Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012/12/23 Heroes

What’s a hero look like? 

Muscles bulging, taking on the bad guys, Bullets bounce harmlessly off him, explosions are mere nuisances, and nobody but the bad guys ever get hurt. He has x-ray vision, can hear through walls, flies through the air, and is impervious to pain. At some point growing up, most of us have wanted to be that superhero… Here he comes to save the day!
But as we grow up, we realize that person doesn’t exist.  People let us down.  Situations don’t work out like we wish.  Bullets really DO kill the heroes as well as the people they’re trying to protect.
This past week, in the barrage of articles and Facebook posts about Connecticut, one of them caught my attention – she said as a child her Mom always told her that whenever something bad happens like that, to look for the heroes.  The heroes in this case were the teachers and principal who put themselves into harm’s way to try to save their students.
By looking to the heroes, we find people who have lived up to what God intended them to be – they put forth superhuman efforts in the face of situations that would make ANY person freeze with unbelievable fear. 
There is a hero in today’s Gospel as well.  The words Elizabeth used made it obvious that for her, Mary was a Hero.  She had said ‘yes’ to God when any normal human being might have cowered in fear:  being unwed and pregnant, her fiancĂ© would probably disown her, her parents would be severely embarrassed, and the Jewish community – who thought of her as the purest example of womanly virtue, would be scandalized – and might even stone her.  No – this was too much to ask a young girl to bear.. but she bore it with her ‘Fiat’… her ‘let it be done to me according to your will’.  That's why she was Elizabeth's hero.
There’s another way that Mary is a hero in this reading.  Having just found out that her cousin was about to have a baby, she dropped everything and went IMMEDIATELY to help.
We have heroes like that in our own community.  For example, every week, somebody in our parish takes communion to the people who cannot be here.  This is so much more valuable than you and I can know.  These people tend to feel cut off from our community, and just to have someone visit is a God-send.  To bring them Communion is a direct way of keeping them connected to our worship here as the Body of Christ.  All of us are members of this Body of Christ – and when one part of the body hurts, the rest of the body turns its attention to that part.  Think about it – if you have a back ache, nothing else matters – the rest of your body will keep changing positions until it finds a way to help the back ache less.  So it is with the members of our community:  when one is hurting, we should do whatever we can to help.
This is especially important this time of year – when there is so much darkness.  People are more prone to depression anyway – but the Holidays actually make it even worse for some.  Experiencing Christmas alone for the first time – or just with one family member missing – can lead us to dwell on the hole in our heart and actually dread the season because we don’t Feel holly-jolly.  That’s a normal response, so if that’s how you’re feeling this Christmas, know that you’re not alone.
The job for all of us is to be like Mary – in a way, when we come here to receive Jesus into us… we become ‘pregnant’ with Jesus – and then we are compelled to drop everything and take Jesus to those who can’t be here.  Seek out those who might have a reason to be depressed – or maybe they’re just physically unable to get out.  Stop and visit.  Offer to help.  Offer them a meal…. Then every one of us can be a hero.
I have two examples of heroes in our community that I heard just this week.  One was a family of young kids that went to a nursing home.  The Mom didn't really want to go, but she was blown away by the reaction of the residents when she walked through the doors with those kids.  People who were so focused on their own pains and depression suddenly lit up with excitement!!… and the infant!!… EVERYbody had to hold that baby.  Besides that - the kids loved all the attention, so it was a win-win for everybody.  That family was a hero for those residents that day.
The other situation was a father who got called to the hospital because his son had had an accident.  He and his wife rushed to the hospital and actually beat the ambulance.  At this point, they didn’t know exactly how bad off their son was, so they were emotionally a wreck.  As he stood there waiting, he made one phone call to a buddy from church – asking for prayers.  20 minutes later, 5 heroes showed up.  5 prayer warriors – there to knock on heaven’s door – and to do anything they could do physically to help the father and mother deal with whatever awaited them – even if it was just to be there and sit with them to wait for the news from the doctors.
Every person here can be that kind of superhero… think about it – is there anybody in the world who thinks that YOU are their hero?  If not, who might God have put in your path who NEEDS you to be their hero?
A parishioner sent me a story this week which was perfect for last week's homily... But it also ties last week to this week's message.
A group of salesmen were running late getting to the airport after their convention.  In order to make their flight, they had to run through the concourse.  Jerry rounded a corner and accidentally bumped into a to a table which held a display of apples. Apples flew everywhere. Jerry mumbled a quick "sorry" then continued running to catch up with his buddies.  They made it just in time as they were giving the last call for boarding.  Jerry breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped up to the gate... But then he experienced a twinge of compassion for the girl whose apple stand he had been overturned. He told his buddies to go on without him, waved good-bye, told one of them to call his wife when they arrived and explain that he would be taking a later flight. His buddies looked at him like he was crazy... but Jerry turned around and jogged back to the terminal where the apples were all over the floor.  He was glad he did.
The 16-year-old girl was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks in frustration, and at the same time helplessly groping for her spilled produce as the crowd swirled about her; no one stopping and no one to care for her plight.
Jerry knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped organize her display. As he did this, he noticed that many of them had become battered and bruised; these he set aside in another basket. When he had finished, he pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, "Here, please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?"
She nodded through her tears. He continued on with, "I hope we didn't spoil your day too badly."
As Jerry started to walk away, the bewildered blind girl called out to him, "Mister...." He paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes. She continued, "Are you Jesus?"
He stopped in mid-stride ... and he wondered. He gently went back and said, "No, I am nothing like Jesus - He is good, kind, caring, loving, and would never have bumped into your display in the first place."
The girl gently nodded: "I only asked because I prayed for Jesus to help me gather the apples. He sent you to help me.... He sent you to be my hero! "
Kind of in shock from the turn of events, he slowly made his way to catch the later flight ...with that question burning and bouncing about in his soul: "Are you Jesus?"  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012/12/16 - Mistaken for Jesus

