13 Nov 2016
“… that when you received the Word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as what it really is, God’s Word, which is also at work in your believers.” (1 Thess. 2:13) In the name …
A few of our churches also have statues on their Main Altar of Sts. Paul and Peter. In every case except for here at Holy Name, Peter is placed in the higher position on the Gospel side and Paul is relegated to the Epistle side. The two saints can be distinguished by Peter’s holding the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19) and by Paul’s “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” (Eph. 6:17) But here at Holy Name, Paul is in the higher position and Peter is on the Epistle side. Peter is the disciple of stability. His Christ-given name means rock. He was one of Jesus’ first followers. At the very start of His ministry, Jesus called Peter away from being a fisherman in Galilee. After the resurrection, probably because the historical Jesus had made such an impression upon him, Peter was a conservative force in the earliest church. Since Jesus of Nazareth was Jewish, Peter’s vision of the church was also Jewish, and he wanted to keep it that way.
Paul, on the other hand, had never met the historical Jesus. His encounter was after the resurrection when he experienced a startling vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul’s experience of Jesus was not the carpenter from Nazareth, but the glorified Christ of heaven, and this led Paul to see Jesus’ mission as worldwide and all encompassing. And it was this Paul who more than any other spread the gospel all around the known world of that time because he freed Christianity from the Jewish laws. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, in Paul’s name, there is a paragraph about putting on the whole armour of God. For the most part this armour is defensive: shield, breastplate and helmet. The one offensive piece of armour is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Paul wielded that sword so effectively that he planted churches throughout the Roman Empire and then he challenged those earliest Christians to take that same Word of God and spread the gospel even further themselves. And this is why Paul’s statue has the position of honour on the Gospel side.
And we know that Paul thought of the Word of God as actually God still speaking. The oldest of his letters is First Thessalonians. We have nothing older in all the written documents of our faith. And to that young, small congregation in the Greek city of Thessalonica, Paul wrote that the words he preached, that the message he shared to bring them to Christ, the sword of the Spirit that was their first encounter with our faith, were not his alone, but instead the very Word of God. And this is why we call it sacrament. Sacraments share the real but invisible presence of Christ with us in a visible way. Some sacraments are easy to define as visible. The water of a baptism, the host of Communion, but some are more complicated. I don’t wear a wedding ring, which is the visible sign of matrimony, but I’m still married. Confession’s forgiveness has very little to do with a purple stole. And the Word of God is more than holding up the Bible or seeing me in the pulpit. It’s hearing the Word and sharing the Word, and realizing that the words used to speak the gospel are inspired by God, that Christ Himself is still speaking through them, that this truly is God’s Word.
But the sacrament doesn’t stop with the proclamation. Paul says to those first Christians and to us today that the Word of God “is also at work in you believers.” The Word of God is not given to then be stored away. The Word of God is supposed to energize and inspire people. It’s supposed to be used. Take Paul’s example again. There is no possible way that one person could have spread Christianity as far and wide as we can see in the earliest church. But Paul’s churches did an amazing job. Paul would visit cities along Roman highways. He would preach and draw the first converts to Christ. Then he would move on. The members of those churches, however, continued to speak the Word of God. They let the Word work through them, and then through the unplanned and uncharted courses of business and family connections the church spread.
This had to happen hundreds and even thousands of times and we’ll never know all the details, but on one occasion we do. Paul never visited the city of Colassae (Col. 2:1), but a man named Epaphras heard Paul preach elsewhere. He is the one who then shared the Word of God with the people he knew back in his hometown of Colassae, and a new church was born. This was the work of an ordinary believer who allowed the Word of God to work through him, and Paul calls what he did “the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you [in Colassae].” (Col. 1:5-6) This must have been repeated over and over again by anonymous Christians and the faith grew.
Think now about Jesus’ parable that we read from the center of the congregation, and it’s read there to emphasize that this is a message for the entire church body, for all her members. The Word is shared far and wide, and it’s always Jesus trying to talk with us, but for a conversation to take place, we have to be willing to hear. There are a lot of excuses, says Jesus, but the Word of God is persistent. Eventually it finds fertile soil and then it brings forth an increase of 30, 60 or 100-fold. That’s the potential and power of our sacrament if we can get around the excuses. It can grow the church and it can grow our own faith so that it is deeper and more personal.
The Word of God shares Christ with us. In a world that longs to hear God, He’s there in the Bible. He’s here talking with us in church … IF we let Him. Every time we come here, let Paul’s statue remind us of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” And may this sacrament bring Christ closer to us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo