May 17, 2020 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 8:5-17 / 1 Peter 3:15-18 / John 14:15-21
I will be delivering the following homily during our live-stream Mass at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis this morning.
The current health crisis has temporarily eliminated sports from our lives, so my objective this morning is to kill two birds with one stone. I will offer a homily using a sports analogy. If you don’t care about sports, you still have the message of the homily to fall back on. If you don’t care for the message of the homily, at least you’ll get your sports fix. If you don’t like sports or my message, Fr. Jim will be preaching next week.
We love it when a plan comes to fruition. First, we set a goal for what we would like to accomplish – we start with the end in mind. Then we draw up a plan for how to accomplish it. We ask critical questions: What are the potential obstacles? Where can we get the help we need to overcome those obstacles? Finally, we execute our plan and assess the results.
In order to pull off my sports analogy, I will be pretending I know how to coach basketball.
There are six seconds left in the game and my team is down by one point.
Start with the end in mind: We need two points for a win.
Draw up a plan for how to accomplish it: During a timeout, with each player hanging on my every word, I draw up a play on my little whiteboard. Tommy inbounds the ball to Aaron. Aaron makes a quick dribble move toward the basket, fakes a shot, and dishes the ball to Steve in the corner. The corner is Steve’s never-miss spot. The play is designed to make a quick basket to win the game, or at the very least, Aaron or Steve draws a foul and we have a chance to make some free throws for the win.
What are the obstacles? Aaron doesn’t handle defensive pressure all that well.
Where can we get help? On the whiteboard, I draw Bruiser, our big guy, moving over to set a screen to relieve the pressure and give Aaron the space he needs to make his initial move to the basket.
Assess the results: In my imaginary world where I’m a basketball coach, the play is executed flawlessly, Steve sinks the shot from the corner, we win the game, and the victorious players carry me off on their shoulders.
In reality, if I was actually a basketball coach, it would probably go something like this:
Same scenario. The goal and the play I draw up remain the same. However, each player is not “hanging on my every word.” As a matter of fact, Bruiser, pretty important to the play I’ve just drawn up, is completely zoned out as he checks out the length of the line at the concession stand.
Tommy inbounds the ball to Aaron, who, as suspected, cannot handle the defensive pressure. Bruiser has no clue he is supposed to set a screen and offers no assistance. In his effort to dribble away from the pressure, Aaron trips over his untied shoelace and the ball rolls harmlessly down the court as the horn sounds to end the game. Meanwhile, Steve stands wide open in the corner.
I am not carried off on the shoulders of my victorious players. I am, however, accosted by two angry dads telling me I know nothing about basketball – which is true.
Let’s bring in scripture: The three readings we are offered today draw up a plan for us, and they walk us through the steps of executing that plan.
The readings begin by setting a goal for what we would like to accomplish; they start with the end in mind. What is that goal? In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the people of Samaria are the beneficiaries of the proclaimed gospel. They accept the message of Jesus Christ into their hearts. Many people were cured of diseases and hardship. We are told, “There was great joy in that city.”
That is our goal as Christians, that is the end we have in mind: Great joy. Great joy among us, great joy in our city – the church. And of course, great joy in heaven.
We need a plan. How do we accomplish our goal of great joy? First, and very important to the success of the plan, we heard that the people of Samaria, “with one accord…paid attention to what was said.”
If we want to experience great joy, as a faith community we need to be on the same page. We need to be of one accord. We need to work together toward our shared goal.
We know our goal. What is the plan?
We heard the plan in the second reading. In Peter’s letter, he wrote, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence…”
We are called to be active and engaged believers. To sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts means making Jesus feel at home in our hearts, welcoming him in. Further, we need to speak on his behalf. We need to be willing to defend our faith, to explain to others why we have welcomed Jesus into our hearts.
Now, like the play I drew up in our imaginary basketball game, it is important to consider the potential obstacles to our plan.
Perhaps we are the obstacle. We don’t feel worthy to invite Jesus into our hearts. Or we lack the necessary courage to speak to others on his behalf. We are comfortable owning our faith, but not sharing it with others. However, as disciples, it is our responsibility to do both: To invite Christ into our hearts and to share our love of Christ with others. That is the plan.
What is the answer to overcoming this obstacle? Who is the “Bruiser” that we call on to help us be successful?
John’s gospel offers us the answer. Jesus said to his disciples, “I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…I will not leave you orphans.”
That Advocate, that gift the disciples ultimately received, was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our Bruiser. He is the answer to overcoming our obstacles. The Holy Spirit gives us courage; the Holy Spirit gives us our voice. We will not be left to fend for ourselves; we will not be left as orphans.
Jesus has called us together in the huddle. Our goal is great joy. We all lean forward and hang on his every word; we are of one accord. Jesus draws up a plan that includes welcoming him into our hearts and sharing our faith with others. Sensing our doubt, he promises help. He promises to share with us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus has laid out the plan for us. Now, we simply need to execute the plan and earn our great joy.