Homily: Larry was at work one day and headed over to the lunch room. He was getting his lunchbox out of the refrigerator next door, when he recognized that the guys in the lunchroom were talking about him, so he stood there for a moment to listen. They were saying all sorts of bad things about him….he only thinks of himself… he doesn’t work as hard as the rest of us... and doesn’t do as good of work as he should either! One after another, the guys in the crowd joined in gossiping about Larry. Any one of us would have been ticked off listening to that. We would have stepped out indignantly to defend our honor and yell at them for saying all of those bad things. Larry had the chance to leave. He could have walked away without anyone blaming him. He obviously wasn’t wanted there. But Larry was different. He guy stood there listening, and recognized that there was some truth in what was being said. He had faults that, up until now, he had either not recognized or had rationalized. So - instead of hardening his heart and becoming indignant – he listened to the truth of it… and made up his mind to change.
Do you see how that applies to our own lives? People often don’t even tell us the truth, because it will hurt our feelings. When someone DOES tell us something they don’t like about us, we too often harden our hearts and instead of hearing the truth and making a change, we rationalize it – or more often, we get really mad at the person who told us. Today’s message is: ‘Harden not your hearts’…. The Truth – however hard it is to hear – is the only thing that can show us where we need to make a change.
So – where are you and I supposed to hear the truth? Well – that’s where the first reading comes in…I don’t like this reading… it hits too close to home for me. See – that first reading says “I have appointed you as the watchman”. Who do you think He’s talking to? Yes – he’s talking to Ezekiel – a prophet who spoke harsh words to the Israelites. But, as with all Old Testament readings, they are a prophecy toward the future. Naturally, you can apply it to Jesus himself. God sent Him to show us the way – to point out where we left the path. But there’s more to it than that – God has appointed watchmen in our own day as well: Most notably, the Pope, Bishops, Priests…and yes – even Deacons. You’ll notice the Church continually points out the things going wrong in society. We hear it so often, that we tune it out…: how our culture’s morality is going downhill fast: abortion, contraception, sex outside of marriage, the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, pornography, gluttony, alcohol and drug abuse, economic inequality. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before – and we don’t want to hear it anymore. Too often, myself included – we just accept this stuff… for example, we laugh about or make light of somebody with an alcohol problem… or – get this – in talking with one couple preparing them for marriage, I challenged them whether it was right to live together (and presumably sleep together) prior to marriage – and you know what they answered? “It would be ‘stupid’ for anybody NOT to live together before marriage!’. After I picked up my jaw, I gave it one more try ….what if you have a daughter and SHE wants to go live with a boy? Surely that will make them think… but no – their answer was ‘well, I sure hope she wouldn’t get married without first living with a guy to see if they’re compatible’. Our culture has hardened their hearts to the damage this does to the sanctity of marriage and the family.
For those of us who stand here at the pulpit, this job as watchman is not a fun one. We don’t like to rock the boat. People get upset when we rock the boat. I would prefer to always talk about how God loves us and wants us all to be with him for eternity… and that’s true… but He insists that we, as watchmen, look out for the evils that are attacking God’s people and warn them of the danger. I don’t like doing that. The most uncomfortable I’ve ever been up here was speaking out against the danger that the Church saw coming when there was a major shift in our government’s attitude toward the rights of the unborn. That was several years ago, and there are people who won’t speak to me to this day. Am I wrong to speak out? Would God allow me to stop speaking out??? Now – if I’m honest with myself – I could have presented it in a better way – and one kind man in our congregation helped me to see that truth about myself. See, each of us personally has to hear the truth and decide for ourself – will I harden my heart and get mad at the messenger – or will I see the truth and decide to make a change?
Here’s what I’ve been thinking… I sometimes wonder if we, as a Church, should give up speaking out against abortion and contraception and the sanctity of marriage – I mean – we’ve already LOST those battles so let’s just move on, OK? But today’s message makes it clear that we CAN’T stop speaking out. All it takes for evil to thrive is for good men to do nothing. If we are quiet, who will stop the evil? But more than that – re-read what God said in the first reading: If we “do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” If we are silent, we are as guilty as the society we live in.
We have our choice. We can recognize our sins – both personal and as a country – and make real efforts to change… or we can wander in the desert of misery for the rest of our lives. If we don’t turn from the evil on our own, God won’t hesitate to chastise us. We see that time and time again in the history of Israel: the prophets warn, and warn, and warn… the people harden their hearts, and God allows some other country to come in and take His people into exile until they repent.
Fortunately, we can place our trust in the Mercy of God. He wants us to spend eternity with Him, and He’ll stop at nothing to make that happen – even if it means leading us into the desert – even if it means taking us into exile until we soften our hearts, listen to His teachings, and make a change.
If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.