I would like to begin by reading you a letter that was written about 7 weeks ago:

Dear Fayetteville Public Library, Arkansas Family and Friends,

I am profoundly saddened that I am unable to be with you on Friday, April 11, 2014. I long to come to the state of Arkansas, in general, and I long to be in Fayetteville, in particular. I learned in Arkansas at a very young age from my grandmother who taught me, ‘when you learn, teach, and when you get, give’.

In Arkansas I also learned not to complain. I was taught that there are people all over the world who have less than I have and who would give anything for a portion of my possessions. They went to sleep last night as I went to sleep and they never awakened. Their beds have become their cooling boards and their blankets have become their winding sheets and they would give anything and everything for what I was complaining about.

In Arkansas, I learned to trust love, not the romance of it, but the heart of it. In Arkansas I learned to have respect for friendship, to honor it, to trust it and to build it.

An unexpected ailment put me into the hospital. I will be getting better and the time will come when I can receive another invitation from my state and you will recognize me for I shall be the tall Black lady smiling. I ask you to please keep me in your thoughts, in your conversation and in your prayers.

I am,
Maya Angelou

In early April, she was scheduled to speak in Fayetteville Arkansas. A sudden illness required her to cancel the appearance. She sent that letter with her regrets:

Have you ever received a letter quite like that? Three phrases leapt out at me when I first read her letter.

 my grandmother taught me ‘when you learn, teach, and when you get, give’,
 I learned to trust love, not the romance of it, but the heart of it, and
 I learned to have respect for friendship, to honor it, to trust it and to build it.

Now, to this afternoon’s scriptures:

In the first reading from Acts, we hear about the 11, gathered after Jesus’ Ascension, in an upper room in Jerusalem and they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” Notice, they no longer hide behind locked doors for fear of hostile authorities — as we heard in the Gospels in those weeks following Easter. Jesus has already ascended, and now they devote themselves to prayer as they await the fulfilment of the his promises. They have been given hope and a mission by Jesus to be his witnesses in the world. He’s opened their minds to understand how he fulfilled the Scriptures. They are sharing the gift of community. The nascent Church is beginning to live out that call of Jesus to be one, as he is one with God.

Jesus’ prayer in tonight’s gospel is first a prayer to God, summarizing all that Jesus came to do and that intimate relationship which exists between him and God that allowed him to complete his work. It is also a prayer for the disciples, and for us, asking for strength and protection for those faithful believers who will remain in the world as Jesus returns to God, fulfilling the mission of Jesus by being his witnesses in the world. By being community, being in unity with one another and with Jesus.

Finally, St. Peter reminds us this afternoon, that to suffer for Christ is to share in Jesus’ sufferings. Followers of Jesus should rejoice because such suffering is a sign that they are blessed by God and are destined to enjoy eternal glory.

And so, we have been given much this afternoon – a reminder that we are community, consecrated through baptism to be the witnesses of Jesus in the world, to be the very person of Jesus to all those we see and encounter, in here and out there, indeed everywhere we go.

So, when we leave her this evening, what will you “give” from what you “got” this afternoon? What will you do with this community, this friendship of God, given to you as a gift? This gift of relationship with God, though our encounter with Jesus, how will you “honor it, to trust it and build it?”

Have you learned to trust love yet? The romance of love is believing that it costs nothing, believing that love will somehow cure me from all my insecurities and fears, and that it will bring me anything and everything I want.

The heart of love teaches us that true love can only be found by emptying ourselves and allowing another, the other, to fill up that which is lacking within us. For followers of Christ, the heart of love is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus — God proclaiming life where death once ruled. The center of that love is the Cross. The cross represents the way in which God contradicts the world: no matter how often the world says, “NO,” God is present giving an eternal, “YES,” bringing light out of darkness, hope out of despair, even life out of death. The heart of love is the heart of the resurrected Christ. That love brings with it freedom. And the freedom of the Cross is knowing that there is no contradiction in our lives which God’s love cannot overcome. The freedom of the children of God is not the freedom to do whatever we want to do, but what we must do to become holy with the very glory of Jesus, that is, to become witnesses in and to the world – by being who we are now and who we will continue to become as we learn to open out hearts more fully to love of God, as found through Jesus.

I learned, in Arkansas, at a very young age from my God who taught me ‘when I teach you, learn, and when I give you everything, give of yourself to anyone who needs it’.

I am learning to trust God’s love, not the romance of it, but the cost of it, in following Jesus. Allowing him to lead me, guide me, especially in those times I find a still fearful heart that desires security but remains all too human.

The call of Jesus to his followers was, “Come and See,” and “Follow Me.” What more are we waiting for? What more do we have to learn, to get, to trust, to respect, to honor, or to build? What else do we need to do before we “Go and See” or “Follow Him.”

Sts. Clare and Francis
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Acts 1: 12-14
1 Peter 3:15-18
John 17: 1-11a

Homily by Jim Schratz

Photo by York College ISLGP on flickr.com