Homily

I don't often post homilies on here, but I thought I'd put the one I delivered today up on the net. It may be helpful to read today's gospel to get a sense of where I'm coming from, so I've included that, too:

John 15:26-16:4a

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.

“I have told you this so that you may not fall away.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.
I have told you this so that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told you.”

I am ashamed to say it, but I have never had much of a devotion to the Holy Spirit. Sure, it is easy to pray to Jesus: we have got the gospels, major motion pictures, stained-glass windows, and even Jesus action figures. I do not even have too difficult a time with God the Father – again, stained-glass windows, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and even the role of God assumed by George Burns in “Oh God!” and Morgan Freeman in “Bruce Almighty” make prayer easy. But the Spirit? More often than not my image of the Spirit is informed by Agatha Christie’s “The Birds” and terrible memories of having to clean out my sister’s bird cage.

I would like to suggest, therefore, a different image. Imagine, if you will, a karaoke bar. Having somehow lost your inhibitions –or being possessed of no inhibitions– you ascend the stage and select your favorite song...Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" or Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." A brief musical introduction allows you to re-acquaint yourself with the tune and you begin to relax into its familiar rhythm. And then, like magic, the television screen prompts you with words. Gradually giving yourself over to the music, you find a certain freedom to interpret the music for yourself – you begin to make the song your own. Sure, there are times that you slip up and go off key…or perhaps you’re off key the whole time. But the soundtrack does not stop; the music continues to play and to provide a constant guide no matter how far from the tune you stray. And once you have finished your rendition of the song, once you have received the cheers of adulation or the jeers of derision and re-joined your friends, you can sit back and watch as the next person surrenders him or herself to the music, surrendering fear and inhibition, and letting loose the inner diva who dwells in all of us.

As wanting as my metaphor may be, I do think it does point to the dynamism of today’s gospel. Jesus knows that preaching and teaching the truth in his name will lead us directly into conflict with a world not always able or willing to hear the good news. He knows that the shadow of the cross is thrown long over the lives of discipleship and that we will face humiliation and degradation at each turn of our ministry, our rendition being met more often with jeers than with encomiums. Jesus knows that we are all of us off key most of the time and that we cannot on our own sing the song of the gospel in a way that either sounds good or that makes sense.

Because of this Jesus promises us the Spirit. The parakletos – meaning literally “the One called alongside” – serves as the soundtrack to our lives and our ministries. It is the Spirit of the Word – the Spirit who testifies to the Son – who will animate our words, guide our rhythm, and consecrate our songs to the promotion of the gospel. Each of us, of course, will choose to sing the gospel with different songs and different melodies, but Jesus assures us that the Spirit will provide the musical score that will make our rendition both possible and sensible.

As we perform the gospel, we will inevitably slip up and go off key. We will feel disoriented and confused and scared, but we will try to get back into tune and to stay with the beat. After a great deal of practice, hopefully we will become more confident in our abilities and we will begin to take risks – reaching for the occasional high note here, straining to achieve a new harmony there. And here, quite unlike the karaoke bar, something magnificent happens as we begin to interpret for ourselves the song we sing: the pre-written words prompted by the television disappear and we begin to write with our own lives the words to the music. We begin to compose enfleshed hymns of praise; we call forth the courage to assume our place in the chorus of those who, along with the Psalmist, “praise God’s name in the festive dance” and “sing a new song in the assembly of the faithful.” In the presence of the paraclete, the “One called along side”, we know that we never stand alone so long as we speak the Truth; we are empowered, therefore, to lose our fears and inhibitions - even when faced with hostility and derision – and to give ourselves over to the adventure of performing the gospel. It is in this Spirit that we can testify to the Truth. It is in this Spirit that we can sing of the Father’s goodness. It is in this Spirit that we can offer testimony to Christ even when confronted by the shadow of the cross. And it is in this Spirit that we can sing joyfully of the one who has brought new life into each of us, who has deigned to make music with us, and who has invited us to perform the gospel as disciples of Christ.
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