15 Nov 2015
“…when you received the Word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as human word but as what it really is, God’s Word, which is also at work in you believers.” (1 Thes. 2:13) (+)
I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but we’re already talking about Christmas preparations here at the church. Sad to say, but this got me to thinking about the movie that runs all day long on Christmas. The movie about “You’ll shoot your eye out.” I don’t know if you have watched it as often as I have, but maybe you remember how excited Ralphie gets as he waits for the secret decoder ring to arrive in the mail. When it’s finally delivered and as he’s listening for the secret code on his favourite radio program, he’s all tingly expecting some important secret information, but instead the message is only something like “Eat more Ovaltine.” What disappointment. Just another commercial. Out goes the secret decoder ring in the garbage.
Quite a number of years ago a person I know came up to me and we were talking about religion. I don’t even remember the specifics of the discussion. In the middle of the conversation, that person said to me like on the sly, in a whisper, “You know what I’m talking about. You’re a priest.” It was about some charismatic secret that only a few, very devout Christians knew. The whisper hinted that we had to be careful that others didn’t overhear us. The person never shared with me what I was supposed to know so I have no idea what the secret is. But that’s O.K. with me because I don’t believe Jesus speaks in secrets. I think that’s going to end-up in disappointment like Ralphie and his secret decoder ring.
Take this morning’s Gospel as a perfect example of why I say this. The reading began by telling us that a “great crowd gathered” around Jesus (Luke 8:4), and Jesus begins to teach them using a parable. After the crowds depart, His disciples ask Him what the parable means. Jesus answers saying that others hear only parables, but that they are privileged to know the mysteria of the kingdom of God. (8:10) Mysteria is a Greek word and we can easily hear how our word mystery is derived from it. The big fancy Bible that I read from today to honour the Word of God uses the word mystery, but the Bible I use at home to work with uses the word secret. Mystery is not the same as secret though. A secret is about something that is supposed to stay hidden; a mystery is about something meant to be discovered. I hear mystery not secret when Jesus finishes preaching to the crowd by saying, “‘Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!’”
Who are the disciples who get this supposed private instruction after the others disperse? They’re the ones who remain. And since the “secret” explanation of this parable is shared in three out of the four Gospels with anyone willing to pick up the Bible and read, well then, this isn’t much of a secret. I’m a Mason. We like to say that we’re not a secret organization, but that we’re an organization that has secrets. Those secrets are meant only for Masons and because they’re secrets non-Masons create all kinds of fantastic theories about what they may be, which are always a lot more exciting than what they really are. But the Gospels are the Good News. They are supposed to be proclaimed everywhere, from mountains and rooftops says the Bible. There aren’t any secrets. There are only mysteries, and the mysteries reveal themselves when we take the time to read, to listen, to pray, to worship, and to come closer as a follower of Jesus.
This is what Paul is talking about to the Thessalonians. It is thought that after Paul had his moment of conversion that he went away by himself to sort things out. There are hints in his letter to the Galatians that he may have sought solitude for three years in the desert. If faith were about secrets, he should have stayed there, alone with Christ. Instead, he starts to preach and he preaches with a vengeance. He goes everywhere and talks to anyone who will listen. And then he starts to write too. His first letter is what we have read this morning. There is nothing older in written Christianity. In this first Christian literature, Paul says that what he preaches is not only his words, it is the very Word of God Himself. In the Bible and its exposition during the liturgy, we should be able to hear not only Paul’s words, not only Luke’s words, not even only Fr. Randy’s words, but we should hear the Word of God. This is why we have called the Word of God a sacrament of our church since 1909.
But Paul doesn’t stop at God’s word and his own words. He adds a crucial “also” to the mix. Paul tells that first small group of people in ancient Thessalonica that the Word of God “is also at work in you believers.” The full title of our unique sacrament is the Sacrament of the Word of God Heard and Preached. This sacrament involves not only the proclamation and the one proclaiming. It also involves the ones who hear the Word of God, and by hear I do not mean in one ear and out the other. I mean what Jesus means when He says, “‘Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!’” The in one ear out the other is the seed that falls on the path, the rocks and among the thorns. The one who listens is the seed that falls in the good soil and produces a hundredfold. And there’s no secret to unlocking this bountiful mystery. Jesus explains it plain and simple: “‘Hear the Word in a spirit of openness, retain it, and bear fruit through perseverance.’”
There’s power and revelation in the Word of God, not secrets. Secrets are the hideaways of people who don’t want to do the work of living like Jesus. They don’t want to follow Him and His example and persevere. Then the mystery of the Word of God seems like an unknowable secret. But the gospel, the Word of God, is the opposite of secret. It’s meant for everyone. That it may empower us to listen to God’s continuing revelation and help us to ever better understand Christ and to live our faith in him, may this be our prayer this Word of God Sunday, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Fr. Randolph Calvo