Four years ago on the Sunday after the 2016 election, our Pastor, Fr. Baker preached the following sermon. It will be in the pastor’s column for next week and we thought it important to feature it here as well.
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C - 2016
1. Thursday morning, I couldn’t sleep.
a. So I got up and took a walk through the early morning streets of Manhattan.
b. it had been years since I saw the city so early;
c. its spires and pinnacles, shining orange in the dawn against the deep blue sky.
2. I had forgotten how beautiful the city could be –
a. in the rat-race of life that is easy to do.
3. But cities have always been seen as beautiful.
4. As long as we have lived in them,
a. cities have been symbols of our best, our highest values and aspirations:
b. the Romans even had a word for it: Civilitas –
c. a way of speaking and thinking, acting and behaving
i. that reflected those highest aspirations. –
d. it is the word that gets handed down to us,
i. shorn of most of its meaning, as “civility”.
5. America has often been compared to a city –
a. Ronald Reagan repeatedly spoke of it that way at the start of his presidency in 1980, referring to America as a city whose residents “do not come as white or black, they are not Jews or Christians; conservatives or liberals; or democrats or republicans. They are Americans awed at what has gone before, proud of what for them is still a shining city set on a hill.”
6. Of course he did not think that image up,
a. He got it from our founding fathers;
b. who got it from Jesus,
i. when he spoke of his followers that as a shining city set on a hill
ii. in the Sermon on the Mount.
7. And of course Jesus did not think that image up –
a. it was as evident to him as New York’s shining spires and pinnacles are to us.
8. For the Jewish people Jerusalem was that shining city –
a. literally set on a hill called mount Zion.
b. It had few spires and pinnacles
c. but what it had standing above everything else was its temple.
9. this was not the first temple built by David and Solomon
a. This was the second temple, built after their return from exile in Babylon, it was a bigger temple, a better temple, covered with marble, and adorned with gold.
10. But of course It was, for It was God’s house –
a. the repository of the covenant God made with them;
b. the reminder of the just and fair laws God gave them;
c. a symbol of God’s presence in their midst.
11. And even though they were oppressed by the Roman Empire
a. That temple and the city around it on that hill was the embodiment of the hopes and dreams, the beliefs and aspirations of the people of Israel.
12. We hear today how pilgrims were marveling about how beautiful the temple was
a. when Jesus made the customary Aliyah or ascent to mount Zion at Passover.
13. Jesus however, was not just any pilgrim.
a. he had just arrived in Jerusalem surrounded by a crowd
i. who believed he was God’s chosen one,
ii. who would overthrow the Romans and restore the kingdom of David.
1. Of course he would ascend Mount Zion –
2. of course he would enter their beautiful temple;
iii. he was the realization of all that it symbolized.
14. Until he wasn’t. “You see this temple?” he said.
15. “The day is coming when not ONE of those beautiful stones will be left upon the other”.
16. Jesus’ prediction of the temple’s destruction
a. alienated the very people who hailed him as God’s chosen one.
17. It was one of the accusations hurled at him at his trial:
a. that the temple would be destroyed; or that he would destroy the temple himself – they couldn’t get their stories straight.
18. But of course they couldn’t - the idea was too unthinkable to comprehend.
a. Their beautiful temple torn down?
b. Their shining city destroyed? Impossible!
19. Except for the fact that it wasn’t.
a. Those signs which Jesus speaks of in this morning’s Gospel
b. which fill the fevered apocalyptic sermons
i. of so many televangelists as signs of the end of the world
ii. aren’t GOING to happen; they already DID.
20. In 70 AD the Romans finally had enough of their rebellious Jewish subjects and their shining city.
a. They entered Jerusalem,
b. burned the city
c. and tore the temple down stone by stone.
21. Mathew Mark, Luke and John all record Jesus’ prediction
a. of the destruction of their temple;
22. The people who heard these Gospels for the first time,
a. remembered that destruction; many of them probably witnessed it.
b. And this week, many in our nation know exactly how that felt.
23. For this past week we watched another temple destroyed;
a. another shining city burn to the ground.
24. For what else could the past eight years have been for many
a. than a shining city set on a hill,
25. a temple built, perhaps not of stones and mortar,
a. but of their dreams and aspirations, their highest hopes for our nation
b. Destroyed now by the defeat of their candidate?
26. In the days leading up to the election MANY OF YOU asked me, Father WHO ARE YOU GOING TO VOTE FOR?
a. Some earnestly seeking guidance,
i. trying to choose between candidates no Catholic could fully embrace;
b. others craftily trying to draw me into the yawning abyss our political landscape has become
i. by revealing whether I was “with her” and thus secretly pro-choice
ii. or wanted to “make America Great again” and thus publically pro-war
27. Those of you who asked know that I spoke of Pope Francis, who in his recent encyclical “On the Joy of Love” reminded us of the primacy of conscience in Catholic moral thought.
a. Vote your conscience I said; BUT VOTE.
b. However, I told you that, as a priest, I would not reveal who I would vote for.
c. But I think I have changed my mind. At the end of this homily, I will.
28. Because the question begs to be asked –
29. Why would the Evangelists remember such a tragic event as the destruction of their temple;
a. and place that remembrance so squarely upon the lips of Jesus?
