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Elephants (and Others) Who Never Forget University Public Worship May 24, 2009 Given by Rev. Carl F. Schlichte, O.P. Associate Director of the Catholic Community at Stanford Texts of the day: Psalm 47 & Luke 24:44 – 53 Good morning. First, let me introduce myself. My name is Fr. Carl Schlichte. I am the Associate Director of the Catholic Community here on campus. I am beginning my fifth year here. Much of my eleven years of ordained ministry has been as either a part-time or full-time campus minister. I‟ve served at both private and public schools. I am grateful to (Dean) Scotty for the opportunity to address you this morning. One of the first and most enduring lessons I learned from watching classic Warner Brothers cartoons is that elephants never forget. Whenever an elephantine character appeared, it always had a perfect memory. It sometimes had to remind those around it of the fact and thereby us the viewers too. Often the memories were of painful things in the past, sometimes good. But it always, always remembered. So what do Christians and elephants have in common? Memory. In this final scene from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reminds those gathered that everything that happened to him was foretold by God in the Hebrew Scriptures: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Lk. 24:44, NIV) In other words, see clearly! Don‟t forget! Remembering accurately and well leads to a clearer understanding of the past, even a horrendous past. Jesus helps the nascent church to understand that evil can be transformed by the power of God, “He told them, „This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day …” (Lk. 24:46) Our psalm this morning, read by Mr. Christiansen, told us, “God subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.” Jesus showed that even the Kingdom of Death, the seemingly strongest kingdom on earth, is no match for the power of God! Who dared even imagine such a thing? Yet, Paul reminds the Corinthians and all of us, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1Cor. 2:9) But God, most clearly through Jesus, but also in other ways, is constantly showing us the good, the unimaginable good that is meant for us. In the early church, there was no such thing as forensics or the CSI effect. There was no DNA evidence to prove that the Jesus standing in front of them now was the same Jesus they had seen crucified forty days before and who had appeared to them many times in the mean time. Rather, the veracity of a claim rose and fell on witnesses. The disciples had experienced and encountered Jesus both before and after the Resurrection. Now, at Jesus‟ command, they have to step up as we would say today: “You are witnesses of these things,” (Lk. 24:48) he tells them. Witnesses by definition tell others what they have seen: they cannot keep the information to themselves. Being a witness entails responsibility: being filled with joy, repenting, praising God and preaching. (Cf. Lk. 24:47, 52, 53) We know those gathered around Jesus remembered well, were effective witnesses. How do we know this? Because you and I and our sisters and brothers all over the world are believers. Like that group who witnessed Jesus returning to the right hand of God, we too have been blessed by him and are gathered to worship and praise God. And like that group, we will leave this beautiful place and share with others what we ourselves have seen and experienced. This weekend we also remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and its ideals. The memory is particularly poignant if it includes someone in our family or particularly close to us. My father served as an airman in Korea. Looking at his flag I have in my office, days like Memorial Day remind me that he could easily could have been killed in that conflict and never have met my mother. It is a sobering reflection. Seeing a sea of headstones in a national cemetery or an exhibit like the “Eyes Wide Open” here on campus, with the boots of service people and the shoes of civilians, graphically reminds us of the human cost of war. I am all the more grateful that my father did come home after his tour and live the life he did. His military service marked him but like many of his generation, he never talked about his experiences. Regardless, it was clear to me that what motivated him to enlist was a strong sense of duty to the nation who embraced his German immigrant grandparents with the promise of liberty and justice for all. Just as the memory of Jesus and his Ascension into heaven was not to remain in the hearts of the early church, so the memory of those who lost their lives in war is not to remain in us. The Ascension of Jesus affects the church today; so does the sacrifice of these women and men affects us as a people. As Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” The early church did not focus on the injustice done to the person of Jesus of Naraeth: not the mockery of a trial, how he was tortured or how he was the ultimate innocent who suffered the death penalty. No, they did not ignore these things; they are all recorded in our sacred texts. Rather, they were joyful that God is king and raised Jesus from the dead, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters (cf. Rom. 8:29 & Col. 1:18). They fulfilled the exhortation of today‟s psalm, “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.” (Ps. 47:6-7) They were focused not on human action, but rather God‟s action. It was with joy and gratitude to God, the author of all life and goodness that they went forth to proclaim the GOOD news. Those disciples did not go back into Jerusalem proclaiming the BAD news of Jesus‟ Passion and crucifixion! So we too, like generations of Christians before us, must resist the temptation to give into the vitriolic rhetoric of war and violence. Rather, we are called to be like our holy and just forbears whose hearts were filled with joy and gratitude for God‟s mighty deeds. I believe it was William Barclay who observed that a joyless Christian is a contradiction in terms. Yet judging by how many Christians behave in public and in private, it would seem that anger and indignation are cherished Christian values. It is a challenge today, just as it has been in every generation, to root our actions in faith, in hope and in love, for these are of God. We need look no farther than our hearts to know of the desire and temptation to act from other “centers” if you will, other sources. If we do so, we betray those who proclaimed the Good News to us and we betray God. We have been celebrating Jesus‟ Resurrection and appearance to his disciples for the last six weeks. We are remembering; we are seeking to understand more clearly what God has done. It also calls us back to the joy, the Good News, which is supposed to be at the center of our lives. It calls and challenges us to dislodge anything that is not of God that has crept into our hearts and minds. It is a constant project in our lives. Let the spirit and power of God cleanse your heart of all that is not holy, all that is not true. Allow the power of Jesus‟ Resurrection to renew you. And never, never forget that Jesus Christ, who was crucified, conquered sin and death so that we might have live and have it most abundantly. “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth!” (Ps. 47:1-2) Amen.
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