27th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 10:2-6
Boudreaux and Clotilde were having trouble in their marriage and were considering divorce. They went to a marriage counselor. Clotilde cried: "He don’t care. He never tries to make me happy. He don’t even know what kind of things make me happy."
The counselor looked concerned. "Is that true, Boudreaux."
"Mais no," he said, "I know a lot of things."
"Okay," said the counselor. "Can you tell me what Clotilde’s favorite flower is?"
"That’s easy," said Boudreaux as he gently touched Clotilde’s arm. "It’s Pillsbury All-Purpose Flour."
How odd it is that folks spend much more time and effort and money getting prepared for a 60-minute ceremony than they do for a marriage which is supposed to last sixty or more years! Which brings us to the difficult words of Jesus in today’s gospel.
What Jesus has to say in Mark 10, which we just heard, is uttered against the background of an ongoing debate between rabbis of his time about divorce. The debate centered on the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24. This "Law of Moses" gave the husband the right to divorce his wife. The law said that a man who found "some indecency" in his wife was permitted to divorce her if he would provide her with a legal document indicating that she was free to marry someone else if someone else wished to marry her. Notice it says: "the man." Divorce for the woman was practically impossible. The fact Jesus even mentions a wife divorcing in this passage reflects the fact that Mark was written against the background of Roman, as well as Jewish, Law.
Jewish Law at the time made divorce almost impossible for a woman. Deuteronomy said that a man could put away his wife if he found "some indecency" in her. Now, there were two schools of thought about what constituted a sufficient "indecency." One school, that of Rabbi Shammai, said that only adultery was cause for divorce. Another school, that of Rabbi Hillel, said it could include being a nag, being unattractive, or not being able to cook!
What most folks miss when they read this passage is the fact that in his reply, Jesus was showing himself to be a champion of women’s rights! He looked on them not as property owned by their husbands, but as human beings made also in the image of God. This ran counter to the customs of his time, against the prevalence of the idea of male domination which runs through Hebrew thought and practice, and which is still all too prevalent in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, even today. But Jesus gave the world a new conception of women as persons equal with men in the sight of God.
In fact, Jesus may well have been the first great "feminist" of history; for he freely accepted women as disciples, as in the case of Mary the sister of Martha and Mary Madeleine and others. No other rabbi of his time would be caught dead doing that. He championed them against unjust and cruel laws which made them victims of their husband’s whims. And we must never forget that under the Mosaic code the penalty for adultery was not divorce, but death! It was a sexist standard, and it was into this debate that the Pharisees wanted to lure Jesus...and trap him.
They knew that whichever side He came down on, he was bound to alienate the folks on the other side. King Herod had divorced his wife and married another, and perhaps they could nail Jesus for treason if he criticized the king. On the other hand, if he set himself above the Law of Moses, he could be accused of blasphemy. And they had him trapped -- they thought. But Jesus knew what they were about, and quickly shifted the argument away from divorce and toward marriage. The Pharisees were taking divorce seriously, but Jesus asks them instead to take marriage seriously. The Pharisees are focusing on minute, technical parts of the law...but Jesus wants them to focus instead on God’s original intent in the marriage relationship.
When Christ was asked about divorce he referred to the law of Moses, which he clearly did not like. "What God has joined together," he said, "man should not break apart." But it seems that he recognized the necessity for it because of what he called the "hardness" of people’s hearts. The clincher is discerning the phrase "what God has joined together." We cannot know in every instance, that although a ceremony occurred and vows were exchanged, that it was joined by God or that it was entered into with full knowledge and consent. Nor can we know in every instance whether or not marriages will endure in the face of unbearable pain and injustice. We do not always know what kind of person this is: an abuser, an alcoholic, a liar. Can it be said that God has joined such marriages. Initially, on the surface it is easy to say yes to that question. But only time will tell later, as the marriage is tested by years of facing together whatever the future may hold.
When we speak of a Christian position on divorce, then, we must recognize this: there are people who, under certain circumstances, simply must be permitted to divorce. I do not believe that Jesus would insist that people stay together in a situation of pain and suffering no matter what. We must never forget that our Lord had immense sympathy for anyone who was suffering. When he dealt with people, it was never on the basis of Law, but on the basis of Love. He ate and drank with sinners, saved an adulteress from being stoned; even forgave the soldiers who crucified him. And when he met the infamous woman at the well, a woman who had five husbands and who was currently living with a man not her husband, he did not treat her with contempt.
There are marriages where God seems clearly not to have joined the two people together. How they got there, God only knows, but divorce is sometimes the lesser of two evils (or the greater of two goods.) I am glad to be part of a church which does not consider divorce an unpardonable sin. But we don’t think it’s such a great thing that everyone ought to dash out and get one, either! Divorce can be hell, and often is. Marriages can be hell, and they sometimes are.
Jesus knew that people suffer in divorce. Men suffer, women suffer, children suffer. It may be no accident that Mark, immediately after he records Jesus’ sayings about divorce, has him calling the little children to him, and putting his arms around them. I see Jesus as reaching out to put his arms around the whole human race and condition. I do not see Jesus as joining the mob who were so eager to throw stones. Do you? It seems that Jesus regarded divorce as a necessity at times, brought about by humanity’s fallen condition. It is not an unpardonable sin, for there is but one "unpardonable sin" and that is the refusal to seek pardon -- denying the Holy Spirit.
You see, we make a mistake in making what Jesus said a demand, when it is, in fact, a promise.
We ask: "What does the Bible say about divorce?" Or, "What does Jesus say?" The reply is that it all depends on which Gospel you consult, and what your attitude is toward the Bible itself. If you think that the Bible is like a fortune_cookie to be cracked open anywhere, and its words taken out of context regardless of what was said before, after, or elsewhere in the Bible, regardless of the language, translation, history, culture and the time it was spoken, then the answer is simple. No divorce. Period. Unless you want to go to Matthew’s Gospel, written a few years later, which reflects a growing uneasiness with the early church’s attempts to take Jesus’ sayings out of context and making them into an absolute law.
It has always seemed strange to me why churches have made Jesus’ words on this one issue absolute, and not others. Why, for instance, are people not denied the sacraments, for unloving attitudes, for gossiping, for not feeding the hungry, for not housing the homeless, for not loving their enemies? How come all of the "absolutes" have to do with sex, and none of them have to do with war or social justice that Jesus held so paramount? Jesus had just as much to say about these things. In fact, he was much harsher on those subjects.
If you know anything at all about the New Testament, you know that the pattern of Jesus is not to punish, condemn, or rebuke people who are already hurting. That’s simply not his way. To them he offers instead insight, help, healing, and forgiveness. So why should he change and automatically cast away anyone who commits the supposedly unpardonable sin of divorce? No, instead of doing that, I think Jesus would say something like what he said in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to me, all of you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest."
God understands the hopes and dreams that men and women bring into their marriages. God also understands the heart-break and aggravation and pain that can lead to divorce. God understands that some relationships do not work.
In our reading, Jesus says: "The Two shall become one." Note the future tense. It refers to an uncompleted act for the future. Something yet to be done. In the marriage ceremony, the minister does not ask the couple, "Do you love one another?" We assume that they’ve got something going or they wouldn’t be there. No, the question is "Will you love?" Marriage is the glue that holds you together on the days when you don’t like each other much. We become one; we are not automatically one. Oneness is something toward which we strive. It takes work. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to drop into your lap. You must work at it.
Television personality Willard Scott said, "A good marriage is like an incredible retirement fund. You put everything you have into it during your productive life, and over the years it turns from silver to gold to platinum." That’s why a long marriage has always seemed to be such a good idea to the Church. Divorce is like putting your money in an investment fund and then cashing it in just before it begins to gain interest. Note Scott’s words: "you put everything you have into it." Not everybody does. For instance: a classified ad appeared in the newspapers sometime back: "For sale: One 52-year old husband. Never remembers anniversaries, birthdays, or special days. Seldom holds hands, hugs, kisses, or says, `I love you.’ Rarely is kind and tender. Will sell cheap--two cents." Not much of self put into that marriage. No wonder the wife wants to get rid of the husband. But marriage is not 50-50, it is 100-100. Each must go more than half-way.
For all who have struggled with divorce and broken lives, it is important to remember that your promises to God or anyone else’s promises to God, or your promises to anyone else, are not capable of getting us either accepted or condemned by God. Acceptance, according to the gospel, is a free gift bestowed on the world of broken people. It is given to them despite their brokenness, right in the middle of their brokenness. It is not a reward for hotshot behavior in the promise keeping department. Too often we see our brokenness as something that will condemn us unless we get rid of it.
Even if Jesus’ word is literally true, if God is against divorce, we know and trust something else as well: God is not against divorced people. While we were sinners, our broken lives were gathered into Christ Jesus. God does not always like every action we take, but God does always love us. The person.
God’s desire and intent for marriage is that husbands and wives reveal God’s love by their love for one another. There’s more. God’s deeper desire and intent is for a relationship with you. Jesus comes to gather your broken life into the life of God and make it whole again. God’s deeper desire, God dream, is for a relationship with you that is rooted in forgiveness. In Jesus Christ, your life is FOREVER wed to God’s grace.
Jesus once said, "You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." It was a poor translation that we have received. He actually said, "You must be whole as your heavenly Father is whole." God wants us whole. And sometimes, when we are trapped in life-draining relationships, we cannot even strive for wholeness. God wants us to strive for life-giving relationships and to do it with as much integrity and holiness as we can.
So let’s not take the words in today’s gospel as an indictment, but instead as an invitation. God loves us more than we can comprehend. And that love, my friends, is unconditional!
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Our of town
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 8:27-38
Clotilde was reading the classified ads in the newspaper. Suddenly, she burst out laughing. "Boudreaux, listen to this. There’s a classified ad here where this man is offering to swap his wife for season tickets to the LSU games."
"Uh, huh," said Boudreaux, not even looking up.
Teasing him, Clotilde said, "Would you swap me for a season ticket?"
Boudreaux replied, " Mai, absolutely not, Clotilde."
"How sweet," cooed Clotilde.
Not knowing when to leave well enough alone, Boudreaux said, "That’s crazy Clotilde, the season has already started!"
There was an advertisement placed in the personals column of a newspaper. It read like this: "Married, professional man, 47, with problems in home, seeks dalliance with a married/unmarried, intelligent woman." The ad had been written by some researchers. They were curious about who would respond to such an ad -- an ad flagrantly seeking an adulterous relationship. Much to their astonishment, they were swamped by responses.
One wrote: "I am interested in the same things you are. I am 36 and married. Discretion is very important to me. Please call only between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m."
And this one: "Welcome to the club. I am 36, married, a professional in the advertising business. Home is not exactly a nest I look forward to at night. We might share a few things. Write me."
Or this one, "I’m intelligent and married. I live in a deeply wooded area along the river where deer are an everyday occurrence. I could see you during the week, but never on weekends. I am tall, slim and decent looking. You could be seen with me without shame."
Now that’s an interesting way to put it. "You could be seen with me without shame." Let’s talk about that for a minute.
What is it that makes you blush? What brings you shame? That’s the question for the morning. The answer for many of us is, "Not very much anymore." We’ve seen it all -- Jerry Springer, Sex in the City, Ali McBeal, Madonna and Cher, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, HBO, Desperate Housewives, Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Nothing shocks us. Nothing seems to be hidden or forbidden or even looked down upon anymore.
When Elvis first appeared on television on the Ed Sullivan show, the cameras would only show him from the shoulders up. Compare that with MTV, where little is left to the imagination. Even a professed "good" Catholic like Ricky Martin can make Elvis’ gyrations look tame.
When Clark Gable uttered a mild oath in Gone With the Wind, it was a nationwide sensation. Today obscenities spew forth from our televisions. Little children use words that would make sailors blush.
When film star Ingrid Bergman abandoned her husband to live with Roberto Rossalini, her film career in this country plummeted. She was living in sin! Today, such behavior would not cause a ripple. In fact, it helps careers such as the case of Hugh Grant and the prostitute. Many celebrities living together and having children have said they have no intention of getting married. And, of course, that IS now the norm. PeeWee Herman got caught in a shocking situation in a public restroom. Even good Catholic Mel Gibson of "The Passion of Christ" fame, had his drunken police photo in every newspaper in the country. What is it that makes YOU blush?
Part of the problem is that we no longer have models of morality to inspire us. Who can we look up to? The philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once summed up morals and ethics in the question "Who are your heros?" There aren’t very many heros of morality around anymore. As Mark Twain said, "It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare."
"That’s the media’s fault," you say. "They take our heros apart. They show them, warts and all. We no longer have fantasies about the existence of nearly perfect people. If our fathers and mothers had known everything there was to know about their heroes, they would have been disillusioned, too." Well, yes and no.
Once there was a man by the name of Will Rogers. Rogers, at one time, was the most popular and the highest paid entertainer in this country, perhaps in all the world. He was so popular that when George M. Cohen produced a Broadway version of Ah Wilderness, a part was written just for Will Rogers -- to take advantage of his popularity. The play was a smashing success. Mysteriously, however, in about the 5th week, the play suddenly closed down. Some faint excuse was given that Rogers was too busy with his burgeoning film career and other responsibilities. Friends knew better. Rogers still had time for many other things that he wanted to do. Sometime later the truth came out about why Ah Wilderness closed that 5th week.
Will’s longtime friend Eddie Canter explained what happened. He writes, "Will received a letter from a clergyman. Here is what the clergyman said: (Now remember this is a different generation.) The letter said, `Relying on you to give the public nothing that could bring the blush of shame to the cheeks of a Christian, I attended your performance with my 14-year-old daughter, but was deeply embarrassed when you did the scene in which the father lectures the son on the subject of his relations with an immoral woman. I took my daughter by the hand and we left the theater. I have not been able to look her in the eye since.’"
Let me hasten to say that Rogers saw nothing wrong with the part he was playing in Ah Wilderness. He never would have done the play if he’d seen something objectionable about it. But it bothered him deeply that a family could not sit through a performance of that play without embarrassment. And so Will Rogers closed down his very successful play rather than cause offense.
Whether you agree with Rogers or not is not the point. The point is that he was one of the only genuine American heros who kept his principles. Are such things possible today? Or does money and fame rule. It is heartening to see how strong Amy Grant, Whitney Houston and LeAnn Rimes’ faith is, but even they have made major compromises. Can we hold onto our principles? We need role models -- models of moral courage. Without such models, society will continue its journey downward into a moral quagmire.
Some tourists were visiting a West Virginia Coal Mine and were preparing to go down into the mine. One of the ladies was wearing a very dainty, pure white dress. The other people in the party said, "You’re surely not going to wear that white dress down into the mine." So she asked the coal miner who was leading the excursion if it was alright for her to wear her white dress down there. His answer was, "There’s nothing to keep you from wearing your white dress down into this mine. There is a considerable amount to keep it from being white when you come back up."
In a society without moral heroes, it’s very, very difficult to maintain your moral bearings. Certainly we live in a time in great moral confusion. There is a book out called, THE DAY AMERICA TOLD THE TRUTH – WHAT PEOPLE BELIEVE ABOUT EVERYTHING THAT REALLY MATTERS. The authors did a survey in which they asked people about their real views on life.
They discovered that in this time of moral uncertainty, people are fashioning their own moral codes. For example, according to this survey only 13 percent of people today believe in all Ten Commandments. Nine out of ten people in this country lie on a regular basis. One-third of all married Americans have been unfaithful to their spouses. One-fifth of American children have lost their virginity by the age of thirteen. Seven percent of Americans would kill a stranger, if enough money were offered -- seven percent! What are we to say about such a land?
A friend saw a bumper sticker on a car that said, "If it feels good, do it." He said he wanted to ram the car with his car. And if the driver dared ask why he did it, he’d answer, "It felt good so I did it."
There was an article in the newspaper recently about a stock broker, a very affluent stockbroker may I add, who was arrested in New York City for putting slugs in parking meters rather than coins. Perhaps this was his pitiful little rebellion against society. Maybe it was a statement of arrogance. Maybe it was the conviction that he was above the law, that he had gotten so used to making his own rules that even when it didn’t matter, he cheated. What are we to say or do about such a society?
A group of mothers in Kenosha, Wisconsin wrote an alternative health curriculum for their school stressing biblical morals. The plan calls marriage a real commitment. It urges youngsters to prepare to forgive daily and always to speak proudly and lovingly of their mate in public when they are married. The school board voted the curriculum down. What are we to say about such a society in which there are no longer any fixed and accepted rules? One thing we can say is that such a society will experience great heartache.
In the novel The Country of the Pointed Firs, a woman notices a number of painted wooden stakes around the property of a retired sea captain, Elijah Tilley. She asks the captain why those wooden stakes are driven in the ground. Tilley tells her that when he first bought the farm and plowed the ground, every once in a while his plow would snag on a large rock underneath the surface of the ground. These snags not only slowed his progress, but dulled his plow. So he put up stakes to show where the underground rocks were located, so he could avoid them.
That’s what the Ten Commandments are all about. God has said these are the trouble spots in life. Avoid these and you won’t snag your plow. Young people, if you wonder why your parents put so many restrictions on you sometimes, remember that they are trying to help you avoid some snags, some trouble spots, some of the heartache. In some cases they don’t want to see you make the same tragic mistakes they have made or someone they love has made.
What is it that makes you blush? Let’s return to that original question. Let me ask you a very pointed question. Would it make you blush if people found out you were a Christian? The people you work with, the people you party hardy with, the people you go to school with. Would it embarrass you if people found out you were a follower of Jesus?
The last line of our reading says, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it."
But there is more, because the Church tries not to overload you each week with really long readings, you don’t get to hear the next couple of lines in this scripture passage. But they are very important. It reads, "Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels." Are you ashamed to be associated with Jesus at school, at work, at social gatherings?
There are some people with their names on church rolls who would find it easier to utter a string of obscenities than to share with a co-worker their faith in Jesus Christ. Does that sound unbelievable? No, some of you know I’m telling the truth. Some of us, when it comes to sharing our faith are like the St. Lawrence waterway in the wintertime, we’re frozen at the mouth.
What is it that makes you blush? Some of us in this perverted time find it impossible to blush at anything anymore, except perhaps our faith. How about you?
What the Ten Commandments said to the Jews was, "Israel is to make no image of Yahweh, but Israel is to BE an image of Yahweh in the world. When the people of Israel are faithful to the God of the Covenant, then God has the right kind of representative in the world of humankind."
WE are to be images of God! We are to have in us the same mind which was in Christ Jesus. And we are to live out the life of Christ in all that we do. In such a time as this, that influence will be felt.
There is an old Finnish proverb that even a small star shines in the darkness. Well, morally and spiritually we are living in a dark time. We need to let our little lights shine. What is it that makes you blush? I hope it’s sin that makes you blush. I hope it’s transgressing God’s law that makes you blush. I hope that when it comes to your faith in Jesus Christ it doesn’t make you blush. ... I hope it makes you glow.
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 7:31-37
Boudreaux approached a very beautiful woman in a large
supermarket and said, "You know, I've lost my wife, Clotilde, somewhere in this big store. Can you talk to me for a couple of minutes?"
"Why?" asks the beautiful woman, "are you afraid of being alone?"
"Mai, no," said Boudreaux, "I’m just tired of looking for her and I know that every time I talk to a beautiful woman, Clotilde suddenly appears out of nowhere!"
A friend of mine, Jenny, was student nurse. She was assigned to the care of a young man stricken with a paralyzing disease. He had lost his ability to speak, although his understanding and intelligence were unimpaired. Jenny was determined to keep him cheerful. Day in and day out she talked to him of the weather, baseball scores, the latest movies, her classmate who eloped, and whatever else she could think of.
Months later, Jenny received a summons to the patient’s doctor's office, "to see what progress her ex_patient had made." His speech therapist explained that she had been invited to hear the first words that her patient had spoken in three years, the words that he had asked to be taught first. As she walked in, she was greeted by a big smile on the young man's face. "Please, Jenny," he said, carefully forming his words, "shut up!" This young man was having fun with his nurse, but I guess after all that time he really was excited to be the one doing the talking. Just think how frustrating it must be to not to be able to communicate.
One of the real inconveniences of aging is the gradual loss of hearing that many people experience. It is quite discouraging for some people, and it is down right humiliating for others – although it need not be. After all, it is simply part of life.
Helen Keller was once asked whether she would rather have sight or hearing. Miss Keller said that she would rather be able to hear. The loss of hearing is an isolating experience. It cuts us off from others. It puts us at a great disadvantage in any type of relationship. Such was the plight of a man who was brought to Jesus. He had not only lost his hearing, but his ability to speak as well. He was cut off from the world, cut off from his family and friends, cut off from the people around him. He was one of the nameless forgotten people of society. He was fortunate, though. HE HAD SOME FRIENDS. That is the first thing we want to see today. HE HAD FRIENDS WHO BROUGHT HIM TO JESUS.
There is a book titled, The Seasons of a Man’s Life. It is an examination of the factors that contribute to the development, growth, and success of people. Three primary factors seem to be essential to success. The first is a great vision; a driving dream that moves and motivates you to do something with your life. Those who give themselves to the fulfillment of something worthwhile experience a great sense of accomplishment.
The second thing common to the successful people is that they have each found a teacher who could instruct and help them along the way. Not only do we need a vision, we need some folks who have had visions before us, who can walk beside us and point the way.
Finally, there was another commonality among successful people. They each have a deeply personal and significant relationship with at least one other person, someone who would support them in accomplishing their dreams. These were the folks who would walk with them through the difficult times, even when it seemed as though the dream would never come true. In short, THEY HAVE A FRIEND.
This man in today’s gospel who could neither hear nor speak had something far more valuable than either hearing or voice. He had friends.
In Egypt some time ago, fragments of early writings were uncovered from the sand. These fragments contain sayings which are believed to be those of Christ, and not recorded in the New Testament. One of these fragments contained the following sentence: "And Jesus said, ‘Make a friend.’" Well, this man had friends.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, HIS FRIENDS WERE DETERMINED TO SEE THAT HE GOT THE HELP THAT HE NEEDED. Write that down. His friends were determined to see that he got the help he needed.
We call some people our friends who are simply social acquaintances. We smile and say ‘hi,’ and they may even invite us to a party. But most of them don't care enough about us to intervene when they see we are in trouble.
Remember the made-for-TV movie: "The Betty Ford Story"? It was produced with the help of Betty Ford, herself. It dealt with her addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol. She was overwhelmed by the stresses of being the First Lady, and she also had debilitating pain from arthritis. These factors eventually led her to pain pills and finally to alcohol.
Fortunately, her family loved her enough to confront her with her problems. In the most powerful scene of the movie, her family shares their love and concern for her one by one. They tell her that she has become addicted to prescription medicine and that she has become an alcoholic. At first Mrs. Ford denies that she has a problem. But her family is persistent with their love, and eventually convince her to seek help.
In that moving scene, Susan, the youngest child says to her mother, "Mother, always before when you had a problem you turned to God and to your family, but lately you have shut us out. You have turned to medicine and drinking and you are killing yourself." That took courage on Susan's part. But she wasn't just a daughter, she was a friend.
When you see friends in trouble, you seek to intervene. You have to make certain that they get the help they need. So it was with this man whose friends had brought him to see Jesus. They believed that Jesus could help him. How wonderful it is to have friends like that. How wonderful it is TO BE a friend like that. His friends brought him to Jesus. And JESUS PROVED TO BE THIS MAN'S BEST FRIEND. JESUS SET HIM FREE.
Jesus was filled with love and compassion for the man. He took him aside, away from the crowd, and spoke with him in private. Jesus put his fingers in the man's ears and then spat and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and commanded, "Be Open." The man could hear at once, and he could speak without impediment. He was free!
This man was now free to lead a productive life; he was no longer an outcast who could not communicate with others. He was a whole person, unimpeded, thanks to Jesus. This man discovered that he not only had friends in the people who had brought him that day; he also had a friend in Jesus.
Jesus' method of healing this man is interesting. He put his fingers in the man's ears and then spat and touched the man's tongue. This was far more dramatic than Jesus' normal practice. Normally, he just spoke and healing took place, but this time was different. Evidently it was just what this man needed. And that is an important insight. Jesus does not treat us as we might choose to be treated, instead he treats us in ways that meet our needs. We are often discouraged because we pray and things don't get better for us, or they even get worse. Hang in there. Jesus is the best friend that you and I will ever have. He knows our needs, and whatever he does for us will be exactly right. We may not see his hand at work. We may not understand his methods, but he is there.
This man had friends. But Jesus who turned out to be the best friend of all. And he got the help that he needed from his friends. But think about this: IF CHRIST HAS BEFRIENDED US, SO WE OUGHT TO BEFRIEND OTHERS.
That is what the church is all about. It is about being a friend. It is about reaching out to others as Christ reached out to us. There is a lot of talk about how we should not talk to each other in church. I say, WWJD. That mean’s What Would Jesus Do? What would Jesus want us to do? He would want us to reach out to each other. "What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me?" When you reach out to that person next to you, you are reaching out to Jesus! When you ignore them, you ignore Jesus.
A new student, a young boy, was brought into a second grade Vacation Bible School class. The young fellow was missing his right arm. Since the class was almost over, the teacher had no opportunity to learn of the background of his handicap or his state of adjustment. She was very nervous and afraid that one of the children would comment on his handicap and embarrass him. Since she had no opportunity to caution the children, she proceeded as carefully as possible.
As the class time came to a close, she began to relax and asked the children to join her in her usual closing ceremony. "Let's make our churches," she said. "Here's the church and there's the steeple. Open the door and. . ."
The awful consequence of her action struck her. She had done the very thing she was afraid the children would do. As she stood there, her face turning crimson, the little girl sitting next to the new boy reached over and placed her right hand in his left hand and said, "Let's make this church together."
That is what the church is. Friends helping friends – because Christ is the best friend of all.
22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 7:1-23
Boudreaux is very thirsty and goes into a bar. He is not quite sure what he wants to order. Thibodaux, who happened to be sitting next to him and he hears him order a French drink, "I'll have another waterloo."
The bartender gives Thibodaux a very large frosted glass filled to the brim with ice peaking out from the top. Boudreaux had never heard of this drink but he knew it must be French with a name later Waterloo. He remembered his history lesson about Napoleon and figured this French drink must be really good.
The bartender asks Boudreaux what he wants. He says, "Mai, I think I’ll have me a waterloo."
So the bartender brings Boudreaux his drink in a huge frosted glass. He takes a long deep gulp and screams, "HEY! This isn't any good. It tastes just like water!"
Thibodaux turns to Boudreaux and says, "It is water. That's all I drink." Then he turns to the bartender and says, "Right Lou?"
There is a story told about an old rabbi who was in a Roman prison. He was on a minimal ration of food and water. It was just enough for him to survive. As time passed, the rabbi grew weaker and weaker. Finally, it became necessary to call a doctor. The old man’s problem as diagnosed as dehydration.
The doctor’s report confused prison officials. They couldn’t understand how the rabbi could be dehydrated. Although his daily ration of drinking water was minimal, it was adequate. The guards were told to watch the old man closely to see what he was doing with his water.
It was then that the mystery was solved. The guards discovered that the rabbi was using almost all of his water to perform religious ritual washings before he prayed and before he ate. As a result, he had little water left to drink.
This story helps us appreciate better today’s gospel. It helps us understand better the shock and dismay Jewish leaders felt when they saw the disciples of Jesus eat without performing ritual washings. This is what makes today’s gospel reading so important. It focuses on one of the basic disputes between Jesus and Jewish leaders.
Let’s take a closer look at what this particular dispute involved: When Jews talk about "the Law," they mean one of two things: either the "written" Law or the "oral" Law.
The older and more important of these is the "written" Law. It is set down in the Torah, that is, the first five books of the Old Testament. It is sometimes called the Laws of Moses. Some of these laws are concrete and specific while others are very general – more like norms rather than laws.
For a long time, Jews were content with these general norms. They applied them to their lives as they saw fit. Beginning with the fifth century before Jesus, however, there emerged in Israel a group of legal experts called "scribes." They felt the general norms were too vague and should be spelled out in detail. And they proceeded to spell them out.
The scribes hijacked the law, using it to build their own empire, not to help those in need. They burdened people with their complicated and endless interpretations of the law, and called those who could not hope to aspire to such perfection, sinners. The law, which had been given to protect the weak, was being used to give legal sanction and moral authority to their exploiters. They took the ten commandments made 613 new laws – 245 dos and 368 don’ts.
This gave rise to the second set of laws, the oral laws, or oral traditions.
About that same time, there arose on the part of many Jews the desire to imitate the ritual holiness of their priests. For example, according to the written Law, ritual hand washing was required of all priests before they entered the temple sanctuary. Its purpose was to wash away all ritual uncleanliness so that they could worship God more worthily.
Gradually, the people began to imitate the priests and wash their hands before praying. In a similar way, the practice of washing before meals evolved. This, of course, had nothing to do with cleanliness – or germs or bacteria – they did not understand that stuff. It had to do simply with ritual.
By the time of Jesus, Jews observed these oral traditions just as minutely and faithfully as they did the written laws of the Torah. These rituals became more important for some than things of the heart, like love and pity.
The idea behind all of these observances was noble. It was to try to make religion permeate every action of the day. But in the course of trying to do this, something tragic happened. Slowly, religion began to degenerate into an activity of performing ritual acts.
But, to the scribes and Pharisees, rules and regulations were the essence of religion. To observe the rituals was to please God. Not to observe them was a sin. The scribes succeeded in producing a legalistic religion: the attendance to external observance of these rules was taken to be more desirable than the pure intention of pleasing God and serving one’s neighbors, which really is the fundamental end of the whole law in the first place. In short, observing these external rituals and acts became identified with being religious and not doing so was identified as evil.
For instance, someone might hate another person with his or her whole heart. But that did not matter as long as he or she carried out the correct hand washings and observed the correct laws about cleanliness. Today’s version might be that a person could be hateful and mean to everyone, but that doesn’t matter as long as they come to church and communion each week.
This story might illustrate it. A Palestinian might have a huge amount of explosives strapped around his waist and is headed to the local Jewish orphanage. Suddenly, the called to prayer is sounded. Instantly, the Muslim unrolls his prayer mat, kneels down, and prays the required prayers as fast as he can. The he jumps up, continues on his way, enters the orphanage and blows everyone, including himself, up.
That was precisely the kind of legalism that Jesus opposed so vigorously.
How does all this apply to us? Well, it warns us that we too must guard against identifying religion with performing external acts. For example, going to church, saying prayers, reading the Bible, and giving to charity, do not, in themselves, guarantee holiness.
The reason is obvious. We can do all of these things, but for the wrong reasons. We can do all of these things, but in an unloving way.
Our Lord Jesus Christ frequently condemned externalistic attitudes and modes of behavior. Very often, those who meticulously kept these regulations had their hearts full of envy, hate, and bitterness; yet they would pass themselves off as justified because they kept the external appearances of observing the law.
In short, this sort of thing bread hypocrisy, which is nothing more than dishonesty and deceit, which does nothing but drive honest people away from formal religion. Jesus reserved his bitterest criticisms for the scribes and Pharisees for fermenting and nurturing this sort of religion. The scribes and Pharisees were so taken up with the external rules, that to them, religion meant carrying out those outward acts rather than carrying out the ten commandments.
What counts is not what we do. What counts is the love in our heart that motivates us to do what we do. If our heart is filled with bitterness or pride, then all the external practices in the world won’t make us holy before God. In other words, Protestants can say they are saved, and they can say the prayer of accepting Christ as their savior, but unless their actions are a reflection of that salvation, then the act is worthless. In other words, as written in James (2:20) faith without good works is dead. That is where Catholics and Methodists different from other faiths. Your life must be a reflection of your faith. Faith alone is not enough. And even good works are not enough. Why do we do those good works? What is our motivation?
Today’s gospel invites us to look into our own heart and ask ourselves: to what extent do the words in today’s second reading apply to us? It reads: "Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to God’s word . . . . Pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows . . . and to keep oneself from being corrupted."
Or to what extent do these words of Isaiah, which Jesus cites in today’s gospel, apply to us? "These people . . . honor me with their words, but their heart is really far from me."
In short, what counts in religion is not what we do, but why we do it. What is our motive. Do we do it out of love or do we do it to appear holy and good to others. What counts is the love in our heart; love of God and love of neighbor.
It is so very simple. What Jesus was trying to get across to them, and to us, is that religion must come from within. Outward acts are meaningless if we continue to carry bitterness, hatred, and even disregard for the plight of each other. Performing lip service is meaningless if we fail to recognize the voice of God in following his commandments. Love of God, love of neighbor, and a tender, unselfish love of ourselves, should be reflected from our hearts.
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Second Reading - Ephesians 5:21-32
Before Boudreaux and Clotilde got married, Clotilde was visiting Boudreaux’s parents. "Oh, Boudreaux," said Clotilde, "they are so nice together. It is so wonderful how your daddy brings your mama coffee in bed every morning.
Well, after Boudreaux and Clotilde got married and were headed for their honeymoon, Clotilde spoke of the loving home they would have and mentioned again Boudreaux’s daddy’s habit of bringing his mama coffee in bed each morning. Clotilde asked, "Boudreaux, tell me, does that trait run in the family?"
"May yea," said Boudreaux, "It sure does. I take after my mama."
We just heard St. Paul say, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands." Remember the old translation, "Wives, obey your husbands."? Now I’m not even going to attempt to justify St. Paul’s words, but there does need some explanation. You see, most priests won’t touch this reading with a ten-foot pole.
There are some parts of Scripture that are applicable at all times in all places. There are others that are appropriate to a specific place and a specific time, but now have been superseded by the Holy Spirit. If that were not so, we would all still be eating kosher, following the dietary laws of the Hebrew scriptures. There would be no cheeseburgers because it says you cannot eat meat and milk in the same meal. And forget those shrimp boils and shrimp po-boys. You cannot eat anything from the ocean without a backbone. If we followed the letter, we should bring back the "blue laws" which closed stores, theaters and businesses on Sunday. Women should cover their heads in church and never wear red. And if a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both shall be put to death. That should keep our divorce courts busy!
Within the culture that St. Paul lived, "Wives, obey your husbands..." was somewhat taken for granted. That was the social order. That was the way things were done. Paul meant no harm because he later said, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church."
Still, millions of women in history have been treated poorly by men. Manipulated, seduced, thrown away, killed.
In Ancient Greece, a woman's age was counted from the day of her marriage. That was because a woman wasn't considered to exist unless she was married!
The Thracians, a warrior people who lived in what is Bulgaria today, from about 1300 to 500 B.C., practiced polygamy. When a man died, his wives argued among themselves as to which one had been his favorite. The wife who was finally decided upon as the favorite won the privilege of being killed and placed next to her husband in his tomb.
If you think that is an isolated practice, think again. In Fiji, until recent times, wives were often strangled or buried alive at the funeral of their husbands. This was supposed to be the only way by which women could reach the blissful realms. It was taught that she who meets death with this great mark of devotedness will become a favorite wife in the abode of spirits. The woman who was thus put to death to accompany the spirit of their husband was laid at the bottom of the grave for the dead man to lie upon. Now, although wives were sacrificed at a husband's death, husbands were not sacrificed at the death of their wives. Is anyone surprised by that?
As for our own heritage, the Anglo_Saxon word wedd meant the groom's pledge to marry but it also referred to the purchase money or its equivalent in horses, cattle or other property, which the groom paid to the bride's father. So a wedding was literally the purchase of a woman for breeding purposes.
Paul is not sounding so bad now, is he? To show you how little status women have in some parts of the world, I ran across one fascinating little bit of trivia. Hindu men believe it is unlucky to marry for a third time. If a man does wish to take a third wife, he can avoid misfortune by marrying a tree first. The tree (his third wife) is then burnt, and he is free to marry the woman of his choice.
There are many prople who talk with disdain about feminists, or "femi_nazis" as Rush Limbaugh calls them, but the truth is that women have had lots of catching up to do. And many marriages are better marriages today because of the changing status of women. Many men are discovering that in order to heed Paul's admonition that men should love their wives it is essential that first of all that women be treated with the same respect that a man demands for himself.
Now let’s look at Jesus’ world – the world at the time Paul wrote this passage. It was patriarchal with a capital "P". In Jewish society, women were considered property of men. A father received a sum of money from the man who married his daughter. Jewish husbands could divorce their wives, but wives could not divorce their husbands.
Then here comes Jesus. Jesus repeatedly shocked his contemporaries by insisting that men and women are equal. That was Jesus’ original plan for prohibiting divorce. Men were being allowed to cast off the woman they no longer found to their liking. And Jesus abhorred that practice. In Matthew (5:31-32) Jesus says: "But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." The reason he said this was because he wanted to protect women!
A woman had no standing alone in society. If she had no father, no son, or no husband, she had only two options to survive in Jewish society of Jesus’ time. Become a beggar or a prostitute. She had no rights and her husband could divorce her by simply saying, "I divorce you." For all practical purposes, her life ended at that point. Women did not exist outside the context of a man. That is the reason that during the crucifixion, Jesus gave his mother to his favorite disciple, John. Her father Joachim and her husband Joseph were dead and now Jesus was dying. His mother had to be connected to a man and Jesus had no brothers or brother-in-laws.
Even though women were considered inferior to men, Jesus treated women with unparalleled respect and sensitivity. That caused wonder, surprise, and most of all, it caused scandal. His apostles marveled that he spoke to the woman at the well. No Jewish man was allowed to speak to a woman in public.
The Pharisees were appalled that he allowed a sinful women to anoint his feet. Jesus promptly proceeded to insulted them when he said, "Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." (Matthew 21:31).
He insulted them on other occasions as with the parable of the woman and the lost coin in which he asked them to put themselves in the place of a woman who had lost a coin. Can you imagine what these Jewish men thought when Jesus asked them to put themselves in the place of a woman!
The gospels tell of Jesus’ compassion toward women, such as the widow of Nain or the woman caught in adultery, or the Canaanite woman. Story after story tells of his love for women. He broke tradition by allowing a woman to learn from the Master as the case of Mary, sister of Martha. No woman in the history of the Jewish civilization had sat beside a Rabbi to learn.
Every one of these things was shocking to his Jewish contemporaries. The extent to which Jesus upheld the dignity of women is seen in his teaching that not only is adultery and fornication wrong, but "every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28). You might find that statement extreme, but Jesus wants us to recognize that lustful thoughts and desires toward women, corrupt and demean the dignity of women.
The cross of Jesus was encircled by women. John (19:25) says, "Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." Where were the men? All except John were hiding, scared! Jesus rewarded the faith of these women. They were the first to see him as the risen Lord and to them was given the supreme honor of being the first heralds of the good news of his resurrection.
Perhaps it is significant that there no record in the gospels of any woman ever having joined with the enemies of Jesus. Further, it was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who first proclaimed the Good News. Mary Magdalene might well be called the "apostle of the Apostles." She was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness to him before the Apostles.
Contrast Jesus of the New Testament with the Old Testament. It is full of women as the temptresses, beginning with Eve. And women have been mistreated from the beginning of time. Now, the record of mistreatment of women by men is sparse in literature, probably because it is men who have been the writers for the most part. It is said that history is written by the victors. The victors are not likely to say much about their own sins. That’s why we have a story about an adulterous woman and not an adulterous COUPLE. But a significant question arises. How did she do it alone?
You know, this kind of mistreatment becomes all the more sad when someone wants to enforce it with a citation from the Bible. Older translations, including the horrible King James Version, had St. Paul saying, "Wives should be submissive to their husbands . . . Wives should submit to their husbands in everything."
In today’s translation we hear, "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ." The subordination that Paul is referring to is a specific form of universal service of which ALL Christians are called. Whether you use the word, submissive, defer, subordinate, the passage is saying we should yield in judgment or opinion, to submit to each other. Paul sees all Christian relationships in terms of self-sacrifice and love.
Another point is that Paul’s letter is reflecting the culture of his time. We may object to the roles and principles imposed by the social culture of Paul’s time, but lets consider also there are many roles and principles put forth by our own society that we simply cannot be blindly accepted either. Paul seems to be echoing the accepted norm of marriage of that day in which the husband ruled the roost. But that neither expresses the will of God for all time, nor does it justify any maltreatment of the wife by the husband.
Yet this is exactly what has been done for centuries. Take battered wives for example. St. Augustine writes that his mother was the only woman in town who was not beaten by a husband. And Augustine also notes that his father was not even a Christian! Comedians of the past have joked about wife beatings. And the culture had belly laughs. It is no secret that psychological and physical mistreatment continue in our own day. That is why we have places like "Cher Hope" to hide women from their own husbands.
During the time it takes me to deliver this homily, 34 women in the U.S. will be battered by a husband, father, or boyfriend -- one every 15 seconds. One fourth of these women are pregnant -- their battering generally taking place on the woman’s abdomen, whereas non-pregnant women are most commonly beaten on the face and breasts. Between 3 and 4 million women are beaten each year by their husbands, ex-husbands or boyfriends. 4 die every day from their injuries.
Every six minutes a woman is raped, most likely by a friend, an acquaintance, a date, or a family member. So at this rate, almost one-half of the women in the United States will be raped in their lifetime. One out of every three girls in the United States is sexually assaulted or abused before the age of 18. One out of three! And 99% of the abusers know their victim: father, stepfather, uncle, grandfather, family friend, babysitter, teacher, minister, priest. One out of every seven married women are raped by their husband.
These women are in every church, every congregation, every religion, every parish. Yet the church and its leaders are, more often than not, silent. Often batterers use Scripture to justify their abuse and claim their authority over women as God-given. Women are expected to submit to male authority, to suffer in silence and make no protest. They are told to find spiritual value in their suffering, and to forgive their persecutors. And that is truly a horrendous abuse of Scripture -- sheer blasphemy.
On the road to Calvary, the women of Jerusalem bewailed Jesus’ sufferings at the hands of violent men. But Jesus redirected their lament: "Do not weep for me, but for yourselves and for your children," he said (Luke 23:28). Women and their children are suffering and dying at the hands of violent men now, just as they did in Jesus’ day. And their suffering is as worthy of our tears, as lamentable, as the suffering of Jesus.
Paul, in today’s reading, goes on to say, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church" -- the church meaning US. In other words, love your wives as Christ loves us. Not as pets, or servants, or second class citizens who submit to you. The love Paul refers to in Greek is not eros (sensual love), nor philia (friendship love), but agape, self-giving, unselfish service. If this is his "love" for his wife, then the husband is quite as much "subject" to her as she is to him.
Now expectations have a lot to do with the problem. Some men expect their wives to be as pure as the Blessed Virgin, as sexy as Angelina Jolie, as gorgeous as Haley Berry, as good a cook as Julia Child, and as bright as Elizabeth Dole. What we want is a bionic woman. What we forget is that we are not six million dollar men.
My harsh words today are not for all men. We have many, many decent, kind, loving men who are in marriages where they treat their wives with dignity and respect. They do not misapply the words of St. Paul. The key to St. Paul’s instructions today is that we use Christ as our model. It is out of obedience to and imitation of Christ that each person carries out his or her proper role, whether as husband or wife, parent or child. Look how Christ treated women and children and then treat yours the same. It is in our mutual laying down our lives in Christ that prevents our authority from becoming authoritarian, and submission from becoming subjugation.
Remember that men have done terrible things in the name of love – the wrong kind of love. There is no real marriage without a man and a woman dying to themselves for the love of one another. We can call it submission or we can call it sacrifice. But it is an absolutely necessary ingredient in any marriage or in any real friendship. Only when each marriage partner seeks the well-being of the other above their own, will they know the greatest measure of happiness that any human being can find. Marriage is not and will never be 50/50. It is 100/100.
20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - John 6:51-58
Thibodaux really wanted a few days off from work, but he knew the boss wouldn’t give me time off. He thought that maybe if he acted "crazy," then the boss would tell him to take a few days off. So, Thibodaux hung upside-down from the ceiling and made funny noises. Boudreaux asked Thibodaux what I was doing. Thibodaux said that he was pretending to be a light bulb so the boss might think he need of a few days off. A few minutes later, the boss came into the office and asked, "What in the world are you doing?"
Thibodaux told him that he was a light bulb. The boss said, "You are clearly stressed out. Go home and rest for a couple of days." Thibodaux jumped down and walked out of the office.
Boudreaux started to follow Thibodaux. His boss called out, "And where do you think you’re going?"
"Mai," said Boudreaux, "I’m going home too. I can’t work in the dark."
Have you ever heard someone describe something they are pleased with like this: "It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread." That phrase is meaningless to most of us. Here’s the rest of the story.
In 1909, the first electric toaster appeared. Only problem was that it toasted one side at a time and with no timer, it required constant vigilance: when the toast was done, you pulled the plug. Then in 1919, the first automatic electric toaster was designed by Charles Strite, a man sick and tired of burned toast. Americans were skeptical at first about investing in a single-function appliance, but prices dropped and sales mushroomed. From 1922 to 1930 sales tripled, from 400,000 units to 1,200,000, thanks in part to the introduction another wonder: sliced bread by of all people Wonder Bread Company. Before this, bread was sold in whole loaves. If you were going to enjoy your new toaster, you had to cut your own bread. But now, wow, the convenience of sliced bread. Some people thought that pre-sliced bread was about the neatest thing they had ever heard of – so the phrase, "That’s the greatest thing since sliced bread".
Our gospel today is about bread. Jesus said, "I myself am the living bread came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever." John devotes the entire sixth chapter of his Gospel to this one theme: Christ is the bread of life. He is nourishment for our hungry souls.
You see, as Westerners, we do not understand what Jesus was saying when he said, "I am the Bread of Life." In ancient Palestine, and still in the Middle East, bread is not just something extra thrown in at a meal. It is the heart of every meal. They have those thin pieces of pita bread at every meal. People would not think of taking forks and putting them in their mouths. To put an object in your mouth defiles it. You certainly would not take a fork out and put it in again and go on defiling yourself like that. Instead, you break off a piece of the bread, pick up your food with it and eat it. Indeed, the only way you can get to the main dish is with the bread.
Jesus was saying that the only way you can come to life is through him. Jesus used many metaphors to define his ministry. Let’s consider this one metaphor – BREAD – for a few moments to discover the unique message it has to convey.
NOTE, FIRST OF ALL, THAT THE BREAD OF CHRIST IS UNIVERSAL. No one is excluded. Jesus said, "If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." There is no restriction on the kind of person Christ invites to HIS table. It makes no difference who you are or what you’ve done. It makes no difference where you’re from or how you got here. There is no official language at Christ’s table except the language of the heart.
A respected mission organization sent a group of translators to a small and remote tribe in South America. When the translators reached the passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus speaks to a crowd saying, "I am the bread of life," the translators realized that there was no such thing as bread in that culture. They simply had no bread in their society. The tribe did, however, use a specific kind of banana a bit like we use bread. Thus, for their purposes, Jesus said, "I am the banana of life." That sounds silly to us – but, for them, it was eternally true.
It makes no difference whether you say Christ is the bread of life or that Christ is the banana of life. One reason the banner of Christ flies all over the world is that Christ is bread for the world. He is not European bread, or African Bread, or Middle Eastern bread. We worship a universal Christ.
Of course, that which is most universal is also most personal. AND THAT BRINGS US TO THE SECOND CHARACTERISTIC OF THE BREAD OF CHRIST: IT IS INTENSELY PERSONAL. That is, if all are welcomed at Christ’s table, then I am welcome at Christ’s table and you are welcome at Christ’s table. We are all precious to Christ. There are no second class citizens in the Kingdom of God.
The pastor of a small parish, Lloyd Ogilvie, had a serious accident sometime back that resulted in a year=long period of recovery. When he was in bed wondering when he could walk again, a friend sent him a photograph she had found among her mother’s things after she died. It was a picture she had taken of the large, lighted sign on the corner of their church where Ogilvie’s sermon titles and name are displayed. She had taken the picture years before on a Sunday Ogilvie had preached on the topic, "The Lord Never Forgets." The custodian who had arranged the letters on the sign that week had put Pastor Ogilvie’s name immediately below. There were no quotation marks, so it all read as one: THE LORD NEVER FORGETS LLOYD OGILVIE. Tears flowed as Ogilvie remarked that the Lord always gets his message to us when we most need it.
Christ never forgets any of us. His love is at the same time universal and extremely personal. He is bread for a hungry world. He is bread for your life and mine. The bread Christ offers is universal and personal. THE BREAD OF CHRIST IS ALSO COMMUNAL. Certainly the bread that Christ gives us is a personal thing. We rejoice in our acceptance by God and the indwelling of Christ’s Spirit. But that experience does not happen in isolation. It happens in the context of the Christian community.
I was surfing on the Internet and I ran across an item which read, "Do This in Random Access Memory of Me." It was the site of the Independent Catholic Church, some group who broke away from our church. They celebrate Mass online and allow people place unleavened bread in front of their computer monitors for consecration. Heaven help us! Of course, I realize that different people have different needs. And perhaps, there are times for a personal communing with God -- maybe even in front of a computer screen. But it is clear in this passage that Christ is talking about something more than the personal. We read on in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel and we hear Christ say, "Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." Here is a clear reference to the Sacrament of the Eucharist offered by the church. The bread is personal, BUT IT IS ALSO COMMUNAL. It is the bread of God’s people.
The strength we draw from feeding on the body of Christ is partially the result of our joining spirits as his disciples. In the sacrament, we become one with Christ. We ARE the body of Christ. Search the scriptures and you will agree that the Christian faith is not to be lived in isolation, nor in front of a computer screen. It is not a faith for loners. We are a sacred fellowship.
Ben Weir, the missionary who was for so long a hostage in Lebanon, speaks movingly about worshiping while in captivity. Every Saturday night, he saved a piece of bread from dinner, and on Sunday morning he would eat that piece of bread and feel so moved by the sense of COMMUNING WITH GOD’S PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD. Even in prison, he found a way to celebrate being in the presence of the Lord. For the bread of Christ is universal yet personal. It is personal yet it is communal.
THE BREAD OF CHRIST IS ALSO BOTH TIME-SENSITIVE AND ETERNAL. I like that phrase, time-sensitive. It’s a jargon for the business world! When we go to the store we discover codes that say something like, "Sell before September 1, 2009." And we pay attention to those codes. After all, we don’t want sour milk or stale bread. Well, Christ’s bread is time-sensitive as well.
Scholars tell us that when Jesus told us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer for DAILY bread he used a word that is unique in all Greek literature. The word "daily" is not found in classical Greek, and no where else in New Testament Greek does it appear. Some people thought St. Matthew made up the word when he wrote his version of the Gospel . . . that is, until 1947, when they unearthed the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among all the shards of pottery, and scraps of papyrus and parchment, was a shopping list . . . evidently a housewife’s notes of what she needed from the market. Jesus’ word for DAILY was on the list! You see, it was the designation of a category – the items she needed to purchase every day in the "agora," the marketplace. Bread, before the time of preservatives, needed to be baked daily. Like manna, it could grow moldy the next day in arid climates, as well as damp ones. Thus Jesus says to us that we need to depend daily on him.
Do you see the wonderful paradoxes? Universal yet personal. Personal and yet communal. Time-sensitive and yet eternal. And Jesus says that even though this bread which he gives us is eternal, it must be gathered daily. And this brings us to one final paradox: THE BREAD OF CHRIST IS TO BE KEPT, AND IT IS TO BE GIVEN AWAY.
The bread of Christ gives us great strength and thus we do not want to lose it, or misplace it. At the same time Christ means for us to give it away.
During World War I, the Germans would train soldiers to capture enemy soldiers for interrogation. Because of the nature of trench warfare at that time, it was extremely difficult for armies to cross the no-man’s-land between opposing front lines; but it was not so difficult for a single soldier to crawl across and slip into an enemy trench position. The armies of the Great War had experts who regularly did so to capture an enemy soldier, who would then be brought back for questioning. There was a particular German expert who had successfully completed such missions in the past and was sent on another.
Once again, he skillfully negotiated the area between fronts and surprised a lone enemy soldier in his trench. The unsuspecting soldier, who had been eating at the time, was easily disarmed. The frightened captive with only a piece of bread in his hand then performed what may have been the most important act of his life. He gave his enemy some of the bread. So affected was the German by this gift that he could not complete his mission. He turned from his benefactor and recrossed the no-man’s-land empty-handed to face the wrath of his superiors. There is a message here for us. The bread of Christ is not to be hoarded. It is to be shared with the world.
You know, one of the ironies of history is the durability of Jesus of Nazareth and his message. Try as it might, the world has not been able to forget him. When he was born, Augustus Caesar ruled the world. When he died, Tiberius was Emperor in Rome. They were both great, but he – a nobody from a carpenter’s shop, who never possessed station or rank, unheralded by his contemporaries, hated by the powers that be, dying on a cross -- has conquered the hearts and minds of millions. That is a strange thing and the only explanation of it is that he loved and helped people. The purpose of his life was to be given away in service. He measured greatness in terms of humble service to others.
Some years ago, one of the best selling books in America was entitled, Looking Out For Number One. It contains such profound ideas as this: (and I’m quoting): "The best way to help the poor is by not becoming one of them." Then again, "Can you buy friendship? You not only can, but you must. It is the only way to obtain friends." How pathetic! The whole idea seems to be that if we are selfish and greedy enough, we can find true happiness.
How long do you think that book will last? It was a best-seller, but now you would have trouble finding a copy. Then there is the Sermon on the Mount. It is still a best seller! The thing that endures, the quality of life that really lasts is not selfishness but a life that is given away in service.
Jesus said, "I am the true bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever." His is the kind of life that death cannot destroy; and if we will, we can claim those qualities for our own.
"Unlike your ancestors who ate and died nonetheless, the man who feeds on THIS BREAD shall live forever." That is Christ’s message to us. He is the living bread, and he gave himself to us. The bread of Christ is universal and yet personal; it is personal yet communal; it is time-sensitive yet eternal; it is eternal yet it is daily; it is to be kept yet given away. . . .
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - John 6:35, 41-51
Clotilde walked into the kitchen to find her Boudreaux stalking the kitchen with a fly swatter. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"Mai, I’m hunting flies," Boudreaux says.
"Oh, have you killed any"
"Yep," said Boudreaux, 3 male flies and 2 female flies."
Clotilde asked, "Boudreaux, how can you tell that?"
"Easy," said Boudreaux, "3 were on a can of beer and 2 were on the telephone."
Have you ever noticed that it is very difficult to escape your reputation? Once people have an image of you in their minds, it is very difficult to change their perception.
Back in the 1940s, a highly popular advertising jingle for Chiquita Bananas ended with the line: "Bananas like the climate of the very, very tropical equator, so you should never put bananas in the refrigerator. No. No. No. No." We’re told that the only reason the word REFRIGERATOR was mentioned in the jingle was that it rhymed with EQUATOR. The company wanted shoppers to be reminded that the bananas came all the way from Central America. The truth was -- and is -- bananas can be put into the refrigerator, yes, yes, yes, yes, and indeed last longer if they are cold. However, that didn’t matter in the forties when refrigerators were tiny and the majority of women went grocery shopping almost daily. What mattered then was that people loved the Chiquita jingle, sang it everywhere, and bought lots of bananas. (The jingle became so popular, recordings of it appeared in jukeboxes. And the U.S. government borrowed the tune for a song about conserving water during World War II.)
However, what had seemed to be the perfect ad campaign began costing the company sales in the fifties when the suburbs boomed, refrigerators doubled in size, and shopping became a once-a-week event. Shoppers would buy a dozen apples or a dozen oranges but only three bananas because they "knew" that bananas should never go in the fridge. The company tried in vain for years to counter the jingle’s message but finally gave up. Once people had a certain image in their mind they did not give it up very easily. Now I know there are some people here who will not put your bananas in the refrigerator!
Once people think they have something figured out, it is difficult to change their perception. Jesus ran into this. He lived in a small town, in a small country. People knew his mother and father. They may have even known him in his role as a carpenter. Perhaps he had built a piece of furniture for them or replaced a handle on one of their favorite tools. After all, he did not begin his ministry until he was thirty. For most of his adult life he labored in a carpenter shop. Can you imagine how people responded when suddenly he proclaimed himself to be the one prophesied by the prophets?
We read in today’s gospel that his fellow countrymen began to grumble about Jesus because he said that he was the bread that came down from heaven. They said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose mother and father we know?" We can appreciate their disbelief for we have done the same thing to people. We put them in a box. We assign them to a category. We know where they came from, we know who their parents are, we know where they went to school, we can tell by their accent or by their appearance about their background and we make certain assumptions.
And because we make those assumptions, we treat them in a certain way. Maybe, if we are a teacher, we subtly overlook them in class. If we are a police officer, perhaps we are a little more aggressive when we pull them over to the curb. If we are the president of the company, perhaps it slants the way we regard them when it comes time for a promotion.
Oh, none of this is intentional of course. We may not even be conscious of it. It simply saves our brains the time and energy of sorting out people individually. So, we sort them out by category. "I know who you are. You are Mary and Joseph’s son. You’re from Nazareth. That’s farming country, isn’t it? People are a little slow there. Well, maybe we can find a job for you that’s not too taxing mentally." Do you think such things do not happen? Then you are naive. That is the way the human brain operates.
BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU JUDGE ANOTHER PERSON’S POTENTIAL. Anytime you write anyone off without giving them a fair shot, you may be mistaken.
I read about a guy who was describing the most vivid memory of going to school as a child. He said: "In the third grade, we were asked to stand up in front of the class and say what we wanted to be when we grew up. Now, I went to a fairly strict school, and every time you were asked to stand before the class, it was a pretty serious matter. I remember very distinctly one girl who stood up and said, ‘I’m going to be a movie star.’ As I remember, there wasn’t anything special about this girl. She wasn’t very pretty. Her grades were average, some of them were even below average. She didn’t come from a wealthy family. In fact, the only thing I really remember about her was the class laughing at her. The whole class laughed at her.
And I remember she just stood there smiling, as if she knew something the rest of us didn’t. I don’t remember ever seeing that girl again in school. Now I see her all the time. She’s one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Every time I sit in the movie theater and watch her up there on the silver screen and I think: she was always so proud of who she was. She had a dream she always held onto. "Back then," he concluded , "they laughed at her. Now they pay to see her. I’m glad I didn’t laugh."
They laughed at Jesus. "Bread from heaven? We know where you came from. You’re Mary and Joseph’s son." Be careful when you judge anyone else’s potential.
BE ESPECIALLY CAREFUL WHEN YOU PLACE PEOPLE IN A BOX BECAUSE THEY BELONG TO A PARTICULAR GROUP.
Long-hairs -- short-hairs -- gray- hairs -- minorities -- ethnics -- yuppies -- generation Xers, Yers, Zers, – my goodness, every generation is getting its own letter. There are so many factors that determine a person’s success in life. Intelligence -- talent -- determination -- desire. External characteristics are a tiny portion of the equation.
People put Elizabeth Blackwell in a box. The box was labeled "woman." Elizabeth had a dream, back when dreams for women were very circumscribed. Society, before the Civil War, thought that dreams were fine things, except when held by women. But Elizabeth Blackwell had too much gumption to care what society thought. So she set out to realize her dream of becoming a doctor. She applied to eight medical schools and was rejected outright.
But one school, Geneva Medical School in New York, finally accepted her. Elizabeth didn’t know that the professors had admitted her because they thought it would be great fun to watch a woman struggle and fail at learning. After consulting the other students, they agreed to admit her as a joke. But only Elizabeth was laughing when she graduated at the head of the class. She traveled to Europe and studied at the finest medical schools there, but on her return to the States she couldn’t get into medical practice anywhere.
So Elizabeth set up her own clinic in a slum neighborhood of New York. In spite of frequent harassment, she kept the clinic going, caring for the poor, the immigrant, the people at the bottom of society. When the Civil War broke out, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell began training nurses for the battlefield. She trained scores of women nurses and sent them to the front lines to nurse the wounded, and even to save lives. By the end of the war, women nurses were an institution in American society. No one gave them a second thought. Dr. Blackwell’s legions of women nurses had gained the social acceptance that she had worked so hard to earn.
And in 1868, she was able to open a medical school for women. She spent her last years in London, training women nurses and women doctors. Thanks to her efforts, barriers of prejudice came down and women became accepted members in the field of medicine. That is a story that can be told over and over again. We do people a great disservice and we limit what they might offer to society when we prejudge them by their gender or their color or their accent or any other surface characteristic. What counts is a person’s heart. And here is where Jesus can help us all. WITH CHRIST’S HELP WE CAN ALL BE MORE THAN WE EVER DREAM.
It makes no difference where we come from or how we look or talk or who our parents are. We are all children of God. We all have more potential than we can ever exhaust. And there is One who can help us so orient our lives that we can overcome every obstacle. Christ is bread for the world. When we feed on him we find we are able to accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible.
Tracey Bailey stood before the judge with his head held high, his jaw set defiantly against the sentence the judge was about to pronounce. The words of his high school wrestling coach echoed in his mind: "Don’t you ever hang your head. Don’t admit defeat." And Tracey wouldn’t hang his head, not before his ashamed and heart-broken parents, not before his shocked community, not before this judge, and certainly not before God. No one would see his pain.
The citizens of Goshen, Indiana had been stunned to learn that Tracey Bailey -- captain of the wrestling team, member of the student council, good student, from the church-going Bailey family -- had been one of the teens involved in the devastating vandalism attack on the local high school. He had fallen in with an unruly group who used alcohol to fuel their frequent petty vandalisms and thefts. But one night, the boys, in a drunken frenzy, had broken into the high school and torn apart whole classrooms. Now the judge wanted to hold them up as an example to others with similar mayhem in their blood. Tracy was sentenced to a five-year term in the juvenile offenders facility. Originally conceived as a lesser form of penitentiary, this facility now held hardened criminals, even murderers and rapists. It would not be a slap on the wrist.
In prison, Tracey was determined not to bend an inch. He would be tough. He would never admit defeat, no matter how much he was hurting. But during a stint in solitary confinement, Tracey happened to catch sight of himself in a mirror, and the sight shocked him. He didn’t just look hardened. Deadened was more like it. And he knew that the deadness would keep reaching down past his countenance into his very soul. All his toughness melted away, and tears began to flow as he prayed to God and admitted his defeat. There was no one else to turn to, and he couldn’t rely on his own reserves anymore. Tracey doesn’t know how long he prayed, but he does know that God heard him. One of his guards approached him and offered him prayer. Someone else gave him a Bible. And soon he joined the prison Bible study.
When he was released early from the center, Tracey worked for a few months to pay off his debts and make restitution to the school he vandalized. Then he entered college, studying for an education degree in science and math. He decided that he would pay back society by becoming a good role model for other confused young people. He would become a teacher. I guess you could say he reached his goal. In April 1993, Tracey Bailey attended a special ceremony at the White House where the President awarded him the National Teacher of the Year honors.
What is your dream? Don’t tell me the strikes you have against you. "I’m too short. I’m too tall. I’m female. I’m Hispanic or African-American. I didn’t go to a very good school. My parents didn’t have the money to give me all the advantages." Don’t tell me about the obstacles you have to overcome. Our God is able to overcome any obstacles.
Don’t tell me where you came from. All that matters is where you are going -- and Who is going with you. If the man from the tiny town of Nazareth is with you -- the man who spent most of his adult life in a carpenter’s shop -- the man who was laughed at because they knew his father and mother -- the man who now reigns with the Father in glory -- if that man is going with you then hold on for a great adventure. But on the way, make certain that you do not make the same mistake that others make -- of judging people on the basis of outward characteristics that have nothing to do with what’s in their heart.
18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - John 6:24-35
Little T-Girl asked her mother, Clotilde, "Where did the human race come from?"
Clotilde answered, "God made Adam and Eve and they had children and so people come from them."
Two days later the girl asked her father, Boudreaux, the same question.
Boudreaux, "Many years ago there were monkeys and everyone came from them monkeys."
The confused girl returned to her Clotilde and said, "Ma, how is it possible that you told me that people came from God, and Daddy said they came from monkeys?"
Clotilde answered, "Well, cher ti bet, it is very simple. I told you about my side of the family and your Boudreaux told you about his."
An old farmer always called his hogs to the feeding trough by hitting the trough with a piece of wood. Tap-tap-tap. That’s all it took and they would come running. It was a great system, until, for some odd reason, he noticed the pigs losing weight. He couldn’t understand it. Then one day, he discovered the culprit. A woodpecker was pecking on a tree nearby. Every time the woodpecker pecked, tap-tap-tap, the hogs came running. I guess all that extra running kept them slim and trim.
The people of Israel were no different from you and me. They were constantly looking for signs. The problem was, they had difficulty discerning the sound of the farmer with food and the sound of the woodpecker tapping on a tree. So it is, with people who rely on signs and miracles rather than on the Word of God.
Jesus said, "it is an evil and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign." (Matthew 12:39) But we all do it. You stub your toe on the way to the kitchen in the morning and you moan, "It’s going to be a bad day." It rains on the day of a wedding and we say, "This marriage is going to have problems." It’s human nature. We attach significance to events in which, in reality, there is no significance. We think it’s the call of the farmer, when it’s only a woodpecker. And we wonder why the trough of our lives is so empty.
There is a beautiful story of Robert Bruce, who was crowned king of Scotland in 1306. Bruce, after being routed by the English, was confined on a island off the coast of Ireland. To pass the time, Bruce watched a spider trying to fix its web to a beam on the ceiling. The spider failed six times. Bruce said, "Now, shall this spider teach me what I am to do, for I also have failed six times." In the seventh attempt, the spider succeeded in fixing its web to the beam. Bruce took it as a sign, gathered a handful of followers and returned to Scotland. After a series of successful campaigns, he won the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 after which England acknowledged the complete independence of Scotland.
And it was all because of a spider. In fact, to this day, to kill a spider in Scotland, or wherever the superstitious Scots may be, is still supposed to bring the offender all kinds of bad luck.
Now, I need to warn you. It would be very risky for you to start making your decisions on the behavior of spiders that you might find in your cellar, or yard, or wherever. Spiders are just spiders. Robert Bruce could have gone back to Scotland and been defeated soundly by the British. Signs are notoriously fickled. They are for superstitious people. They are not for Christians.
And yet . . . we keep making the same mistake as the people of Israel . . . and every other people on earth. Looking for a sign.
It’s interesting. Jesus had just performed an extraordinary miracle – the feeding of the 5,000. You would think that this would have convinced the people that he was the one they had been awaiting. But it was not enough. That is why God doesn’t reveal himself in signs and wonders. They are never enough. We always seek more. We find ways to explain away even the most dramatic acts. The rising of the sun each morning, the gentle opening of the flowers in springtime, the birth of a new baby – these ought to be evidence enough for anyone to accept belief in a Creator, but they are not. We always clamor for more.
Now the people wanted a sign that Jesus was the Messiah. "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?" they asked. "What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’"
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
"Sir," they said, "from now on give us this bread."
Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."
What does this mean? It means that faith in Christ does not depend on signs and miracles. I know there are people here who are hoping for one miracle or another. And one might happen. But faith in Christ is an inner assurance that whatever comes, God is with us.
FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST IS ROOTED IN GOD’S LOVE. Do you know that God loves you? The truth of the matter is that most of us THINK that God loves us, but we are not sure. And if something should happen to tip the evidence one way or the other, then that’s the way our faith will turn.
Cassie Bernall, a 17-year-old student at Columbine High School, was killed in the worst disaster in U.S. high school history. The Denver Rocky Mountain News wrote, "People around the world know Cassie as the Columbine student who died confessing her faith. Her killer asked her if she believed in God. She told him she did, then died at 17."
What if you were Cassie’s family? Could you handle that and still believe in a loving God? Is your faith that strong? You see, many, if not most of us, are insecure about God’s love. If things are going our way, if the children are healthy, if the house payment is made, if things are going well on the job – then yes, God is with us. But let sickness come, or financial adversity, or an attack of the blues for any reason, and then we begin to doubt. We start looking for a sign. Has it all been a mistake? Is God really with me?
Corrie ten Boom was arrested in Holland for sheltering Jews from the Nazis. She was transported to a death camp in Germany. She was subjected to all manner of humiliation and torture. She watched her sister die there in that camp. And yet later Corrie ten Boom would write, "However deep the pit, God’s love is deeper still." Christian faith is rooted in God’s love. It’s not dependent on external circumstances but on an internal assurance.
CHRISTIAN FAITH IS ALSO ROOTED IN GOD’S LAW. We live in a lawful universe. We drop a book, and it falls to the floor. Why? The law of gravity. We drive a car off a cliff and we smash into the canyon floor below. Does a Divine hand reach out of the clouds to stop our fall? Well, it could happen, I suppose. Anything is possible with God. But it is not likely. We live in a lawful universe. And what a magnificent universe it is.
Do you understand that creation works a certain way because God structured it to obey certain laws? That is why we can expect the sun to rise tomorrow morning at just the time it is suppose to. If it did not, every molecule in the universe would likely be affected. We simply are foolish when we ask God to suspend any of His laws even for a minute. Life upon this earth depends on those laws. Intellectually I think all of us understand that. And yet, we still pray, "Please, Lord. Don’t let it rain on my daughter’s wedding." We would be better off praying, "Please, Lord, regardless of the weather, help me to have a positive attitude so that I can radiate the kind of cheerfulness that will make this a great day for the people I love."
Christian faith is rooted in God’s love and God’s law. That includes God’s moral law. Someone described us long ago as people who sow our wild seeds and then pray for a crop failure. That’s not the way life works, unfortunately. Yes, God is a God of grace and forgiveness, but there are laws governing human behavior, just as there are laws governing the rising of the sun. When we run afoul of those laws, people suffer. We can be forgiven. We are still admitted to paradise on the last day, but that does not change the fact that sin brings suffering.
Christian faith is rooted in God’s love and in God’s law. MOST IMPORTANT, CHRISTIAN FAITH IS ROOTED IN GOD’S REVELATION.
Christian faith is not a philosophy. No one sat down and thought this stuff up. Christian faith is rooted in God’s revelation. When we could not reach up to God, God reached down to us in Jesus Christ. What is it that distinguishes Christian faith from every other religion and philosophy of life? Only one thing, the person of Jesus Christ. We believe that indeed he is the bread which came down from heaven.
The Hebrew Bible – which we call the Old Testament – we share that with our Jewish friends. We even share it with our Moslem adversaries, as well as our Moslem friends. Moslems even accept Jesus, but only as a prophet. What makes us unique is that we boldly claim that in Jesus Christ we get a definitive picture of God. This is what God is like! We exclaim. God is like Jesus. Jesus is God in human flesh. It is an extraordinary claim, but we stake our lives upon it. So, it is not good enough for us to proclaim, as do the followers of Islam as well as the nation of Israel, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." (Deuteronomy 19:21) That’s Old Testament, not New. We cite the words of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."
This is what sets Christians apart. We may forget that in times of national emergency, but this is our faith. We believe in Jesus. We believe he is the Son of God. We believe that what he says is true. He is the bread that came down from heaven to feed our souls. We ask no more than to live for him.
Christian faith is rooted in God’s love. Christian faith is rooted in God’s law. Christian faith is rooted in God’s revelation in Jesus Christ our Lord. You see, the difference is that we aren’t distracted by the sound of a woodpecker. We don’t need a sign. We are fed directly from the Father’s hand.
17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - John6:1-22
A rich lady is throwing a party for her granddaughter, and had gone all out..... a caterer, band, and a hired clown. Just before the party started, Boudreaux and Thibodaux showed up looking for a handout. Feeling sorry for them, the woman told them that she would give them a meal if they would help chop some wood for her out back. Gratefully, they headed to the rear of the house.
The guests arrived, and all was going well with the children having a wonderful time. But the clown hadn't shown up. After a half an hour, the clown finally called to report that he was stuck in traffic, and would probably not make the party at all.
The woman was very disappointed and unsuccessfully tried to entertain the children herself. She happened to look out the window and saw Thibodaux doing cartwheels across the lawn. She watched in awe as he swung from tree branches, did midair flips, and leaped high in the air.
She spoke to Boudreaux and said, "What your friend is doing is absolutely marvelous. I have never seen such a thing. Do you think your friend would consider repeating this performance for the children at the party? I would pay him $100!"
Boudreaux says, "Mai, I dunno. Let me ask him. HEY THIBODAUX! FOR $100, WOULD YOU CHOP OFF ANOTHER TOE?"
On the other side of the coin, on a serious note, I read a story about a family who was going through a rough time. They had very little to eat, but one day her husband unexpectedly asked some friends over for dinner. Adele, the wife, was dumbfounded: there was no food in the house! How could she possibly feed guests? So she went into her bedroom, knelt down and asked God what she could do.
As she prayed she seemed to hear a voice telling her, "You have meat in the freezer." Right. Half a pound of hamburger. That wouldn't go very far. Then she heard, "You have vegetables." One carrot, half an onion, and two stunted potatoes for six people? Not very likely. But the voice told her to make a stew, and to use the rest of her flour for biscuits. Adele still didn't think that there would be enough, but she would try. She would serve the stew to her guests while she and her husband would only eat biscuits and milk.
But that night when the stew was passed around, there was plenty. There was even enough for seconds. And afterwards, when her guests thanked her for the delicious meal, there were actually leftovers. Doesn't that sound kind of familiar? It sounds to me an awful lot like the feeding of the multitude.
It was Passover, and Jesus went up a mountain with his disciples. Now when the people saw Jesus go up the mountain that day, it reminded them of Moses going up the mountain to commune with God. When Moses had come down from the mountain, he carried the Ten Commandments. In the same way, the people expected some kind of miracle from Jesus. So they followed him.
When he saw how many people there were, Jesus decided he would test one of his disciples. Philip was closest, so Jesus asked him, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" Well, Philip must have panicked. I would have. He was probably wishing that he had been in the back of the group, instead of standing next to Christ.
But he rallied, and answered Jesus the best he could. He said, "Six months wages wouldn't even buy enough bread for each of them to get a taste."
Another of the disciples, Andrew, saw Philip's distress and tried to help. He told Jesus that he had seen a young boy with five barley loaves and two fish. "But what good are they among so many people?" Andrew asked. We can see his point. What is the use of even considering feeding thousands of persons with five barley loaves and two fish? What's the use in even thinking about it? Especially when you consider that in Jesus’ time a loaf of bread was the size of a dinner roll and a dried fish the size of a sardine.
It's like the story of a little girl in Milwaukee who had had her tonsils out and was staying with her grandmother while her parents were at work. One day she complained of a sore throat.
"I have some holy water from Lourdes that I got from my mother," the grandmother said. "Should I put some on your neck?"
The girl thought for a moment and then asked, "What's the expiration date on it?"
Such skepticism. But unfortunately, that's how most people deal with miracles. Not even the disciples thought in terms of the miraculous. They had forgotten who it was that was with them.
Jesus probably smiled sadly at the disciples and their skepticism. Then he took the small amount of bread and fish that they had from the boy, held them up toward heaven and gave thanks to God. Then he distributed them. You know what happened then: everyone had plenty to eat. There were even leftovers.
But there are some things that we need to see. FIRST OF ALL, JESUS DID NOT CREATE ALL THAT BREAD FROM NOTHING. HE MULTIPLIED THAT WHICH HE WAS GIVEN. It was important that the lad made an offering of the bread and the fishes. After all, the small rolls and fish were his lunch.
Every Sunday afternoon for many years, Rev. William Waffles, a Methodist pastor in Ohio, would go to a nearby prison to conduct services and visit with the men incarcerated there. During these visits, there developed a trusting and loyal relationship between the pastor and his prisoner parishioners.
For some time, the Reverend and his wife had been saving for a trip to the Holy Land. On the Sunday afternoon before they were to leave, he shared with the prisoners this blessing that was his. "We've worked hard and saved, and finally this lifelong dream will soon be ours," he told them. "I won't see you for a couple of weeks," he said; but he assured them of his prayers and concern, even though he would be away. The prisoners were delighted for him. They immediately gathered around and hugged him, patted him on the back, shook his hand, and jostled him lovingly with much attention and camraderie.
A little later, as the pastor was getting ready to leave, one of the prisoners awkwardly came forward with a package that had been hastily wrapped with a single strand of ribbon. The fellow said, "We didn't have time or money to get you a gift, but we want you to think of us while you are away, and this is the best we can do. Please, don't open it till you get home. Then, when you open it, remember, it's all we have to give you."
The pastor thanked them, prayed for them, and took the package home. He told his wife about how pleased the men seemed to be about the trip and how they had given him this gift. She, too, was delighted, and watched intently as he opened the package. Inside, he found his wallet, his pen, his watch, his glasses case, and his pocket knife. What had happened was this: When the prisoners had gathered around him to offer their congratulations, they had picked his every pocket. And then, wrapping it all up, they gave it back to him as a sign of their love, saying, "It's all we have to give."
The chaplain was pleased with the gift __ even if the gift was his in the beginning. In the same way, God waits for us to put something in His hand to work with even though all things are His already. In order for a miracle to happen, we must give of ourselves, our time, and our resources. Even when we don't think we have anything to contribute, if we are at least willing to give of ourselves, then the seemingly impossible becomes possible. Nobody would have said that feeding five thousand people that day was possible. But when that boy offered his seemingly insignificant fare, it became possible. Christ can do so much with so little but, first of all, we need to make our offering.
NOTICE IN THE SECOND PLACE THAT THIS REALLY WAS A MIRACLE. This event is not explainable in human terms. It is clear that the people who had come up the mountain with Jesus were looking for a sign, and in their minds they got one. When they realized just what had happened, they wanted to take Jesus by force and make him king. They figured that if he were their king their bellies would always be full, and they would never have to worry about famine again. They wanted to take what they had found and keep it for themselves.
And it's easy for us to fall into this same trap. We have a very bad tendency to think only of our own personal needs and what Jesus can do for us: "Please, Lord, let me get that promotion." "Dear God, please let our baby be a girl." But think about it. When we pray like this, we are only wanting to use Jesus selfishly. Instead of being self_centered, we need to be Christ_centered.
Edgar Bacon was a B_24 bomber pilot in World War II and a Christian. Before taking off on one of his crew's last missions, he asked if they would like to have a prayer. But there was an atheist and a young Jewish man on board, so in deference to these two the crew decided to omit the prayer.
The mission turned out to be extremely hazardous. Their plane became badly damaged, and the captain informed his crew that they might not make it back to the base. Then he said, "Now, we're going to have that prayer." After the prayer the crew's engineer tied a safety line to his waist, and very carefully, with great risk, crawled out onto the wing to make repairs. He wasn't able to do much, but he did what he could. And apparently it was enough. After the plane had safely landed at the base, the Jewish boy thanked Captain Bacon for his prayer, and the atheist was no longer an atheist.
That is the right way to use prayer. It was not an attempt to manipulate God, it was not a plea for their lives, it was an honest sharing of concerns with the One who provides all our needs. They prayed, they gave what they could of themselves to get home, and they made it.
Miracles do happen, but they are most apt to happen when we have first of all done everything we can to help ourselves. They are not an attempt to manipulate God, but an honest sharing of our needs with the One who has promised to never forsake us.
A young man offered fives loaves of bread and two small fish and a miracle occurred. But note one thing more. CHRIST IS THE REAL BREAD. When we as a church speak of offering bread to a hungry world, we are talking about more than physical bread. We are talking about giving them Christ.
The feeding of the five thousand was an important incident in the life of the church. Each of the gospels mentions the event at least once. No other incident is mentioned in all four gospels. When the early church was struggling, they remembered fondly the time when Jesus fed the crowd. They viewed themselves as ones who were taking their small beginnings, their few loaves, and distributing them to the entire world, offering hope to the hopeless, and performing a great miracle of faith.
Miracles are possible. They occur every day. But we must give of ourselves in order for a miracle to occur; they don't just happen. The miracle that God most delights in is when we share Christ with the world.
Now, let us break the bread of our faith today, give thanks to God, and distribute it to the multitudes of the world. And the miracle will continue.
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 6:30-34
The judge called Boudreaux to his courtroom and asked him: "What is the reason you say that you cannot serve as a juror in this case?"
Boudreaux said, "Mai, your Honor, I don’t want to be away from my job for that long."
The judged asked, "Can’t they do without you at work?"
Boudreaux replied, "Mai, yea, but I don’t want them to know that."
Have you ever noticed that different people have different attitudes about work? Once when I was assigned to a new church in the diocese, I realized we needed more help with the lawn -- certainly with the garden. Someone said, "Well, Father Mike, the last priest who was here did a lot of the gardening." I looked at him and responded, "I’m aware of that. But I called him and he doesn’t want to do it anymore."
Different people have different ideas about work. A lazy clerk fiddled around while his irate boss burned. "You're the most useless person I ever saw," the boss flared. "You don't do an hour's work a whole month. Tell me one single way the firm benefits from employing you." The clerk pondered, then responded, "When I go on vacation, there's no extra work thrown on the others."
Well, I've known people like that. Their attitude toward work is a little different. It’s like Boudreaux and Thibodaux. Thibodaux said, "I can't stand an uncut, untrimmed lawn."
Boudreaux responded, "I never cut my yard. I did once, but it grew back."
"I don't know how you can stand it," answered Thibodaux.
"What's to stand?" responded Boudreaux. "Why are you against what happens naturally?"
"It's not natural to have an uncut lawn," said Thibodaux.
"Mai, who did the landscaping for the Garden of Eden?" questioned Boudreaux.
"God did," said Thibodaux.
Boudreaux responded, "Well, He does mine too."
In Tennessee there is a farmer who said that lightning struck an old shed and thus saved him the trouble of tearing it down, and rain washed off his car and saved him that chore too. When asked what he was doing now, he replied, "I’m waiting for an earthquake to shake the potatoes out of the ground."
The point I am leading to is: YOU AND I HAVE A RELIGIOUS RESPONSIBILITY TO GOOF OFF FROM TIME TO TIME. It's true. That may sound like a strange point to be made from the pulpit, but it is true. We have a responsibility to take time to rest, to relax, to take off our shoes, loosen our tie, take down our hair, as they used to say. God did not create us to be busy as bees all the time.
That is a truth incorporated in the very heart of the Judeo_Christian tradition with the idea of the Sabbath. At the heart of the Ten Commandments we read, "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy." What does that mean? The tradition of the Sabbath in the Scriptures is too rich to boil down to a simple sermon, but let's consider a couple of truths – one of which is often ignored. THE SABBATH IS TO BE A DAY OF REST. This truth is based on the creation story. God worked six days and rested on the seventh. God said we are to rest one day in seven, too. Our Jewish and Seventh Day Adventist friends celebrate Saturday as the Sabbath. Most Christians celebrate Sunday, in honor of Christ's resurrection. I truly doubt God cares which day is reserved for the Sabbath, but it is to be a day of rest.
I don't know about you, but I'm kind of sad to see more and more commercial businesses encroaching on the Sabbath. Sunday has become a major shopping day. It makes me sad not because I am one of those legalistic busybodies who wants to restrict people and make them live according to my standards. No, I am sad because working on Sunday takes many people not only away from their churches but also away from their families. It deprives them of the best opportunity in the week to rest and relax. The Sabbath is intended as a day of rest not the day to remodel the house or any number of other things we do on the Sabbath.
Secondly, we need to note that THE SABBATH WAS CREATED FOR OUR BENEFIT. That is the truth about the Sabbath that is often ignored. The Sabbath was not created for God like everyone thinks – it was created for us. That is a point that Jesus made emphatically in Mark's Gospel, the second chapter. Jesus and his disciples were going through the grainfields and the disciples began plucking heads of grain. They were hungry men __ but this was the Sabbath and plucking grain was considered work. The Pharisees brought this transgression to Jesus' attention. Jesus answered with a Biblical precedent set by King David and then said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
The point is this: YOU AND I NEED ONE DAY A WEEK IN WHICH WE DO NO WORK. None. Absolutely none. Nothing. Nada. God means for us to have one day a week in which we worship and visit friends and relatives and take a nap and go bicycling with our family and do whatever it is that helps to refresh and rekindle our minds, our bodies and our spirits. We need one day a week for goofing off. That is our religious responsibility. That is the first thing we need to see. Here is the second: GOOFING OFF IS NOT ONLY A RELIGIOUS RESPONSIBILITY, IT IS A KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL LIFE.
One of the great myths in life is that the people who succeed in the world are people who forever keep their nose to the grindstone. If you believe that, I am sorry to burst your bubble, but it simply is not true. Hard work, dedication, sacrifice are important attributes in life __ but some of the most effective people who ever lived have spent a considerable amount of time goofing off. We are told that influential men like scientist Charles Darwin, English philosopher Herbert Spencer and British economist John Maynard Keynes only worked two_three hours daily. Their leisurely approach is not widely known because they seldom advertised it. History's nonworkaholics have actually covered up their apparent indolence, sometimes in the most brazen way. Samuel Johnson, one of the most quoted English writers, once admitted, "I have, all my life long, been lying [down] till noon. Yet I tell all young men, and tell them with great sincerity, that nobody who does not rise early will ever do any good."
Benjamin Franklin was history's greatest source of "early to bed, early to rise" type aphorisms, yet he himself liked to stay up late playing chess or chatting with friends. He whiled away hours tinkering with kites, bottles, keys, stoves. After introducing the first bathtub to this country in 1790, Franklin spent many hours inside his own, soaking and reading. Although he advised us to make productive use even of our leisure time, he himself took long, enjoyable tours of Europe. In truth, he was a fraud, far wiser in his actual approach to time than the one he proposed for the rest of us. We've taken Benjamin Franklin's advice when we should have followed his example.
Now, am I encouraging us to slothfulness? Not in the least. Most of us, by necessity, and some of us by choice, will always work at least forty, and some of us fifty and even sixty hours a week. Businesses today are requiring more and more productivity out of fewer and fewer employees. But we are not robots. We are human beings who need time for rest and revitalization. In today's world it is just as important to work smart as it is to work hard. We need to rest both our bodies and our brains. And over a life_time we will be more productive if we allow ourselves time for relaxation.
Nobody was ever more committed to his work than Jesus of Nazareth. So much was at stake and there was so little time. Yet Jesus said to his disciples on more than one occasion, including our reading for today, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." Sometimes, it did not work out like Jesus planned. Often the crowds would not let him alone. But Jesus recognized humanity's need to loosen the strings on the bow from time to time. We all need to get away. We need to rest and relax.
WE ALSO NEED A TIME FOR FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD. Often when Jesus took his disciples off by themselves, it was for a season of prayer. Jesus knew that we not only need to refresh our bodies and to refresh our minds, we need to refresh our spirits as well. That is why the Sabbath has always been a time for worship as well as a time for rest. When we come into this room, we empty ourselves of the strain and toil of the week just passed. And we open ourselves to the new possibilities that God has in store for us. If we truly worship, we should leave here feeling refreshed and ready to face the world.
Two willow trees grew a short distance from a stream in New Mexico. One of them was sturdy and rich with leaves, while the other was smaller and less attractive.
Over the years the owner of the property wondered why the two trees should have such a different quality and appearance. Unable to find an answer, he dismissed the puzzle from his mind. One week while digging near the trees his shovel struck something hard. When uncovering it he solved the mystery of the trees. Years earlier, someone had buried large slabs of a stone wall in the spot. The underground wall prevented the roots of the frail tree from reaching the water in the stream. But there was no wall between the flourishing tree and the water. When we do not give ourselves time to worship God __ when we do not spend time communing with God and having fellowship with God __ then we are like that tree that was shut off from the life_giving flow of the stream.
A writer in a book called BEGINNINGS put it this way. "Some folks in Holland call the Sabbath 'God's Dyke.' A helpful analogy. The dyke is a protective sea wall that holds back the surging waves and allows people to live in areas that would otherwise be utterly uninhabitable. The Sabbath is like that. Just like a dyke keeps the quiet Holland farmlands from being engulfed by the Atlantic, a day of rest can keep us from being engulfed by destructive value systems and the corrosive pressures of contemporary society. Humans are such pliable creatures. Immersed in the push_and_shove of daily living, we are in danger of being squeezed into a misshapen caricature of what God intended us to become. The Sabbath is God's opportunity to remold us into His image."
"Come away by yourselves," said Jesus, "to a deserted place, and rest awhile." Good advice. We need time to relax with our families and friends and we need a time to worship God.
15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 6:7-13
At dinner one evening, Boudreaux was quite impressed with the meat that Clotilde served him. "Honey, what did you marinate this in?" asked Boudreaux. Clotilde immediately went into a long explanation about how much she loves him and how life wouldn't be the same without him, and on and on.
Boudreaux kept looking at Clotilde like she was crazy so she stopped and asked, "Boudreaux, what did you ask me?"
Boudreaux said, "Mai, I asked you what did you marinate this in." "Oh," laughed Clotilde, "I thought you asked me if I would marry you again!"
Clotilde picked up the dishes and headed for the kitchen. As she left the room, Boudreaux called out, "Well, honey, would you marry me again?"
Without hesitation, Clotilde yelled back, "Vinegar and barbecue sauce."
Whew, that is some rejection. In fact, rejection is one of the most difficult things in life to handle. We all have trouble with it. To offer yourself to someone and have that offer turned down is a very painful experience. Jesus probably understood rejection better than any other man who ever lived. One of Jesus’ biographers sums up his life by saying, "He came to his own people, and they would not accept him."
Brief reflection will reveal the accuracy of that statement. His religion rejected him as a heretic. His country called him a traitor. One of his closest friends sold him for thirty pieces of silver. Another denied ever knowing him. In the end, all of them forsook him, fearing for their own safety. Finally, he died on a cross amid a jeering mob.
Jesus knew the meaning of rejection. So when it came time to send his disciples out on their own, he tried to prepare them for it. We read that story in today’s gospel. He sent them out two by two told them to take no extra provisions because the things they needed would be provided in homes along the way. But if they came to a place that would not accept them, they were to shake the dust of that place off their feet and move on.
In that brief story are some vital lessons for you and me about how we can handle rejection.
The first thing is to anticipate acceptance. Now that may sound like a contradiction – to handle rejection by expecting to be accepted. That’s almost like setting yourself up for a big let-down. Would it not be better to expect rejection in order to brace yourself for it. Some people do that. They go out to meet life fully expecting to be turned away, with the result that often that is just what happens.
Some of you, especially teachers, have heard of psychologists talk about something called the "self-fulfilling prophesy." Teachers need to be aware of it because what happens is that if the teacher expects a student to fail and believes the student is a failure, that is exactly what the student will be. The student will live up to our prophesy. But the reverse can happen. A teacher can help a student to succeed by expecting success.
In other words, we find exactly what we are looking for. If we expect other people to reject us, that affects the way we relate to them. If we’re frightened, uncomfortable, defensive, angry, moody, negative, then our own behavior brings on the very rejection that we feared.
Jesus warned his disciples against that. He told them not to carry any extra money, food or clothing. The implication was that they would meet friendly people, who would provide for their needs. In other words, they went out anticipating acceptance. That’s one way to handle rejection. Expect the very best from other people.
A second way to handle rejection is to accept it as a fact of life – when it comes and if it comes.
Sooner or later it happens to everyone. I have watched a group of children at play and seen one little fellow off to the side, wiping his eyes with his little hand. My heart always hurts for him. He is feeling the pain of rejection. But children usually make up quickly, and soon that problem is solved.
However, later in life, it can and does become more serious. I have talked to both men and women whose mate of ten or twenty years has walked in and said, "I don’t love you anymore," and walked out. That kind of rejection cuts to the very center of the soul, and no one gets over it easily.
A similar thing can happened with regard to a person’s employment. When a man has worked for one company over a period of several years, it’s a painful realization to find out he’s not wanted or needed anymore. Added to that is the agony of going home and telling his wife that he no longer has a job. I have seen that happen to people, and my heart goes out to them. The business and industrial world can at times be very cold and unfeeling.
So what do we make of all this? Well, the point is that it happens to everyone sooner or later. It even happened to Jesus, and he tried to prepare his friends for the fact that it would one day happen to them. Rejection is a fact of life. When it comes you have to accept it. Sooner or later it comes to everyone.
That is why it is important to help our children develop coping mechanisms. If you think you are doing them a favor by giving them whatever they want, then you are wrong. When we have to work for something, or save our money for something, or wait for it, or simply be told "no", we learn to cope. But when we give them everything, we rip them off because they never develop the coping mechanisms that they will need later in life. So they turn to drugs, alcohol and suicide. That is one of the most worrisome things I see today. Kids with everything from 4-wheelers to SUVs and all the money they want. They do whatever they want. They go wherever they want. They get whatever the ask for. That is not being a good parent. A good parent says "no." And the children learn to cope.
The third thing that Jesus taught us about how to handle rejections is: hang on to your friends.
I think that’s the reason Jesus sent them out two by two. That way, no matter how tough the going got, they could always hold on to each other. The worst thing a person can do in a time of rejection is to give in to the cynical suggestion that no one will understand or that no one can be trusted. Don’t ever allow that thought to stain the fabric of your soul – because, my friend, it is simple NOT true.
God can be trusted; he cares about you. What’s more, there are some people with the love of God in their hearts, and they care about you, too. In hours of rejection, don’t close up your heart and close out your friends. Hang on to them, believe in them; that’s the time you need them most. Life is a team sport no one can play by himself or herself. God has decreed companionship. It is part of his plan – even God himself is three persons in companionship. Jesus sent them out two-by-two.
And finally, the fourth suggestion Jesus made about handling rejection is to: shake it off and move on.
And I know, believe me, that it is easier to say that than to do it. So don’t think I’m saying that flippantly. But that, in effect, is what Jesus told his disciples to do: "If any place will not receive you, shake its dust from your feet ... as you leave." That was a symbolic gesture. They were leaving that rejection behind and not carrying it with them to the next place.
That is a fundamental lesson of life and we all need to learn it. The most dangerous thing about rejection is that it can accumulate, become a habit, and eventually turn into self-rejection. When that happens, the human spirit is in desperate straits.
So Jesus told his disciples to shake it off, and leave it behind. It’s good to learn from it. Take inventory of your life and see if some changes need to be made. But above all, do not allow rejection to mean that you are an unworthy and unacceptable person, for that simply is not true.
Do not let that past relationship, that past marriage, that past job, that former friend, that unpleasant encounter – make you believe you are unworthy or not lovable. Cause you are! Rejection is part of life and we have to learn to deal with it. Jesus offers us some mighty good suggestions.
Anticipate acceptance and not rejection, but when it comes accept it as a fact of life. It happens. Turn to your friends, turn to God, believe it the good in people. Don’t take it personally – shake it off and move on.
God loves you. Christ died for you. That makes you very very important! Believe that. Accept yourself, and get on with the business of living.
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 6:1-6
Clotilde was dropping off T-boy at a friend's house. She said to him, "Will you be good while Mommy's gone?"
T-boy looked at Clotilde and replied, "If you give me a dollar!"
Clotilde shook her head and said to him, "T-Boy, why can’t you be good for nothing like your daddy Boudreaux?!"
- - - - -
On the first day of registration, the school secretary asked a little boy, "What's your father's occupation?"
"He's a magician," said the new boy.
"How exciting," said the teacher, "What’s his best trick?"
"He saws people in half."
"How impressive! Now, do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"Yep...," said the boy, "one half brother and two half sisters."
Jesus was working miracles and he had problems with his family and friends. He had hardly even gotten his sandals dirty when he ran into trouble. It came from people we might have expected to be his strongest advocates.
Jesus returned to his hometown with his brand-new disciples trailing behind. On the Sabbath, he went to the synagogue and began to teach. He wasn’t much past his opening remarks when he began to hear grumbling. "Wait a minute, where did he get all this? Where did all this wisdom come from? Isn’t he the carpenter’s boy, Mary’s son? We know his brothers – James, Joses, Judas, and Simon – and his sisters are right here. He used to hang around with my son. So why is he up there talking like somebody special? We know about him. Most of us remember when he was just a little tyke toddling alongside his mother. Are we supposed to think he’s someone great now?"
The people of his hometown turned their backs on Jesus.
Oh, on a side note, in the Aramaic language, there was only one word for brothers and sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces. The language was very limited. So when we translate the word to English by saying Jesus’ brothers and sisters, it does not mean Jesus has sibling brothers and sisters. They are referring to his cousins, nieces, nephews and extended family. Many people find this confusing, especially since non-Catholics believe Mary had other children. But if Mary had other children, Jesus would not have had to give his mother to John from the cross. His brothers or his brothers-in-law would have taken care of her. But Joachim, her father was dead, Joseph her husband was dead, and now Jesus, her only child, was dying and he had to give his mother to John.
Now back to the gospel. As I was saying, the people of his hometown turned their backs on Jesus. As they say, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own house."
Why is that? Because they were so familiar with Jesus, they missed how miraculous he was. We do the same thing ourselves. Miracles happen right under our noses and we miss them, or we take them for granted.
Isn’t it a miracle that the sun comes up each morning – that the solar system is designed in such a way that at daybreak this huge ball of fire lights and heats our world?
And the stars. Emerson reminds us, "If the stars should appear one by one in a thousand years, how we would believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the City of God which had been shown! But for every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." Because they are always there, we take them for granted and overlook the miracle available to us every night.
The first miracle which Jesus performed, changing water into wine – is still available to us today – everyday. We look for the supernatural event, the touch of a hand that makes it happen. That’s the wrong place. Go to the vineyard and watch the grapevines being set out; wait for the rain to fall and the vine to draw up the water and the nutrients that makes the vine grow and the grapes to form; watch as the grapes are gathered, the juice extracted; smell the fermentation process as the juice turns into wine. There’s the miracle of turning water into wine!
Every day we see the miracle of gravity, without which we would die in a minute, floating off into space, unable to guide our movement. We overlook the wonder of gravity because it is literally right under our feet.
Watch over a period of days as a wound heals. From a fresh cut that is fleshy and bleeding to the magical covering that forms over it, to crusted protection which later comes, to skin so soft and clear that no one would ever know a cut had ever been there.
Perhaps the greatest miracle of all happens 10,000 times a day. A child is born, a human being, who never existed before, gasps the first life and begins an exciting journey in this world. It happens one hundred times a minute. Nothing could be more ordinary, nothing could be more miraculous.
Like the folks in Jesus’ neighborhood, when we are too close we often overlook the spectacular. When something is too near to us, we sometimes miss the wonder of it.
A church group went on an intergenerational mission trip to St. Maarten. While they were there they worked with a man who lived on the side of one of the mountains there. From his front porch he had the most spectacular view of St. Maarten – across the beautiful bay below and out over the ocean as far as the eye could see. It was literally breathtaking.
As the group stood on his front porch, just as they were preparing to leave for home, one of the men asked him, "Do you ever get tired of this view?" He shrugged his shoulders and said, "It’s there everyday." Such a gorgeous view was available from his front porch, so he took it for granted. It was a miracle of wondrous creation, but because he could count on it every day, all day long, so he didn’t appreciate it. For him it was just the usual miracle.
The miracles we see in life aren’t bizarre breaks with the natural order, but ordinary people doing ordinary acts that change people’s lives.
I hope you won’t let familiarity keep you from seeing the miraculous. Don’t miss the spectacular just because you live with it every day.
If you have children, they do miraculous things every day. Children look at the world in a different way that we do; they have a much better sense of wonder and awe. Maybe that’s because it is all a lot newer to them than it is to us. You see, we all just get complacent. We lose that wonder of life.
Miracles happen around us every day. Jesus said to let those who have eyes to see, look; let those who have ears to hear, listen. That is why the 12-step program is so successful. Ask someone in recovery and they will tell you how miracles happen every day in their lives. They are now sober and see things with new eyes.
An attorney worked in his office on the 26th floor of a tall office building. His pastor went to visit him in his office one day, and was amazed at the view out of his window. He asked him how far he could see from there. The attorney answered that he didn’t know, and that he really didn’t get a chance to spend much time looking out the window. "You know, I earn my living sitting here at my desk looking at the papers in front of me."
The minister nodded. "So what’s the advantage of having this window with its tremendous view?" he asked. The attorney just laughed.
I can related to that. I worked for three law firms and every time I had a window on the 26th, 28th, or 30th floor. My back faced the window and I don’t remember looking out very much. I was looking at the papers on my desk. In fact, when we passed others who were looking out the window, we thought, "huh, he goofing off." How tragic. I had some of the most beautiful views you can imagine, and I practically never turned around.
We’ve been given a spectacular view of God at work in the world. Let’s us not miss it because we have our eyes on papers in front of us.
Let’s not let our familiarity blind us from seeing God at work among us. Little miracles happen all the time. God is speaking within our hearing distance. The acts of God take place right under our noses. But they are familiar, some of them we see every day.
People in Jesus’ neighborhood missed who he was because he was too familiar to them. "Who does he think he is? I’ve know him since was able to walk. Now we’re supposed to believe he’s somebody special?"
Try not to let your familiarity keep you from seeing God at work all around you and all through the world.
Miracles are happening for us all the time. Can you see them? Are you listening? Will you get up from your desk and go look out the window?
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
The Deacons preached the masses
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 4:35-41
When Clotilde returned from the grocery store, T-Boy pulled out the box of animal crackers that he had begged for in the store, and spread them all over the kitchen counter.
"What are you doing?" Clotilde asked.
T-Boy explained, "Mai, I’m looking for the seal. The box says don’t eat them if the seal is broken."
Carol Vartanian, a pediatric nurse, has the hard task of giving immunization shots to children. One patient, four_year_old Lizzie, refused to let Carol administer the shot. She stared at the needle and cried, "No! No! No!"
"That’s not polite behavior," Lizzie’s mother said.
So little Lizzie began yelling, "No, thank you! No, thank you! No, thank you!"
Life can be difficult. We try to trust God with our problems. But sometimes the problems mount. And we want to cry, "No! No! No!" But we think to ourselves, that’s not polite behavior. And so we cry out, "No, thank you! No, thank you! No, thank you!"
It’s one of the most familiar scenes in Scripture. Jesus and his disciples are in a boat. It’s getting dark. A great windstorm comes up, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat is being swamped.
Meanwhile Jesus is in the stern, asleep. The disciples wake him and ask him this important question, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
And who has not asked that question at some time in your life? Doesn’t God care that I’ve been diagnosed with a malignant tumor? Doesn’t God care that my child is on drugs? Doesn’t God care that I work hard day after day and I fall farther and farther behind? Is God asleep? Doesn’t God care?
A little girl and her mother stood in line in front of the gas chambers at the Belzec concentration camp during World War II. The little girl didn’t understand the fate that awaited her, but she could see the agony on the faces of those around her. She tugged on her mother’s sleeve and said, "Mama, it is dark in there. I have been a good girl. Why are we going in there?"
Isn’t that tragic? "I have been a good girl." The little girl didn’t understand why she and her mother and all these good people were being hurt. Where is God? Often, on a much smaller scale, we’ve felt like that little girl. Life doesn’t work out like we think it should. Storm clouds gather. Our little boat is being swamped. We are on the verge of surrender. "Teacher," asked the disciples, "do you not care that we are perishing?"
SOMETIMES WE FIND OURSELVES IN THE MIDDLE OF A TERRIBLE STORM. There are few families or individuals who go through life untouched by some kind of tragedy – tragedy where we discover we are inadequate to handle by ourselves.
We’re like the little boy who loved to play Superman. Each morning three-year-old Ray would ask his mother to pin a bath towel to the back shoulders of his size two T-shirt. Immediately in his young imaginative mind the towel became a brilliant magic blue and red cape. And he became Superman.
Outfitted each day in his "cape," Ray’s days were packed with adventure and daring escapades. In his mind, he not only played Superman, he WAS Superman.
This fact was clearly pointed out when his mother enrolled him in kindergarten class. During the course of the interview, the teacher asked Ray his name.
"Superman," he answered politely and without pause.
The teacher smiled, cast an appreciative glance at his mother, and asked again, "Your real name, please."
Again, Ray answered, "Superman."
Realizing the situation demanded more authority, or maybe to hide her amusement, the teacher closed her eyes for a moment, then in a voice quite stern, said, "I will have to have your real name for the records."
Sensing he’d have to play straight with the teacher, Ray slid his eyes around the room, hunched closer to her, and patting a corner of the frayed towel at his shoulder, answered in a voice hushed with conspiracy, "Clark Kent."
Through most of our lives we can stride confidently through life as if we are Superman or Superwoman. But then the wind starts blowing and the boat starts rocking and we have to confess we are merely Clark Kent in disguise. And so, what do we do? We turn to God. When we are inadequate to deal with life’s pressures, we are comforted by the promise that God is with us. But when we turn to God, we sometimes experience a chilling silence. And like those disciples in our story who found their Master sleeping during their distress, we wonder, IS GOD ASLEEP?
Some unknown poet has given a new twist to an old saying. It’s primarily aimed at husbands and wives, but it is apropos to our relationship with God:
Sticks and stones are hard on bones, Aimed with an angry art.
Words can sting like anything, But silence breaks the heart.
Silence does break the heart. Particularly when it is God’s silence. Could it be that God speaks even in the silence? Could it be that it was necessary for Jesus to sleep so that the disciples would be confronted with the inadequacy of their faith?
It’s like a man named James DiBello who was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family. His earliest memories are of the prayers his mother taught him. She even set a place at the table each evening in honor of their guardian angel. But James rejected the faith when his younger brother, Frank, died of leukemia. James channeled all his negative emotions into over_achieving at school and in sports. Even after James married and started his family, he focused all his attentions on his work.
Yet it came as a surprise to James the day his wife, Marie, left him. All the anger James had bottled up over the years came pouring out. He began slinging dishes all over the kitchen, breaking almost everything they owned. As he reached for the last plate, James heard a voice say to him, "Make room for me at the table. Make room for me at the table." Instantly, James remembered how his mother used to set a place each evening for their guardian angel. So James laid out the last plate, a napkin and some utensils, and then he invited his angel to come and sit down.
James bowed his head to pray, then he began talking aloud, as if his angel were sitting next to him. He confessed all his grief and his fears and failures. After that day, James reconciled with Marie. He left his job and began a new one that allowed him more time with his family. And every night, James and Marie set a place for their guardian angel at the table.
The idea of setting a place for a guardian angel may not fit your understanding of the universe, but the idea that God may be speaking to us even in the silence may be important to us. That time of silence can be a time of self-examination. It can be a time of reflecting on those things that are most important to us. It can be a time of surrender to God’s amazing love.
In fear, the disciples ask Jesus, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" You know what happened next. Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" The problem was not the storm outside. The storm was the fear within – fear that could have been dispelled if they had come to grips with their doubts. And often that is the case with us as well.
The storms rage. We cry out. At this stage, it often seems that God is asleep. In the silence we wrestle with all that is important to us. Then all of a sudden, all is still. GOD DOES CALM THE STORM IN OUR HEARTS AND LATER, LIKE THE DISCIPLES, WE MARVEL AT WHAT GOD HAS DONE.
Even when we thought God was sleeping, God was at work. God surrounded us with people who care. How often I hear it from people in our church who have been through storms. They say, "How comforting it was to discover how many people have been praying for us."
That was what kept Julie Grunseth going. Many nights Julie fell asleep with the same wish – to be with her husband and four children again, and to be free from the breast cancer gnawing away at her exhausted immune system.
The pressure of watching the cancer rail against Julie for seven years triggered daily migraine headaches for Jim and cries of "Mommy, I don’t want you to die" from their son and three daughters.
"Fighting cancer takes a toll on a family, and that’s where community and friends come in," says Jim. "God raised up people, and not just church people, who were there with empathy and practical help."
Almost the entire town of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, population barely 6,000, rallied around the Grunseths. One woman coordinated an ongoing prayer chain for Julie, another organized meals, and another blood platelet donations. Others rounded up $600 and took the Grunseth children shopping for school clothes. A group of some 15 area churches donated the proceeds from their annual hymn-sing.
Local residents also hosted a spaghetti dinner (which 700 attended in spite of a downpour), pancake breakfasts, and a talent show to garner some $37,000 toward Julie’s $260,000 bone marrow transplant.
But the transplant and all the grueling surgeries, tests, and treatments could not defeat the cancer. Julie died June 15, 1994. Yet the family members and townspeople who walked alongside Julie in her journey see another side to her pain and death.
Gary Harrison, Julie’s pastor from Faith Baptist in nearby Delavan says, "Some of the good from this is that it heightened our dependency on God and gave us a deepened spirituality because we walked the struggle with them in prayer. And you suddenly feel more closely tied to heaven because somebody you struggled with is now there."
Julie returned this love through eight articles she wrote for the weekly ELKHORN INDEPENDENT newspaper about her hardship and her gratefulness for both the Lord’s and the community’s strength. One despairing woman even abandoned her suicide plans after reading Julie’s articles.
The storms rage and we cry out. And later we discover that God was at work when we thought God was asleep. Sometimes we experience something beautiful, something so amazing we will later term it a miracle. Other times we find what Julie and her family found – strength for the journey, through the love, prayers and support of family and friends – the people of God. Miraculously we discover that God gives us a peaceful acceptance of a painful situation. But sooner or later we discover when the storm rages that God does care. And out of the grueling experience, we come out more mature in our faith. And we become like those fearful disciples of Jesus. Mark tells us, "And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’"
I am always amazed how often after someone has come through a terrible ordeal, they express appreciation for the experience.
The world’s most famous bicyclist, Lance Armstrong, put it this way after he had come through one of life’s frightening storms, "Cancer was the making of me: Through fear and pain I became a more compassionate and intelligent man, husband and father -- and therefore a more alive one."
Does God care?
One night, nine-year-old Darrell Truax’s life went up in smoke. A house fire killed all of Darrell’s family and left him with severe burns over most of his body. His medical treatments were so painful that little Darrell’s screams could be heard throughout the burn ward. One day, another patient on the floor called out to a hospital volunteer, "How can God do this to an innocent child?"
Before the volunteer could answer, Darrell shouted from his hospital bed, "Don’t say anything against God! When it hurts, God cries with me."
We will never understand suffering as long as we cling to our understanding of God. Most people thing that God is an active God in a passive universe. In other words, God is an all-powerful God in total control and the rest of the universe (including illness, suffering and death) merely responds to God’s command. This view of God causes many to believe that God plans out illnesses, distributes it like door prizes at a birthday party, and generally is in control of all the fun. This almighty Hoover vacuum cleaner in the sky assigns numbers to everyone like a clerk at a deli counter and methodically sucks you up when "your number comes up." This distorted concept ignores the randomness (and sometimes personal responsibility) of disease as well as ignores the concept of free will.
But the truth is the reverse. God is a responsive God in an active universe. The universe is freely going about its natural business of building up and breaking down. God, supporting the free will of natural laws and the free will that God gave us in the human condition. God simply responds to that activity. We have earthquakes and volcanoes and floods because these are good things. If we didn’t have flooding, we wouldn’t even have Louisiana. Hurricanes replenish the ozone layer and revitalize dead zones in the gulf. There are natural occurrences and there are the things that we freely do to each other. God does not send a drunk driver to kill your child. The drunk driver has free will and God cannot take that from him. Things simply happen.
God is not sending or controlling disease, but supporting and upholding those afflicted with illness. God entered into our history as Jesus Christ. He walked with us, taught us, healed us, cried with us, loved us, and allowed us to commit the worst sin that we could commit. To kill our God. And then he forgave us.
Who is God? God walks with us, teaches and heals us, cries with us, loves us and forgives us for whatever we have done. Jesus said, look at me and you will see God.
We were taught when we were young that God doesn’t suffer because if God suffered, God wouldn’t be perfect. We got it backwards. If God is to be perfect, God must suffer. If we love we suffer, because if the one we love is suffering, we suffer, too. It’s call compassion from Latin, "to suffer with." Thus, God does suffer.
And we’ve all heard the phrase, there are no tears in heaven. That is incorrect too. There are oceans of tears in heaven. But they are God’s tears. Loving us and joining in our suffering.
Like little Darrell shouted from his hospital bed, "Don’t say anything against God! [Cauz] when it hurts, God cries with me." And that says it all. God cares. Even when God is silent, God is at work. Trust God. God can still the storm in your life.
MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
Gospel - Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
One night Boudreaux’s daughter, T-Girl brought her new boyfriend home to meet Boudreaux and Clotilde. Clotilde was appalled by his appearance: leather jacket, motorcycle boots, tattoos and pierced nose.
Later, Boudreaux and Clotilde pulled T-Girl aside and told them of their concern. Clotilde said, "Ti bet, he don’t seem too nice to me.
T-Girl cried, "Oh, he is, Mama. He is so nice. If he wasn’t, why would he be doing 500 hours of community service?"
A young woman took care of her old aunt. The aunt had inherited a fair amount of money from her deceased brother, but never mentioned it to anyone. On her death bed, she summoned her niece. "You’ve been good to me. I want to reward you. Take this frayed sweater of mine and wear it until you, too, will become rich."
The niece expressed her gratitude, but was disappointed. She felt her aunt could at least have left her a watch or a ring. She buried the sweater in the bottom drawer of her bureau. The aunt died. A year later, the niece put on the sweater to wear while she did some yard work. She felt something in the sweater pocket. She found a key wrapped in a note. On the paper was the number of her aunt’s safety deposit box. In that box, she found that her aunt had given her legal title to a fortune of $300,000.
The moral of the story is that we often miss the treasures that are passed onto us, because we do not take time to look.
The application of the story to the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is the same. We may miss the treasure of the Eucharist itself. Though we celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, we are drawn to ponder the teachings and the events about Christ. We may not always appreciate sufficiently the Sacrament dwelling at the core of our worship experience.
The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is actually the combination of two previous feast days -- Corpus Christi (which is Latin for Body of Christ) and the Feast of the Precious Blood. To the modern believer, the question arises: Why do we use bread and wine for the body and blood of Christ. After all, in our American meat-and-potatoes society, it is hard to understand the ancient significance.
In biblical times, bread, along with fish and grape wine, was the regular diet of the ordinary people. Bread WAS the staff of life. It meant life to the ancients, and the Scriptures say as much.
When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, it was stated in these terms: "By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat." (Gen. 3:19). When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, he taught them to ask for their earthly needs in terms of bread: "Give us today our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11).
In his desert confrontation with Satan trying to tempt him, Jesus said, "One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4:4). Jesus chose the most common food of his time for the Eucharist to show that just as the body needs food in order to live, so the soul needs the nourishment of this sacrament.
The same can be said about grape wine. Not only was it nourishing, but it helped to purify the water. Thus, the Jews always mixed the water with the wine just as we do at mass.
But there is something significant in our reading from Mark that might be overlooked. In Mark’s version of the last supper, the choice of words he uses connects this event with two other events of miraculous feeding of the crowds in the gospel. It says Jesus TOOK bread, BLESSED it, BROKE it, and GAVE it to his followers. This connects the last supper to the feeding of the multitudes with the fish and loaves of bread where Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his followers.
So, far from being a ritual to observe, the Eucharist is an act of God’s love in Christ freely bestowed on a hungry people who look longingly for someone to feed them.
This Eucharistic meal is intended as a bonding action as well, one that speaks of the interdependence of all, the hungry and the fed alike. Though the shedding and sharing of his blood, Jesus binds all of humankind to God and to one another in a unique way. The Eucharist feeds us, yet the Eucharist makes us hunger and thirst for even more than this world can ever give us.
Think of the Eucharist as you would of a favorite sweater, dress, pair of shoes or slippers. What makes these articles of clothing our favorites are two characteristics that they share with the Eucharist: their sameness (they never change) and their age (they have been part of our lives for a while). We all find it rather disjointing when some priests change the Eucharistic prayers or even makes up their own words. We are comfortable with the sameness.
The items I mentioned, we feel comfortable wearing because they fit us. They give us a good feeling when we put them on. At times, we actually look forward to getting into them when we arrive home after a long day at work. Part of that comfort of those old clothes is that, once we don them, we find ourselves forgetting that we have them on. They free us up, as it were, to go do something in them.
That is why the Eucharist is a ritual – something we can grow into so that it fits us comfortably, something we might actually look forward to getting into after a long week of the world, something that we can forget that we are wearing because it frees us up.
There is a negative side to all this because familiarity does not so much breed contempt as it brings neglect. We can get too used to things. When they become unobtrusive to us, we tend to overlook them. The ritual nature of the Eucharist almost invites us to do this. That is why we must take time to remind ourselves that the ritual is there, not to bore us to death, but to bear us to life. Don’t let us do what that niece did and overlook the treasure left for us.
You see, YOU have an important part to play in the Eucharist. The priest says the prayer of consecration, but it is YOU, the Body of Christ, the Church, who calls down the Holy Spirit. That is why today’s church discourages priests from saying mass alone. Without you, something is missing.
As priests, we offer the sacrifice in the name of all the people. All of you join in offering it by virtue of your royal priesthood, conferred on you in baptism.
Finally, the culmination of the Eucharistic celebration is in the receiving the body and blood of Christ under the form of bread and wine. Though this, we make Christ’s body and blood a most intimate part of ourselves. Each one of us who shares in this communion becomes one with Christ, and at the same time, we are all part of the one body – the People of God – the Mystical Body of Christ.
FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY
Gospel - Matthew 28:16-20
Boudreaux walked into a gift shop that sold religious items. Near the cash register he saw a display of caps with WWJD printed on all of them. Boudreaux was puzzled over what the letters could mean, but couldn't figure it out, so he asked the clerk.
The clerk replied that the letters stood for "What Would Jesus Do," and was meant to inspire people to not make rash decisions, but rather to imagine what Jesus would do in the same situation.
Boudreaux thought a moment and then replied, "Well, I am not very religious, but know one thing __ Jesus wouldn't pay $19.95 for one of these caps."
Today is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is a confusing doctrine that helps us see that God is not off in the distance somewhere leaving us to our own devices but is an active participant in our world and in our lives.
There is a mystery surrounding the Trinity which makes it hard for some people to understand: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We hear but still wonder what this means.
It reminds me of a first_grade teacher who was overseeing her students as they experimented with their new desktop computers. One young fellow sat staring at the screen, unsure how to get the computer going. The teacher walked over and read what was on his screen. In her most reassuring voice, she said to him, "The computer wants to know your name." She moved on to the next student expecting that the boy would understand to type in his name on the computer keyboard.
Instead, the boy leaned toward the screen and whispered, "My name is David."
Some of us may approach the Trinity with the same sense of mystery. Perhaps we've spent too much time trying to explain this ancient doctrine and not enough time standing back in worship and awe.
Through the Trinity, God is no longer hidden from us. God is no longer inaccessible. We can see God as Creator. We can see God in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We can experience God through the power of His indwelling Spirit. God who was at a distance is now available to us all.
I WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST TO YOU THIS MORNING, HOWEVER, THAT THERE IS A FOURTH PERSON IN THE TRINITY. AND THAT FOURTH PERSON IS ESSENTIAL TO GOD'S PLAN FOR HIS WORLD. Before you call me a heretic, let me begin with a story.
A old pastor tells about the early days of his ministry when he was responsible for the Catechism Classes for his church. Each Sunday morning he would stop in each class to read the Bible lesson for the day and talk with the children. Sometimes he would tell the children a story from the Bible. He would only stay five or ten minutes in each class and then leave for the next classroom. The teacher would continue with the lesson. It seemed that the children really enjoyed the time he spent with them each week. In fact they would be on the lookout for him.
In those days with no air conditioning, the classrooms opened to the outside with large windows lining the walls. The children could see him coming. One particular Sunday as he walked past one of the windows of the preschool room, a little boy cried out, "Get ready. Here comes Jesus!"
"At the time, " the pastor recalls, "I found the remark amusing." But there was something unsettling about it, as well. At the time, he had a full beard and wore a white cassock -- something that was done in tropical climates. The pastor said, "I probably did look like pictures of Jesus that the child had seen." As he thought more about the incident, he felt more and more uncomfortable about being mistaken for Jesus.
Meeting with a colleague a few days later the pastor shared the experience. His friend asked what his routine was with the children each Sunday. "I give them each a hug," he answered. "Usually two of them share my lap while I'm telling the story to the group." The colleague immediately thought of Jesus blessing the little children on his lap. He said, "I wouldn't be surprised if some of these kids look back one day and wonder if they really did meet Jesus" in those special moments. This remark surprised Ron, and, in a sense, changed his way of thinking of his role with the children. From that moment on Ron would ask himself, "What am I doing each day to be more like Jesus?" In other words, WWJD.
Have you guessed by now who the fourth person is in the Trinity? As I said, I don't want to sound too heretical. But the fourth person in the Trinity is the believer. All evangelism is incarnational. That is, when we witness to our faith in Jesus Christ, the Word becomes flesh all over again and the flesh is our flesh. Many people will never experience Christ until they experience him in us.
THAT'S WHY JESUS COMMISSIONED HIS DISCIPLES TO PREACH THE GOSPEL IN EVERY LAND. That was the plan God chose to reveal himself to human creatures. He could have written his message in the sky. Instead he chose to write his message on believers' hearts. And he calls us to share with others what Christ has meant in our lives.
At church one evening in her hometown in Sweden, Ingrid Widdell heard a voice. At first she tried to ignore the voice by concentrating harder on the worship service, but the voice kept speaking to her, "Go down to the harbor!" She tried to dismiss this notion by telling herself that the harbor was in the roughest part of town. She would not be safe going there by herself late at night. She imagined the drunks and prostitutes who roamed the deserted docks in the evening hours. There was no way she wanted to go down to the dock. "I squirmed in my pew," she says, "until the service ended, then hurried home as fast as I could to put as much distance as possible between myself and this alarming idea. I actually slammed my door when I got inside, and at last the mysterious voice was silent."
A month later the voice was back, "Go down to the harbor tonight." She was beginning to wonder if this voice was the voice of God. An elderly couple lived next to her who attended the same church. She thought maybe they could help her, so she went and told them about the voice. The elderly gentleman agreed to go with her to the dock that night.
They found themselves on one of the ships among crewmen in various degrees of intoxication. "Soon I found myself talking as rapidly about God as my English permitted, and how I had found a new life when I turned to him for forgiveness," Ingrid recounts. A sound startled her from behind. In the doorway stood a tall middle_aged man, holding an empty bottle in his hand and wearing the filthiest clothes she had ever seen.
He had been listening to her. "Ten dirty years have gone since I ran away from God," he told her. Suddenly everyone was silent as this man told about how his life fell apart as a result of his drinking. He once attended church and had a family but lost everything due to alcohol. Ingrid started praying for guidance and then invited this stranger to church with her. "Will you come with me?" she asked him, "I will pick you up at eight o'clock." She didn't know if she did the right thing or not inviting this man to go to church with her. When she went to the dock, though, he was waiting. This time he was clean_shaven and wearing clean clothes. Together they went to church. After the service she asked if he would like to pray with her and some of the others in another part of the church. The man said he did. When this stranger got up from kneeling, "you could almost sense the inner light radiating from him and you could sense his new peace of soul."
That inner light was the Spirit of the Living God. The Word had become flesh__his flesh. What a tremendous privilege to help somebody experience that kind of transformation. And yet you and I have that privilege. We can be the incarnation of God's Spirit. Not in the same way that Christ incarnated that Spirit, of course. He was unique among all the people who ever lived. But in our own feeble way we can show the world God, too.
AND HERE'S THE BEST PART: AS WE SEEK TO LIVE THE CHRIST LIFE WITH HIS SPIRIT DWELLING WITHIN US, HE GRANTS US HIS STRENGTH AND HIS POWER.
David Jacobsen was a hostage in Beirut for seventeen months, as you may remember. He was head of the largest hospital in West Beirut, when, one day in 1985, three men in hoods and wielding machine guns took him captive. Bound and gagged, he was taken from one hideout to another. He spent most of his time on a cold, dirt floor, chained to the wall. Once a day he was fed a tepid, unpalatable mush of watery rice and lentils.
As an American and Catholic, Jacobsen was hated by his captors. Instead of breaking his spirit, though, he became stronger. He wrote, "I discovered that no one's faith was weakened by the hell we found ourselves in... We hostages, with the guidance of Father Jenco, a captive Catholic priest, and Reverend Benjamin Weir, founded the Church of the Locked Door, a name we chose with some ruefulness." Jacobsen found strength even when he was held against his will in horrible conditions. "Grasping hands, we'd quote Scripture and pray," he wrote. "Oddly, our guards seemed to respect this ritual. Our togetherness in prayer showed me that when the Great Comforter -- the Holy Spirit is called, he answers." Remember, Jesus said: Knock and the door will be answered, seek and you will find, ask and you shall receive.
Jacobsen was released in November 1986, but in his final forty_five days of captivity he was alone in a six_by_six_by_six cell. His muscles and joints were cramped by confinement and the damp aching cold. Yet he said, "The presence of God, the Great Comforter, was stronger than ever!"
That's what the Trinity is all about. God is no longer at a distance. We see God as Creator, we see God in the life of Christ and we experience God in the Great Comforter -- the Holy Spirit.
And who is the fourth person in the Trinity? We are. For we carry the Spirit of the living God everywhere we go. And when we live out the Word of God, once again the word becomes flesh.
Feast of the Pentecost
Gospel - John 20:19-23
Boudreaux asked Clotilde what she'd like for her birthday. "I'd love to be six again," she replied.
So on the morning of her birthday, Boudreaux got Clotilde up bright and early and off they went to an amusement park. What a day! He put her on every ride in the park.
Five hours later she staggered out of the park, her head reeling and stomach upside down. Right to a McDonald's they went, where Boudreaux ordered her a Big Mac along with extra fries and a chocolate shake.
Then it was off to a movie – and hotdogs, popcorn, coke, and candy. What a fabulous adventure! Finally she wobbled home with Boudreaux and collapsed into bed.
Boudreaux leaned over and lovingly asked, "Well, Clotilde, what was it like being six again?"
She half opened one eye. "You idiot, Boudreaux, I meant I wanted my dress size to be 6."
Pentecost is the birthday of the church because, on this day 20 centuries ago, the Holy Spirit seized the disciples by their spirit and scattered them far and wide to renew the face of the earth. That mission has not yet obviously succeeded and today we are experiencing a failure of spirit/Spirit - with a small "s" and a capital "S." We can see that failure at work in three areas: nature, society and people.
Our natural environment is in critical condition. We have inflicted more irremediable damage upon this planet in the past 50 years than in the previous 500,000 years. Environmental violence is a congenital disease that we inherited from our ancestors. As soon as they cut down all the trees in one area and fished out all the streams, they would move on to virgin territory.
If they had learned from the original owners of the land, they would have known better. The Native Americans believed that they were merely part of the whole creation, that all things were filled with the great spirit of God which gave them life.
That viewpoint gave them a sense of ecology unknown to us. While we despoil our resources as if we would be the last generation, the natives ended each discussion with the same question: "How will this affect our grandchildren?"
Even the way we talk about nature betrays our possessiveness. We call it "our environment," "our living space," "our atmosphere." But then, what was nature a few million years before it was "our anything"? It was God’s environment, and it is still God’s. That is why every environmental evil is a violation of God’s space; every ecological harm serves to destroy the face of the earth, not renew it.
This lack of respect for nature spills over into a lack of concern for our human environment – for society. Not only did our ancestors move on when they had used up the land; they also moved when any neighbor was close enough for them to see their chimney smoke. It was more than a penchant for privacy; they thought it was their right. And we are still standing up for individual rights, sometimes to the great harm of society.
We defend this rampant individualism on the basis that, when individuals selfishly pursue their own good, it will all work for the common good. That idea was NEVER true. But there WAS a time when there were more than enough goods to go around, and selfishness was offset by government, church and family control of egotism, so we could deceive ourselves.
But today, when government is often at the mercy of special interests and big corporations, and political contributors, and the church appears adrift and wandering, and families are unstable and breaking up, THEN individualism is revealed as the vicious animal that it really is.
Earlier in this century, commentator Walter Lippman wrote: "Human rights do not mean that individuals are sovereignties, having only diplomatic relations with each other. Human rights are an expression of higher laws which do not allow us to treat each other arbitrarily." A few years ago, a pastoral letter by America’s Roman Catholic bishops put it in theological terms: "Human rights arise from a mutual bond to care for one another; they are based on a covenant with our creator."
When a society is competitive, violent and selfish, when 3% of the people control 60% of the wealth, then surely some evil spirit – not the Holy Spirit – is being allowed to blow wherever it wishes to blow.
When the world is so threatened and society appears beyond repair, there is the temptation to turn in on oneself. Among nations, it is called "isolationism" – something which our country is leaning more and more toward. Among people, it is called "alienation." You feel alienated when your work is meaningless, when your children do not appreciate you, when your spouse takes you for granted. If you see no better future, then you lose your spirit.
Whatever profits the flesh receives from all of this, it is poor because the truth is that it is the Holy Spirit that enlivens us. And our Spirit of life is reflected in the way we celebrate life. Yet as a nation we do not respect life. Even beyond the issue of abortion, which is, of course, serious, our movies and television, our media in general do not respect life. We do not respect life in the way we take care of our elderly, the poor, the homeless, the unemployed and underemployed, children in foster care, or that we continue to support capital punishment.
Our baptism rite boldly declares that we die with Christ and rise with him, that we are washed from sin and become a new creation, that God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. The strong medicine we need for this Pentecost is to get in touch with that Holy Spirit that dwells with us. To embrace that Holy Spirit, to let the Holy Spirit lead us to renew the face of the earth.
An old beggar was dying. His son, who had been his constant companion on his begging trips was at his side. He said to him: "Dear son, I have nothing to leave you except a cotton bag and dirty bronze bowl which I got, in my younger days, from the yard of a rich lady. It is yours."
After his father’s death, the boy continued his task of begging, using the bowl his father had given him. One day a rich merchant dropped a coin in the boy’s bowl and was surprised to hear a familiar clinking sound. "Let me see that bowl," the merchant said.
To his great surprise, he found that the beggar’s bowl was made of pure gold. "My dear young man," the merchant said, "why do you waste your time begging? You are a rich man. That bowl of yours is worth a hundred thousand dollars."
Are we Christians like that beggar boy who failed to appreciate the value of his bowl? Do we fail to appreciate the infinite value of the Holy Spirit living within each of us? – This spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control.
The word for Spirit and the word for wind are the same in Hebrew. And I am here to tell you that that mighty wind of God is available to anyone who desires it. The church, our country and each of us need that power. It is available to anyone who chooses it. So say "yes" to that sweet breath of Jesus on our souls.
Feast of the Ascension
First Reading - Act 1:1-11
Boudreaux was working as a car mechanic. Dr. Ellender came in to get his car and said, "Boudreaux, your fee is several times more per hour than I get paid as a medical doctor."
"May, ya," said Boudreaux. "I have to keep up with new models of cars coming out every month. And you -- you been working on the same two models since Adam and Eve."
Of all the major festivals in the Christian year, the most overlooked might be the Feast of the Ascension. There is no jolly man delivering gifts to children, no bunny rabbit dropping off chocolate eggs, no fireworks, no pumpkins, no turkey, no shamrocks, no "after Ascension sales" at Wal-Mart.
Have you ever gone shopping for an Ascension Day greeting card? Probably not. But if you have, you very likely would have come home empty-handed. Hallmark seems to have ignored this special and important Christian holiday. Finding a card for the Feast of the Ascension might be as difficult as finding a card for the Feast of St. Gertrude the Great, virgin and religious.
Perhaps it’s because this feast is actually celebrated on a Thursday, coming forty days after Easter each year and only a small percentage of people pay much attention to feasts that land on Thursdays. For this reason, many dioceses, including our own, are observing the Feast of the Ascension the weekend following Thursday as we are doing today.
But the Ascension may be overlooked for another reason, a reason having more to do with theological obscurity than calendar obscurity. I wonder if there are many modern Catholics who know the importance of the Ascension to our faith and practice? We may know the importance of the crucifixion, and the resurrection. But is the Ascension of our Lord so important? And if so, what is that importance. Why did it matter that Jesus returned to the Father in heaven? For that matter, why did he leave us in the first place? Since God raised Jesus from the dead, why didn’t God just let Jesus stay with us on earth? Wouldn’t that have been simpler?
I mean, just think of it. What if Jesus, having conquered death, just stayed with us on earth throughout the centuries! We wouldn’t need the Church hierarchy. Why have a leadership structure when you have Jesus to make all the tough decisions for you? We wouldn’t need seminaries or libraries. Jesus would know all the answers, and we could just ask him. We wouldn’t need social services to feed the poor and clothe the naked and work for justice in the world. With Jesus here, he could multiply the food for the poor, create economic and social justice, and overturn all the power of evil.
So, given all this simplicity, why did Jesus leave us? Why the Ascension?
The answer is that Jesus ascended because he wanted to create space for us to find our own role in the work of the Kingdom.
It would have been so easy on us if Jesus had stayed. And that is precisely the point. Jesus left so that we would take ownership of the Kingdom’s work. He left us so we could grow. He left so we could find our place in the mission of the Church, and use the gifts he had given to us for the redemption of the world.
A good father takes the training wheels off his child’s bicycle, and trains the child to ride the bike on two wheels by running up and down the driveway with a steadying hand until the child finds his or her confidence and balance. Once the child learns to ride, the child never wants the training wheels again.
But it takes a wise father to know it is time to remove the training wheels, even though the child protests with fear. The father knows, even before the child knows, that the child is ready for a bigger task. And although the child begs the father not too leave them, not to release his grip on the bike, the father knows the child is ready.
The parent drops the child off at college, and again the child clings in a last hug before the parents drive away. A part of the child wants the parents to stay, fearful of the uncertain journey of adulthood. But wise parents know it is time to let the child go. The child is ready, they just don’t always know it. Unless the parent drives away, or takes of the training wheels, or allows the child room to find their own path, that child will never grow up into all that God intended for them.
It takes space to grow. Jesus knew this about the church. He left, he ascended to heaven, to leave us space to grow into the responsibility of leadership and ownership of the church’s mission of earth. Oh, we have not always done a very good job of things, but at least we persevere. Jesus, like a wise parent, loved us enough to leave.
Jesus also ascended in order to be more fully present with us through the Holy Spirit than he could be while in physical form on earth.
When Jesus was on earth, he could only be at one place at a time. He could only be fully present with one need, one person, one crisis at a time. And although the presence of Jesus in those moments was transforming, he was limited by the boundaries of space and time.
But with the ascension of Jesus to the Father, and the sending of the Holy Spirit to equip and guide the believers on earth, Jesus can now be present through the Spirit with millions of believers at the same time, and in millions of places around the globe simultaneously. The disciples experienced the departure of Jesus at the ascension as a leaving, but in reality it was the method by which he would be more fully present to them than ever before.
If Jesus had limited himself to the physical presence of his body, he would have limited the effectiveness and spread of the church. He could be present to the twelve apostles in a tight circle in Jerusalem, but he could not have been equally present with a worldwide movement of millions all around the globe.
So, why did Jesus leave us? Because he wanted to strengthen us. And because he wanted to be with us in a special new way in Spirit. Imagine the Ascension as the removal of the training wheels from the Church’s bicycle. What a wise and loving parent is God! Even so, the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord does not mark the absence of Jesus, but the means by which he is very, very present indeed. So Hallmark should get in line with those cards, and we should get in line with this very, very important feast – one of the most important on the Church’s calendar.
6th Sunday of Easter
First Reading - Act 10:25-38
Boudreaux and Clotilde are taking a stroll in a lovely park when they come upon a wishing well. Clotilde says, "I don’t think it will work." Boudreaux says, "Sure, Honey, it will work." So Clotilde leans over, makes a wish, and throws in a quarter.
Boudreaux decides he wants to make a wish, also. Unfortunately, he leans over too far, falls down into the well.
Clotilde stands there shaken for a moment, and then exclaims, "Cher bon dieu, IT WORKS !!!"
Picture this scene: It is a beautiful day in the city park. The scene is idyllic. Children are playing on swing sets, watched by their parents. A man walks his dog along a grassy path. Spring flowers are shouting out with color. The jogger runs by the couple holding hands on the park bench. At the center of the park is a small lake with a central fountain spewing forth from an island made of flat stone. On the little lake ducks are bobbing, and several graceful swans move effortlessly through the water. Oh, the swans – of all the animals on the lake, the swans are the most regal. What noble creatures they seem to be.
Or are they? This beautiful pastoral scene is broken by the noise of squawking and sputtering near the island in the middle of the small lake. Apparently the white swans have decided that the prize piece of the lake is their private domain. No matter that there is enough room on the flat rocks for all the ducks and all the swans and even more to gather under the cooling mist of the fountain. Those swans have obviously posted a noisy sign that reads "No Ducks Allowed." If a duck swims too close, within the territorial waters of the swan’s island, the large swans run the small intruder back into the deep part of the lake.
But it is not enough to keep the ducks off the island. The white swans, who number about four in the lake, have also decided that the two brown swans are not allowed on their island either. With the same loud squawking and intimidating flapping of wings, the white swans keep their darker cousins away. Apparently there must be another sign in swan language which reads: "Whites Only."
It is a sad scene played out in front of the children of the park. How could creatures so beautiful act so ugly toward each other? How could the swans be so greedy with real estate when there is more than enough for everyone? And especially so, since the swans did not create the lake or the island in the first place? Who said it was their island? Is it fair that the biggest birds rule the lake? And just because there are more white swans, does that make white a more beautiful color than brown?
Sad, isn’t it, to see creatures treat each other so cruelly? The swans do not seem so regal after all on this particular afternoon in the park. When the swans make real estate decisions and social decisions purely on the basis of species, or even color of feathers, the swans look silly and mean.
You know where this is going, right? The species watching all this commotion on the lake, we humans, can see our own mistakes played out on Swan Lake. We know how easy it is to make snap judgments about someone in our species just because of the way the look, the way they dress, the color of their skin, the accent in their voice. Some of the ugliest moments in human history began with this type of prejudice. Our reading today from the books of Acts has a word from the Lord on precisely this matter.
First, God does not judge by outward appearances, but by the heart. The apostle Peter had followed Jesus around Judea for three years, but still he harbored some of the mistrust and bigotry he was taught as a youth toward all gentiles, and especially toward Romans. (Remember, by the way, we are gentiles). But God wanted to reach Romans and gentiles with the good news of Jesus Christ, and God wanted to reach the prejudiced heart of Peter with the good news that Jesus loves everybody just the same. So God sent Peter to the home of an officer in the Roman army named Cornelius.
Okay, Peter went reluctantly, like Jonah when he was sent to Nineveh. And like the experience of Jonah, Peter found that God’s grace worked in a marvelous way, almost in spite of the half-hearted preaching of the messenger, Peter, who was still making up his mind whether he even wanted God to save these people.
When the Holy Spirit fell on the house of Cornelius, just as the Spirit had fallen on Peter and the apostles at Pentecost, Peter was more amazed than Cornelius. That was the moment that Peter realized that he had been sent both to preach the good news, and to receive the good news. Peter finished his sermon with the profound truth he learned that day, that God shows no partiality. That every person who acts uprightly is acceptable to him. While the text reads: "I see that God shows no partiality," it is a poor translation. In other words, as the original phrase in the Greek texts should be translated more literally to read, "God does not look on the face."
When we make judgments, we look on the face. The face tells us whether that person is male or female, or what national origin they might have, or what color of skin, or what age. Humans make all kinds of important decisions about the other person based on this observation alone. But God does not decided about us based on our face. God looks on our hearts. Aren’t you glad about that? Cornelius certainly was.
Second, because God looks on the heart, and not the face, God’s followers (that’s us) must do the same.
Here is the hard part of today’s lesson. Peter realized that if God loved a Roman officer, he would have to love him too. It is difficult for a white swan to realize that he has not been swimming in Swan Lake after all, but rather a lake built for all the swimming creatures. It was difficult for Peter to unlearn the prejudice he was taught as a child toward non-Jews. But to Peter’s credit, with God’s help he did learn. Later in the book of Acts, Peter became the champion for the inclusion of gentiles within the church.
And if Peter can learn, so can we, by the same power of God’s example and grace. What is your struggle today? Do you have difficulty honoring people at a different age than yours? Or a different skin color? Or a different gender? Or a different nationality? Or a different religion? Or a different social status? We could go on and on. Allow God to call you to a bigger lake. You are swimming in a small circle in a tiny pool. And the crying need today in this world is for people with visions bigger than their own face in the mirror – someone who can announce and model love for those who are different of face. Someone who does not look at the face. Someone who looks for the heart. Are you that someone?
5th Sunday of Easter
Gospel - John 13:31-35
The teacher asked T-Boy in class, "T-Boy, do you think you could explain to the class the difference between ‘like’ and ‘love’?"
"Mai, ya," said T-Boy, "I like my parents, Boudreaux and Clotilde, . . . but I love Milk Duds."
This is Mother’s Day. It is a day when we show our mothers that they are at least as important to us as Milk Duds.
I must tell you, though, that one Mom had a most revealing experience on her Mother’s Day. Her two children ordered her to stay in bed. She lay there looking forward to being brought her breakfast, as the inviting smell of bacon floated up from the kitchen. At last the children called her downstairs. She found them sitting at the table, each with a large plate of bacon and eggs. "As a Mother’s Day surprise," one explained, "We’ve cooked our own breakfast."
That says bundles, doesn’t it? Who in this world does more for us than our Mom? And who is taken for granted more than our Mom? It is only right that we devote a day each year in honor of those women who have devoted their lives to their family, to their church and most importantly to their children.
Our text for the day could easily be about being a good mother, but actually it is aimed at the whole Christian family. Jesus is looking to the cross. There he will glorify God by his perfect obedience to God’s plan. Now he is calling his disciples to perfect obedience as well. What is this perfect obedience to which he calls them? "I give you a new commandment," he says to them, "Love one another, Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another."
NOTICE, FIRST OF ALL, THAT LOVE IS NOT OPTIONAL FOR FOLLOWERS OF JESUS. Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment . . ." Not a suggestion, not a recommendation. A commandment.
Why is it a commandment? Because there is a part of every one of us that rebels against the idea of pure, unconditional love. There is a part of us that says such love is out of place in the world in which we live. Sure, love is great up to a point, but we want to be sure that we still have some room for some of the baser emotions like anger, resentment and even hate.
We are like a woman who came to King Ibn Saud, the man who ruled Saudi Arabia from 1932_1953. This woman had come to him to demand the death of a man who had killed her husband. This man had been picking dates from a palm tree when he accidentally fell out of the tree, on top of the woman’s husband and fatally injured him. Although the king tried to persuade the woman not to pursue her rights, she insisted. Finally, the king said, "It is your right to ask for this man’s life, but it is my right to decree how he shall die. You shall take this man with you immediately, and he shall be tied to the foot of the same palm tree. Then you yourself shall climb to the top of the tree and cast yourself down upon him from that height. In that way you will take his life as he took your husband’s." The woman quickly changed her mind, realizing that in satisfying her need for revenge, she would also be risking her life.
We’re like that woman, aren’t we? Holding our grudges. Bearing our resentments. Making our spiteful remarks. Always trying to make certain that everybody gets what they deserve. How alien pure, sacrificial love is to our lives. And so Jesus gives us a commandment -- love one another.
But there is a second thing we need to note: LOVE IS THE CHRISTIAN’S PRIMARY WITNESS TO THE WORLD. How do people know that we are followers of Jesus? By our love. It doesn’t matter how often we are in church. It doesn’t matter how many crosses we wear around our neck. If we cannot love our families and our neighbors and people of every shape and size and color and background, our Christian faith is a fraud and we are misrepresenting Christ.
Remember years ago when car phones first came out? They were very, very expensive. Most people could not afford them. So one company began to make fake car phones. They looked just like cellular telephones and only cost nineteen dollars. The phone gave the appearance of the real thing, but it was a fake. It was for people who couldn’t afford a cellular telephone, but didn’t want their friends to know it, I guess. They wanted to drive in their cars pretending to hold conversations. The amazing thing is that more than two hundred thousand people bought those fake phones.
When I read that I thought of a survey done by a psychology professor at DePaul University. The purpose of the survey was to find out what people think of those who wear eyeglasses. Shoppers in a mall were asked to look at pictures of men and women with and without glasses and rate them according to certain characteristics. The results were quite interesting. Men wearing glasses were considered more intelligent and more trustworthy than those without. In the rating of women for intelligence, however, glasses made no difference. But glasses did add an air of financial success to both sexes. Women with glasses were generally considered more competent than those without glasses. After the survey was completed, the professor bought himself a pair of fake eyeglasses to wear at counseling sessions! He wanted to look competent, too, I suppose.
Fake car phones, fake eyeglasses. What’s next -- fake Christianity? Unfortunately, yes.
An old woman lay seriously ill in a hospital. Her closest friend read Isaiah 25:6_9 aloud to her. Wanting the comfort and support of faith, the sick woman asked her friend to hold her hand. On the other side of the bed, her husband, who considered himself a deeply religious man and who prided himself for his boldness in having a "Honk, if you love Jesus" bumper_sticker on his car, reached out to take her other hand. His wife withdrew it, saying with deep sadness, "Herbert, you are not a believer. Your cruelty and callousness throughout the forty years of our marriage tells me that your faith is an illusion."
Ouch, that hurts. There are some things in life you cannot fake. How do people know that we are Christians? By our love. Love is our primary witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. How sad it is that so many who bear Christ’s name have never reconciled themselves to that one basic principle. Are we giving an accurate witness to the love of Jesus Christ? Or are we sowing seeds of anger, resentment, hatred? Love is not optional for the follower of Jesus. This is the way people know to whom we belong – by how much we love. Nothing else we do matters nearly as much. Love is our primary witness to the world. And this brings us to the final thing we note from our text: OUR ABILITY TO LOVE IS DERIVED FROM OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST. "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. . . ."
We love because he first loved us. This is so critical to our understanding of love. Love does not happen in a vacuum. Love is something that is passed from one person to another. This is one reason Christian parents and particularly Christian mothers are so important. A child who does not receive love, psychologists tell us, will not be able to give love. There will always be a void there – a terrible void that can never be filled. On the other hand, a child who has received the proper amount of nurturing as an infant and as a toddler will have a sense of security and trust that will last them all their lives.
This is also true with regard to Christ’s commandment to love. Many Christians try to keep Christ’s commandment without first nurturing their relationship with him. They are doomed to fail. We draw our ability to love from our connection to him. Without that connection our faith is simply an exercise in noble living. It has no real power to draw us out of ourselves and center us in others.
Let me tell you about a woman who understood that kind of love. Her story is told in a book by Doug Peterson titled Many are Called.
Her name is Gladys Aylward. Gladys was an English missionary in China many years ago. The Chinese ruler for that region, called a Mandarin, assigned Gladys to be the official foot inspector for the region. Now, I don’t believe we have feet inspectors anymore – although there may be some hidden away somewhere in the budget of the federal government. It wouldn’t surprise me.
Gladys was to inspect the feet of young Chinese girls to make sure their feet were not bound. Foot binding ranks as one of the most severe traditions ever imposed on women. As recently as the middle of this century, the feet of many young Chinese girls were bound in ten-foot bandages wrapped in such a way that all toes except the big one were pulled underneath the foot. The bandage then was wrapped around the heel so tightly that the sole was drawn as close to the heel as possible. The overall effect was to create a considerably shorter foot.
Gladys was stunned. She wasn’t Chinese. She was a missionary. How could she serve as foot inspector? People would never listen to her. Some of them called her a "foreign devil." But the Mandarin was determined. He explained the job. Gladys would travel throughout the countryside, with the protection of armed guards, and tell villagers that foot binding was now illegal.
Gladys initially resisted the assignment, but it suddenly occurred to her that traveling from village to village under the Mandarin’s protection would give her the chance to tell more people about Jesus. Gladys responded to the Mandarin in this way: "You must realize, Excellency, that if I accept this position I shall try to convert the people of this province to Christianity wherever I go!" When the Mandarin fell silent, Gladys feared she had gone too far. But then he answered softly, "I care nothing for your religion or to whom you preach. This is a matter for the conscience of each individual. But it is important that you should do this work." She did.
At first people reacted to Gladys with a nervous wariness. With a crowd behind her, Gladys marched to the nearest house, where she found a girl of about three years. "That one," she commanded, pointing at the girl. "Unbind her feet!" With the bandages off, Gladys moved to her knees, pried the girl’s toes away from the sole of her foot and massaged them. "Five little piggies all ready to go to market," smiled Gladys, and the atmosphere suddenly lightened. The little girl was delighted. Women of varying ages immediately pushed forward, all of them chattering about the pain they had endured for so many years. Gladys was quickly promoted from a "foreign devil" to a person of honor.
When the Japanese invaded China in 1941, Gladys Aylward helped more than one hundred children escape in a treacherous journey through the mountains. They made the journey on foot and with unbound feet!
Gladys Aylward knew how to love. She had been commanded to love by the Lord who sent her into the mission fields. She had no other option. This was her witness to the world -- a witness to the love she had received from Christ. "I give you a new commandment: Love one another," said Jesus, "Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another."
4th Sunday of Easter
Gospel - John 10:11-18
Boudreaux used to sell Clotilde’s little sweet potato pies for only 25 cents – on the corner of Main Street and Barrow Street in Houma. And every day, Mr. Dupont from Duponts store would leave his office at lunch time, and as he passed Boudreaux’s little stand, he would leave a quarter, but he would never take a sweet potato pie.
This went on for more than five years. Boudreaux and Dupont never spoke.
One day, Mr. Dupont passed the stand and left his quarter as usual. A few seconds later, he heard footsteps behind him. He turned, and it was Boudreaux who spoke to him for the first time.
"Mr. Dupont," he said, "I appreciate your business. You are one of my best customers. But I have to tell you, the price of the sweet potato pies have gone up to 35 cents."
Many things in your life and in mine are governed by the desire to make money. This is the reason that most of us will get up tomorrow morning and go to work. That is how we earn our livelihood. We trade our time and labor for money. And in our society, people must have money, or the equivalent thereof, in order to survive. Without it, we would find ourselves with no place to live, no food to eat, no clothes to wear, and no means of transportation. All of the basic necessities of life cost money. And that makes it one of the major motivational factors in human experience. Hardly a day goes by that we do not invest some thought or effort into getting or saving money.
In our economic system, we call that the "profit motive." For the great masses of people that means going to work. For others, it means investing in stocks or bonds, or putting their money in interest bearing accounts. For a few, it means starting a business, or buying a business that is already established. We would have a difficult time exaggerating the importance of the profit motive in our lives and in our American society. It is a big, big factor!
But it is not supreme. Not even in our money-hungry society. It is not our God. There are times, when other motives come into play and push that profit motive completely off the field.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus talked about a higher motive than profit. He drew an analogy between two different kinds of shepherds. One would stand and defend his sheep against wild animals, even at the loss of his own life. The other would run away, when he saw a wolf coming, and leave the sheep to be torn apart by the wolf. The shepherd, who would run away, worked only for money. He has a hired hand. The other, who stood his ground, was the owner of the flock. He had a vocation to shepherding. He worked out of devotion to the sheep.
It is obvious that Jesus was not really talking about sheep. He was talking about people and about himself. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that one. He was telling his disciples that he would not run away from danger. He would stand his ground, even if it meant sacrificing his own life in order to save them. Why would a man do that, sacrifice himself for his friends?
Clearly enough, the answer is not money. No amount of money could convince a person to give up his own life. The only possible answer is LOVE. The profit motive may be an efficient basis for building the economy. But it is an inadequate basis for building a life. We MUST have a higher motive for living. And the reasons for this are not hard to find.
First, sooner or later, we all need the kind of help that money simply cannot buy.
In quiet days, the hired hand was fully adequate to take care of the sheep. All he had to do was lead them to food and water, and make sure they were safely in the fold at night. Money could buy that kind of help. It was readily available at a reasonable price.
But when the wolf pack came, that was another matter. The sheep needed someone who would fight for them, someone who would take charge for them. That is a specialized kind of care. And it is not available on the market at any price. No amount of money can buy it.
A group of American tourist were visiting a mission station in a third-world country. They walked through the little hospital. It was crude and inadequate. They watched a nurse cleaning a deep wound on a man’s leg. It should have been treated weeks before. But the man was afraid of doctors and nurses. He had stayed away until the wound became infected. It had become a putrefying sore, unpleasant both to see and to smell.
The nurse was gently and patiently removing the infection. One of the tourists whispered to another: "I would not do that for a million dollars." The whisper was louder than intended, and the nurse overheard it. Without ever looking up from her work, she said, "I wouldn’t either."
Our needs may not be as obvious as that man’s infection. But we still have some needs that money cannot supply. When our hearts are broken, we need someone to care. A familiar proverb says; "Smile and the world smiles with you. Cry and you cry alone."
That is simply not true. And for that, we can be grateful. I cannot think of anything much worse than weeping all alone with a broken heart. And not another person in the world sheds even one tear. We need people who care. But we cannot buy that. Caring is a free gift that comes from a loving heart.
You see, the profit motive has some serious drawbacks. And one of them is that we all need the kind of help that money cannot buy.
Second, is that we all face challenges that money cannot motivate us to accept.
When the good shepherd laid down his life for the sheep, he was doing something that no one could expect him to do, and certainly no one could hire him to do. That has often been true of the world’s greatest contributions. The finest work has seldom been done for money. In some areas of life we recognize that reality. We read of people giving kidneys to total strangers. People have their bone marrow tested so they can give it away to strangers.
In many professions, the people are not in it solely for the money. In my work, for example, if you thought my primary interest as a priest was my salary, you would be sorely disappointed. I had a successful and very fun career before I entered the seminary.
The same is true of teachers. You would not want your children in a classroom where the teacher cared more about her paycheck than she did about her pupils. One of my best friends is a wonderful veterinarian who gives free treatment to people who cannot afford it and finds homes for pets that people cannot keep. I know lawyers who have handled cases for the principle and not the money. Some people work in areas not for the money but for the contributions they can make to the Christian family and ways to build up the Kingdom of God.
Why should those same standards not apply to us all. A business can serve the community just as surely as a church or school can. A business executive can have the spirit of a servant just as surely as a priest or teacher can. No one has the right to look upon a community or its people as strictly a source of profits. Whatever our roles in life may be, if we know the Good Shepherd, our primary task is to be of service. And I know some business people who do take that responsibility seriously. Sure, they make a profit. They have to make a profit to stay in business. But they do some things that no one pays them to do, and no one ever could. We have some good people like that in this community.
Within reasonable limits, we can all be grateful for the profit motive. Across the years, it has served our country and our community well. At the present time, it appears to be the best way to organize an economy. But building a life calls for a higher motive. No one can live by profits alone. Sooner or later, we all need the kind of help that money cannot buy. Every one of us finds ourselves there from time to time. On a regular basis, we face challenges which have nothing to do with money. Thank God there is a higher motive. Call it love. Call it good will. Call it whatever you please. The important thing is that we learn to live by it. To follow the example of the Good Shepherd and become good shepherds ourselves.
With this in mind, we dare not let the last verse of our selection from the First Letter of John go unnoticed: "Dearly beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall later be has yet come to light. We know that when it comes to light, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." We are not sheep, we are God’s children. And our loving parent can unlock our potential to be like him. And our Good Shepherd can unlock our potential to be like him.
Only God knows what we can become. And what we need to do is accept our true identity as God’s children, then get on with the business of becoming like Daddy. To become Good Shepherds ourselves who will lay down our lives for the flock – the flock being each other.
3rd Sunday of Easter
Gospel - Luke 24:35-48
Boudreaux and Clotilde had a huge argument, and ended up not talking to each other for days.
Finally, on the third day, Boudreaux asked Clotilde where his hunting boots were. "Oh," said Clotilde, "So NOW you're speaking to me."
Boudreaux looked confused and asked: "What are you talking about?"
Clotilde darted back: "Haven't you noticed I haven't spoken to you for three days?"
"Mai, no," said Boudreaux, "I just thought we were finally getting along."
You know, a mother spends hours planning the meal, buying the groceries, preparing the food, setting the table. She tries to feed her family with food that is healthy and tasty. Despite her work schedule, she knows this effort is important for her family. When dinner is prepared, with all the hot items hot, and all the cold items cold, she calls the family to the dinner table.