30. To gloat, saying it proved Jesus was God?
31. To blame, saying it proved God had rejected the Jews?
a. No! They remember the destruction of temple NOT because it happened.
b. BUT BECAUSE IT ALWAYS DOES.
c. Sooner or later all our temples, shining like cities on hills, crumble and fall, taking with them the hopes and aspirations, the values and dreams of those who worshiped there.
32. The Evangelists record Jesus’ prediction not to gloat or blame but
33. because over time the first Christians began to realize something
a. Something, that is not recorded in this morning’s Gospel - but is elsewhere.
b. It reaches its fullest expression in the Gospel of John where Jesus says “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”
c. and John includes ‘But he was talking about the temple of his body’.
34. The hopes of Jesus’ followers that he would be their new King crumbled
35. when he predicted the temple’s destruction.
36. They died when his body, nailed to the cross as a lesson to them all, died.
37. Except their hopes didn’t. Die. Those first Christians soon began to speak of an event which transformed their lives and soon would transform the lives of millions of others.
a. OF how they had seen their dead friend Jesus.
b. Alive. How he had come to them. Comforted them in their pain. Wished them peace in their fear and told them to go out and BUILD a temple; a temple of living stones.
38. The Church was what they built; the risen body of Christ.
39. That is why they remembered the temple’s destruction –
a. not to gloat or blame; but to rejoice;
b. because God had built a temple for God’s people that could never be destroyed.
40. We are that temple built of living stones.
41. And yet strong though that temple is,
a. the events of the past week have left it badly shaken,
b. both in this country and this city.
42. I know that some of us here this morning watched in horror as their temple crashed and burned this past Tuesday and with it their hopes and values.
a. Their pain is overwhelming.
b. However, many have lashed out in their pain blaming the other party, themselves and their choice for candidate,
c. abandoning the one whom only a few days before they were supposedly “stronger together” with.
43. I know that some of us this morning are already preparing as another temple is built –
a. a temple with very different hopes and very different values.
b. Their joy is great
c. yet many gloat over the pain of others, rubbing the defeat of Hillary Clinton in their faces as if THAT was what makes America great again.
44. I know this because I have heard people’s comments. I have seen their Facebook posts; read their twitter feeds.
45. They have been so painful to me, so lacking in the civility that I, Jesus – and Ronald Reagan, for God’s sake! - would expect from that city set on a hill, that I decided I would tell you who I voted for.
46. I voted for the one whose life was rooted in a tradition
a. which said things like “You shall not oppress the resident alien; for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt” Exodus 22:20.
b. And “Do Justice and love goodness; walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8
47. I voted for the one for whom respect for human life was so central
a. that he proclaimed that “I have come that you might have life; life to the full”; John 10:10.
48. I voted for the one who reminded us
a. that no matter what party we belong to,
b. opinion we hold to
c. or creed we cling to,
d. all true law is rooted, not in judgment but love.
49. I voted for the one whose party platform has been summed up for two thousand years with a single word – Catholic – Universal;
a. a platform that doesn’t discriminate or blame but blesses, embraces, welcomes, and challenges everyone to become part of that temple that can never be destroyed.
50. It should be obvious. I voted for the one I always vote for. I voted for him. (point to the cross)
51. And when you respond to me “but Father Baker NO candidate could represent all that!”
a. I can only say OF course they couldn’t.
b. This is not a theocracy but a democracy.
c. We elect, not a God who is perfect but a president who most decidedly is NOT.
52. So I voted, thank you Pope Francis, in conscience.
a. As did all of us.
b. And in conscience we came down on very different sides of the issue.
53. For all those who mourn the destruction of their temple; remember the Gospel -
a. Temples we build sooner or later always crumble and fall. it was inevitable.
54. For all those who rejoice at the construction of their temple; remember the Gospel -
a. Temples we build sooner or later always crumble and fall. It is inevitable.
55. And when that happens we will again need to be reminded
a. that we are not merely Americans who build temples that crumble
b. but Catholics, living stones in a temple that never will. And thus we have a job to do.
56. For at the end of his two terms as our President,
a. Ronald Reagan returned to that image of a shining city set on a hill.
b. He said he had always struggled to express what it meant to him, but that in his mind it was:
“a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
57. I do not know if the shining city that so fascinated president Reagan
a. will even remotely resemble the one we will be living in four years from now–
58. but it bears a striking resemblance to that city that Jesus spoke of and gave his life to build.
59. So yes I believe that we are “stronger together” and together “we can Make America great” –
a. but as Catholics – American Catholics –
b. we can’t change everything but we can change something;
i. we can let go of the bitterness and stop the gloating.
ii. We can start the conversation and begin the healing.
iii. We can challenge others and be challenged by the mission and message of Jesus
1. not as adversaries across an abyss of our own creation,
2. but as brothers and sisters around a table by God’s invitation – that table, actually.(point to altar)
60. We might not be able to do it everywhere but we can start here.
a. Know that I will
61. because I promise you that as long as I am your pastor this place will be Catholic;
62. in that our doors will be open
63. to anyone “with the will and the heart to enter” – thank you President Reagan -
a. no matter who they are,
b. where they come from
c. what language they speak
d. lifestyle they lead,
e. or yes, who they voted for.
64. Why? Isn’t it obvious? I’m with him (point to the Cross). How about you? Good. Because we all have work to do.