Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter 2013 - 3/31/2013: Hope Unlooked-For

He is not here.  He is risen.  Put yourself in Peters shoes What was going through his mind as he ran back to the tomb?
He is not here  Did He rise from the dead?  No way Those women are nut-cases they MUST have misunderstood what they saw there MUST be a logical explanation.  People DONT just rise from the dead like that!
He is not here:  What if he DID rise?  Uh-oh.  He KNEW I would Deny him three times Surely hes coming back to punish me!
No, no, no  there MUST be another explanation.  Maybe the Romans took him but why?  They dont care about Jesus.  Maybe it was the temple guards I wouldnt put it by them for one minute.  They had it in for Jesus the minute he got to Jerusalem.
But What if he did rise?  Id give anything to see my friend again life without him is empty.  And Id like to apologize to him for denying him.
He is not hereHOPE unlooked-for had been rekindled in Peters heart.  Just a few minutes before, all was lost. It was over.  Jesus was dead and that was the end of it.  He and the remaining apostles were hiding in the dark; Scared to even leave the building.  They wanted to go home to Galilee, but had to wait around for the final burial rites to be performed.  Suddenly, like light shining into a dark room, the impossible happened as the women burst into the room unexpectedly He is not here.  He is Risen!  What?  Impossible.  Really? 
You know if the disciples had paid attention to Jesus words and believed him, they would have KNOWN the tomb was going to be empty.  They would have EXPECTED to find the stone rolled away.  They would have been OVERJOYED to find the body gone.  But they hadnt listened or hadnt believed or understoodso they were puzzled and scared.   The tomb was like a line in the sand. Once you cross that line into the grave its all over.  There is nothing else.  People DONT just rise from the dead like that! 
And what if He DID rise?  What do we care?  What does it matter to people 2000 years later?
its a logical thing.  If we believe that Jesus rose from the dead then we almost HAVE to believe that He is who He said He is. The son of God. Because PEOPLE dont  just rise from the dead like that but God can.  And if He is who He says He is, then everything he said must be true because God cannot lie.  And if everything He said was true, then He really DID start the Church and give us the Eucharist and the Sacraments and the new law to Love one another as I have loved you.  If He really is who He says He is we cannot ignore him or his teachings or his church or his people.
The bottom-line for us today is do we believe it?  Do we believe that Jesus rose from the dead?  Do we believe he is the Son of God?
See - If for you, Jesus was just a nice guy or just a great prophet then WE are wasting our time! were wasting our lives.  But if He IS who He claims to be. We cannot sit on the fence.   We either try to live as He told us to live  - or we have denied Him like Peter.
You remember the saying the only things certain in this life are death and taxes.  We all know there are loopholes in the tax system but until JESUS, NOBODY had found a loophole to get around DEATH!  True joy will only come from one source. The empty tomb.   It is a sign that no situation is completely hopeless.  God can turn-around any bad to bring about good.  He can bring hope suddenly, even we aren't looking for it. 
As you and I act on our belief in the resurrection, we become resurrection people.  We carry that hope from the tomb and take it to every place we go:  into our broken relationships ; to the bars ; to the lonely ; to the worried the hurried ANYtime we encounter someone in darkness, WE carry the hope from the empty tomb and shine it like a light into each corner of the darkness.  A couple weeks ago I told about my friends who saved their marriage... A relationship which SHOULD have been dead.  But they are resurrection people their hope came from the empty grave.  Since then, I have learned of two more couples who have done the impossible.  One marriage was so dead, it was in the grave... Nobody thought theyd ever be able to work it out But they are resurrection people Hope sprang up where it was unlooked-for.
Where do we get our hope?  Or a better question in WHOM do we place our hope?  Lets look at some of the options out there:  Confucius' tomb - occupied; Buddha's tomb - occupied; Mohammed's tomb - occupied; Jesus' tomb - empty." ~ G. B. Hardy
A 2nd grade teacher had one special needs student, Tommy, who often got sorta dazed during class sometimes hed make gurgling sounds and just stare off into space.  It was quite distracting, but she put up with it for many months wishing she didnt have to deal with him.
One day she was teaching the class about Easter and how it was the time of New Life.  She explained about all that Jesus had done for us during those three days so long ago.  To help the students learn, she gave them each a plastic egg.  Everyone needs to bring something back tomorrow in your egg that symbolizes New Life, OK?  The kids got kind of excited about it talking amongst themselves about what they might bringbut she noticed that Tommy was staring out into space again.  She thought- Id better call his parents to tell them what the assignment is about since hes not gonna remember.  Well, that night she got busy with one thing or another and forgot to call.  At class the next day, everyone placed their eggs on the desk and she started opening them one by one.  The first held a tiny flower yes a flower represents new life because in the spring the new flowers all pop up through the earth which looked dead just a month before.  The second egg had a picture of a butterfly thats a good one we all know that a caterpillar goes into a cocoon which looks dead for months, but then it comes out and turns into a butterflythats a great symbol of new life.  The next egg she opened was empty Uh-Oh, she thought I forgot to call Tommys parents.  Not wanting to embarrass Tommy, she simply laid the egg aside and reached for another one.  Tommy spoke up teacher arent you going to talk about my egg?  But Tommy your egg is empty.  Yeah but so was Jesus tomb.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday 2013: The Hand that Feeds us

