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Homily (Feast of the Ascension – Year B)

Posted by frmac on May 23, 2009

This is the Feast of the Ascension, a day on which the apostles were about to have their image of God and God’s Kingdom challenged once again. They had heard over and over again that Jesus’ Kingdom was not of this world, but the idea was just too foreign to them for it to actually sink in. Even the challenge and scandal of the Crucifixion was not able to dislodge their long held hope and belief that God would bless them with worldly things.

Two thousands years later people are still hoping for rich worldly blessings from their Christian faith.. Here is a web excerpt  from ABC News – Barbara Walters on the show 20/20. Barbara lists her 10 most fascinating people for 2006. Her third choice is  Joel Osteen an Evangelical Minister.

       “He is rich, famous, handsome, and adored by millions of fans on television each week, but he’s not an actor. He’s an evangelical pastor from Houston named Joel Osteen.
      They call him "the smiling preacher," and Osteen has a lot to smile about. He’s the head of the largest church in America, the author of a best-selling book, and the religious leader for a following of faithful, often frenzied fans.
He’s achieved all that with an approach critics call "Christianity lite" — no sin, no suffering, no sacrifice, replacing fire and brimstone with a motivational message.
      Barbara Walters asked Osteen why that message strikes such a chord with people. "My message is that God is a good God," said Osteen. "And if we all … have the right attitude, he’ll take us places that we’ve never dreamed of."
Certainly Osteen is in a place he never dreamed of: Houston’s Lakewood Church collects more than $75 million a year. The congregation is so large that Osteen had to move his church into a former pro basketball arena.”

It is Osteen’s belief that God will make us rich, famous, etc. in this world, if we allow God into our lives and have the right motivation (dream God’s dream for us). Osteen is right to say that God is a good God, and to preach a message of hope, but I think he has distorted the Christian image of God and God’s will and dream for each of us. Bad things do happen to good people, even if they are properly motivated. In some ways the image of God Osteen portrays, reflects the image of God the Apostles had when they asked in our first reading  this Sunday. (Acts1:1-11) “Is this the time that you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” This question is posed after the Resurrection, at the time of the Ascension, but before Pentecost and the Sending of the Spirit. The question in some ways represents the belief that Jesus had come to make things good in this world, and the apostles being Jews were hoping that he would free them from the oppression of the Romans, and establish a glorious rich Jewish Kingdom in this world, even though he had told them that his Kingdom was not of this world.

As Fr. Jude Siciliano says this weekend in his homily:  “Ours is a narcissistic age in which we are encouraged to place ourselves first; our comfort, security, looks, possessions, etc..”It doesn’t take much of a stretch to project our narcissism onto our Christianity. Because of this we are tempted to practice our faith in the hope that God will see our efforts and then fulfill all our worldly dreams – and washing one another’s feet isn’t one of the dreams that we would normally put at the top of our list, and carrying a cross, ugh – well you know what I mean. Nothing wrong with positive thinking, having dreams, and using our God given talents. In fact God wants this for us, but there is far more to the Christian message and faith.

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension – a time in the church’s history where the apostles probably felt orphaned, as they gazed heavenward, and two angels suddenly appeared and challenged them: “…why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” How baffled and bewildered they must have felt as Jesus physically disappeared into the heavens.What were they to do now?

Well we all know that their bewilderment didn’t last long. Next Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost when they miraculously knew what to do next.

As we gather around the Altar this Sunday let us pray for one another in our own faith journeys, sufferings and bewilderments, and thankfully celebrate and worship the God who is always with us inspiring us in God’s ways – God’s love.

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