As she hears them tumble to the kitchen, after the third call, she looks at the table with joy – every place is set for a special person in her life. The picky eater has his favorite dish within reach. The napkins are folded. For this meal, she even placed salad forks, in an attempt to train her kids what to do when confronted with a place setting of more than one piece of flatware. When the family arrives at the table, she is hoping for hungry and happy people.
But instead the kids begin to whine, "I’m not hungry. I ate some chips and candy after school, and I am still full. Why do we have to eat all this stuff? Yuk! I don’t want vegetables! Do I have to eat this?"
It is at times like this that mothers remember the words of Erma Bombeck, who said that "every child threatens to run away from home from time to time; sometimes it is the only thing that keeps a mother going."
How do you feed someone who is not hungry? And how do you deal with the anger that they filled up first on junk food? Every mother knows this dilemma. AND SO DOES GOD. Our Heavenly Parent has been preparing a table of all that we need, and many times we do not receive it because we have filled our souls instead on the "junk food" of our own desires.
Teachers know this same frustration. The teacher tries to prepare a lesson, struggles to find ways to make the information interesting, and knows that the lesson is important for the future of the student. But sometimes the student comes into class, or skips class entirely, with a spirit of arrogant ignorance. They think they already know all they need to know, that the teacher can say nothing they need to hear, that all the teacher knows is obsolete or irrelevant for their future.
This is called the "sophomore syndrome," the student whose folly is that they think they know it all. In fact, the very word "sophomore" is drawn from the Greek words for "wisdom" (sophia) and "ignorance" (moron). In other words, ignorant wisdom.
This, again, is a metaphor for the problem facing God when he relates to humans. We are often sophomores in life. Thinking ourselves wise, when we are often ignorant of the most vital wisdom of life. Our test today from Scripture illustrates this dilemma.
You see, we are often ignorant of God’s presence and God’s will. This is the consistent theme of the preaching of the two-volume work of Luke and Acts. In the resurrection stories of Luke 24, the Emmaus disciples traveled with Jesus all day, but did not even know he was with them. They were so sure that he was gone, they did not recognize Jesus right in front of them.
And when the risen Lord appeared to the apostles, he still had to overcome their doubt and fear. He had to eat in front of them to prove that he was neither a ghost nor an angel. And most important of all, "he opened their minds to understand the scriptures." What they needed, what we need, is mind surgery. Our minds are often so clogged by the spiritual cholesterol of our own thinking, that God must first open our minds, clear out the clog, and make room for a new understanding.
The preaching of the apostles in the book of Acts continues this theme. Peter preached to the Jews in Jerusalem that in times past Israel had acted in ignorance in their relationship to God and toward his messengers. Later in Acts, Paul will preach to the gentiles at Athens that they too had been ignorant in times past as they tried to relate to God through the idols.
So here is the metaphor for the human condition in Luke and Acts; we are sinful, sure. But Jesus and the apostles preach that our sin is a sin of ignorance. And make no mistake about it, what we do not know CAN hurt us.
So what’s the cure for spiritual ignorance? You’d think that the cure for ignorance would be STUDY. But listen to the preaching in Luke and Acts. The preachers there called on their audience, not to study, but to REPENT. Doesn’t that seem strange? Well, not when you think about it.
Our problem is not just that we do not know, it is that we refuse to acknowledge that we do not know. We are coming to the table already full of junk food. And we are coming into God’s classroom already full of our own knowledge. We think we are so wise when we are fools. We think that we know how the world works. We think no one knows better than we do what is best for us.
But we are wrong. God knows what is best for us. So the first step in our development is not more information. If God tries to pour new information into us it would be like trying to add water to a cup already full. No, the first step is to create some empty space, some new room for new knowledge. What we need is a bit more humility to allow God to speak a new word to us. To work miracles in our lives. But if we already know what is best for us and we want it our way, then God cannot work in our lives to provide what is best for us. The cup is already full.
It is sort of like trying to teach a teenager to drive. If it wasn’t for the danger, driver’s education would be a lot more helpful AFTER the teenager has his or her first wreck. Then they would be open to learning and not think they know it all already. It is the same for every one of us. If you are walking around with your cup full all the time, don’t expect God to work in your life.
The word repentance is another name for humility. Like in the 12-step program – to admit that we are powerless and turn our lives over to God. Like Webster defines it: repent – to dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life. It is a first giant step toward a new understanding and a new wisdom. It creates a genuine hunger for the good food God has prepared for us. Join me this day in a spirit of repentance. Allow God to give us what we REALLY need. Come to the Table of the Lord. Come hungry for what only God can provide. Taste and see. God has prepared a banquet of grace, and has a place at the table set just for you. All you have to do is accept the invitation
2nd Sunday of Easter
Gospel - John 20:19-31
T-Boy was watching, completely fascinated, as his mother, Clotilde gently rubbed cold cream on her face.
T-Boy’s curiosity got the best of him and he finally asked: "Ma, are you rubbing that stuff all over your face?"
Clotilde smiled and replied, "To make myself beautiful for your daddy, Boudreaux."
After watching for a while longer, he sees Clotilde begin wiping off the cold cream with a tissue.
Not able to control himself any longer, T-Boy asked: "What's the matter, Ma? You giving up already?"
As little children in our religion classes, we all swore an oath that we would be forever faithful, that we would never be like "Doubting Thomas." We just knew that we would love Jesus and follow him all the days of our lives. Then we grew up.
The nice thing about children is that for them nothing is improbable or impossible. Mary Poppins can sit on a cloud, Peter Pan can fly and somehow Santa can get into every little boy and girl’s home with or without a chimney. Unfortunately, as adults we become too sophisticated to accept the improbable, and the impossible remains just the impossible.
However, some have seen the impossible become reality. Some are with us still who remember life before electricity, before radio, before television, before we went to the moon – and most of us have been around longer than the home computer. Our constant thought is: "What will they think of next?"
But even though so many have seen so much technological advancement, we still are plagued by doubt regarding the possibility of our spiritual advancement. While we most likely believe in God, we have our doubts about what God can do.
We find refuge in Thomas. We find solace in his doubts. But we must look closely at our story of Thomas. Whom did he doubt? And what became of him?
He did not doubt Jesus; he doubted his friends. Thomas was not present during the disciples’ first encounter with the Risen Christ, but they told the story to all who would listen. Many came to believe just on their word alone. But not Thomas. Thomas could place no trust in the words of his companions of some three years.
It does not mean Thomas was not a courageous man. Remember when word came to Jesus that Lazarus was sick and the religious authorities in Bethany were already threatening Jesus life, and it was risky to travel there, Jesus said he would make the journey. It was Thomas who spoke up to his fellow disciples and said, "Let us also go, that we may die with him. (11:9).
Thomas’ outspokenness in today’s gospel left him with the title "Doubting Thomas". But he was no more doubting than most of us. However, unlike most of us, he questioned things out loud rather than just think them. For instance, when Jesus told the disciples at the Last Supper, "Where I am going you know the way," it was Thomas who spoke up and declared: "We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" This is not Doubting Thomas, but Thomas who asks that things be made clear and simple and that Jesus not assume there is understanding when there is, instead, confusion.
We should note that Thomas went on to proclaim the good news of the gospel to all parts of the known world. And in the end, he was martyred for this faith.
Sometimes when we are confronted with doubt, it is not so much God that we doubt but instead our fellow journeyers in faith. If we are to grow spiritually, we must believe that our fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters in Christ, are capable of bringing us God’s Word and doing God’s work.
The Acts of the Apostles offers us a vision of a community of believers who came to believe in their ability to live as God would have us live. For a brief shining moment, this first community of faith lived the ideal of renunciation. They proved that Christians could actually have more concern for their fellow believers than their own selves or possessions and way of life. They trusted each other to live as Jesus taught.
Did it last? No. While Jesus triumphed over sin and death, we still cannot quite let go of our attachments. It was not long before Paul had to write some of his letters and address the squabbles within the new Christian communities. The First Letter of John, from which we read today, is addressed to dissidents, to those who fail to believe in the vision given to us by Jesus.
Far from being a "feel good" letter, John’s words are a warning to the community to stay away from those who have already given up on the vision. Earlier in this letter, we are reminded that others have the ability to lift us, and also that others can pull us down. John’s words offer us a test to determine which group is which. We are invited to examine which group still believes in the vision of what we can accomplish through God’s power.
For the most part, we are all Thomases. We do not trust our fellow Christians. We doubt their goodness and believe more in their ability to do wrong, to disappoint us and to fall short of our expectations. In fact, we often will find ourselves hoping that those around us will fail.
We, in our overly sophisticated manner, tend to doubt that we can live in peace with anyone for long. We doubt that we will see justice done. We doubt that the poor will be fed and the suffering will be consoled.
Maybe Mary Poppins cannot sit on a cloud and Peter Pan really cannot fly – not because they cannot but because they are not real. However, though not biblical characters, they are characters that convince children that dreams do come true. If children can believe in them, then what of us and God and our fellow pilgrims in faith?
God is real. Very few of us doubt this. But we, like children, must believe that dreams come true, especially the Christian vision that we are capable of living together in peace. We must come to believe in the Resurrection and what it offers us and in what it can do for us.
Just as children tie towels around their necks for capes and pretend they are superheroes like Superman or Batman, we must tie the mantle of grace around our own necks and believe in what Jesus has given us: the power to put peace on earth – the power to defeat sin and death.
Peace in the knowledge of his resurrection and his love is his gift to us. We need to believe that we, with our fellow journeyers, can make this peace real and visible. We need to believe that others can do this for us as well. We, unlike Thomas, need to believe when our friends tell us that "The Lord has appeared. It is true!" Because it is.
Gospel - John 20:1-9
Boudreaux was coming out of church on Easter Sunday. As usual, Fr. Broussard stood at the door to shake hands. When Boudreaux reach the priest, Fr. Broussard grabbed him by the hand, pulled him aside and said to him, "Son, you need to join the Army of the Lord!"
Boudreaux replied, "Mai, Father, I'm already in the Army of the Lord."
Fr. Broussard looked at him and asked, "Well, how come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?"
Boudreaux puffed up his chest, leaned over and whispered, "’Cause I'm in the secret service."
- - - - - - - - - -
There is obviously something extra-special about this weekend. It is Easter. Lent and Holy Week are over. The purple vestments and cloths that got us into the mood for our Lenten program of prayer and penance have been put away. In their place are gold and white vestments and an array of lilies and spring flowers that speak of fresh, new life. And the Boudreaux jokes are back.
The Alleluia has emerged from its six weeks of enforced silence – I hope you missed it! And today we sing it with a mood of victory and joy. The Easter Candle stands here as our shining sentinel that signals, like a pillar of fire, the triumph of light over darkness, of life over death.
Our prayers, readings and songs all tell of the Good News, the Best News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, indeed, this is Easter. Jesus Christ has risen! Alleluia!
On this extra-special day of Easter there is one more extra-special action that we do today, an action that is reserved just for today. This action is our link with the light and the life of the risen Lord Jesus. This action is the Renewal of Baptismal Promises that we make right after the homily.
The Church is reminding us that it is in and through our baptism that we made our initial contact with the risen Lord. When we were baptized, we experienced in a symbolic but no less real way just what Jesus himself experienced in his death and resurrection.
The baptismal font at which we were baptized should be thought of as a sort of tomb. In the early days of the Church, the font was a river or lake. Adults and infants were baptized by complete immersion into the water. The person was literally dunked and dumped in the water – not just to get the baptized all wet but to dramatize that person’s death and burial.
You see, the water completely covered them as the earth covers us at our burial. And when they immersed them, they held them under until they were almost out of breath to give them a taste of death, and when they finally brought them up, they said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father." Again, they went under in the name of the Son and again in the name of the Holy Spirit. For one brief moment there was a sense of dying. This dying was done in union with Jesus who had died on the cross and was buried in the tomb.
But after the dying came the rising. No sooner did the baptized person go down into death than he or she came up out of the water and rose into new life. The river that had been a tomb of death by drowning was now a womb of new life by rising – rising with Jesus who had been the first to complete this cycle of dying and rising.
By having us renew our baptismal promises, we are brought into personal contact with the risen Lord Jesus. This Easter Sunday is not just some exercise in nostalgia, not a pious remembering of what happened to Jesus over 2000 years ago in far off Jerusalem. This Easter Sunday is rather a renewal, the re-enactment of Jesus’ resurrection here and now, right here in our midst, right now on April 11/12, 2009.
What happened to Jesus – he died and rose from the dead – is not an experience that is going to happen to us at some future time when we die. Rather, what happened to Jesus – he died and rose from the dead – is starting to happen to each one of us now. We have died a little. We have risen a little. Given this good head-and-heart start, the rest is sure to come.
We have moved from death to new life. We publicly proclaim our belief in the God of life. We believe in God the Father who created all life. We believe in the Son Jesus Christ who came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. We believe in the Holy Spirit who constantly renews God’s life within us by dwelling with us.
When we have renewed these promises we will then be sprinkled with extra-special water – water that is blessed at the Easter Vigil. This Easter water reminds us that just as "April showers bring May flowers" so does this short shower of blessed water bring us a new flowering of faith, hope, and love.
This Easter water recalls and renews our baptism which first put us in touch with the dying and rising of Jesus. With this Easter water, we both sink AND swim – we sink our sins to death and we swim our way to new life – life in and with the risen Lord Jesus.
Now let us renew our baptismal promises. It is six "I do’s." Don’t just say, "I do." [whispered]. Say, "I do." [shouted]. Remember, you are not in the secret service!
PASSION (PALM) SUNDAY
Gospel - Mark 14:1-15
It’s hard to know just what to say when we finish reading the passion narrative.
We have just listened to St. Mark’s narrative of the passion. It is the shortest, the starkest and, in some ways, the saddest of the accounts in the four gospels. Jesus himself laments at one point in it: "My soul is sorrowful even unto death." Again and again we encounter such words as "betrayer" and "treachery." Compared with the other evangelists, Mark records Jesus saying very little to his confronters, even at moments of highest drama. For example, his only response to Pontius Pilate is a simply "You say so." He at first refuses to answer any of the questions the high priest puts to him.
Mark’s narrative has been dubbed the "account of the three Simons." It opens in the house of Simon the leper in Bethany, where a woman enters while Jesus is dining and pours expensive perfumed oil on his head. Jesus responds with, "She has anticipated anointing my body for burial."
Then in frustration in Gethsemane that Peter (formally known as Simon) and James and John could not remain awake to pray to his Father with him, Jesus reverts to Peter’s original name and asks: "Simon, are you asleep?"
Finally, it is a third Simon, an African man from Cyrene, identified as the father of Alexander and Rufus, who is pressed into service to carry the cross of Jesus, as they are bringing him to the execution site on Golgotha.
In Mark’s gospel, the dying moment of Jesus is quite dramatic and quite different from that recorded in the other three -- Matthew, Luke and John. As we just heard, at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" And then Mark writes that shortly thereafter Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. Did he die in despair as so many people would have you believe? Did he really feel forsaken by the Father as movies and books have claimed for years – even though he had just turned to the thief and said, "Today you will be with me in paradise?", as reported by the other gospels. Had he given up hope?
Of course not. If he did, then Christianity would never have gotten off the ground. No one would ever have bothered to write this or any of the other gospels. Mark is putting on the lips of Jesus the very first lines of Psalm 22, which in its totality describes, as perhaps no other verses do in the entire Bible, what is happening at that moment in the life of Jesus and his relationship with God. For just hours before, as he was praying with such emotion and distress on the Mount of Olives, Jesus was still addressing God as "Abba, Father."
This Psalm 22 is known as THE psalm in all Scripture which places complete hope and trust in the Lord. It was the most appropriate one he could have prayed. In fact, the final portion of Psalm 22 is a wonderful hymn to a God who has saved his people. The final line says, "Let the coming generation to be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice he has shown."
In effect, it is as if a Christian was dying and said, "Our Father who art in heaven," or "Hail Mary, full of grace." We would know that person was praying. Jews prayed the psalms -- that was their prayers. Jesus was praying – not feeling forsaken. How normal, how perfect. He was praying. And if there is any message I want you to take from here today is that. All that other stuff you’ve been told in the past from the pulpit is poppycock. The whole premise of the movie Last Temptation of Christ is pure fiction. He did not feel forsaken, he was praying.
Mark’s passion account also ends on a hopeful note. No sooner has Jesus died than the veil of the sanctuary is torn in two. A pagan soldier on the scene declares, "Truly this man was the Son of God." We are told that women, such as Mary Magdalen, who had been good friends and disciples for years, gathered with influential male friends of Jesus, such as Joseph of Arimathea, to prepare, bury and then keep watch over the body of the slain Jesus.
We may be saddened by the passion account of Mark we have just heard. But we know that the life of Jesus did not end where our account has ended. When we gather here to worship next Sunday on Easter, having relived with Jesus during this week his suffering and death, we shall celebrate his glorious and triumphant resurrection and our wondrous salvation as well. We are truly entering a Holy Week.
5th Sunday of Lent
Gospel - John 12:20-33
It was Palm Sunday, and 6_year old T-Boy had to stay home from church because of strep throat. When the Boudreaux family returned home carrying palm branches, the little boy asked what they were for. Clotilde explained, "People held them over Jesus' head as he walked by."
"Wouldn't you know it," fumed T-Boy. "The one Sunday I don't go to church, and Jesus shows up!" Don’t forget, next week is Palm Sunday.
One of the special features of our modern world is a phenomenon that someone has named the "electronic church." Turn on your radio or television most any hour of any day, and you can hear some self-styled minister preaching his self-styled version of the gospel. Those of us who believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion must respect their right to do this, even though we may disagree with their message and their methods. So long as they can afford the air time and remain within the bounds of legal propriety, they have every right to propagate their faith.
But there is one aspect of this electronic gospel that is so widely proclaimed and so badly distorted that it almost demands a reply; and that is the suggestion that faith in Christ is the secret to so-called success. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who first coined the adage: "Early to bed and early to rise makes one healthy, wealthy, and wise." Well, obviously that is not true. It makes good sense to get adequate sleep; but the time of day one does that has nothing to do with the state of one’s mind, the size of one’s bank account, or the general condition of one’s body. So that bit of verse has long since been abandoned as a formula for success. But in recent years, some spokesmen for the electronic church have revived it, revised it, and adopted it as a slogan for the gospel.
Day after day, they keep telling anyone who will listen that faith in Christ is THE sure-fire solution to all of life’s problems, especially such problems as sick bodies, overdrawn bank accounts, or broken relationship. To back up their story, they give illustrations or furnish testimonies. Robert Tilden had a couple give testimony how they were almost penniless and they sent their last $1,000 to him and now everything has worked out and they have plenty of money. Of course, these shysters often hire these people to give testimonials.
You hear stories from people who were dying of an incurable disease until they trusted Christ; now they are healed. Benny Hinn is great for that but a follow-up study by ABC 20/20 of those people who were cured on his show, showed they died a short time later after the show. In follow-up investigations, no one has ever proven to be healed by Benny Hinn.
Others will tell you how they were out of work until they trusted Christ and now they have a good job and all the money they can spend. Robert Schuller and his Crystal Cathedral spills that type of Christ for success spiel.
Still others will report how faith in Christ solved their marital problems and made their homes a bit of heaven on earth. World-wide Church of God likes to put forth that premise. As an added bonus, they also predict the end of the world for you.
I am not here to criticize these so-called TV evangelist. But such an approach to Christian evangelizing, I strongly protest. I do not doubt or deny that the problems of life can best be handled and overcome within the context of a firm faith in Christ. I do, however, deny that anyone has the right to promise easy living as an inducement to Christian discipleship. Jesus never did that. In fact, Jesus did the exact opposite.
In today’s gospel reading he issued this invitation: "If anyone would serve me, let him follow me." Then he explained where he was going: "Once I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." In other words, Jesus knew that he was headed for the cross, and he invited anyone who would follow him into that experience. The basis of his appeal to the human race was and is the cross on which Jesus died.
At first thought, that does not seem very appealing. We would much prefer a less demanding gospel. There is a part of everyone of us that longs for a life of ease and comfort and bliss. Given a choice, we would prefer a savior who solves all of our problems and makes us healthy, wealthy, and wise. But Christ makes no such offer. He reaches for something higher and better in each of us.
Through his cross, he appeals to the courage of an unconsenting conscience. Christ had that himself, and eventually it cost him his life. An unconsenting conscience – to speak out against the accepted practices that you know are contrary to what is good – even though everyone else seems to think it is okay.
Jesus died because he had an unconsenting conscience and would not make peace with some of the things that were going on around him. For example, when he preached in the synagogue of Nazareth, the audience turned into an angry mob that wanted to kill him. How could that happen to a young preacher in his own home town? It was because he had an unconsenting conscience that compelled him to speak out against racial prejudice and religious bigotry. In this case, the way Jews treated Samaritans and gentiles.
Our gospel reading two Sundays ago told of the day that he cleansed the Temple. With a whip of cords, he drove out the merchants and their sacrificial animals. He overturned the money-changers’ tables and scattered the coins to the four-winds. That action, as much as any other, earned him the undying hatred of the establishment. Why did he do it? It was because he had an unconsenting conscience that could not stand to see social injustice propagated in the name of religion. We, on the other hand, give tacit or unspoken approval of things going on around us. It’s called complacency – and we are all guilty of it.
Jesus has a quality in himself that he brings out in others who allow themselves to be seriously influence by him. He reaches for it in you and me. Deep inside of every one of us is both a hero and a coward. When we are weak, we want that coward within us to be understood, explained, justified, and accepted. But there are better days when we long for something or someone to awaken that hero in us and send us out to face our duties and difficulties with strength and courage. That is the part of us to which Christ makes his appeal – not to coddle the coward but to awaken the hero.
He appeals to that something inside of each one of us that longs to be of service. So much of the emphasis in popular religion today flows in the opposite direction: Put your trust in Christ and look at all of the wonderful things you will get – good health and plenty of money as long as you live and heaven when you died.
Christ never ever appealed to a single soul on that level. Listen to his words: "If anyone would serve me, let him follow me; where I am, there will my servant be." Allow me to paraphrase that. It seems to me that Jesus is saying: "I’ve got a job to do, and I need some help doing it. The only thing I can promise you is long hours, low pay, and a certain sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. Now, if you want to participate, roll up your sleeves, pick up your tools, and let’s get started."
That, my friends, is a far cry from that gospel of health and wealth that you hear from all these con artists on TV. Ours might be called the gospel of hard work, but there is something appealing to it. Deep inside every one of us, we long to do something significant and useful with our lives. We want to be possessed by a cause that is bigger and better than ourselves. We only have one life, what a shame to fritter it away playing games and chasing moonbeams.
Well, Christ makes his appeal to that noble desire that is hidden somewhere in every one of us. He offers us the opportunity to be part of his cause. The field is big – both within the church and out in our communities – the workers are few, the hours are long, and the pay is cheap. But if you want to do something useful with your life, jump in and go to work; there’s a place for you.
We are talking about the drawing power of the cross of Jesus Christ, and I am protesting an approach to the gospel that offers a life of ease and comfort. Doubtless to some, such an approach is not very appealing. It seems so demanding and difficult; surely that must be an easier way. But there isn’t. His cross is there. It has taken hold of our lives, and we never can completely escape it. But we need to know that in that cross and the things for which it stands lies the most genuine happiness any of us can ever know. To find the courage of an unconsenting conscience, to answer the call of a cause worth serving – that is the right road to the deepest and most durable satisfaction in life. Please don’t be afraid to travel THAT road.
4th Sunday of Lent
Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday
Gospel - John 3:14-21
Boudreaux is a bird lover, and each night he stood in his backyard, hooting like an owl. One night an owl called back to him. For a year, Boudreaux and his feathered friend hooted back and forth. He even kept a log of the "conversation" because he was convinced that he on the verge of a breakthrough in inter-species communication.
Clotilde was chatting with Thibodaux’s wife, Beulah, who lives next door, and said, "Boudreaux spends his nights calling out to owls, and he thinks the owl is calling back," she said.
"Really," said, Beulah, "Mai, that's odd, you know Thibodaux does the same thing."
Richard Nixon ran for President in 1968, the Vietnam War was at its height. One of Nixon’s TV commercials showed a photo of an American soldier in Vietnam with the word "Love" written on his helmet.
The image bothered Harry Treleavan, one of Nixon’s media men. "It reminds [people] of hippies," he said. "They don’t think it’s the sort of thing soldiers should be writing on their helmets."
About a week later, however, a letter arrived from the mother of the soldier. She said how thrilled she was to see the photo of her son in Nixon’s TV commercial. She wondered if she could obtain a copy of the photo. The letter was signed "Mrs. William Love."
That’ an interesting story. The soldier was not making a statement about his feelings at all. He was simply putting his name, Love, on his helmet.
Now, go back with me in history two thousand years. Jesus of Nazareth hangs on a cross. He wears no helmet -- only a crown of thorns. Above his head is written neither his name nor his ultimate purpose, though there is a sign that reads, "King of the Jews." Yet on that cross a statement is made, the most radical statement ever made about the nature of love.
What is love? Love is Jesus Christ giving his life for the world. That is love in its purest sense. That is love without reservation. That is love that asks nothing in return. All other loves pale in comparison. A parent loves his or her children, but expects in return respect and companionship. A husband loves his wife. He expects in return her fidelity, her emotional support, her physical intimacy. When Christ loves, when God loves, however, he loves without conditions. That is what agape love is all about. John sums it up as well as it can be in today’s reading: GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD . . . .
That is where we begin this morning. God so loved the world ... Can you think of anything this world is hungrier for than love?
A lonely man once programmed his computer to write him love letters daily. He built a voice system that would speak lovingly to him, but he remained lonely. Manufactured, controlled love is not love at all. Yet that’s the only love that many people experience. And how we long for something more.
In the sixties they sang: "What the world needs now, is love sweet love." Ain’t it the truth! Several years ago, the governor of one of our states was having turmoil in his prison system and was asked what his administration planned to do about it. The governor replied, "We’re never going to have better prisons until we get a better class of prisoners." I am not certain what the governor meant by that, but he certainly hit our problem on the head. The world could use a better class of humanity.
Shirley Strum, a University of San Diego anthropologist, spent 15 years studying the baboons in Kenya and wrote a book in which she describes the wonderful world of modern "baboonery" -- he-apes and she-apes living in harmony and all that good stuff. She suggests that we humans look to baboons for solutions to our cultural problems. Their relationships are so well-rounded and so healthy, she believes, that QUOTE: "The baboon model provides a source of hope and optimism for us." UNQUOTE.
One writer suggested that if this research is true, calling someone "Ya big ape!" will be a compliment instead of a put down. Seriously, though, isn’t it sad when we begin to consider humanity’s pitiful record on this planet so bad that we need to go back to baboons for hope! I think it’s remarkable that God so loved the world. But he did and that is the first great truth in our faith. But there is more.
GOD SO LOVE THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON .... That is also amazing! In fact, it’s beyond comprehension. To love as God loves is to give -- wonderfully, extravagantly, and without holding back anything. God gave his only son. Pity the poor person who is never willing to stick out his neck or her neck for another human being. The best feeling you will ever have in your life is when you give of yourself for someone.
Carey Barker, a former player for the Washington Redskins, was walking one night in the snow to relax. He came upon a lad sitting on a curb and crying. "What’s the matters, son?" Carey asked.
"My daddy sent me to the store to buy a loaf of bread," said the boy, "and I have lost the dollar he gave me. And I’m afraid to go home.’ Carey took the child into the store and purchased the bread for him. The lad departed, saying, "Gee, Mister, I wish you waz my daddy." Carey Barker said he walked the streets that night trying to find another boy who needed a dollar and a daddy.
There is nothing in life that will bring a good feeling into your life like giving to another. It’s sometimes worth sticking your neck out for another. But there is an important principle that we must recognize. Before we are able to give love we must know that we have received love. That is what God was thinking when he gave his only Son for us. He wanted us to definitively know that we have received his love. When we receive love, we can give love. Let me give you an example.
Years ago, there as a little girl in an institution who was almost like a wild beast. The workers at the institution had written her off as hopeless. An elderly nurse believed that there was hope for the child, however. She felt she could communicate love and hope to this wild little creature. The nurse daily visited the child whom they called Little Annie, but for a long time, Little Annie gave no indication she was aware of her presence. The elderly nurse persisted and repeatedly brought some cookies and left them in her room. Soon the doctors in the institution noticed a change. After a period of time, they moved Little Annie upstairs. Finally, the day came when this seemingly "hopeless case" was released. Filled with compassion for others, because of her institution experience, Little Annie, Anne Sullivan, wanted to help others.
It was Anne Sullivan who, in turn, played the crucial role of the life of Helen Keller. It was she who saw the great potential in this little blind, deaf and rebellious child. She loved her, disciplined her, played, prayed, pushed and worked with her until Helen Keller became an inspiration to the entire world. It began with the elderly nurse, then Anne Sullivan, then Helen Keller, and finally every person who has ever been influenced by the example of Helen Keller. That chain of love goes on forever. Before it began with the elderly nurse, though, we have to go back to the beginning when God first loved his creation.
We give love because we receive love. A child who has not known love will never give love. That is why the Bible tells us, "In this is love. Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave his son to be the expiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10). Humanity could not love God or one another if we had not first been loved. There is no higher truth than this.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM MAY NOT DIE BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE. Did you catch that "whoever" part? It makes no difference what our lives have been before. It may be that we feel that we’ve been the biggest loser, or the biggest failure, or the biggest sinner who ever lived. We may have more regrets than a centipede has legs. It makes no difference whatsoever. That is the glory of the gospel. We can make a new beginning – RIGHT NOW. We can be a new person -- the person that God created us to be – RIGHT NOW.
There’s a story about a young boy on a ranch out West who was at an inquisitive, restless age. He was at the edge of a cliff and spotted an eagle’s nest high on a ledge. He climbed all the way to the nest and spied a large egg nestled down on it. Ignoring the dangers, he hid the egg under his shirt and headed home. Now he had a problem -- what to do with this large egg. If he went back to the nest, the eagle might have returned and that would be dangerous for him. So, he decided to put it in an old hen’s nest while she was away from it. Sure enough, when she came back to the nest, she got up on the huge egg, and over a course of a few days, hatched it out.
Now there was an eaglet growing up among the baby chicks. They regarded him as another big awkward chick, but he never felt quite at home. There was something within him that caused him to stretch his wings and fan them until they were raising him a few feet into the air. Soon he was rising as high as the top of the fence posts. He didn’t land very gracefully, but at least he was aloft, if only momentarily. Soon he was as high as the roof of the barn. Then he set his gaze on a nearby mountain range, and on a clear day with some soft gentle breezes, he caught a current of air that lifted him higher than he had ever been before.
He set his path toward the mountains and never returned to the chicken pen. That can be your story. That can be my story. We are eagles meant to soar. God has so much in store for us. And even though we might have been born in a chicken pen, it doesn’t mean we have to stay there. There is more. There is everlasting life.
God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life.
What a remarkable promise that is. You and I can have life that never ends through faith in Jesus Christ. You have heard that truth all your life, but have you made it your own? It does not require a grand emotional, convulsive kind of experience. It does not require a spectacular vision. It just requires you to say "yes" to God.
God made a statement to us on Calvary two thousand years ago. There were two signs that hung above Jesus’ head. The unbelieving world saw only one. It read, "King of the Jews." The believing eye, however, sees another: "In this is love." "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life.