I’m sure this happens to Fr. Eugene all the time, but it’s only happened to me once or twice.  I went over to a parishioner’s house one Sunday – I think it was right after  First Communion and somebody promised me some homemade ice cream, so I HAD to go  :)  One of the younger kids in the house was all excited because “Jesus is coming to our house”.  He thought I was Jesus…Obviously that kid didn’t know me very well.  :)

On the other hand, it was kind of flattering.  And I got to thinking… isn’t that what we all want to be mistaken for?  Jesus?  Really – if you and I are living the life of a true Christian, then when people see us, they really SHOULD see Jesus. 

Do you think that would be possible?
I want to propose to you that we are like a statue… a sculptor starts with a plain block of wood or marble…, but by the time they lay down their tools, an image has appeared.  That image was there all along – it just had to be revealed. 

After creating the famous statue of David, someone asked Michangelo how he did it… “It’s easy”, he said, “I just chip away anything that doesn’t look like David”. 

Same goes for you and me – we start out as a block of wood or marble – but our goal is to look like Jesus.  His image is already IN us – after all, God MADE us in His image… we just have to reveal it.  So we gotta chip away anything in our self that doesn’t look like Jesus.  How do we do that?  Let’s look at the Gospel. 

Whenever we hear of John the Baptist, we hear about a voice of one crying out in the desert’… but what was he saying?  Just before our reading today, John just delivered a real fire and brimstone sermon...YOU BROOD OF VIPERS!  THE TREE THAT DOESNT BARE GOOD FRUIT WILL BE CUT DOWN AND THROWN INTO THE FIRE!  Hes not politically correct, but He got peoples attention, and they were scared...what do we do?  I dont want to be thrown into the fire. What do I do? 

What SHOULD we do?  What if someone asked YOU what they had to do to please God?  How would you answer? 

Sell everything and give the money to the poor?  Go serve in the slums of Calcutta or Haiti?  Give your life as a martyr? 

Notice thats not what John says instead John gives them the mundane, almost boring answer:... Basically, do what you already know is the right thing.  Soldiers dont falsely accuse anyone.  Tax collectors, stop collecting more than the correct amount.  If anyone has two coats and sees someone in need, give one to them!  This is not rocket science or anything hard to do just do what you already know is right! 

That may sound simple but is it?  Let me give an example of what John might say to us today.  Drivers just drive the speed limit and no more.  What?!  OK, John youve gone too far now.  You cant be serious!  Everybody knows the speed limit is more like a suggestion and as long as you stay within 5 miles per hour or so, theres no problem everybody does it you cant expect ME to be the exception!  Besides, if I drive the speed limit there will always be somebody riding my tail upset with me.  I cant do that. Everybody is doing it and you cant expect ME to be the exception.  Isnt that what the tax collector would have said?  What?!  I HAVE to collect more than the prescribed amount in order to feed my family.  Besides, everybody is doing it and everybody expects me to do it you cant expect ME to be the exception.   If I stop collecting extra, then the other tax collectors will be upset with me because it will make it more obvious that THEY are cheating. 

So you can see Johns demand wasnt such a painless command after all. Eventually, if we want to be like Jesus, we just might have to go to Calcutta or give our life as a martyr but we start by whittling away at our little sinful behaviors that weve grown so accustomed to.  In everything we do we should do the right thing not doing what everybody else is doing .  Yeah well stand out in the crowd.   

Kinda like John- he was a FREAK – wearing furs, eating bugs, living in the wilderness… But did you notice that people were mistaking John for Jesus… they thought maybe John was the messiah.   

That’s our goal… to be mistaken for Jesus.  Every one of us CAN be…. We just gotta keep chipping away anything about ourselves that doesn’t look like Jesus.