Sunday Homiles- Fr. Luke Uebler
“God chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption…” words from our 2nd reading today from the 1st chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give you his peace and his joy.
In that second reading today from the Ephesians, St. Paul explains that we who are believers are not chosen because we are holy and without blemish, but we are called and chosen according to God’s plan that, when all is said and done, we might become holy and blameless. On this side of eternity, no one has made it yet; we’re all journeying; we are all in the process of becoming holy; each of us is a work in progress, still figuring it out and still learning how to live out God’s calling every day. Indeed, disciples are those called by God to follow the footsteps of Jesus, to learn and grow and become as holy as Christ. We are all disciples here.
Before the twelve disciples provided the apostolic foundations of our church and became the venerated saints they are today, they too had to figure out what God was asking them to do. In the Gospel today, we get a flashback of their lives, when they were first being sent off to do ministry. They weren’t experts, they were fisherman and tax collectors; this was their first experience of going out to do God’s work. The same could be said of Amos of our first reading today, who was a caretaker of sycamore trees before his journey led him to report for his first day of work as a prophet to the Kingdom of Israel. All of us have to start somewhere.
Do we remember our first day of work, or school, or first date, or embarking on some new endeavor in our life’s journey? We were probably a little nervous, unsure of ourselves or how things were going to work out. We probably didn’t know many people there. Perhaps, we were a little excited too, saying to ourselves, ‘this just may turn out to be the opportunity I’ve been waiting for.’ I imagine Fr. Ryan is feeling a lot of these things. As for myself, I feel like God had been preparing me all my life for these years ahead with you here and I’m still looking forward to it. And yet there is so much that I have learned since, from being here with all of you just these few months. As you know, some of the best learning comes from rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty. Whether you are a medical coder, accounting technician, aircraft mechanic, or a computer programmer, on-the-job training and practical experience are essential tools in building a skilled workforce. We learn from experience; we learn by doing. Jesus recognizes this too, and that is why he calls together a band of disciples – quite literally, disciples are those apprentices who are learning a trade – and that is why he asked his disciples to go out and begin their internship, their practicums, their hands-on experience, and he asks the same of us disciples today.
As we go forth, he gives us practical guidance and insight on what it means to be a disciple and how to go about making this journey to become holy and blameless before God. Allow me to elaborate on his words: being a disciple involves companionship – we don’t undertake our journey alone but are sent out in pairs together. It’s important to remember that following Jesus is never a God and Me thing but a relationship primarily between God and Us. Here at St. Mary’s we need to accompany each other as we make our way towards heaven. Discipleship also involves complete dependence on God and simplicity of living. The disciples took no food or money or extra clothes. We too need to trust that God will provide for our every need. Our community has been blessed with many gifts and resources – we need to make sure that we don’t let our possessions possess us, but give to others as freely as we have received. This year, we exceeded our Catholic Charities goal by almost $40,000 – that is something we ought to be proud of. Thank you for being the grace of God to those in need and for answering their prayers. Interestingly, discipleship does involve wearing sandals and talking a walking stick. Perhaps, this should be interpreted as: the road is not going to be easy and may take a toll on us. Items like the walking sticks and proper footwear become necessary symbols of those things that help us continue to journey onward. Hopefully, you can find the supports that you need here at St. Mary’s to face your difficulties with courage. Indeed, the journey of discipleship always leads towards Jerusalem, towards the cross, but this is so that we might share in the resurrection and the joys of that heavenly Jerusalem destined for us. Discipleship involves being present to the people that we serve. We might not agree with everything people uphold and do, and some family situations and relationships we find ourselves in are indeed difficult, our parish family is no different… but if we no longer make ourselves available to each other and cut off the relationship, we remove Jesus’ presence from their midst entirely. At the same time, they do remain free to reject you or cast you and Jesus’ message aside, at which point, you may shake the dust from your sandals. Sometimes, it’s not easy to stay, but sometimes, it is also hard to let go. A disciple must be able to do both. Finally, our Gospel reveals how our discipleship involves authority to drive out demons and to cure others. It’s always good to reflect on how our ministry does in fact help others as our society has many evils it is wrestling with and we too stand in need of much healing. Disciples work here at St. Mary’s to be a force of good and God’s grace in the world. So, discipleship involves accompaniment, dependence on God, courage in difficulty, the ability to be present as well as to let go, and the responsibility to change the world for the better. And with these instructions, Jesus sends his disciples forth to put all these things they’ve learned into practice.
Now, the disciples in Mark’s Gospel are often portrayed as disappointments with plenty of room for growth: the disciples failed to pray and so had troubles in their ministry, they argued amongst themselves over who was the greatest, they abandoned Jesus in his hour of need, and so on. We are not always perfect disciples either, but we can take comfort that discipleship is a lifelong process and that Jesus is working with us to help us grow and develop much like he did with the disciples before us. It is noteworthy that the end result of the Gospel today is that Jesus’ disciples became moderately successful interns, as it were, driving out demons and curing the sick, helping many, many people. We too should rejoice when our discipleship makes manifest God’s holiness and grace. St. Mary’s is a place of discipleship, and as we learn and grow, there is much to celebrate here in accomplishing the great work Christ has chosen us for. Indeed, as we gather at this celebration of the Eucharist again today, we once more celebrate the greatest grace and blessing of all, that Jesus has become present to us and is himself working in our midst, so that like the disciples of old, us disciples might grow in our holiness and likewise follow in the footsteps of the master to the praise and glory of God.