15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

BE NOT AFRAID! We sang those words just a few minutes ago. At least some of us did. Some of us just listened. Some of us are afraid to sing. It’s kind of ironic that we might be afraid to sing “be not afraid”. I guess it’s just part of being human.

In spite of the song, sometimes fear is a good thing. If you’re afraid of heights, you might avoid a dangerous situation. If you never stand on the edge of a cliff, you’re never going to fall off. If you’re afraid of snakes, you might avoid getting bitten. They say that most people are more afraid of doing what I’m doing now—speaking to a crowd, than they are of dying. I can relate. You notice that I never let go of this ambo. I never separate myself from my notes. If you start to throw things, I can duck down behind this thing. Yes, you are an intimidating bunch. It’s a little scary to be up here.

In today’s Gospel, Mark tells us the story of Jesus sending the Apostles to spread the Good News. Basically He sends them out empty handed. All they can take is a walking stick and sandals. They couldn’t take food or money. They would have to depend on strangers for their meals and their shelter.

At least they didn’t have to go out alone. He sent them in pairs. Still, it must have been scary for them. Put yourself in their place. Ever since they met Jesus they’ve been like rock stars; or at least like roadies. They’ve traveled with the Master. They’ve basked in the reflected glory of the Son of God. Now, all of a sudden, they’re on they’re own. They’re going to preach what Jesus has taught them. He did give them power over unclean spirits and to heal the sick. But still, it had to be easier to be with Jesus than to go out and claim they had Jesus’ authority. They did drive out demons and they did cure the sick. But it had to be very hard to approach that first town.

“Hi, I’m James. This is my brother, John. Jesus sent us here. You know Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. He sent us to preach the Good News and to drive out demons. Do you have any demons in there? we can help you out. Is anybody here sick. We can heal them. Oh, by the way, could you feed us and put us up for the night?”

Obviously, Jesus knew that they wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed with open arms. Remember, He told them that if a place didn’t welcome them and listen to them, they should leave and shake the dust off their sandals in testimony against them. The only easy thing Jesus told them was when they entered a house they should “stay there until you leave”. I think we could all handle that.

See, the Apostles knew the scriptures, which at that time meant the Old Testament. They were familiar with our first reading today from the prophet Amos. Amos was prophesying in Bethel. Amaziah, a local priest told him to get lost. “Go preach in Judah!” he said. “Leave here and don’t come back!” Amos answered that he had been sent by the Lord to prophesy to His people, Israel. But he did have to leave Bethel. Amos had been a shepherd but the Lord sent him to Bethel, just like Jesus sent the Apostles. That story had to be in the Apostles’ minds as they headed out on their mission. This was scary stuff.

But the Apostles had something that Amos didn’t have. They had each other; they had strength in numbers. Even today, some of our protestant brothers and sisters, particularly the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are known for their door-to-door ministry, travel in pairs. We Catholics aren’t so good at that type of evangelization, but when we do it, we do it in teams. It’s much safer that way.

This Christian faith of ours is all about relationships; our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. If you read the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve, God saw that everything He’d created was good; except Adam. He realized right away that Adam needed a companion and so He created Eve. Some very holy people are comfortable living as hermits but most of us need companionship.

The noblest thing we can do as human beings is to help one another get to heaven. That’s why we meet once a week in this church, to listen to the Word of God and to share a meal-a very special meal-the Body and Blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ. At one time hundreds of Catholics gathered in this house of God to do just that. But times change. Demographics change. People move away. Today we can measure our attendance in dozens rather than hundreds.

Our call is to help one another to gain eternal life. We’re called to bring new people to Christ; either people who don’t know Him, or people who have forgotten about Him. Like the Apostles in today’s Gospel, we’re Jesus’ mission team. Because of our location, our ethnicity, and our historic church, we get a lot of visitors. Are there any visitors here today? If any of you regulars see an unfamiliar face, please take a minute and say “hello”. Make them feel welcome. Make them want to come back. The last thing we want is for them to leave, knock the dust off their sandals, and never return.

Archbishop Carlson has asked us to be “welcoming, hospitable, and committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.” That’s what Amos the prophet did. That’s what the Apostles did. That’s what Jesus did. Should we do any less?

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