21 May 2017
“‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’” (John 14:15) In the name …
The Deerfield Police this past week set up one of those large, electronic signs just down the road here on Thayer Street that tells you how fast you are driving. There are younger families who have moved in recently and there are little kids running around again. The street is going through one of those cycles. A lot of the families around here had young kids when my kids were young. There were so many that they called themselves “T-streeters” in school. Then those kids grew up and out and now we have little ones again. I think this is why they are trying to slow the cars down on Thayer Street, and I think that’s why the big sign with the blinking numbers telling you how fast you are driving appeared last week.
The speed limit hasn’t changed. I’m sure the speedometers in the cars work just fine. But that big sign with the big letters “Deerfield Police Department” puts the fear of ticket in your head. And people slow down. Well, at least people in cars. The other night after choir rehearsal Sharon and I were out for a walk with our dog. We were coming up Thayer Street from the Main Street side. We saw a couple of boys riding their bikes quickly down the road toward us, and then they suddenly turned around. I’m old so it takes me a long time to walk down Thayer Street. So as we’re getting closer to the church, again these two boys come racing down the street on their bikes. This time we’re close enough to hear what they’re saying. They were bragging to each other about how fast they were going, that the big electronic sign with the blinking numbers told them that they were going 31mph, which is 6 miles over the speed limit. Driving a car, you see the sign, you probably slow down. We take it as a warning. You’re a young kid with tons of energy and a bike on a hot May evening, you see the sign and instead you try to go as fast as you can. You take it as a challenge. The difference is how you look at the situation. Same sign. Same street. Two different perspectives.
Now let’s move to this morning’s Gospel, and in particular to just the first sentence. There are actually two distinct translations that are offered in my Bible, and if you care, you can go home after Mass and check to see if it’s the same in yours. The way I read it this morning is Jesus saying: “‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’” It’s a statement of fact. Jesus is saying to us that if we love Him, then because of our love for Him, we will instinctively, naturally keep His commandments, one flows from the other. It’s almost like “commandments” is too strong a word. The second translation is different by only the subtraction of a couple of words, but they make a huge difference. Now Jesus says: “‘If you love me, keep my commandments.’” This sentence is in the imperative tense. It is a command. The statement is still based on our love of Christ, but there’s some force to the words. It’s “Keep my commandments!” – with an exclamation point.
Again, just like the traffic sign on Thayer Street, it’s how we approach it. Is our faith-life something that has to be imposed on us with warnings or can it be a challenge we embrace? Is our Christianity like we’re driving the car down Thayer Street and we see the large, bright, blinking numbers telling us we’re speeding so we slow down because we’re afraid of getting a ticket, or is our Christianity like those kids on their bikes yelling to each other excitedly about how fast they can go?
I think we all recognize that churches are hurting, especially here in New England. We are the least religious section of the entire country according to Pew Research. Churches are merging and closing. Right here, we all know that our attendance isn’t what it was even a couple of years ago. And I obviously don’t have an answer to turn this trend around or else we would need ushers trying to find seats for everybody, and I don’t think any of us had that problem today. But I think in today’s readings there’s a clue to where we can at least start looking for an answer.
Camille read for us from the Acts of the Apostles. We’re hearing stories of the earliest days of Christianity. The church is small, but growing, and extremely enthusiastic. Last week we were introduced to the first seven deacons of the Jerusalem church. That’s when we heard that they were being called into this ministry to free up the apostles so that they could preach the Word while the deacons took care of the more mundane responsibilities such as feeding the hungry. But today we hear that one of the deacons is preaching in the city of Samaria, which sounds like an apostle’s job. So we can tell that these titles and descriptions are so early that they are going through a period of definition and redefinition. The church is more open to the Holy Spirit than to rules. Church isn’t laws; it’s excitement. Inspired by the Spirit, the deacon Philip is preaching Christianity for the first time to the people of Samaria and that’s when the Bible tells us: “So there was great joy in that city.” (Acts 8:8)
Jesus says that if we love Him everything will fall into place naturally. Philip preaches about Jesus in Samaria and the people are filled with joy because of it. Somehow church needs to again tap into that trust of her people, that if they love Christ, then their consciences will guide them. And we need to somehow, again, foster that sense of joy when we worship. The fear of tickets will keep a lot of us from speeding on Thayer Street, but our relationship with Jesus should be like those excited kids on their bikes seeing how fast they can go. Our faith should be an exciting challenge to meet with God, not something we practice only out of fear. It’s all about how we approach our faith, and maybe if we can be more like those kids on their bikes, then maybe churches can grow again. And for this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo