in the Eucharist, where he encountered Jesus, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Instead of chasing after women, St. Francis fell in love with Lady Poverty because he learned that chasing after wealth did not fill him with happiness. Francis discovered that true friendship with God is both satisfying and eternal. Francis did continue to sing, but his songs were filled with the mercy that God had shown him.
Francis’ faith is a beacon of the middle ages. His conversion was so profound that even today, eight hundred years after his death people are still drawn to his radical way of simply living the Gospel.
Fire fascinates – It draws others to take advantage of its light
When we live out our lives of faith others are drawn to stand in the light. As Francis lived out his faith men and women came to join him because he was a guidepost for them. His faith helped them to know how to live a life full of love for God. Is our faith attractive? Does our faith witness a holy life to those who live with us?
Fire purifies – Faith purifies us.
The third characteristic of both faith and fire is that it purifies. One of the consequences of being able to see is that we can tell right from wrong, good from evil. Does our faith illuminate the actions of our lives that are sinful and impure? Does our faith show us where we need to repent and change so that we can grow in holiness?
Is our faith like fire?
Francis’ faith let him see the ugliness of his own sin and so he led a life of profound repentance. He was renowned for his fasting, his humility and his great desire that everyone to live in peace and in the love of God. Francis was able to allow his faith to lead him to conversion. Is our faith purifying us? Are we allowing it to lead us to conversion?
St. Ephrem the Syrian
Another Deacon who had profound faith in God was St. Ephrem the Syrian. Ephrem lived in the fourth century in northern western Syria near the border with Iraq. He was ordained a Deacon and spent the first fifty years of his life teaching. The Persians besieged his hometown time after time until they finally succeeded in capturing it. St. Ephrem was exiled along with the entire Christian community and so as a refugee he finally settled in the town of Edessa, a place filled with pagan and heretical cults. For the last ten years of his life he helped to establish a school where he wrote songs praising God and taught Christianity until his death in three hundred and seventy three AD.
St. Ephrem was like a coral reef in the ocean
The image of faith that St. Ephrem brings to mind is that of a coral reef. Coral reefs grow up in barren patches of the ocean and they are filled with life. If you ever swum out over a reef, or watched Jacques Cousteau on television you know that reefs are full of life and splendor. At the same time when the seas are stormy, the reefs protect the creatures living on them from the violence of the storms.
St. Ephrem was like a coral reef for his church. At times of peace, his faith brought abundant life to his community. Similarly, when storms struck his faith was a safe harbor for them, as he helped his people to find shelter and safety.
We too can have reef-like faith
Here too at St. Anthony’s we have people who have reef-like faith. How we sit in the Church is a bit like reefs in the sea. If you are a regular here, you know where the reefs of faith are in our congregation. Look around and see those men and women of our parish whose faith is anchored in God. When our faith is anchored in God it inspires our families and friends. One of the blessings of my ministry as a Deacon is to witness your faith, watching it blossom as your love for God grows and you become holy.
Faith is like a Bridge
In the Gospel today Jesus says “Have faith in God, have faith in me also”. Jesus came to reveal the love of the Father to the world. Jesus would not allow any barrier stand in his way, not even death. As Christians we are called to bridge the gap between God and man by imitating Christ.
Deacon St. Phillip – Cross-Cultural Bridge
The first Deacons were called to heal the divisions of a bi-cultural church. Phillip was a Greek, and he lived in Jerusalem where there was division and injustice between the Greek and Jewish Christians. He was ordained a Deacon to bridge that gap between the communities. At St. Anthony’s we have a bi-cultural community, and all of us are called to imitate Christ and seek ways to bridge the gaps between the Spanish and English communities. How does our faith help us to do this? It allows us to see first that we are children of the same God, rather than seeing where we were born or what language we speak.
St. Phillip and the Ethiopian
Later in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Phillip encountered an Ethiopian Jew who was reading scripture and not understanding it. Phillip reached by explaining his faith in Christ to his new-found Ethiopian friend. Phillip did not worry about the cultural norms, he reached out and shared his faith, and the Ethiopian was baptized. This is one of the earliest accounts of how the faith came to Africa.
In the Gospel today Jesus declares that He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”. As his disciples we are called to shape our lives by imitating him. We too are called to be bridges of faith, signs of Gods love in our own communities, in our families, our jobs, our schools and with our friends.
Let your faith be fire, a reef and a bridge
Where this week will we let the fire of our faith shine with the love of God?
Where this week will we provide shelter for those who are battered by the storms of life?
Where this week will we build bridges to meet those in need of true relationship with God?