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The Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 19, 2019

     Many of us remember, I’m sure, the story of Sisyphus in Greek mythology. Sisyphus was the King of Corinth, a shrewd and clever fellow, who offended the gods so egregiously that he was consigned to spend eternity in Hades, pushing a huge boulder up a great hillside. And each time Sisyphus would succeed in getting the boulder within inches of the summit, the slope of the hill was such that the stone would roll back and fall to the bottom, and he would have to start all over again. Forever.

     The ancient myth speaks to the futility of human endeavors and the ultimate meaninglessness of life. There is only effort, endless effort. And success is endlessly elusive.

     Standing over and against such cynicism is the Christian gospel of hope that views life as a purposeful mission, a journey to glory. But gospel hope is more than shallow optimism. Far more. Gospel hope is rooted in the Easter mystery we are celebrating during these fifty days, the mystery that took Jesus to the very pinnacle of glory but only through the dark valley of death.

     Gospel hope is powerfully pictured in the new heavens and new earth of today’s reading from the Book of Revelation: the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city where God delights to dwell among mere mortals like us, and where God wipes away the tears from every eye, and allows no more death or mourning, crying out or pain. A glorious picture of hope that is, to be sure.

     But, my friends, what about this city?  What about Seattle or Sammamish, Bellevue or Burien?  It’s hard not to think, for instance, of the recent KOMO-TV documentary about the “dying of Seattle” that raised a such waves of controversy and recriminations. What about these cities of ours that seem so far removed from the heavenly Jerusalem?  Is there any connection between our cities – this city - and the City of God?

     The gospel makes it clear that there is a vital link between what we do here in the earthly city and the City of God and that we are making that link in every hungry mouth we feed, every homeless person we shelter, every prisoner we rehabilitate, every defenseless life we champion, every refugee we welcome, every injustice we refuse to tolerate. When we do these things out of love and in the name of Jesus Christ, we are building a bridge between the two cities, putting in place the building blocks of the City of God. And we are also turning the story of Sisyphus – pointless labor leading nowhere – on its head because, in the Christian gospel there is no giant boulder endlessly rolling back on itself. There are steep hills to be climbed, for sure, sometimes exceedingly steep (think of the hill called Calvary), but the boulders we push are really building blocks, and the building blocks are love.

     "I give you a new commandment," we heard Jesus say in today’s gospel. "Love one another as I have loved you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  It would be hard to find in all the gospels words more important than those words of Jesus, or a challenge greater for us as his followers. We are to love, and by our love, people will not only come to know that we are his disciples – we will also be laying the foundations, raising the walls, building stone by stone the dwelling places of the City of God.

     But we have a long ways to go, don’t we!  We are daily surrounded with painful reminders of just how far. The homeless and hungry, the victims of random violence, the elderly with no security, the addicted, the sick without proper health care, abused children and oppressed minorities, the untreated mentally ill – all these people, sisters and brothers every one of them – are like the mythical Sisyphus: endlessly pushing great boulders that keep falling back on them.

     My friends, our call – and it’s a holy call - is to be at their side: to lend our hands, our hearts, our time, our treasure, our voice, to help turn their burdens, their boulders into building blocks for the heavenly city.
    
     And this holy calling takes us right in the footsteps of Jesus who was not content merely to preach the coming of the Reign of God; no, he actually brought it about by his compassionate ministry to people on the margins: the poor, the downtrodden, the neglected or, as someone has put it, ‘the least, the last, and the lost.’

     Last week, Pope Francis gave an address to the clergy of Rome in which he challenged them over and over again to “listen to the city.” I like that expression. Listening to the city, he told them, means seeking out those whom the city is inclined to avoid, or ignore, or leave behind - seeking them out and accompanying them.

     My friends in Christ, we can’t build the City of God unless we listen to the city, and we can’t listen to the city unless we are willing to embrace the city with all its pain, its chaos, its brokenness. That’s a tall order. A Sisyphean task, for sure, but the outcome is assured and it’s anything but hopeless…!  

     In just a moment, now, a wonderful group of people who have been on a very intentional journey of faith for a long time, will stand with us to profess their faith and they will then be confirmed in that faith and receive the Eucharist for the first time. How good it is to welcome them, and what a joy it is to have them join us! Together, hand in hand, may be do our part to build the heavenly city which God insists on building with human hands!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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