Saturday, January 14, 2017

2017/01/15 - What's your purpose?

A couple times a week, I’ll sit down with a cup of coffee and take a look at what’s been posted on Facebook... and honestly, I usually get into a bad mood when I look at Facebook – seems like it has become the battleground for liberals vs conservatives.  So much slander, half-truths, and outright lies.  Everyone is slamming each other.  Everyone is sharing this story or that opinion or trying to defame someone.
So I was really pleased to see this post on there this morning, and it made me throw away the homily I had prepared and write a new one.  Let me share it with you:

Last night the Jeeps played Paoli at home and I just wanted to give a shout out to one of their players...#12!! I don't know who this kid was and I don't even remember his name but I was very impressed with his behavior on the court!! A loose ball flew into our crowd and hit a lady and he walked over to make sure she was okay, then on several occasions I saw him walk over to one of our players on the floor and help them don't see the opposing teams players do that very often!! He was a great ball player and I just thought his attitude needed to be recognized!! So if any of my Paoli friends or family know him...please give him a pat on the back from me!
Wow –it was like a light in the darkness…  if there wasn’t so much negativity out there, this might not have caught my attention.  But the fact that we don’t see this often enough tells me we need to be the ones to change our culture.  Two things impress me about this post:  first – the young man’s actions were obviously a great example to all of us for how we should treat one another.  Second – I think the parishioner who posted this deserves a pat on the back for NOTICING the young man and for POINTING IT OUT so we can ALL be inspired by his actions.

Can you see how the readings relate to this?  First the Gospel:  What was John the Baptist’s purpose?  He told us, “the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel”.  John knew his purpose in life… it was to point out Jesus.

In the first reading: Isaiah said that God “formed me as his servant from the womb”.  And also God told him, “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”  Isaiah knew his purpose…to point to God.

Paul also knew his purpose – He was “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus” – plus – he has something to say about who WE are:  “to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy”.

I propose to you today that every one of those purposes is also OUR purpose. 
> We are servants of God like Isaiah… called to do His will.
> God will make US a light to the nations… meaning we will point out to the world what God has done.
> We are called to be holy – which means ‘set apart’.  We are in the world, but we’re here to CHANGE the world…to bring God’s presence to everyone.
> We are called to be apostles… betcha never thought of yourself as an apostle

We ARE apostles… which literally means – “one who has been sent on a mission”.  What is our mission?  There are a lot of answers to that, but let me offer two which directly relate to our readings:
We are called to point out Jesus and we are called to BE JESUS.

First – just like John pointed out Jesus, WE can point him out when we recognize Him.  Like the facebook post I mentioned, this parishioner pointed out someone who showed Love.  Where there is Love, there is God.  If we point it out when we see it, we start to change the culture.  By telling others about it, WE become a ray of light in the darkness.  We become that light to the nations.

Second - Like the young man in the Facebook post, we can BE Jesus every time we show love and respect to one another.  We have a great example right here in our parish:  one of our religious education teachers – well I’ll tell you her name even though it will embarrass her:  Kim Butler has challenged her students to create a “lollipop moment” for someone each week.  I admit I hadn’t heard of a lollipop moment, so I had to learn… Let me briefly explain:  There is an inspirational speaker Drew Dudley who tells the story of a young lady who is leaving home for the first time to go to college and she is scared… so scared she is ready to leave on registration day… but just then Drew came out with a crazy hat on and was passing out lollipops to everyone and just trying to make everyone feel welcome.  He came to this young lady and could tell she was scared – and he handed a lollipop to the young man next to her in line and says, “you need to give some candy to this beautiful woman in front of you”.  Then he turned to her parents and said – look – your daughter’s first day away from home and she’s ALREADY taking candy from a stranger!  It was just what was needed to break the tension and make everyone laugh.  Four years later, that young lady went back to Drew and explained how that moment had changed her life.  She had been ready to give up on college, but now she was close to graduating.  She had wanted to go back home to her comfortable, familiar life, but she stuck around and made new friends (and was still dating that young man who was in line with her).  And what’s really interesting is that Drew couldn’t even remember that incident.  He had done something to change this woman’s life, but for him, it was just one thing of the million things he did in his life.
You and I have the chance to do that.  We can lift people UP with the smallest of actions:  a smile, a sincere “how are you doing?”, maybe passing along an inspiring scripture verse or and encouraging word to someone on a text message, or maybe we can hand a lollipop to someone just to make them feel more comfortable.  If you and I can get into the habit of doing this, we’ll do it without even thinking about it… we’ll change people’s lives and not even remember that we did it.  Can Christians really change the world – uh- yeah!
The other thing we can do is to TELL others when THEY have done something that changed OUR lives.  Can you imagine how Drew felt when he found out that what he did was so impactful on this young lady?  How did that make him feel?  Do you think it made him want to do that even more?
He uses the term “lollipop moment” to describe this, but I like to call these “Grace moments”, because when we do something nice for someone, they get to feel the Grace of God – and we also get to feel good about it – which is the Grace of God.  The more Grace we give, the more we get back.
When we do this, we are BEING JESUS in the world.

What’s our purpose?  You and I are Apostles, Sent by God to Be Jesus and point out Jesus to the world.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

20170108 Epiphany - Clouds Cover the People

Before Mass:
Did you remember your Mass Journals?  I know – it’s a new habit, and it’s hard to form new habits, but don’t give up!  It will be worth it!  In case you weren’t here last week, let me briefly explain. 
Last week we passed out these journals – and there are plenty left the door, so you can grab one.  Everyone old enough to write should have one.  Bring it with you each week.  As you enter your pew, pray the prayer on the back:  God show me one way in this Mass I can become a better version of myself this week.  Then listen:  to the music, the readings, the homily, the prayers…. Listen for God to reveal ONE THING to you – and write it down.  Simple as that… but it will change you.
Oh – and everyone:  Don’t forget to go to our website and post your one thing – and – check out the one thing that other folks have posted. 
Today is the feast of the Epiphany.  I’m sure you all know that an Epiphany is a ‘revealing’…when God revealed Himself to humanity as the God of ALL humanity, not just Israel.  You’ll hear that them in all the readings, but especially the 2nd reading.   You’ll notice the first reading is a prophecy and the Gospel is a direct fulfillment of that Prophecy.  We see that a lot – but today is it OBVIOUS.  Matthew’s main concern was to show how Jesus was the Messiah by showing how He fulfilled the prophets. 
Listen today specifically for signs of epiphanies.  What does this Epiphany have to do with us, anyway?  There’s another definition of epiphany which might be easier to apply it to our own lives:   “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or become aware of, something that is very important to you.”
That’s what we’ll discuss in the homily.
Let’s pray together the prayer on the back of the Mass journals: 
God, show me one way in this Mass that I can become a-better-version-of-myself this week!”
Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the people….
Our first week camping in Alaska was very memorable… notice I said ