Someone has Come to Fight: The Kerygma | Fr. John Riccardo

Family, Individual, Parish, School

Imagine the universe is a sandcastle and every single grain of sand is a star.

How big would the castle be? It’d be five miles high, five miles long, and five miles wide; and every grain of sand is a star.

So, when you and I pray – most of us anyway – we have this image of God in our mind; whatever the image is, it’s wrong. It’s just wrong. God is so much more massive, so much more immense, so much more powerful than anything we can conceive; and, in this universe that’s forty-six billion light-years across – that is forty-six billion times five point eight trillion – miles across. His eye is on one creature more than any other creature. That’s you.


Hi, I’m Father John Riccardo, I’m a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit, now the Executive Director of a new nonprofit called “Acts XXIX” whose vision is helping God get His world back,
because all of this is rightfully His, and He’s blessed you and me to be alive at this moment in time so that we can be instruments in His hands to help bring everything back into the
place where God wanted it to be. You were born for this moment, and so was I. So let’s ask the Holy Spirit to continue to give us all the grace, all the courage, all the wisdom, all the
charity that we need.

So, Paul says about the Gospel, “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation.” He doesn’t mean Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, he means the Gospel, right?  What’s the basic
proclamation of the Gospel? What we would call the kerygma right? Just the Greek word for “Proclamation.” My experience as a priest – twenty-three years now – is that I don’t think
most people really hear the Gospel. I personally think it would do well for every parish, every Catholic school, every University, every whatever, to spend some time very deliberately,
very intentionally, every year making sure we just proclaim the Gospel. There’s a couple of reasons for this. Most importantly because the Gospel is power. Not the messenger of the
gospel is power, the proclamation of the Gospel is power – it changes lives. The Greek word Paul uses there is the word from which we get the word “dynamite.” In other words, the
gospel isn’t just news; let alone, ordinary news. The Gospel is extra-ordinary, unexpected, life-changing news.

So, let me give an image. Imagine it’s June 7th, 1944, and you and I live in France. So for the last three years, four years, our country has been occupied, held under demonic, tyrannical
oppression; we’ve lost families, family members, friends; they’ve been captured, they’ve been imprisoned, they’ve been put in concentration camps, they’ve been killed; and we have no
life – at least certainly no life as we used to have – and no prospect for hope. There’s no way out; our army has capitulated and no one, so it seems, is coming to save us. And so one day,
you and I are sitting there we’re having coffee and the paperboy throws the newspaper into the room and I open up the paper and I read to you as you ask me, “Hey, what happened
yesterday in the news?” And I say, “Not much. Allies landed at Normandy …”

Would I read it that way? Would it be ordinary news for you and me? It would be extraordinary news, right? The Allies landed! Like, someone’s come to save us; someone’s come to
rescue us; someone’s come to fight. So, what is this Kerygma? This message, this proclamation, which is supposed to overwhelm us to the point where somebody surrenders their life
entirely to Jesus in faith? It’s four parts, right? So, the first part we would usually call the goodness of creation. The second part would be sin and its consequences. The third part would
be the salvific action of Jesus, and the fourth part would be our response. That’s rather dry to me. We could ask it in for questions; all of which are really profound:

1. Why is there something rather than nothing? That’s a huge question.
2. Why is everything so obviously messed up?
3. What, if anything, has got done about it?
4. And if He’s done something about it, how is it that I should respond?

That’s still a mouthful. So here’s how I make it repeatable. The Kerygma is four words: created, captured, rescued, and response. I’ll try to highlight a couple things. So, the goodness of
creation, why is there something rather than nothing? So, the biblical answer to that? Is because God, out of His love, willed everything into existence and He did it without any effort
whatsoever. He just spoke and things came into being which is so unlike every other ancient near eastern story of creation.

People often think that the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 are just like – more or less – the other pagan myths. There’s nothing like Genesis 1 and 2 in the pagan myths. They have
many gods; they’re all at war with each other; they’re not even in charge, they’re actually underneath the fates; they make man – the male – at a certain point, not for any dignity, but to
be their slave; they make woman for one reason: children and pleasure. So, in a world like that what do you got? You got no hope; there’s no ultimate meaning; there’s no point to
marriage; there’s no point to sexuality; there’s no point to work. So despair just reigns.

Into that world God reveals, in Genesis 1 and 2, which we have to be careful we understand how to read because they’re like inspired poetry. So, they’re true without being literally true;
you know that there are two stories of creation, there in back-to-back chapters and they’re different. It’s like God telling you, “Don’t read these literally. Understand, ask the Spirit to
help you understand.” The Truths that are being revealed, and the Truths would be many, but they did include these:

1. There’s one God and He’s really good;
2. Everything He made He made out of love;
3. The highlight of everything He made is the human person – male and female – who together image Him
4. He made them for friendship; friendship with Him and friendship with each other;
5. The ultimate destiny for the human person is to be divinized, which is why every human person is the Church’s special interest group.

So that’s the answer to the question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ It’s because God willed it into being.

Now, here’s the problem: something has obviously happened to this creation. So, the way I capture this, and I mean this quite literally, is what the hell happened – to this world, this
universe, which God, who is good, made? There’s only one God, right? So, how did everything get messed up? What happened? The word here is “captured.”

So, the Church teaches us that one of the creatures that God makes, rebels against God. The key here, for me, is to understand why – this creature was an angel, right? So, creature made
by God, so he’s just a creature, right? But he’s a most spectacular creature. His sin is pride. But his motive for rebelling is envy. What’s envy? Envy’s more than jealousy, right? It’s this
certain profound sadness over the well-being, the good fortune of another. Who’s he envious of? It’s not God. It’s you and me. Somehow, the Church has taught this in lots of different
ways over the years, the whole plan that God has, which is going to culminate in you and I, the human person being divinized, partaking of His own divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) for all
eternity, sharing in God’s own life, this plan is unveiled before the angels, and this creature finds that intolerable and so he goes to war. Not against God, against the creature God loves
the most. And so at the very beginning of our race, the beginning of our history recorded in Genesis 3 this, again, inspired poem, we see what the enemy’s strategy is, and the strategy
of the enemy – I think anyway – boils down to this: God is not a father, or at least not a good father, and you can’t trust Him and He’s holding out on you, and He doesn’t really love you.
And if you would just be done with Him, you could find happiness. That’s not just what he did with Adam and Eve, it’s what he does with you and me and every temptation; he casts God
in suspicion. So, the consequences of the Fall are not just separation from God. The consequence of the Fall is that we, as a race, unknowingly sold ourselves into slavery, to powers that
we can’t compete against: the power of sin, the power of death, into Satan’s grip and into hell.

Jesus, in one of his enigmatic parables in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, talks about how a strong man, when he guards his possessions, his possessions are safe. Jesus calls him the “ruler of
this world”; Paul calls him the “prince of the power of the air”, the “god of this world.” “But when someone,” Jesus says, “stronger than him overcomes him, well, then his possessions
can go free.” So why does God become a man? God becomes a man, I would argue, to go to war; to rescue us from the powers that we can’t compete against; sin, death, Satan, and Hell.
And He does it in a most magnificent and clever way: He does it in disguise. Because Satan won’t fight God. He knows he can’t beat God, and so God disguises Himself, He takes a human
nature, becomes one of us, all for the purpose of engaging the enemy in battle. So, God became a man to fight for us, to take back what is properly His: the creature that He loves the
most, made in His image and likeness, destined to partake of His Divine Life. You matter so much to God – I matter so much to God – I don’t know why – that He thinks I’m worth rescuing.
And He didn’t send an angel to do it. He did it Himself and He did it at the cost of His life.

Look at Jesus hanging on a cross right now and ask yourself: Is he the hunted or the hunter? Well, that would look pretty obvious, right? Here’s a man naked, nailed to a tree, but who is
that on the cross? That’s God made man. How do you nail God to a cross? There’s only one way for God to get on a cross: He has to want to be there. Why would He want to be there?
Try to understand there are three ways, classically, of understanding the passion; we tend to talk about two of the three ways. So, the first way, we either talk about on the cross God is
showing us how much He loves us, right? So “God so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son so that we would not perish but have eternal life.” We all know that, right? John 3:16,
the guy behind home plate at the World Series games. That’s true. Blessed be God, that’s true. So, on the cross, Jesus is in fact showing us how much God loves us, but that’s not the only
thing that’s happening there. So a second thing would be, well, Jesus on the cross is making atonement for us; taking into Himself all of the sins of all the men and women who ever lived
on the history of the world, but oftentimes you ask someone to look at the cross and they’ll look at the cross and they’ll say something like, “I don’t think I’m that bad a guy.” And I am, to
be sure, and so are you; don’t be falsely modest here. But that doesn’t move many people – but it’s true. So, He loves us and He’s making atonement for us.

But the third way is the way the Fathers of the Church used to prefer to talk about what Jesus was doing on the cross; and what Jesus was doing on the cross was going to war. So from
the moment of the Garden of Gethsemane on, Jesus’ Divinity is more and more and more cloaked. He sweats blood. He’s arrested. He’s chained. He’s slapped. This is God we’re talking
about; the One who made the universe that’s forty-six billion years across. He’s hauled before a puppet King. He’s judged. He’s condemned. He stripped naked. He’s scourged almost to
death. He carries a cross. He’s crowned with thorns. He’s nailed to the cross. Why? For one reason: to draw the prey close. God’s engaging the enemy. Why? He’s doing this because
you matter to Him; and I, for some reason, I can’t fathom, matter to Him. Like, that’s the Gospel.

So, in Colossians 1, Paul talks about how what’s happened in our lives as a result of Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection, is that I have been transferred – rescued – from the dominion, the
lordship, the rule, the government of Darkness, into the Kingdom of His beloved Son. So imagine – imagine growing up in a home that was just abusive of as all get-out. Night comes and
you kind of sneak in the house ’cause plates fly – quite literally – and, outside, across the street every night you can hear a family playing in the front yard. And a father playing with his
kids. And you listen to that with tremendous jealousy. And years go on; and then one day you’re the only one at home and you hear a knock on the door. And you open the door and it’s
the dad from across the street. And he says, “Would you like to come live with us?” And you don’t even pack. That’s adoption. That’s what happened in baptism. I moved from a tyrant to
the home of a Good Father. That’s Colossians 1. Colossians 2, though. Paul writes that Jesus has, or God has, “disarmed [more literally stripped naked] the principalities and powers.”
What are the principalities and powers? Sin, death, Satan, and Hell. “Making,” he says, “a public spectacle of them; humiliating them; triumphing over them by his cross.” Now, we read
those words and, if you’re like me, you try to visualize what he means by that, but every Roman, or every person in the Roman Empire, would know what Paul is talking about; because
“Triumph” is a really precise, particular word in the Roman Empire. It’s like a mega parade in an Empire filled with parades.

There are very precise conditions under which this can happen, and it usually involves, in one way or another, the Emperor riding into town into Rome, seated on his chariot – or standing
in his chariot – surrounded by his soldiers, returning from battle, and he’s got all the people that he’s captured in battle; all the goods and spoils of the place that they’ve looted and
pillaged, and he’s bringing all this into Rome. Julius Caesar, shortly after he finishes the gallic war this eight-year battle with the king of Gaul up in France. They captured the king. They
bring him in front of Caesar. As he’s standing there the Roman legion comes, they slit his robes, and suddenly the king of Gaul is standing naked in front of everybody. They force him to
his knees and bring the Roman Eagle and make him kiss it as a sign of the fact that you lost. They stand him up. They chain his arms behind his back and they put him in a cage. And then
they began to march back to Rome. This is the beginning of a “Triumph.” And then in comes Caesar into Rome, with all the people that he’s captured, at the very end of the line is a cage;
with a man in it; with no clothes on; and a sign above his head that says “This is the one who used to threaten us. He won’t threaten us anymore.” That’s what Paul says Jesus has done to
the enemy.

Brothers and Sisters, that is not ordinary news; that is extraordinary news. As a friend of mine always puts it, “Those who have been rescued, go and rescue others.” That’s what we’re
supposed to be involved in. God, for some reason, brought someone into your life, which was the means by which you, in faith, surrendered to Jesus and now He wants to use you to go
and rescue others. We do that by first proclaiming the Gospel, which is power, created, captured, rescued, response. And then by teaching them all the things that compliment them.

So as we do that, let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will help us more profoundly to understand what it is that God has done for us; to be overwhelmed; and then to proclaim it in such a way
that others too will be overwhelmed and they too will be brought into the life-changing encounter, that is discipleship.