I was out walking our dogs one day Strider and Arwen.  A german shepherd and a siberian husky.  Great dogs  mans best friends.  Strider is my boy.  As much as I try to think of him as just a dog, he gets to me.  So we were out walking one day and they were hunting for mice.  Theyre so cute working together - one digs over here and the other stands or crouches at the other end of the hole waiting for the mouse to pop-out.  Well this one day I didnt read the body language right and they got into a fight;  Right there in front of me.  Naturally, I yelled I tugged then I grabbed Strider by the collar to pull him away.  In that instant, Arwen got hold of my arm thinking she had clamped onto Striders neck.  For several seconds, I shouted and pulled and finally she realized she had bit into the wrong thing my arm.  I was angry at both of them for fighting but more than that I was sad that my best friends had turned on me.  Yeah I can remind myself that she didnt mean it she thought she was biting Strider.  Their self preservation instinct kicked in.  Yeah I can remind myself that there is a pecking order to the pack and those two had to get things straightened out.  But still, it made me sad.  They wouldnt listen to me!  I TRIED to get them to stop hurting each other... and in the process, I got bit.  Now the bite wasnt that bad it was winter, so I had three layers of clothes on.  It wasnt the physical pain that hurt it was the fact that my friends had turned on me.  Afterward, they both seemed sad too... Especially Arwen... Once she realized what she did, she was sorry.  She bit the hand that feeds her.

For the first time, I could really understand how Jesus could say from the cross forgive them, Father they dont know what they are doing.  Just like my dogs, Jesus knew that the Romans were just doing their job to bring law and order to the Roman Empire.  The Jews were just doing what they truly thought was best for the Israelite people trying to prevent them from being annihilated by the Romans.  And the Apostles were scared to death of both of them and like any other human being they ran for their lives.  Their self-preservation instincts kicked in. 

Still - It had to make Jesus sad.  He had TRIED to get them to stop hurting each other and in the process, he got hurt.  They wouldnt listen to him.

Yet he understood why they did it even GOOD people get caught up in self-preservation and do the wrong thing even though they THINK it is for the best.  Father forgive them. 

We experience that.  Half of our marriages end this way you know, we marry our best friend and for a while, life is good.  But something changed...our self preservation kicks in when things get rocky.  Co-workers stab us in the back.  Family members do unthinkable things to one another.  Even our BEST friends let us down. 

If that was the end of the story it would indeed be a sad state.  But this is not SAD Friday this is GOOD Friday.  But Jesus shows us another way.  Notice even though he KNEW that Judas was going to betray him, he didnt kick him out!  Judas was there and had his feet washed last night!  Judas was there for the first Mass at the last supper Judas received the first Eucharist!  Judas received the Body and blood of Christ from the very hand of Christ!  You cant get much closer of a friend than that yet well you know what he did.  He bit the hand that fed him.  His self-preservation kicked in.  Jesus denounced his actions but He loved Judas to the end. 

How can we live this example in our own relationships?  First it may sound like a pious platitude but put yourself in the other persons shoes.  If we can come to understand WHY they do what they do and we might realize that we would do the same thing if we were in that situation.  It doesnt make it RIGHT but makes it forgivable.  Father forgive them 

Second do the right thing regardless of how we are treated.  We all have a conscience.  We all can pray for Gods will.  Even with that unbearable pain of betrayal on his heart Jesus continued to follow the Fathers will.  He knew what he had to do and though his humanity would like to have skipped over the suffering part, his WILL was so tightly connected to his Fathers will that he WANTED to die on that cross.  Remember he said Nobody takes my life from me I lay it down on my own.  He crawled onto that cross willingly.  If he could have, he would have reached over with one hand and drove the nail through his other hand himself!!!  For the sake of the disciples.  For the sake of the Romans.  For the sake of the chief priests and scribes!  Yes even for his friends who had abandoned or betrayed him.  For our sake.  Had he stopped short of giving it ALL, the sacrifice would have been incomplete and we would still be bound by the law to die for our sins. 

Father forgive us. We really DIDN'T know what we were doing.  But now-we realize we bit the hand that feeds us.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 17, 2013: Didn't Expect That

Im drawn to that phrase in the first reading:  I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  Its almost like God is saying You think THAT was cool!?  You aint seen nothing yet watch this!  Expect the unexpected.  That certainly fits with the excitement this week of our new Pope Francis the first Pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit he wasnt what everybody expected!  God repeats, I am doing something new!.

