Friday, February 24, 2012

February 26,2012: LenT with a capital 'T'!

We were on vacation – driving through the mountains in Colorado.  We were tired of the highway – we wanted to get off the beaten path and see what else was out there!  All that land – there HAD to be something interesting out there… so we pulled off onto the next gravel road we found.  At first, it was exciting – something NEW – something unexpected… but after 30 minutes of driving slowly on the dusty rock road, it started to get old.  In fact, after 45 minutes on this road, I started to get a bit nervous… where was this taking us?  Then we came to a T in the road.  It wasn’t on the map, so we hadn’t a clue which way to go.  Right, left, or go back?  We chose to go right, hoping that it would take us someplace interesting… or maybe back to the highway.  But after another 30 minutes of steep hills and washboarded roadways that rattled our teeth, we came to another T.  Again – right, left, or go back?  We KNEW that to go back, we could get to familiar territory… but hated the thought of going back.  We were hoping we would find a short-cut back to the highway.  Finally, we turned back.  I sometimes wonder – if we hadn’t come to that T, when would we have turned around?
Most of us are travelling down the road of life at full-speed.  But…The road that this world puts before us is filled with curves… and it’s leading us AWAY from God… it’s leading us to where God is not… that is the definition of Hell.  The Psalm tells us, Lord, teach me your paths.  Jesus teaches us throughout scripture how to live –  you might say, He teaches us the path that is straight and narrow.  But the world makes it hard to follow that path…. We want to widen the path and make it easier to travel our own way… do what WE think is right and just.  Most of us are tempted by the curvy side-streets, seeking excitement – and then we keep going down that road until SOMETHING makes us change.  Something or somebody knocks us to our knees and we REALIZE that we really ought to get back to the straight and narrow. 
That’s what Lent is for.  The church puts this T in the road so that we have to slow down and decide which way we’re going to turn.  Without this intersection, we might never have a reason to slow down, much less turn around.  We sit at the intersection and crane our necks looking down one way and the other.  One way leads to the superficial happiness that this life offers – the other leads to more of the same dusty, bumpy roads.  Which way will we turn?  Right, Left, or turn around?  How many T’s do we need to come across before we finally decide that driving our own direction isn’t working…  How long til we repent and turn back toward God… ?
What does it look like?  To turn back to God?  My first thought came to me at a funeral Saturday morning.  Too often we get on the road of unforgiveness with somebody – and it only ends when we go to the funeral home.  In the end, we regret never having turned that relationship around.  What else does ‘turning back to God’ look like?  We do the things that the Scriptures TELL us to do:  love our neighbors, give up our selfishness, pray, fast, give to the poor, and go to Church.
Some people say, “I don’t need to go to church… I can pray in the woods.”  That’s Great!  How long did you spend in the woods praying today?  Last Sunday?  And the Sunday before that?  The same argument could be made that I don’t need to take my wife out on a date,…”I can tell her I love her at the supper table”.  That’s great.  Did you tell her last night?  The night before?
You and I have to develop habits… we have to set aside time to do the important stuff.  Without a community around us to help us stay on the straight and narrow, It’s too easy to allow time to just slip right by – and we look back and think – what have I been doing?  Think about your own life… did you accomplish anything yesterday?  Do you often find that hours and even days just seem to disappear, and you’re not really sure what happened?
Each of us has to look at our priorities in life.  We might all be able to sit here in the comfort of this church and agree that - if my life was perfect, I would spend 1 hour a day in prayer and reading the Bible, 1 hour exercising,  1 hour spending time with my kids, 1 hour just spending time with my wife, and 1 hour doing something for someone in need. 
Obviously, we can’t physically do it all every day… but do we do them at ALL?  Would you agree that each one of those things SHOULD be on our list of most-important-things?  Sooo….how much time did you pray yesterday?  How much of the Bible did you read?  How much time did you spend exercising?  Spending time with your kids?  Your wife?  Doing something for somebody in need?  Volunteering?
We live our lives as if we’re immortal – as if we’ve got all the time in the world.. so we constantly put-off those things we ‘should’ do.  It’s easy to get on the highway of Procrastination and never turn around.  One of the CD’s I just listened to said, “Live your life with the End in mind”.  In other words, when you’re on your deathbed looking back, what will you regret?  What do you want people to say about you when you’re gone?  Will their first statement be, “He really loved Jesus”?  She really gave selflessly?  She was always a good listener?  What do you WANT people to say?  What do you want GOD to say about you?
Figure out that answer, and then make a plan and DO it… NOW… so there will be no regrets.

