God is always new, always challenging. Each new circumstance of our life leads us to a new understanding of His goodness and love. As we grow older, God should become younger for us. When we become ill, He becomes our healing and strength. When we grow discouraged, or depressed, He lifts our spirits with hope.
Jesus was the spark that enkindled a new hope; his was the voice that spoke of joy and the forgiveness of sins. He was the trailblazer who paved the way for Gift of New Life. But he was also one who "rocked the boat." He challenged, he agitated, and he shook people from complacency. Many of his listeners sensed his authority and power and welcomed it. But there were also many who resented and feared him. Persons dominated by a spirit of routine or selfishness and pride would instinctively recoil in the presence of Jesus; they would be afraid that He would identity their shallowness… they wouldn't be the least bit interested to rededicate themselves to holiness and goodness of life... to rededicate themselves to reform and conversion.
At its most fundamental level, Christianity is an altruistic religion. It is "other-centered" - and goes way beyond our own personal relationship with God. At the heart of the Gospel message is the challenge to lose ourselves in concern for others. If we truly love every other person as Jesus has loved us, then we don't look at the risk, or color, or public opinion, or any of the other excuses for walking away.
But how do we talk about God in a society that has lost its sense of the sacred, and considers the religious view in which we have shaped our images and language about God to be nonsense? How do we spread word about the God of Life to a society bent on creating instruments of death and total destruction? How do we preach a God of Reconciliation to a world wrapped in hatred, prejudice and war? How can we even dream of proclaiming God’s unconditional love to families and persons whose lives are steeped in suffering, loneliness and despair? How do we repair the damage already done - or that which continues to be done - by members of our own religious community.
We are sent by Jesus to create a special environment, an environment of understanding, of compassion. We are to create the possibility of others becoming present to themselves; we are to become a center of communion, a community where we cease to be anonymous, where we recognize one another as sisters and brothers, loving one another and caring for one another not because we need them, but simply for themselves. We have been chosen by name, and called to create an environment in which healing takes place, where one is forgiven and reconciled, where concern is fostered, where one feels a sense of belonging.
This is called "prophetic living" - and it is not easy and certainly not popular. Jesus’ prophetic witness was permeated with joyous confidence, and so possessed the courage and freedom to proclaim the good news without fear, to surprise the world again and again with new acts of love: a master washes the feet of his disciples, a Samaritan helps a Jew, an insulted father forgives and embraces his wayward son, and the All Holy One stoops to lift up a condemned adulteress and restore her wholeness and dignity.
Jesus brings an attitude and style which mixes joy, courage and freedom.... a reminder to us not to let fear and anxiety be the whole story about life. As our Psalm today proclaims: The Lord is our rock of safety. We are to be passionately involved with the pain of the world, but not absorbed by it. We are to take life seriously, but not ultimately.
These are prophetic times and we are the prophets. And our prophetic witness should be just like that of Jesus: celebratory, joyous, hopeful, regenerating, reconciling - somehow we must include everyone we meet, not by force but by invitation - the silent and glum, the lonely and the loners, those who have lost their sense of identity, and along with that their sense of joy and hope - the unlovable, the fearful, the despondent. All of these must somehow be included in and absorbed in our joy and our hope.
The message of Jesus was a simple one: to make us aware that the Good News of our salvation is a reality, and that we are loved unconditionally by God. This message and mission did not end with His death and resurrection; it continues on in each of us. The Spirit of God permeates and enlivens us just as it did Jesus 2000 years ago, and we are to be the people who continue what he did. This is what "being church" is all about. It is about a people who believe they are Spirit-filled, called to continue and spread the good news that has as its source, Jesus, the Christ.
Anything less is a betrayal; a denial of what Jesus intended us to be.