What will be new?  I know the newspapers and news programs have been asking anybody they can what do you hope for in a new pope?  How would you answer that?  What NEW thing would you like to see God do through this Pope? 

If anyone asked me, my answer would be I hope we have a strong defender of the Catholic faith someone who will protect what we have believed for 2000 years.  At the same time, I hope our church finds new energy to evangelize folks not just outside the church but the people in the pews and those who no longer come to Mass to bring us all to a stronger belief in the teachings handed down from the Apostles.  I pray that this transition of a new Pope is simply the turning of a page of history which continues the amazing story of the Body of Christ.  The Lord IS doing something new and I cant wait to see what it is!  Expect the unexpected! 

Lets look at the story in the Gospel.about the woman who was about to be stoned.  In the PAST, the Jews knew they had every RIGHT to stone this woman to death.  In fact, the only reason they didnt already do it in this case is because Rome had forbidden them to put anyone to death.  But this was their law the law of God handed down from Moses.  Ever since they left Egypt, God was very stern about them putting to death ANYTHING or ANYONE who threatened the law.  If you have been watching the Bible on the History channel, you may remember what happened to King Saul.  He spared the life of an opposing King, and for that, he lost favor with God.  Thats how the Jews thought God worked!  From experience, they saw that when Israel sinned, they were punished severely the first reading comes from one of those times of punishment when the Israelites were exiled to Babylon.  So they took the law seriously they didnt want to be exiled again so they tried to nip it in the bud!  Paul was one of the greatest defenders of that law.  In fact, its not in the story, but you can bet that Paul would have been one of the first people to get into this mob to stone this woman. 
But notice something new happened in the second reading Paul had spent his entire life zealously defending that law but in todays second reading he says everything he lived for in the past he now considers rubbish!  Pretty strong words but he had found something NEW.  Nobody expected Paul, of all people, to become Christian!!!  Expect the unexpected. 

Jesus doesnt do the expected either.  He doesnt pick up a rock like any normal, self-respecting Jew instead he draws with his finger in the dirt.  That had to be SO frustrating to the people in that crowd.  Here they were all fired up and ready to satisfy their thirst for blood but Jesus lets the air out of their tires.  Let him without sin cast the first stone.  In other words, Jesus is saying look you all KNOW that YOU are sinners TOO and there is NO sin that DOESNT deserve death.  If you are self-righteous enough to think that your sin is not as bad as hers, go aheadstone her but remember that whatever lack of mercy you show toward her will be shown to you in return. 

Jesus is doing something new:  In the mind of the Jew, JUSTICE was the chief characteristic of God but Jesus is showing us that Gods MERCY triumphs over Justice. 

Another thing to notice put yourself in the shoes of the woman in the story.  Imagine the shame but more than that - imagine the fear!  She had to be scared-to-death with this angry mob dragging her into the street and picking up rocks.  Can you even imagine how scared we would be in that situation?  Thats important because it changes how we would react to the last line in the Gospel Go and sin no more.   

Well isnt that nice of Jesussuch a pious thought go and sin no more.  We hear the same thing when we leave confession- go and sin no more.  It goes in one ear and out the other.  But imagine if we realized like SHE did that WE DESERVED to DIE for our sins and we just about got what we deserved.  Those words of forgiveness from Jesus are more than nice’… those words saved her very life. You and I deserve the very same penalty for our sins.  Yet we tend to forget that.  We havent been drug into the street by a blood-thirsty mob.  It hasnt become REAL to us.  

(pick up stone)  A friend of mine came home from church one evening and found her husband with another woman.  What a shock what a kick in the gut.  Imagine the intense pain of betrayal she felt.   Imagine the overwhelming anger which rose up inside of her as she kicked that other woman out.all the while thinking, what am I going to DO with HIM!?.
By all rights, she could have kicked HIM out as well.  How can you do this TO ME!?  Given the same situation, any one of us would have kicked the bum out!  But she didnt.  Instead of kicking him out she tried to forgive him.  Instead of stoning him, they talked and in talking, they resurrected a relationship.  He realized how unworthy he was of such a forgiving wife. And THAT realization helped him to change.  No it wasnt easy but in the end, their relationship is stronger nowbecause of the mercy she gave.  She did the unexpected. 

You and I have all had something like this happen.  Some guy pulls out in front of us and causes us to have a wreck  somebody at work doesnt pull their weight our own parents made a big mistake when raising us  a brother or sister stole something that was rightfully ours in the will. we have EVERY right to be angry with them!  We have every right to stone them to put them out of our lives.  But Jesus is doing something new.  He offers mercy instead of justice.  Any time we pick up a stone any time our anger flares up we should remind ourselves that we TOO deserve to be stoned.  Look at the rock in your handthen think of the mercy of Jesus and do the unexpected.  (drop the stone)