Third Week of Lent
Gospel - John 2:13-35
Clotilde decided to trim her household budget wherever possible, so instead of having a dress dry-cleaned, she washed it by hand. Proud of her savings, she boasted to Boudreaux, "Just think, Boudreaux, we are five dollars richer because I washed this dress by hand."
"Cher bon Dieu!" cried out Boudreaux. "Wash it again!"
What a con man, huh? There were con men during Jesus’ time, especially those around the temple. They were ripping people off every day. Most of the people they conned walked away not knowing they’d been taken – they were simply doing their sacred duty to God.
In the reading it says: "When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money."
During the time of Passover, it was common for Jerusalem to get thousands of visitors from all over the Mediterranean area, wanting to offer sacrifices at the temple. Instead of being inspired by their devotion, the chief priests in the temple saw a lucrative opportunity. People would bring their own animals for sacrifice, but the animal always had to pass a "quality test." The priests would look at the animals, find some sort of "blemish" on them, and declare them unacceptable for sacrifice.
Of course, these con artists priests would say to the disheartened pilgrims "Well, of course, we have animals here that have already passed our inspection. For a nominal fee, you can purchase these in the temple courts." Stuck, the traveler would have to buy "acceptable" animals from the priests, often at scandalous prices.
Then, as the traveler was about to pay, the merchant would say, "Oh, I’m sorry, we cannot accept Roman currency. For a nominal fee, you can go over to the money changers, and they will convert your money to shekels." ( You see, they claimed they could not take the Roman denarius or the Attic Drachma because of the emperor’s image and certain pagan symbols which were stamped on them.)
So, once again, the devout travelers would allow themselves to get ripped of by an exorbitant exchange rate. But, of course, they had no idea they were getting robbed. The overseers of God’s temple would surely not do anything so immoral, would they? After all, they are doing all this in God’s name.
No wonder Jesus got angry. It says: "Jesus made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!"
It is truly disheartening to see sincere people voluntarily make themselves vulnerable to people in authority, only to have those leaders abuse their power. When Jesus saw that this was happening, he made a very public show of his displeasure. Some of the pilgrims might not hear a spirited discussion between Jesus and the chief priests, but no one was going to miss a man with a whip in hand, overturning tables, and sending hundreds of shekels, denarius and drachma’s flying all over the place.
When they saw this, the Jewish leaders demanded a sign to prove his authority to do such a thing. In their minds, anyone can raise a ruckus, and claim to have God’s backing, but if someone could say, raise the dead, then, in fact, he might be listened to as a legitimate prophet.
Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show to us to prove your authority to do all this?"
Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and it will raise it again in three days." The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" But the temple that Jesus spoke of was his body. After he was later raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.
On other occasions, people demanded signs of Jesus to prove that he was sent from God, but he never complied with such a challenge. Of course, he performed many miracles during his earthly ministry, and many people placed their trust in Christ when they saw or experienced supernatural events. But Jesus would never accept the challenge to do a miracle to prove his divine authority.
Earlier in his ministry, when the Pharisees asked for a sign, Jesus answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign. But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
In replying to the people in the temple who challenged him, Jesus gave a similar reply. Like the Jonah analogy, the sign would show itself over a period of three days – namely the time between Jesus’ burial and resurrection. This time, he used the analogy of the temple (meaning his body). Destroy the temple, and Jesus would raise it again in three days.
Ah ha, they thought, you cannot con a con artist. They took him literally and could not comprehend how a temple (meaning the building) that had taken over 46 years to construct, and in fact, still had not been completed could be rebuilt in three days. But the figurative temple Jesus spoke about was his body, which would be raised after being destroy by the hands of the Roman executioners.
Jesus spoke very clearly. They just did not understand. There is more than enough credible, evidential accounts of Jesus’ miracles in the gospels to prove his authority in our lives. But we, too, keep looking for miracles. For some people, that’s all they look for. But when a needed miracle does not come, we should not allow our faith to waver. As the disciples in this story, we must believe in the scriptures and the words that Jesus spoke.
Welcome miracles when they come, and glorify God because of them, but please, do not allow your faith to be based on whether or not a miracle appears at a critical moment. Jesus said that miracles will not be given as proof.
Let’s all be careful not to base our faith on miracles, or other contemporary manifestations of his power. Don’t based your faith on apparitions or messages from visionaries. Instead, allow your faith to rest on the unwavering character of God and the irrefutable resurrection of Jesus, so that no matter what happens to you, you will continue to stand firm in your faith.
Trust, me, your faith will be rewarded.
Second Sunday of Lent
Gospel - Mark 9:2-9
Boudreaux and T-Boy went fishing one day. After an hour out in the boat, T-Boy started asking questions of Boudreaux, "Dad, how does the boat float?"
Boudreaux thought for a moment, then replied, "I don't rightly know, son."
T-Boy thought for a few minutes and then asked, "Dad, how do fish breath underwater?"
Once again Boudreaux replied, "Don't know, T-Boy."
A little later T-Boy asked, "Why is the sky blue?"
Again, the Boudreaux replied. "Mai, son, I don’t know."
Worried he was going to annoy his father, T-Boy says, "Dad, do you mind my asking you all of these questions?"
Boudreaux replied, "Mai, of course not, T-Boy. If you don't ask questions ... how you ever gonna learn anything!"
I bet our disciples in today’s readings had a lot of questions, too.
Jesus was on a high mountain, alone with his three closest disciples -- Peter, James and John. Suddenly something dramatic happened -- Jesus' clothes became dazzling white, and the disciples beheld him talking with two of the great men of Israel's history, Elijah and Moses. Moses: the greatest of the Law; Elijah: the greatest of the Prophets. Jesus: the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The disciples were overwhelmed. Peter said to Jesus, "Let us put up three booths -- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."
What an amazing scene. Jesus, Elijah and Moses together on a mountain. No wonder Peter got excited. No wonder that he wanted to build a structure on the mountain and stay there.
There is this minister named Greg George of Palmetto, Georgia who tells of watching a college football game played on astro turf. The home team won in the final seconds of the game. The crowd went wild, goal posts were pulled down and then people actually began cutting up pieces of the astro turf to remember their excitement and the winning game.
Pastor George suggests that we should get that excited over the Gospel. He says that we should have to re-carpet our church every year because people are cutting up pieces of that carpet to remember the great moving of God's spirit during our service.
I don't recall things getting quite that exciting around here -- but it's something we might shoot for! Of course, things might get that exciting if we could experience what those disciples experienced. We might get that excited if we paid close attention to the next scene in this Transfiguration experience: "A cloud enveloped them," Mark tells us, "and a voice came from the cloud: 'This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!'"
Listen to him! Listen to whom? Listen to Christ. This is why we are here today: to listen to Christ. Why should we listen to him? Three reasons. First, he sees things we don't see. Secondly, he cares about us more than we care about ourselves. Finally, he knows the way that leads to eternal life.
Let's consider the first of these reasons: HE SEES THINGS WE DON'T SEE.
Do you remember the fable of the six blind men who were trying to describe an elephant? One had grasped the elephant's tail and said an elephant is like a rope; another felt its leg and said an elephant is like a tree trunk. One had a grasp of its ear and said an elephant is like a fan, and so on. You and I, regardless of our intellect, our education, or our life experiences are like those blind men when it comes to explaining the meaning of our lives. There is so much we do not understand about life. Where do we -- individually -- fit into the master plan of the universe? For the most part we haven't a clue. And because we do not understand our proper place in the grand order of things, we sometimes make short-term decisions that are not in our long-term good.
When Sir James Thornhill was painting the inside of St. Paul's Cathedral, he began walking backward to get a better view of his work. As he inched back, his left foot stood just on the edge of the scaffold, and he was in danger of falling and breaking his neck. His helper, instead of screaming at him, took a brush, quickly dipped it in the paint, and splashed it on the wall. The artist rushed forward to rebuke his servant, but when the servant explained his action, Thornhill was exceedingly grateful.
The servant saw something that Thornhill did not see. There are elements to life that Christ sees that we do not. We need to go to him in prayer, in meditation, in attentiveness to his teachings in Scripture. We need to listen, first of all, because he sees things we do not.
SECONDLY, HE CARES ABOUT US MORE THAN WE CARE ABOUT OURSELVES. Now you say, how can that be? I am a selfish person. How could Christ possibly care more about me than I care about myself?
Let me ask you this? Do you always do what is in your best interest? Do you always eat right, get the proper amount of sleep, exercise, relaxation? Do you spend every minute wisely? Do you always read books and listen to tapes and watch programs that will advance you spiritually, emotionally, intellectually? Do you always do the things you need to do to maintain proper relationships? If you always do every one of these things, then don't let me stand in your way, you go ahead and ascend on into heaven right now.
But, if you don't do all of these things, maybe you don't love yourself as much as you think you do. In fact, in some ways maybe you even hate yourself. But Christ has no such ambivalence. Christ loves you completely, without reservation.
There is a true story that took place on a cold and blustery night in January in New York City. At the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway, without fanfare -- in the middle of people hurrying back and forth -- a man fully dressed in a topcoat and dinner jacket emerged in the middle of the street out of a manhole. He was coming out of the sewer. The man was Birch Foraker, president of the Bell Telephone Company of New York. Foraker, the president of this great company, knowing that a couple of his men were down in the manhole doing some rush work at night, decided to stop down in the sewer on his way home from the theater and have a chat with them.
Can you imagine what it meant to these men to have the president of their company join them down in the bowels of New York City? Don't you imagine it said to them that the President of their company cared about them? Can you imagine how much Christ must love us that he left the throne of heaven to share our lives? The truth is that Christ loves us more than we love ourselves. His only desire is our best good. That is the second reason we should listen to him. And here is the third: CHRIST KNOWS THE WAY THAT LEADS TO ETERNAL LIFE.
There is only one path that leads to life abundant and everlasting, and that is through Christ himself. When we know him and know his love for us, a peace invades our heart and our soul and we know that life can never defeat us. In fact, even in the midst of great suffering and sorrow, we can find joy.
In his book called The Power of Hope, the author tells a true story about a friend of his named Ludwig Lipmann. Ludwig was stricken with cancer. One day in his oncologist's waiting room (one of the sadder places on earth), Ludwig looked around at other patients who obviously were facing what he was facing. All at once he lifted his head and began to sing quietly.
The lady next to him paused for a moment, smiled, then began to hum the tune of his song. A little girl and her mother soon did the same, then an elderly black man who had just come into the room. The nurse, trained in the rules of silence in a doctor's office, walked over to quiet Ludwig, but by this time everyone was singing or humming. The doctor, hearing the noise, came in to see what had happened. Ludwig sang to him, directly from the Book of Psalms: I will lift up my eyes to the mountains from where will come my help. My help comes from the Lord, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
The doctor crossed the room, sat down, and sang along with his patients. There was fear in that waiting room, but when Christ invaded that room, there was peace and even joy. The same thing can happen whenever we truly listen to Christ. Because Christ sees things we don't see. He cares about us more than we care about ourselves. And He knows the way that leads to eternal life.
First Sunday of Lent
Gospel - Mark 1:12-15
Boudreaux walked into the kitchen and saw Clotilde staring at a can of orange juice. Boudreaux says, "Honey, what are you doing?
Clotilde says: "I’m following the directions.
"What’s the orange juice can say?" asked Boudreaux.
"Mai," says Clotilde, "It says ‘concentrate’".
Boudreaux’s son T-Boy had to take his a final examination in school which consisted of only true/false questions. T-Boy took a seat and stared at the test for five minutes. Then he removed a coin from his pocket and started tossing the coin and marking the answers down. Heads meant true, tails meant false.
T-Boy finished the test in 30 minutes, while the rest of the class was sweating it out. Suddenly, during the last few minutes of the test, T-Boy began desperately throwing the coin and sweating profusely. His friend Bubba leaned over and whispered "What you doing T-Boy?"
T-Boy whispered back, "I finished the test a half hour ago, but I thought I ought to recheck my answers."
One of the abiding memories of school days is taking test. The teacher came up with those questions. And we, the students, were responsible for the answers. Looking back on those days, some of it seems rather simple now. Anyone can spell "cat." And everyone knows two plus two equals four. But in the first grade, those were hard questions. And the further we went in school, the harder the questions became. Some of them would still be hard today. For example, what is the square root of 1,296? Questions like that remind me of why I looked forward to graduation. Then I would no longer have to take tests.
Well, some of us have done that. We graduated from high school or from college. And our formal, class-room education came to a close. But the result has not been what we anticipated. The times of testing did not end. To be sure, the form changed. We no longer sit at a desk with a test paper in front of us. But the reality continues unabated. Life still puts us to the test. We never get finished with that. It is a life-long process.
We can take comfort in the knowledge that the same was true for Jesus. Like us, he probably had to take tests when he was a boy in school. After all, he was a rabbi which meant that he was a highly educated man. But the school part was eventually over. He became a man, and left school days behind. But he did not cease to be tested. Our gospel reading tells about the beginning of his public ministry.
In fact, this story follows directly behind his baptism by John in the Jordan River. This is the very beginning of his public ministry. And he is tested. It says in our reading, "He was put to the test by Satan." He was a grown man. Luke tells us that he was about thirty years old. And he was facing one of the toughest tests of his life. What does that say to you and me about ourselves.
For one thing, it tells us to quit expecting life to get easier. In all probability, that is not going to happen. Oh, it’s easier because we know two plus two is four and we can spell "cat." But as we get older, we face new and greater challenges.
That is what happened to Jesus. His life started off hard. And it never did get any easier, at least not for long. He was born in a stable. The threats of a wicked king forced his family to flee to Egypt. We do not know how long. But for a time, he lived as an exile in a foreign land. Jesus was just a little boy. He did not know his life was hard. But it was. Life is hard for all refugees.
The gospel writers give us only one glimpse into his growing up years. It was when he was twelve years old. He went on a pilgrimage to the temple, and got lost. It took Mary and Joseph three days to find him. And by that time, they were worried sick. Mary said: "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety." That sounds very much like the conflict between parents today with their teenage children. When do you cut the apron strings and turn them loose? That is a hard question for all parents and children. It is never easy to grow up. And we can be sure that it was not easy for Jesus either.
But that was only a sample of how hard his life would become. At the start of his public ministry, he was put to the test by Satan. That was just the beginning. Later, he would be put to the test by his enemies. He would be tested by his friends. And at the end, he was tested by the cross. His life never did get any easier. And we are only fooling ourselves if we expect it to be different for us. Your life and mine will probably never be any easier than it is right now, today. So give it up.
But things are not hopeless. There is something we can count on. We can count on getting stronger. That is what Jesus did. As life became more demanding, his strength also increased to meet those demands. Some of us have gotten side tracked by our image of Jesus. We think of Jesus as perfect from the beginning. And this makes it hard to think of him as growing. But the New Testament clearly teaches that he did. Luke says, "He advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man." (2:52). The writer of Hebrews says: "He learned obedience from what he suffered." (5:8). As life got harder, Jesus got stronger. The tests of today prepared him for the challenges of tomorrow. And when that final day came, he was ready to face the cross with courage and honor.
You and I can count on something like that in our own lives. The tests will not get any easier. But "one day at a time," we CAN get stronger. There is a verse in Deuteronomy that says: "As your day is, so shall your strength be." (33:25). That is an open-ended promise. And so far, it has held true. We faced the challenge of childhood, and had the strength to meet it. We faced the challenges of growing up, and had the strength to meet them. The adult years confronted us with new challenges. Loss of a love or a job, the end of a marriage, the diagnosis of a diseases. But we have found the strength to meet them. One day everyone will face the challenges of old age. Is there any reason to doubt that we will have the strength to meet them? Life does not get easier. In fact, it gets harder. But while that process is taking place, you and I will be getting stronger. We can depend on that.
So although life does not get easier, for those who don’t toss in the towel and meet those challenges and get stronger, life may well seem easier.
Oh, one last thought: When life puts us to the test, expect help.
Jesus was alone in the wilderness. Mark says: "He was with the wild beasts, and angels waited on him." That is a strange combination of statements. The first seems to emphasize his isolation. Wild beast roam where people seldom go. So humanly speaking, Jesus was alone. But he was not really alone. Angels came to his aid. That is how things will be for you and me. Life puts us to the test. But when the test is hardest, expect help, for it will surely come.
Lent is a time to remind us that we need to realize that life does not get any easier. But the comfort is knowing the we get stronger. And when life put us to the test, expect help. We heard that promise from our savior in Matthew, chapter 28, verse 20: "Know that I am with you always, even until the end of the world."
Seventh Sunday, Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 2:1-12
Growing up down the bayou is a unique experience. Now, at the risk of dating myself here, when I was growing up, we didn't have television. I know that is hard for some of you to imagine, especially since I heard a couple of guys complaining the other day about growing up without remote control, but we didn't get a television until I was in the third grade in about 1958. But let me tell you, we still knew how to pass a good time, yeh. What they did in those days was the older folks told stories to the young kids. And the greatest story teller in my family was my Nonk Tomas. In English, that would be Uncle Thomas.
I'll never forget one night when Nonk Tomas told us the story about, you guessed, it Boudreaux. The story began when Boudreaux was only 18 and he was visiting Point-a-Chen. He met a beautiful young Cajun girl named Genevieve. And they were married on Valentine's Day. He promptly moved them far out into the swamps so he could pursue his vocation of trapping and skinning nutria. In no time at all, they had a son and they called him T-boy. That means little boy, the T standing for petite. Half the kids down the bayou were called T-boy.
Things were okay for a while, but Genevieve dreamed of living in the big city--somewhere like Houma. After all, she had grown up in Point-a-chen. So after some time, she made a difficult decision and left Boudreaux and her son and headed for civilization. Boudreaux and T-boy continued to live deep in the swamps. They never went to town and because Boudreaux could not forgive Genevieve he became increasingly bitter toward all women. A psychiatrist would call that transference, but down the bayou we just called it a poisoned heart. He never even told T-boy about the opposite sex and T-boy never even saw a girl. Finally, when T-boy was a young man, Boudreaux decided to take him into town to get some supplies. As they were entering town, T-boy saw something he had never seen before--a group of Cajun girls giggling and pointing at him. He said: "Pa, what are those?" Boudreaux, who was so hostile toward women, responded, "Aw son, they just a bunch of silly gooses."
After they finished getting their supplies, Boudreaux turned to T-boy and said, "Son, we won't be coming back here for a long long time. I want to get you something for yourself. What would you like." And T-boy thought for a moment and replied, "Well, Pa, I think I want me one of them there gooses."
As children we just rolled on the floor giggling at Nonk Tomas's story. But as a child, when the lights went out and the house get quiet, I would think about poor Boudreaux. How he must have suffered with that poisoned heart, never forgiving, only hating. And Genevieve. How could she live with herself after leaving her husband and child. It must have haunted her her whole life. And T-boy. Well, I couldn't even imaging losing one of my parents. My best friend's father had died of a heart attack, and I had trouble understanding how he could go on without his dad. I would think: Would any of them ever heal from this.
Today's gospel is about healing--a lot of healing. But we get so struck in the miracles sometimes, that we don't always notice what is going on. Today’s miracle story in Mark reminds us that Christ’s higher purpose was to heal the soul more than to heal the body. Yet he did heal the body of the paralytic. Modern skepticism is impatient with both miracles of body and soul. Yet such miracles continue to occur.
Author Frank Alcaron tells the story of a miracle in a Latin American village he visited. It took place on Christmas Day. Frank was a missionary who came to give some food to the villagers. Three hundred people crowded around his truck to get some food. All they had were two normal size hams. The village women kept cutting away at the hams and giving out generous slices. Frank was sorry there would not be enough for all 300. But the women kept cutting and cutting. The hams grew smaller, but very slowly.
Finally, everybody had substantial portions of the meat. Frank yelled, "Where is all the food coming from?" The women smiled, shrugged their shoulders and kept cutting. There was enough left over to supply the local orphanage with a dinner. Say Alcaron, "Every time I think of it I get goose bumps all over."
We have long known of Lourdes as a place for modern miracles. Do they still happen? Yes. Five years ago, Vittorio Michel was cured of bone cancer at Lourdes. The 23-year-old former soldier was taken to the shrine in a body cast. His doctors gave him no hope. His attendants bathed him in the waters. One week later all his pain was gone. One year later he is totally cured. His case is certified at Lourdes.
Just recently, I stumbled on a healing story. I went to a Catholic Daughters dinner. I sat next of a woman who I knew well from St. Bernadette. In the conversation, I mentioned that before I came back home to the diocese, I was a Redemptorist in San Antonio. I also mentioned about one of my fellow Redemptorists priests was overseeing over the Seelos Center in New Orleans. This is the Center which is promoting the sainthood of Father Francis Seelos. There was a recent news articles about his being beatified.
She told me a story about her healing through the intercession of Father Seelos. She had been sick for a year. The doctors could not explain what was wrong with her, but she was dying and they did not know what to do. At one point she was in a coma for a week. During her coma, a friend came over and prayed over her with a relic of Fr. Seelos and asked for his intercession. With weeks, she began to improve and within a few months, she was cured completely and has been healthy for years since.
So, you see, miracles are happening all around you. People tell me of their miracles all the time. You may be sitting right next to a person who received a miracle in his or her life.
In New Testament times and for the first thousand years of Catholic Church history, miracles and healings were fairly common. Then after the Council of Trent, there seemed to be a big decline in the Church’s healing ministry. Most of it was confined to the sacrament of Extreme Unction and directed mainly to the dying. Then Vatican II expanded the meaning of the sacrament to apply to praying for the sick as well as the dying.
The revival of the healing ministry in the Church is a way of seeing Christ’s power alive and well in the Church. Healings may be mental, physical or spiritual. But we get so struck in the miracles sometimes, that we don't always notice what is going on. We insist that healing always means curing. Yet healing in the New Testament has a vastly broader meaning than we have put on the word. Memories can be healed, as well as dreams, disappointments, broken relationships, anger, resentment, the guilt of a lifetime, the fear of pain, rejection or judgment. Sometimes we are cured, but sometimes we are simply healed. The woman at the well was healed. The prostitute to be stoned was healed.
And believe it or not, healing also does not always depend on the faith of the person afflicted. In our gospel today, when the man's friends lowered him through the roof tiles, we are told that "when Jesus saw their faith" the man was healed. Healing occurs in the context of a faithful, believing, caring, nurturing, loving COMMUNITY surround the person. That community is you and me.
The Church, our Christian community, in her wisdom provides us sacraments of healing. The Eucharist, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. As I said, healing takes place through community. The love for one another, plus God's all-embracing love, flows in abundance beyond the capacity that we even have to receive it. While we strive to love the Lord, we must strive to love one another. Our love for one another becomes the avenue for inner healing that allows the love of Jesus to set us free in mind, body and spirit. We become more receptive to the healing power of Jesus Christ.
Each of us is a broken vessel in need of Christ's healing in some way. At the same time, each of us is called upon to be healers. When Jesus commissioned his disciples to proclaim the good news and heal the sick, he established two ministries: proclaim the word and administer healing, and they were never supposed to be separated.
Jesus challenged his disciples when he said in Mark: "Everything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours." We need to have faith in God--just a little faith--like that of a mustard seed. God just needs a small opening into our lives. Having the courage to say "yes" to trust and hope, creates the opening for healing to occur. When we turn to God, we turn to someone who has a desire to make us whole again. Whether a physical healing takes place or not, a chain reaction of healing is set into motion when we encounter God. Our feelings, emotions and behavior is changed.
We all need healing. It may be physical ailments. But it could be memories that need healing, as well as dreams, disappointments, broken relationships, anger, resentment, the guilt, fear or shame. Today’s gospel points out that spiritual healing is the most important healing. That is Christ’s priority. That is why he heals the heart of the paralytic before healing his limbs.
Spiritual sickness is sin. Spiritual healing is salvation. The mind also needs healing. Mental resistance prevents a person from fully being aware of the coming of Christ and consciously accepting salvation. Physical illness does not stop us from accepting Christ and often opens people to deep faith. Physical cures are best known and do much to help many believe again in Christ. Thus the message is that miracles are meant to build up the church and promote deeper faith and love among the people. And every one of us can participate in that ministry. We all need healing AND we are all called to be healers.
Sixth Sunday, Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 1:40-45
Boudreaux’s son, T-Boy liked to hang out at Cheramie’s Grocery Store. The owner, Mr. Cheramie didn’t know what T_Boy’s problem was, but the boys like to tease him. They would say he is two bricks shy of a load, or two pickles shy of a barrel. To prove it, sometimes they offered T-Boy his choice between a nickel and a dime.
T-Boy always takes the nickel, they say, because it's bigger. One day after T-Boy grabbed the nickel, Mr. Cheramie got him off to one side and said, "T-Boy, those boys are making fun of you. They think you don't know the dime is worth more than the nickel. Are you grabbing the nickel because it's bigger, or what?"
T-Boy flashed a big smile, "Mai, Mr. Cheramie, I ain’t stupid no. If I took the dime, they'd quit doing it!"
You know, sometimes we single people out as less than we are when in fact, they are better than us.
Today’s reading from Leviticus sets out one of the four categories of people who were excluded from worship in the ancient world. In other words, they were not allowed to enter the Temple or synagogues. "Leprosy" – any one of a variety of skin maladies thought to be contagious – rendered one unworthy of worship. Afflicted persons were ostracized both socially and ritually, and it was up to the priest to decide whose disease was threatening enough to warrant exclusion and who could be re-admitted to the community.
Mosaic Law mandated that a leper was to wear his or her hair disheveled, his or her clothes torn, a cow bell around his or her neck, and was to shield the upper lip and cry "unclean, unclean!" when healthy people approached. They lived in groups outside the towns and cities in the wilderness. Cut off from family and friends, these people endured a living death. Physical death was their only escape.
No, I have never seen lepers standing in rags announcing that they are "unclean"or "untouchable." But I HAVE seen individuals with AIDS whose family and friends refused to visit, let alone touch them. I have seen people with mental illness struggle to be accepted and respected. I have known parents who disowned their children because their hair was too long or shaved too close, or because they wore jewelry in the ‘wrong" places on their bodies, or because they were gay.
Our "lepers’ may be those who stand in front of us in the grocery checkout line with food stamps, or the undocumented aliens whose entry into this country we resent as a ‘free ride." Or it may be the person of another color that we deem less than our own. Or the homeless man with his filthy outstretched hand on the street corner. When we stereotype and label people, we make them lepers. Whoever they are, there are still those among us who know only too well that they are judged "unclean" or "untouchable."
Today’s "lepers" are quite aware that we resist standing near them, that we hope they’ll choose another row to sit in, or that we caution our children about speaking to them. They – and we – know well the depths to which we humans can stoop in our desire to distance ourselves from those we deem unacceptable.
But there is that wonderful counterpart to all of this in today’s gospel, in that simple, compassionate, ritually defiant act of Jesus. Ignoring the laws of ritual purity by which he is bound, even more so because he was a Rabbi, he reaches out, touches the healing touch and speaks the healing word: "Be clean!" And in so doing, Jesus actually changes places with the man who has been cut off, excommunicated. By daring to touch the untouchable, Jesus becomes the outcast — the one who must hide because according to Jewish tradition, if you touch a leper, you, too, become unclean and must go through the ritual cleansing to be readmitted to the Temple. In touching the leper, Jesus violated the Mosaic Law -- a thing he would always do in the face of human need.
Jesus touched the leper! You must understand how profound this was. Jesus usually healed by simply speaking a word or giving a command. But, in this case, Jesus touched the leper because no spoken word could have ever shown such love and concern for that poor man. There are times when nothing matters so much as a touch! When the AIDS epidemic first broke, there were people in the hospital who were dying and only a rare few truly compassionate people would touch them. Can you imagine dying without someone so much as holding your hand?
It happened in the 60s with cancer as well. In those days, people believed cancer was caused by a virus and they were careful about touching those with cancer. In fact, the drug AZT which is commonly prescribed for AIDS was developed as an anti-viral drug in the 60s for cancer . When Borroughs-Welcome realized cancer was not a virus, they shelved the drug. When AIDS broke out, they simply pulled it off the shelf, tacked on a ridiculously high price and recycled it for people dying in the 80s for big profits. But that, my friend, is another story for another day.
We don’t know if Jesus considered the risks in reaching out to that man. Compassion is not a cool-headed, calculated sort of response. It is more like a flaming arrow insight that inspires that bold step across the forbidden line of convention or law or family expectations to do what the heart tells one to do. But we know that the risk will be considerable for saying something as simple as, "Feel free to sit here next to me" or for doing something as simple as touching the hand others avoid.
There is one other facet to this story about those who are "unclean." It may be relatively easy to identify who the "lepers" are for each of us. The question is: can we identify and acknowledge the "unclean" places within ourselves – those limitations or sins that discourage or embarrass us? Dare we touch that "untouchable"?" Unless, like the leper in Mark’s gospel, we are willing to drop to our knees before Jesus and ask for his healing touch, there’s probably not much chance that we will have compassion for the flaws in others. And the incredible, exuberant joy of having been made whole again that we see in the healed leper can only come to those of us able to say with honesty: "Lord I need to be made clean!"
We are about to enter the Lenten season, a time to strip away our pretenses and defenses and discover what lies beneath the layers of accumulated "stuff." We all have layers and layers of accumulated "stuff," you see. That happens because we are afraid to experience the negative in our lives.
This is how it works. We have experiences. The good stuff, we are only too happy to experience – the joy, the happiness and love. We have a good time doing something – experiencing happiness – and after we experience it, it disappears.
But generally, people do not do that we with negative experiences. We encounter pain, suffering, loneliness, depression, abandonment, sadness, anger, and other negative emotions and we non-experience them. We don’t want to feel sad or lonely, so we put our mind on something else; we push the feelings aside. We don’t want to cry, so we "stuff" it. And the stuff just sits there, creating layer and layer after layer, just like an onion. You ever meet someone who says, "I never get angry," but they are some of the angriest, meanest people you know. They hurt other people – but with a smile on their face. It is because they have countless layers of anger built up and they don’t know how to let it go.
That is the leprosy that eats us from inside. That is the leprosy that makes each one of us unclean. That is the leprosy – the things we don’t want to admit about ourselves – that make us hate those very things in other people. And we live in denial. What you hate in someone else – look closely inside yourself. Should we look deep inside ourselves, we may find that place within – our unique "leprosy" still in need of healing.
Now there may be a price to pay. We may have to truly experience all that "stuff" inside so that it can disappear. It is a frightening thought to enter into that dark valley -- to let all that stuff come up for us. To grieve, to cry, to be angry, to be depressed. But remember:
"Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage."
We must approach the "One" who can touch us lovingly and make us clean, just like our leper in our story. Perhaps, kneeling together, we will recognize that in our deep, secret flaws, we and the leper are one. In that discovery, we might be willing to widen our circle to include all those we’ve keep at arms length in our lives – those untouchable – for whatever reason.
As individuals Christians and as a community, we must risk touching and healing. Remember, we are instruments of God. God uses our hands and our voices. We are temples of the Holy Spirit and we are called to continue Jesus’ ministry. Jesus gave us an example to follow. If we follow that example, then, perhaps, come Easter, we may each of us, like that healed leper, will have something really worth shouting about.
