May I Have Your Autograph?

Sunday May 17, 2020 The Sixth Sunday of Easter (Cycle A)

Psalm 66:1-7;16-20, Acts 8:5-8;14-17, 1 Peter 3:15-18, John 14:15-21

Let’s take a different angle on Psalm 66 today and maybe make it more relevant to today’s readings. Imagine that God is your favorite movie star. You belong to His fan club and read every magazine article you can get your hands on. Verses 1-4 will sound a lot like Your conversations about Him. He brings you joy. You have nothing but great things to say. In fact, He is so awesome you think that He’s the best actor that ever lived! All the other stars pretend to like Him, but you know in your heart that they are insanely jealous. Now, let’s say that you score two tickets to the Hollywood premier of His next movie (verses 5-7). You ask your friend to go with you while you build up anticipation. “OMG! This guy is the greatest! I’ve seen the trailers! This movie is awesome! It has to win an Oscar! We gotta go!” Your friend agrees. We finish our scenario with verses 16-20. The movie is epic; it blows everyone away. Someone who knows the actor notices your enthusiasm and is so impressed that they invite you both backstage to meet Him.  Your breathless encounter is so exciting it’s almost surreal. All the way home you and your friend cannot and probably will never stop talking about this once in a lifetime adventure. In hindsight, you wince over some of the dumb things that you think you said. It doesn’t matter. You know that He understands and besides…He gave you His autograph!  How great is that? Your mind’s eye has already picked out a frame and a place for it at home, where it will always remain and remind you of the best day ever!

The thing to notice is that this a three-part story.  An objective part that includes everything that you have read, heard, and observed about the movie star. Then there is the subjective aspect, which is your own personal encounter with Him. Finally, there is the autograph, a physical token which connects both of you to the event and enhances the relationship. Now, we may never make it to a Hollywood premier, but the principle of objective, subjective, and physical symbol often occur in our everyday lives. A store sends you a gift card to show their sincere regret for a bad experience.  You give your son the keys to the new car and prove that you trust him. Your boyfriend loves you, but when he puts that diamond on your finger…now you’re talking! Our reading in Acts 8:5-8; 14-17 moves these everyday examples to the sacramental level.

Any good God-fearing Jew in Jerusalem looked upon the Samaritans as despised half breeds, but there goes Phillip proclaiming the gospel to them. He sees them as the next step on the road that takes the message of Jesus Christ to the utter most parts of the world. Phillip is remarkably successful in making converts as he preaches salvation, heals the sick, and casts out demons. He baptizes them as the Lord instructed, but something is missing…the Holy Spirit. Word gets back to headquarters in Jerusalem about the Samaritan revival. Peter and John are dispatched. They prayed for these new believers, laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of Confirmation had begun! Just as an aside, the book of Acts has different occurrences between the dynamics of Baptism and Confirmation, and you cannot draw a step by step account of how God works concerning these sacraments. I think that God used the laying on of hands the way that He did in Act 8 as a physical sign to authenticate His objective scriptural truths and the subsequent personal faith of these people. The Lord showed the world, by the laying on of hands, that He loved these hated Samaritans. They were His children too. Now, on to the Gentiles!

Our next readings teach us that our sacramental life, as personal as it is, is meant to be shared with the world. Jesus, who is the Truth, in John 14:15-21, promises the disciples a unique personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will abide in them, they will have a “knowing” of His presence, and, in turn, an intimate connection with the God of the universe. The physical manifestation of this reality…the believer’s love for neighbor and obedience to God. Our reading in 1 Peter 3:15-18 sums it up this way: know objectively why you believe what you believe, cherish Him that you believe in, live what you believe and please the Father. Sacraments are God’s autograph on your heart. Seek them. Show the world that your relationship with Him is real.

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