Saturday, September 28, 2013

2013/09/29 The Rich seem to be Doomed

OK – what do YOU think the main theme of the readings is today?
At first glance, that message seems to be that being Rich is bad – you’re going to hell… and being Poor is good – you’re going to heaven.  Did anybody else get that same message?  The first reading certainly seems to say that:  ‘woe to you, the complacent in zion… lying on your beds of ivory, eating fine foods..’  And then there’s the Gospel – the rich man goes to a place of torment:  that sounds like it represents hell.  And then this POOR guy goes to the bosom of Abraham, which represents heaven.  I noticed there’s nothing in the reading that either of these men did anything to deserve their eternal reward/punishment… so Jesus must be telling us that the rich will go to hell and the poor will go to heaven.  Would you agree?
But – if that is the message – let’s follow that line of thought a little bit.  If being poor gets people into heaven, then WE should not help the poor – right?  Because if we give them money to pull them out of their poverty, then they won’t be poor anymore and they WON’T go to heaven.  See what I mean?  If Jesus is telling us that the POOR go to heaven, then the LAST thing we should do is help them.
That obviously can’t be the message, because the Bible is full of instructions to HELP the poor.
So – what IS the message?  As always, Jesus is teaching more than one message with his parable.  To help us understand, I want to share a story:
Larry had inherited the family farm… some of the best land around, with rich, dark soil – and it was near the river so it seemed to always have plenty of moisture.  Larry was proud of his farm and he worked it hard….so it seemed everything he did flourished.   He planted crops,  raised cattle and chickens… and every year, the crop was so big he would add another grain bin to the farm.  He also knew how to play the grain market so that each year he sold his grain at a profit at just the right time – AND he always kept enough of his own seed back to plant the next year’s crop.
 After a few years, Larry had saved up enough money that he could live very comfortably.  In fact, he was so well-off that one spring he decided not to bother planting his seed.  He left it in the grain bin and he went on vacation for several months. 
That Fall, he returned from vacation and found that there had been a drought that year – and only the farmers with bottom land had any crop to speak of.  While he might have felt sorry for the people around him who were going hungry because of the drought, he shrugged it off… HE had plenty of money in the bank – AND he had two silos of grain so he could eat this winter and still have plenty to plant next year.
Winter arrived with a vengeance – when the third blizzard in 2 weeks rolled into the valley, the roads became impassible.  If it keeps this up, Larry thought, I won’t get to town again until spring!  No problem, He thought – I didn’t want to go into town anyway, with all those hungry people looking at me with empty eyes.  I’ll just hunker down here in my cabin until spring.  But when Larry went to his Silo to get some grain to eat, the stench coming from the silo made him slam the door in disgust.  Apparently an early Spring storm has torn a hole in the silo shortly after he had left for vacation so that water poured into the silo.  In the following 7 months, the grain had rotted.  Mold, mildew and Rats were all that was left.  Larry was struck with terror… he had no food… and no way to get to town – even if there WAS food to buy.  All that money in his bank account meant nothing as Larry died a slow death by starvation.
Why did Larry die?  Because he was rich?  No – other farmers around him were just as rich.  It was his COMPLACENCY that was his downfall.  Just like the first reading said, “Woe to the complacent in zion”.  Larry became so comfortable with his riches that he stopped working.  Had he planted seed that year, the bottomland would have supplied enough food to feed the whole town – but instead the seed sat there and rotted…. And half the town starved.
Jesus is pointing out that you and I have been given blessing upon blessing.  Not to make us comfortable, but in order to give us something to share with others.  God also wants to give blessing upon blessing to the less fortunate people – but how does He do it?  …By giving it to you and me so WE can give it to them.  What WE have been given doesn’t belong to us – it belongs to the poor.  God just allows US to distribute it.
The second point – and maybe even more important – is that God puts the needy on our doorstep for OUR benefit.  See – if we want to experience the love and grace that God wants to give us, we experience that by helping someone.  Like St. Francis said, “It is in giving that we receive”.   So – by us stepping over the poor man on our doorstep, we are ignoring the very means by which God is wanting to give us the ultimate blessing.  You get that?  Our very purpose as Christians is to Love like our Father loves – and our whole life here on earth is given to us to PRACTICE love so that we can BE more like God.  God gives us the life, he gives us the blessings, AND he puts the poor on our doorstep so that we can practice loving. I couldn’t find the quote – but some saint said that the Poor are the greatest gift God has given us!
Who are WE stepping over?  Who is on our doorstep – possibly someone we don’t even see…?  How about the Hispanics in our community?  How about Haiti, which is closer to Miami than we are… right on our doorstep?   What about closer to home… our elderly… our homebound folks.   What about the kid sitting all alone at the next table over during lunch hour?
God puts them all on OUR doorstep.  He begs us to help them so that He can bless us even more.  It is in giving that we receive.
That kind of explains what our Grace Co-Op is all about.  We try to FIND the people in need and then give our parishioners an opportunity to help.  Some people deliver meals every Sunday.  Some help sit with the homebound.  Some help with firewood – or like next weekend we’re having our first annual Grace Co-Op Work camp.  By working together, we experience God’s grace.
When we hoard the blessings and/or ignore the poor on our doorstep, not only are our blessings wasted – like grain rotting in a silo – but we miss out on the Grace that comes from loving others. 
So – to sum it all up:  It is not our MONEY that is a problem… it is our ATTITUDE about money that is a problem.  “Woe to the COMPLACENT in Zion”.  It is our complacency which threatens our soul.  When we think God has given us all these comforts so that we can simply live in luxury and ignore those around us, then we’ve missed the point of why God gave us our riches. 
God does not comfort us to make us Comfortable – but to make us Comforters!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