A lot of people don’t really start LIVING until they realize that they are dying.  So live your life with the End in mind.
That is the genius of Ash Wednesday and Lent.  This is the T in the road to give us a chance to turn back to God; to check our priorities.  To remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 February 12 - Unclean! (6th Sunday Ordinary Time)

I drive a lot… and to occupy my mind, I like studying bumper sticker Theology.  One of my favorites says, “God is my co-pilot”!  Or – there was a similar one that said, “My co-pilot is a carpenter from Nazareth”.  I always thought that was a cool way of showing your Christianity to others on the road.  But I’m going to give you a different way to think about that theology at the end of my homily… but you gotta hang on.
Did you notice what the Leper said to Jesus?  ‘If you wish, you can make me clean’.  Doesn’t that strike you as sort-of odd?  Wouldn’t it make more sense if he said, ‘if you wish, you can heal me’?  After all, Leprosy is a disease.
That’s because – as bad as the DISEASE of leprosy was to endure – it was the MORAL,  SPIRITUAL, and SOCIAL ramifications of the disease that were there hardest to bear.  Leprosy was seen as a curse of God – for having done something against the law of God… so to have the disease, you were considered impure.  Anytime you got near people, you had to cover your mouth (like this) and shout out ‘UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN!’ to make sure they knew not to touch you – because if they did touch you, then THEY would become spiritually impure – they would be unclean as well.
Because of that, Lepers were shunned.  People avoided them as much as possible.  Lepers were expected to live outside the city.  They lived in deserted places where they didn’t have to endure the constant indignation of people turning up their noses at them and running away.  Put yourself in that position for a minute – really – what would life be like if you were a leper? 
This time of the year, I sometimes get dry patches of skin – on my elbows or knees.  It’s probably just dry skin – brought on by the low humidity during the winter.  However, if I lived in Jesus’ time, and if anybody SAW those patches of dry skin – I would be brought before the Priest, and he would look at it and declare me to be UNCLEAN!  Like it said in our first reading then – I’d have to put away my good clothes and wear torn clothes – I’d have to mess up my hair and beard, so people would recognize that I’m unclean… then I would have to live outside the city for a period of seven days.  At the end of that time, I would go back to the priest and show myself.
In the book of Leviticus, we read, 'And the priest shall look on him again the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague be somewhat dark, and the plague spread not in the skin, the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is but a scab.’
That would be our hope.  If you or I were a Leper – every minute of every day, we would be waiting, hoping, PRAYING for that glorious day when we stand before the Priest and he says those words… “You are clean”.
OK –so what’s all this have to do with you and me?
We are all Unclean.  Every one of us is morally and spiritually impure – because hard as we try- we can’t follow the law of God – not completely.  We try – but we just can’t.  For that reason, all of us are impure and forced to live on the outside the garden of Eden.  Like Adam and Eve – we were thrown out of Paradise and forced to live as an outcast.  Whenever we approach God, we shout UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN – recognizing that we don’t have the right to approach God.
At the start of Mass, we purposely prayed the Confetior – you know – I confess to almighty God… that prayer is OUR shout to God recognizing that we aren’t worthy!... we recognize that we are Unclean.
Fortunately, Jesus is reaching out His hand to you right now.  Through the hands of the Church, He reaches out to Baptize you – to confirm you – to heal you – to feed you - and to forgive your sins.  The Sacraments of the Church are the main places where Jesus reaches out with a human hand to physically touch you and me.
Notice what happens next:  right after Jesus touches the leper…  it says the word spread like wildfire…it was like a viral-video on youtube… the whole thing became so publicized that Jesus could no longer enter a town openly.  HE remained outside in deserted places.  Did you notice the irony?  Jesus --switched places with the Leper!  The leper was clean now, so he could live in town – but Jesus was now forced to stay outside of the town.
He does the same for you and me.  He reaches out to touch us – and he’ll touch us right where we are most unclean.  He’ll reach right into depths of our sin and say those words we’ve been waiting, hoping, PRAYING to hear:  “I do will it.  Be made clean”.  And then Jesus will swap places with us.
Here’s your new bumper sticker:  If Jesus is your co-pilot, swap seats.