Fifth Sunday, Ordinary time
Gospel - Mark 1:29-39
Thibodaux was having a drink with Boudreaux when he raised his glass and said, "Here’s hoping your in heaven ten minutes before the devil knows you’re dead!"
Boudreaux looked at him and said, "What’s that supposed to mean?"
Thibodaux said, "Boudreaux that’s an Irish toast."
"Okay, then," said Boudreaux, "Here’s to bread, eggs, and cinnamon."
"What’s that?" asked Thibodaux.
Boudreaux said, "Mai, that’s French toast!."
Boudreaux went to Clotilde’s daddy to ask for her hand in marriage. Her father asked, "Boudreaux, can you support a family?"
Boudreaux replied, "Mai, no. I was just planning to support Clotilde. The rest of you will have to take care of yourselves."
Well, that’s not the way it was in Jesus’s time. Entire extended families lived together. Like today. Simon’s wife’s family, including his mother-in-law lived with him.
Mark tells us that Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. When they told Jesus about her, he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
Poor lady. No opportunity to recuperate. No opportunity for a little pampering by her family. I know what some of you women are thinking. Typical male behavior. This poor lady has been sick. Jesus healed her affliction, so immediately it was back to work looking after the household.
But Jesus didn't have any down time either. When people find you can heal their diseases they start lining up outside your door. Jesus' ministry was a success from the beginning. Nearly every family is touched by one sickness or another, and so people were bringing their loved ones to Jesus in droves. After all, there were no hospitals, no twenty-four hour medical clinics. The term "doctor" was used quite loosely. In Jesus’s time, Rabbis were the doctors. Jesus was a Rabbi and he could heal. Where else could they turn except to Jesus? If you knew that someone was hurting and Jesus could help them, wouldn't you bring them to Jesus?
Mark tells us, "The whole town gathered at the door . . ." Like Simon's mother-in-law, there was no down time for Jesus. But, here’s what’s important -- Jesus still took time to pray. We read, "The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases . . ." And then Mark tells us, "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed."
Jesus prayed. Prayer was such a priority to Christ that there are actually more than 20 words in the New Testament to describe his prayer life.
Jesus took time to recharge his spiritual batteries. That is important for us to see. You think you're too busy to pray. Imagine if there were sick and dying people lined up outside your door each morning waiting for you to open up for business. Imagine that when you went to bed each evening there was still a line. Wouldn't you think you could legitimately skip over your prayer time? Why that even sounds like a good excuse for sleeping in on the Sabbath. Surely if you were helping all those people, God would understand if you skipped worship or Bible study. Yet Jesus took time to pray and he took time to study and he took time for worship.
Notice also that Jesus took time for people. Jesus was no ascetic who shut himself off from others in his desire to commune with God. He was "a man for others," as he has been so aptly described. He may have preferred to stay in the garden, or on the mountaintop, or in the home of a friend, but there were people who needed him and so he was out doing the work of his Father.
In his memoirs about surviving the World War II concentration camps, Elie Wiesel claims that he and his father motivated each other to survive. Wiesel needed to stay alive to take care of his elderly father. That became his motivation for surviving the concentration camps. He knew that if he died, his father would give up hope and die also. Weisel wrote, "(The Germans) tried to get the inmates to think only of themselves, to forget relatives and friends, to tend only to their own needs . . . But what happened was just the reverse. Those who retreated to a universe limited to their own bodies had less chance of getting out alive, while to live for a brother, a friend, an ideal, helped you hold out longer."
Remember Barbra Streisand’s song of the sixties. "People, who need people, are the luckiest people in the world."
We know it's true. When we live only for ourselves, our lives are sterile and unfulfilling. When we give ourselves in service to others, our lives have meaning and purpose. Jesus took time for prayer and Jesus took time for people. And still Jesus found time to fulfill the purpose for which he had come.
We might think Jesus was fulfilling his purpose when he healed the sick and cast out demons. Those were important tasks obviously, but they were not the primary reason Jesus came. Listen as Mark concludes this brief narrative: "Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: 'Everyone is looking for you!'
"Jesus replied, 'Let us go somewhere else -- to the nearby villages -- so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.' So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues . . ."
Here is why Christ came -- to preach the Good News of the reign of God in human life.
There is much confusion in the world today about why Jesus came. Some of our social prophets would tell us that the reason Christ came was to change social systems. There certainly are systems that need to be changed -- systems that oppress the poor and perpetuate injustice -- but that was not why Jesus came.
There are those who believe Jesus came primarily to bind up the wounds of the sick and the hurting. And, yes, that was an important part of Jesus' work. Jesus' heart was always going out to those in distress. But our lesson is clear.
The primary reason Jesus came was to preach the Good News of the Kingdom. Healing and helping were important to Jesus, but his primary task was to witness to the truth of God. Now why do I make this point?
There are always people who are down on the institutional church. If we install a new stained-glass window, they will protest that the money should have gone to help the poor. If a church builds a family life center with basketball courts and social halls, people will say the church is straying from its mission -- the money ought to go to help missionaries overseas. It's not even rare for politicians nowadays to jump on us: "If the churches would take in the homeless," they huff, "then we wouldn't have to raise taxes." All of the criticisms have a measure of truth. We cannot follow the man from Nazareth and ignore the needs of the poor, the hurting, the desperate at our doorstep and around the world. But what is the primary responsibility of the church? It is to provide a witness to God in our community. Sure, we could sell our church buildings, sell everything in the Vatican, spread the proceeds to the poor, but in a short time the funds would be gone and who would be left to proclaim the good news of the love of Jesus Christ? That is the reason Jesus came. That is the reason I am here. That is the reason this church must survive.
Our politicians are poor examples of that love, the schools are forbidden to even talk about God. Who would tell people that they are loved if the church didn't? It may sound like a rationalization, but it is also true: The greatest need the poor have is not a handout. The greatest need the poor have is to be reminded of their dignity as human beings because Christ died for them and Christ's Spirit is available to them.
We build our buildings and conduct our programs and utilize the best resources available for our worship services not out of some misguided sense of pride. These activities are designed to ensure that after you and I are long gone from this world, this church, Christ’s church, will still be shining a beacon in this world of darkness. That is our primary purpose. Our parents did that for us! That is why you and I bring our contributions to this parish each week, to witness to the truth of God in our lives.
I am so glad that Jesus believed in prayer, because I need prayer. I'm so glad that Jesus cared about people, because I'm a person and you are a person, and even though we are imperfect people, it is life-changing to know that the Son of God gave his life for us. But I'm also glad that Jesus held to his primary purpose of preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. For 2,000 years the Gospel has been proclaimed -- and because it has been proclaimed -- the hungry have been fed -- the sick have been ministered to -- the world has become just a little bit more humane.
Fourth Sunday, Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 1:21-28
There was this government surveyor who brought his equipment to Boudreaux property and asked permission to go into one of his fields and take readings. Boudreaux said "Mai, no" because he thought it was the first step toward construction of a highway through his land. "I’m not gonna give you permission to go onto my property," said Boudreaux. The surveyor produced an official government document which authorized him to do the survey. "I have the authority," he said, "to enter any property in the entire country to do whatever I want." Faced with such authority, Boudreaux opened the gate and allowed the surveyor to enter the field.
Boudreaux then went to the other end of the field and opened another gate, and let out one of meanest bulls you ever saw. It started charging. Seeing the bull, the surveyor dropped his equipment and began to run for his life. Boudreaux called out to him, "Show him the paper, show him your authority."
In the Greek, the word for "authority" is "exousia." The word for "power" is "dunamis." Authority and power have different meanings, as the unfortunate surveyor discovered at the sight of the raging bull. In today's Gospel Lesson, Jesus reminds us that, in terms of our salvation – where we our going with our lives and what we ought to do about it – He does both: speaks to us with authority and He empowers us.
Mark tells us that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath "as one who had authority," and that His listeners were "astonished at His teaching" (Mk. 1:22). Then, "A man with an unclean spirit cried out, 'What have You to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God'" (Mk. 1:23,24).
This incident should not surprise us when we consider that Jesus was speaking with such authority and force that His words would hit home – really jolt his listeners into realizing that they were being asked to turn their lives upside down.
"What have You to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?" We don't have to be under the influence of some alien spirit in order to respond in this way to Jesus' call to New Life. This is the experience, to some degree, of every one of us when we really listen to the Lord's Message.
Hearing this Gospel story, we may be inclined to dismiss this man's cry as the lunatic ravings of an unbalanced fanatic. But the fact is that the man in the Gospel Story got the point. He was jolted by the Word of God. He realized his attitude and approach to life was being called into question. He realized that Jesus was indeed calling for the destruction of his old ways – to turn his life upside down.
Last year, a small town newspaper's "Religion Column" included the story of a local minister who had been preaching Sunday after Sunday for two years to an empty Church. Before that, there were three members in the congregation. But two died and the third moved away. Nevertheless, each Sunday for two years, the minister went into the pulpit, looked out at the uninterrupted rows of empty pews and preached the Message of Jesus Christ as he understood it. At one point during this period he decided to turn off the sound system because some of the neighbors were complaining about the noise. When he was asked if he didn't feel a little foolish preaching to empty pews week after week, he replied, "No. I don't ever feel foolish. I'm just taking it one Sunday at a time, waiting for someone to come in and listen to the Word."
That is the problem which all serious preachers face week after week: "Is there anyone out there who realizes that the Word of God being preached is a call to turn his or her life upside down? Or am I preaching, in effect, to empty pews? Is there anyone out there who is so astonished by the Word of God spoken through Jesus that he or she feels compelled to look to heaven and cry out, 'I know You are the Holy One of God ... I know You are my Lord and Savior'?"
The incident in today's Gospel Lesson comes immediately after Jesus has recruited His first disciples. He held before those first disciples the glorious New Life in which they would experience God's Presence as they never had before. He held before them the promise that they would experience the fullness of their humanity as they never had before. He held before them the opportunity to develop deep sensitivity to God's creation – God's world and God's people.
He held before them a meaning of love that moved them beyond anything they had experienced in their relationship with God and in their relationships with other human beings. He held before them a richer, fuller understanding of their own worthwhileness. He held before them a hope in the future that they had never before dreamed possible. But Jesus also kept cautioning them – jolting them with the reality that with this beautiful, sweet-smelling tree of life there comes a bitter fruit.
Jesus held before them exactly what they were getting into as His followers. He held before them the prospect of turning their lives upside down. He held before them the lesson that as they identified more closely with Him they would be identifying with a love so deep, so sensitive that they would take upon themselves, more and more, the sufferings of others. He held before them the clear understanding that they would identify more and more with the needs of others.
He held before them the Gospel truth that there would be suffering and rejection and persecution for those who live for others. Jesus held all this before His disciples, but they didn't put it all together at first. They just did not understand. The Son of God literally had to die and be raised up again before the Word of God really grasped them at any deep level.
When Jesus died on the Cross, all was lost and only the bitter fruit remained – or so it seemed to those first disciples. Their leader, the One who had taught with such authority, was gone. But then the Resurrection Power of God broke into their lives, and out of the depths of their despair there began to emerge the new Christian Community. And now, here we are, members of that same Community. And here is Jesus in our midst, holding before us the same promises and the same Gospel Truth He held before His first followers.
The question is, "Are we really listening, or is the Word being proclaimed, in effect, to empty pews?" The man in today's Gospel Lesson is tormented by an "unclean spirit." But Jesus possesses the authority and the power to impose silence on the unclean spirit and commands it to go out of the man.
The man in this Gospel story serves as a witness to Christ's Presence in the world. If the Kingdom of God is at hand, then the "unclean" diabolical forces are overthrown, and the world is ruled by a new Wisdom, a new Authority, a new Power.
There is the story of a man who asked the question, "What is the devil?" Before anyone could reply, the man supplied his own answer. "The devil," he said, "is not a huge monster with horns and a harpoon tail and a wicked glitter in his eye. No, the devil is inertia, doing nothing, following the lines of least resistance." The definition might not satisfy many theologians, but it makes the point: When Jesus asks us to turn our lives upside down by following His example of radical love, and we respond by following the lines of least resistance, we're in the devil's corner.
Through His life and through His death, Jesus teaches us that Love is everything. After kings and kingdoms have all disappeared, after our bodies are in the ground, love will remain. It is not eroded by the passing of time. And through His Resurrection, Jesus empowers us to live accordingly.
Love is everything! Love is the only thing. Jesus taught this truth with such authority as to jolt us, to astonish us, to turn us upside down. The question is: is anybody listening?
Third Sunday, Ordinary Time
Gospel - Mark 1:14-20
Like Simon & Andrew, Boudreaux was on the side of the bayou fixing his nets. A tourist was admiring the necklace worn around his neck. "What is it made of?" the tourist asked.
"Alligator's teeth," said Boudreaux.
"Oooo, alligator teeth," she said patronizingly, "I suppose that they mean just as much to you people down here as pearls do to us up North."
"Mai no," replied Boudreaux. "They mean a lot more. You see, anybody can open an oyster!"
One day as Jesus was walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew fishing with nets, for they were commercial fishermen. Jesus called out to them, "Come, follow me! And I will make you fishers of men!" At once they left their nets and went along with him. A little farther up the beach, he saw Zebedee's sons, James and John, in a boat mending their nets. He called them too, and immediately they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with him.
Interesting method of recruiting. No headhunters. No help_wanted ads. No employment agency. He sees them working and says, "Hey, I want you!" and immediately they follow. No papers to fill out, no resumes to check. He calls and they follow.
Notice that Jesus called his twelve disciples while they were in doing ordinary, daily work. They were not worshiping in the Temple or praying when Jesus approached them. They were involved in their daily activities when He asked them to follow him.
Why did Jesus chose working people rather than the well_trained religious leaders of that day. Well, perhaps it is easier to learn than it is to unlearn. One must have a teachable spirit in order to learn. One must be open to the truth in order to receive the truth. Truth and teachability go hand in hand. It is easier to learn than it is to unlearn.
This does not mean that the disciples were instantly imparted all the truth at one time. However, they were willing to go the first step. This does not mean that the original disciples did not have doubts, questions, or sometimes stubborn spirits; but they were willing to crawl before they walked. Remember, Jesus is going to spend three full years training these disciples, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to continue that teaching until the disciples faced their own deaths. BUT THE FIRST REASON JESUS CALLED THESE FISHERMEN TO BE HIS DISCIPLES IS THAT THEY WERE TEACHABLE.
There are many churches that are never able to do great things for God because they are not teachable. They are still doing things the way they did things forty years ago. Friends, the world has changed. We have television and computers. The church grows with the times.
An article in the newspapers last year told about a convicted murderer who escaped from a Pennsylvania prison. The man didn't get very far. He was hampered in his escape by the changes that had occurred in his community since 1980, the year he entered prison. Immediately after his escape, he stole a car. When it ran out of gas, he had to ask a convenience_store clerk for help in refueling. He had no idea how to operate the self_service gas pumps. His greatest mistake was heading for his old neighborhood. The area had changed so much that he lost his way while running from police. He ran down a road that had recently been turned into a dead end. Police had no problem tracking him down and returning him to prison. We live in a world of tremendous change.
It is unrealistic to expect that such dramatic changes will not affect the church as well as the rest of society. We need new ways of doing ministry. We need to find new ways to reach people. We as a church need to be teachable just as those early disciples were teachable. We need to be open to Christ's leading.
WE ALSO NEED TO BE DECISIVE JUST AS THE DISCIPLES WERE DECISIVE. Jesus saw Simon and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea. And Jesus said to them, "Come after me and I will make you fishers of men." IMMEDIATELY they left their nets and followed him.
Procrastination has often been called the thief of time and the graveyard of opportunity. Here we see Simon and Andrew being challenged with a great opportunity and they responded immediately. You and I would have called a committee meeting. We would have talked the matter to death. The last church I was assigned, they formed a committee to decide how to form and structure another committee. Sometimes decisions have to be made.
When we hear an invitation from Christ, we often find two conflicting inner voices within our spirit. One is telling us, look before you leap; don't get involved; you can always do it later on. Then there is a voice urging us to trust and be obedient to the call. We can't have it both ways. We must respond to one voice or the other. We can't waver between two opinions. The disciples were teachable AND the disciples were decisive.
THIRD, THESE DISCIPLES WERE PEOPLE OF CHARACTER. We don't know how Jesus knew that, but obviously he did. There is no hint in the Gospels that any of the disciples __ even Judas __ were less than honorable men.
Warren Buffett, who was the nation's most successful financial investor and the second_richest man in America, had some very valuable advice on hiring the best people for your business. He says, "Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you." If you were looking to hire someone to work for you, where would you begin? Wouldn't you begin with someone you could trust? Jesus saw something in these men that helped him to know that he could depend on them.
This is not to say that the disciples were perfect. Certainly they were not. There were times when the disciples disappointed Jesus. There were times when he found their lack of understanding quite frustrating. But ultimately he knew that, with the notable exception of Judas, he would be able to entrust the kingdom to these very ordinary men that he had called.
A few years ago a Roman Catholic scholar, Michael Walsh, published a book titled THE TRIUMPH OF THE MEEK with the subtitle: "Why Early Christianity Succeeded." The movement had begun in a remote corner of the Empire; its Founder had been executed; it was persecuted as it competed with other religions. Yet, within a little more than three centuries, it became a dominant force in the Empire. While the author points to various contributing factors, certainly a major one was the believers' firm commitment to Christ and His unique way of life. They yielded to the Spirit instead of their lower nature. They were teachable. They were decisive. They were people of integrity. And one thing more: THEY WERE PEOPLE OF COURAGE.
Maybe this is another reason Jesus started with lay people rather than clergy. He wanted men who had been tested by wind and waves __ not people who had been sheltered in the Temple. He wanted people with life experiences in the real world. Maybe our vocation office should take notice of that fact. Jesus knew that his disciples would be tested in every way. He wanted men and women who could look persecution and even death in the face and not flinch. Certainly these men did that. They were people of courage.
The sin of this generation of Christians may be that we play it safe. We are the one whose sin is not that we are lazy, but that we are afraid – fearful of losing what we have. There are times in the life of every Christian when we must go for broke. But in too many cases we are like deep sea divers, encased in suits designed for many fathoms deep, marching bravely to pull out plugs in bath tubs.
We just are not people engaged in turning the world upside down. We’re more complacent. But remember complacency is the root of all evil. It was the complacency of the Germans who created the Hitler nightmare. Still, we're more interested in securing what we have __ as if we had never heard Christ's words that those who seek to save their lives will lose them.
Christ is still looking for disciples today. People who are teachable __ for there is still much to learn about how to stand for Christ in a fast_changing world. People who are decisive. We talk too much in church and act too little. People of integrity, who take their vows to Christ's church seriously. People of courage who are not embarrassed to live their lives as emissaries of Christ.
A few years ago Richard Cardinal Cushing wrote about this. He said:
If all the sleeping folks will wake up, and all the lukewarm folks will fire up, and all the disgruntled folks will sweeten up, and all the discouraged folks will cheer up, and all the depressed folks will look up, and all the estranged folks will make up, and all the gossiping folks will shut up, and all the dry bones will shake up, and all the true soldiers will stand up, and all the church members will pray up, and if the Savior of all will be lifted up . . . then we can have the greatest renewal this world has ever known. Amen.
Second Sunday, Ordinary Time
Gospel - John 1:35-42
Clotilde was giving instructions to her three children as she sent them to church. She asked, "Do you understand why is it necessary to be quiet in church?"
T-Boy quickly responded, "Mai, yea, mama, because people are sleeping!"
Some people don’t like to be disturbed in church. This is a true story. There was a rather poor, elderly lady who sometimes visited a church located near skid row in New Orleans. The people in the congregation were always embarrassed when she arrived, because she loved to get excited in the service. "Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!" she would shout. It was just more than the others could endure. One Sunday morning, some parishioners greeted her at the door and made an agreement with her. They promised her a new, heavy blanket for the cold, winter months if she would not shout during the service. She agreed, and took a seat near the front of the sanctuary. She held her silence well at first, but as the pastor got into his message, he began to really preach from the heart. His words gripped the little woman until she almost exploded with excitement. Finally, she stood up and said, "Blanket or no blanket, Amen!!"
Most of us are not likely to get that excited in mass. But sometimes, I sort of wish we would. Oh, not in an emotional, or showy sense. But wouldn’t it be nice just one time to get so excited that we simply couldn’t restrain ourselves from telling the first person we meet just how much Christ means to us?
Our apostle Andrew was like that. He listened to what Jesus had to say and he listened to what John the Baptist had to say about Jesus and he got so excited that he went and found his brother Simon Peter and told him. "We have found the Messiah!"
The first time people meet Jesus they have a kind of excitement. They say also that the most enthusiastic priests are the newly ordained. Studies reveal that the most enthusiastic members in most churches are the newest ones, and we’ll discover that right after Easter with our RCIA candidates, you’ll see. These people have an enthusiasm and a willingness to serve that some people who have been around the church for a long time have somehow misplaced. That is one good reason for the church to keep reaching out. New people bring excitement into a church.
Even more impressive, however, is the excitement of one who has just come to know Christ for the first time. Yet, it is amazing how uncomfortable some people feel in the presence of someone who is really charged up about his or her faith. There is something about a fresh experience of Christ that has that kind of effect on people.
There was a missionary in Kenya who was given a car a few years ago to help him in his missionary rounds, going from village to village to preach and hold services. After a few months, the car refused to start. He looked under the hood, but not knowing anything about engines, he assumed the battery was worn out. He found, however, that he could get the car started by getting some boys from a local school to push it 50 feet or so, or he would park it headed down hill, and roll it off, engaging the clutch. He endured two years of this. Then he needed to return to the United States.
Before he left Africa, his replacement arrived. The old missionary showed his replacement his old car, and described the ways to push it or roll it off to get it started. The new missionary looked under the hood for a moment, then said, "Father, I think that the battery cable has come loose from the starter." The new missionary re-connected the loose cable, got in the driver’s seat, turned the key, pressed the starter, and the engine roared to life.
When we are not as excited about the things of faith as we once were, perhaps it is because we are not as in touch as we once were the source of our strength and power. Perhaps we just need to reconnect the battery cable to the source of our excitement.
But our excitement is also fed when we take that the gospels out into the world. When we meet Christ, it is an exciting experience. To keep that excitement alive, we need to share it with someone else. Faith is sort of like electricity. To be effective it must not be bottled up, but must be passed on. The scientific world is abuzz right now with all the hoopla about superconductors that can transmit electricity with practically no resistance or loss. That is the ministry to which God is calling all of us today. We are to be the "superconductors" passing on his love, his joy, his peace with no resistance or loss.
In today’s gospel, Andrew displays two attributes. Faith in meeting the Master and Love in sharing him with others. He goes out and tells others "We have found the Messiah!"
In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul says: "So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love." The greatest is LOVE.
The greatest is love.
Some of you might have heard this story, but it bears repeating. There was a schoolteacher named Miss Thompson. Miss Thompson was a conscientious teacher who tried to treat all her students the same. There was one little boy, though, who was difficult for her even to like. His name was Teddy Parker. Teddy didn’t seem to be interested in school. He was not an attractive child, his schoolwork was horrendous and his attitude was no better. In short, there was certainly nothing loveable about Teddy Parker. Indeed, for some strange reason, Miss Thompson felt a great deal of resentment toward Teddy. She almost enjoyed giving him "F’s." There was something about him that rubbed her the wrong way.
Miss Thompson knew Teddy’s background. His school records indicated that in the first grade he showed some promise, but he had problems at home. In the second grade, his mother fell seriously ill and Teddy started falling behind. In the third grade, his mother died. Teddy was tabbed as a slow learner. In the fourth grade he was far behind. His teacher noted that his father had no interest in Teddy’s progress. Miss Thompson knew Teddy’s situation, but still here something about him that she resented.
Christmas time came and the boys and girls in Mrs. Thompson’s room brought her some gifts. To her surprise, among those gifts was a very crudely wrapped present from Teddy. Opening it in front of the other children, she discovered a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. Sensing that the other children were beginning to smirk and giggle at the simple gift, Miss Thompson at least had the presence of mind to put on the bracelet and open the perfume.
She put some of the perfume on her wrist which she invited the children to smell. "Isn’t this bracelet beautiful?" she asked the children. "Doesn’t this perfume smell lovely?" Taking their cue from her, the children responded with "ooohs" and aaahs."
At the end of the school day, little Teddy came to Miss Thompson’s desk and said, "Miss Thompson ... Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother used to smell ... and her bracelet looks real pretty on you, too. I’m glad you liked my presents."
When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her for her attitude toward Teddy. To make a long story short, from that day forward Miss Thompson became a new teacher and Teddy Parker became a new pupil. Both Teddy’s attitude and his grades dramatically improved.
Many years later, Miss Thompson received a letter from Teddy telling her that he would be graduating from high school second in his class. It was signed, "Love, Teddy Parker." Four years later, she received another letter from Teddy telling her that he was graduating from college first in his class. Four years later there was another letter to inform her that the young fellow who once presented her with a gaudy bracelet with half the rhinestones missing and a cheap bottle of perfume was now Theodore Parker, MD. Also, he was getting married. His father was now dead, too. Would Miss Thompson be willing to sit where his mother would sit for the wedding if she were alive? He wrote: "You are all the family I have left now."
Miss Thompson sat proudly where Teddy’s mother would have been seated for the wedding. That moment of sensitivity and compassion many years before had earned her that right.
The greatest is love.
What I’m trying to say to you this morning is that there are some very special people in this world. They are the luckiest people alive. They are the Andrew people. They are enthusiastic, joyful people. They are characterized by two attributes. They have faith -- a positive expectation about what God is doing in their lives. And they have love. What they have received, they are willing to pass on to others. I know some people like that. Some of them are sitting right here in this church. And that is enough to make me want to say, "Blanket or no blanket, AMEN!"
BAPTISM OF THE LORD
Gospel - Mark 1:7-11
Boudreaux had a litter of golden retriever puppies and brought them to the veterinary clinic for inoculations and worming. As the look-alike pups squirmed over and under one another in their box, the vet realized it would be very difficult to tell the treated ones from the rest. So he turned on the water faucet, wet his fingers. Each time he finished with a pup, he moistened each little dog's head.
After the fourth puppy, he noticed his Boudreaux, who had been very talkative until that point, had grown silent. As he wet the last pup's head, Boudreaux leaned forward and whispered, "Mai, Doctor, I didn't know they had to be baptized, too."
In a CCD classes, a group of children were studying infant baptism. Their CCD teacher asked, "Why do we use water in baptisms?" One youngster piped up and said, "To make the baby's hair grow."
Another time, during a baptism, a little girl watched quietly and intently as the I baptized her little brother. But when the ceremony reached the pouring of water, the little girl became nervous. She edged up to the baptismal font and whispered, "And wash behind his ears too, Father."
Today, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. Something very interesting. In the all three Synoptic gospels, the baptism of Jesus is found immediately before the temptation scene and at the beginning of his public life. John the Baptist is preaching a baptism of repentance and water. John, however, is also the one who proclaims, "One more powerful than I is to come after me. I am not fit to stoop and untie his sandal straps. I have baptized you in water; he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit."
As Jesus is baptized by John, we hear a voice from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son. My favor rests on him." Because Jesus is called to a public witness of God’s presence among all people, he is anointed by the Holy Spirit. It is by that Spirit he is sent into the desert and among God’s people with a mission to proclaim the good news. In presenting the baptism of Jesus, the gospel writers focus on his being called by God. "This is my beloved Son. My favor rests on him."
As Christians, how do we view baptism? As a special ceremony for babies? As a cute ceremony in which we get a nanan and perin? As a cleansing, a taking away of original sin? As a guarantee of heaven? As something that makes one a Catholic?
If we thought of baptism more as an adult faith commitment, then we might experience the event of this reading from Mark as happening in our community today. The voice comes from heaven and speaks to each of us saying: "You are my beloved. On you my favor rests." Through the baptism of Jesus, we are challenged to focus on the real meaning of this sacrament and, perhaps, renew our own baptismal promises with a deeper commitment. Jesus was baptized with the water and the Holy Spirit, and then sent forth on his mission. So are we.
A true story. Several years ago, the St. Charles Avenue Christian Church in New Orleans, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination, had a serious fire in the sanctuary. In the pre_dawn darkness after the fire was extinguished the assistant fire chief, a Roman Catholic, wandered into the church to inspect the damage to the ceiling. Looking upward with his flashlight he failed to notice where he was stepping. Suddenly he tripped over something on the floor and fell into the church's baptistry. Ironically it was filled with water from the fire hoses.
Pulling himself out, the assistant fire chief stumbled and sputtered into the street. He noticed the fire department chaplain coming by and he asked, "Father, who are those people in there?" The chaplain replied, "They're the Disciples of Christ." The chief, still soaked from his plunge into the baptistry, responded, "Well Father, I don't know anything about them but it looks like I'm one of them now."
In the fourth chapter of Luke, Jesus refers to this quote from Isaiah. "I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for all nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness." (Cf. Is. 43:6-7). Jesus was sent to bring the good news -- to make the love of God alive and present to the people -- to bring them freedom and light.
Baptism’s challenge is the same for us. We are the beloved, and God’s favor rests on us. We are called by our baptism to continue the mission of Jesus -- to proclaim the good news to God’s people, to bring freedom to those who are held captive, be it by fear, by low self-image, or by the political and social systems of our day. We are called to give sight to the blind and to heal the wounded and brokenhearted.
Like Jesus, we do this because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we received when we were baptized. Like Jesus, we are compelled to carry out the mission because we are loved and favored by God. Like Jesus, we proclaim the good news to others using our own gifts and talents. Baptism seals the covenant of our natural birth. Baptism affirms who we are and empowers us in the Spirit.
As we reflect on the baptism of Jesus, let us renew and celebrate our own baptism and accept the challenge of our call to carry on the mission of Jesus. In this Eucharist, as in every Eucharist, we give thanks -- we are fed -- we are sent forth.
There was a missionary who worked among Muslim people in Pakistan. The first time he baptized a convert from Islam to Christianity the young man bolted out of the water and yelled "Hallelujah!" Then he ran to his friends who had witnessed the baptism, joined hands with them, and wildly danced for joy. Onlookers were sure that such partying antics are always a part of Christian baptism. So now what that first new Christian in that town in Pakistan did that day, has become a practice followed by every new Christian who is baptized. They shout "Hallelujah!"; they join hands with their friends and dance in the streets.
Why shouldn't we shout and dance for joy? Just as the Spirit of God came upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River, so, too, the same Spirit of God came upon us at our baptism. A child of God has come from darkness to light, from despair to hope and grace.
Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his public ministry. For Jesus, his baptism was the beginning of his challenging the religious leaders -- the scribes and the Pharisees. It was a beginning which would ultimately lead to the cross. Our baptism is the beginning of our public ministry as well. We must be willing to be empowered by the Spirit to be a public sign, an active reality of Christ in the world.
To be a baptized Christian and never to practice it in our daily lives, is like having a law degree and yet never practice law. It is like owning a set of tools and equipment, and yet never building anything. Beginnings can be painful and even frightening. But unless we begin, we will fail to be who we are as baptized Christians. We will fail to use what we have been given at the time of baptism. We will fail to accomplish what God has called us to do through our baptism.
It is the end of the Christmas season, but more importantly, it is a new beginning. Let this beginning in the life of Christ be a new beginning in your Christian life. Be renewed in the baptismal waters to publicly, actively, fervently be Christ in your world today.