It's all about Wisdom

Once again, I find myself scratching my head after that last statement from Jesus. On the surface, it’s not obvious –at least to me - how his parables have anything to do with what he is teaching. What does a carpenter building a tower and a King going to war have to do with that last statement: “In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. Does not computeI had to think long and hard before it finally made sense to me. This reading is about Wisdom… which is also the theme of the first reading.
What Jesus is saying is that the carpenter needs to be WISE enough to make sure he can complete his project before he starts it. The King needs to be WISE enough to make sure he has sufficient troops and the support of the people before taking his country to war. Taking it in THAT context, the last statement would mean – anybody who wants to be a disciple of Jesus must be WISE enough to get rid of ANYthing that stands between us and Jesus…. Any possessions… any thing – or any ONE. Not that we have to disown our family – but if our family is keeping us from Jesus – we have to have the wisdom to put Jesus first.
It’s all about Wisdom. What is the difference between KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM?
Somebody once said that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit – not a vegetable. But wisdom is knowing not to put the tomato in a fruit salad.
How do we gain wisdom?
If youre like me, we learn from our mistakes. I made a couple of big mistakes this week one that just about gave a future bride a heart attack and another that may have cost me a friendship. I hate making mistakes they wrench my gut and stress me outbut I learn from them. I guarantee you I have gained some wisdom about how to handle these situations in the future.. because that pit in my stomache is a powerful teacher of wisdom.
Most of us learn because we have to for example most of us have a little bit of knowledge of cancer and treatment of cancer but its really only when we are forced to take care of a family member who is suffering through cancer THAT is when we gain the wisdom of how to help them cope the wisdom of how to deal with the doctors and yes the wisdom of how to deal with our own emotions. These painful situations are some of the best teachers given to us. The Holy Spirit, given from God, is so much more visible and so much more able to teach us when our hearts are torn open by grief.
As the readings so clearly tell us we would have No wisdom at all, if it had not been given to us from above. To paraphrase the first reading we have trouble figuring out ANYTHING with our human perspective.We have trouble figuring out our spouse... We say things that others completely misinterpret... We can only GUESS at why many things happen the way they do in our world. If we are so clueless about the things that are right here in front of us, How can we possibly understand Gods plan?
We can only understand or START to understand if the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom.
How does the Spirit give YOU wisdom? Is it through reading and contemplating scripture? Is it through thinking hard about our mistakes and what were supposed to learn from them? Maybe the Spirit teaches you wisdom by putting you into situations that stretch your emotions by giving you that hole in your heart or that pit in your stomache perhaps for you, THAT is when the Holy spirit goes into overdrive to teach wisdom.
Reminds me of Larry… in the eighth grade, he was an 85 pound weakling. The bullies at school would push him around and throw his books on the ground all the time. He prayed one night as he cried himself to sleep God please give me strength! In his dreams that night, he heard God tell him to clear all the rocks out of the pasture behind his house. So the next day, he went about carrying rocks out of the pasture and dropping them in the fence row. After about three days of this, he was done but there was one big rock right in the middle of the pasture which he couldnt budge. He figured he did what he was supposed to, so he left that rock there. That night again in a dream, God told him to keep pushing against that rock. Although it didnt make sense to him, for the next week, he would spend all his free time after school pushing on that rock. Again he was about to give up, when God reminded him to keep pushing. This went on for almost a year, until, exasperated, he cried to God you told me to move this rock a year ago and I haven’t moved it an inch!  I KNOW I’m weak – that’s why I asked for strength!  God said I never told you to MOVE that rock I just told you to push against it. A year ago you prayed for strength look at your arms and legs youre stronger than anyone in your class now. I was merely giving you what you prayed for. 
Larry gained strength by pushing against the rock that God put in front of him.
WE gain wisdom by pushing against the rocks that God puts in front of us we learn from all the painful situations that come our way.and we will keep learning
…. as long as we keep pushing