Homily – 5th Sunday of Easter

Now, I need everyone this morning to do a look back. For some of you, that look back will be shorter than it is for others of us. But the look back is to when we were young and we had aunts and uncles. Does everyone have an aunt and uncle somewhere? Do you have a crazy aunt or uncle? The one that was sort of embarrassing.

Now the moment of truth. How many of us are now the crazy uncle? Well, so my cousins and I had our Uncle Russell, who was Uncle Russell. He was the family barber. Now, I’m not going to say he wasn’t a good barber, but he wasn’t. And when we got our haircuts, it would be an interesting experience, because somewhere in the middle of the haircut, he would run out the door of the barber shop if he saw someone he knew, either walking by or driving back by, and either ring an old cowboy or honk the horn.

Now, when you’re 13 years old, this is humiliating to have your uncle run out into the middle of the street and begin honking a horn. Well, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to realize that it wasn’t so much embarrassing as it is just funny now and all the things that crazy Uncle Rusty used to do now have taken on a whole different meaning than when I was a teenager.

In fact, we rather think he’s a delight. And when my cousins and I get together, we all now talk about Uncle Russell with great love and affection, and all of his antics are now delightful. Isn’t it amazing what growth and time does? In short, it rehabilitates the story. Last week I asked the question do we really believe in rehabilitation?

Now that’s a very personal answer. And we talked yet last week about Peter. Well, this week it’s very interesting that theme of rehabilitation and whether we believe someone can be rehabilitated crops up again in the person of Saint Paul. But it’s a little different. A question this week, this week the question becomes, what do I what do we do with the person who says to us, I’ve changed.

I’m better than I was before. I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. Do we believe or do we doubt? Because that is exactly what our first reading is really all about. It is about whether or not Paul, who was a persecutor of the church, could really change and whether or not the church believed him. Now it’s very interesting, and we have to admit that we tend not to trust completely rehabilitated criminals.

We still want to hold on to that little bit of doubt. And let’s be honest, Saul of Tarsus, Saul of Tarsus really was rehabilitated, criminal. He worked against the good of the church. He joined ranks with the enemies of faith. And in a whole hearted Saul conversion to Christ Jesus, he changed. And they won’t let him in. The church doesn’t believe him.

They in a very similar way as we do in society now, want nothing to do with this former criminal. Now, it’s interesting that there was one person who recognized the change of heart Barnabas. Barnabas was willing to take that long, hard look and say, I will give him a chance this morning. Are we willing to broaden our horizons and give somebody a chance?

Or do we want to say once a bad guy, always a bad guy? Well, really? Barnabas becomes Paul’s Arcia companion. He is in fact, by nature a lawyer. He argues the merits of Paul’s conversion to the community. Now, do we have any lawyers in our midst? This morning? we have lawyers. I always say in Brooklyn Heights, throw a rock, get a lawyer.

But lawyers are very important today because despite the apparent guilt of Saul, of Tarsus, who would become Paul the Great missionary to the world, Barnabas was willing to take up his case. Now, those of us who like to drink postmortem, who like to be good, you know, Saturday quarterbacks, Paul’s reputation needed to get a makeover. He would go from being a suspicious criminal character to a revered apostle.

Why? Because of today’s gospel. All of a sudden, Barnabas. And it only took one to see that Paul was not a withered branch ready to be thrown out, but had been grafted on to Christ Jesus and became a branch of the living vine. He was someone who was not going to be pruned away, but was going to be a living vine that bears much fruit.

And in fact he is able to proclaim, Jesus is the Lord. Now yesterday when we celebrated First Communion, I asked all of our young disciples to always be rooted in Christ Jesus. That’s what John the Evangelist, whose gospel we heard today, asked us to do always to believe in Christ, always to be willing to change and to be accepting.

It is the Christian ideal that we can demonstrate the reality of our love, our mercy, and our hope, not just in words, but in deeds and acts of forgiveness. Most of us might argue that over time that will take place the more we grow, the more we change, the more we are able to genuinely love that our faith will become more sincere.

And if we do, then our behavior will reflect that change. Is there enough evidence in the world right now that we, as a community of faith, believe in rehabilitation? And if we do, then act accordingly, because every condemned criminal has the opportunity for grace and mercy and forgiveness. It all depends on how we’re willing to judge the situation.

Notice past deeds don’t always reflect present reality because personalities can’t change the future. Is it a possibility for even someone we’ve written off, as the early church did for Saul of Tarsus, who becomes Saint Paul because Barnabas was willing to give him a chance? Our hope in salvation in Christ is real. Our faith in Jesus is real. He is the true vine, and he invites us to remain with him and change the world.

Notice Jesus doesn’t say you might bear fruit. There is no maybe. Jesus says, bear fruit and you will if you remain in my love. Now think back. Do you have an Uncle Rusty in your life? Do you have a relative who at some point was just an embarrassment, just annoying. And when we were all teenagers, we just couldn’t wait to be away.

Well, look back now. Has that perspective changed? the Uncle Rusty’s rooted in our love. Do they give us hope? Do they remind us of the true meaning of rehabilitation? Family and friends, potential growth and the reality of remaining together, bearing fruit that allows us to change and change the world? My Uncle Rusty is gone. He’s been gone for quite a while now.

But if your Uncle Rusty is still alive, be Barnabas today. Call and see how Uncle Rusty is doing. And if he’s not with us anymore, pray in thanksgiving as Barnabas prayed for Paul and change the world.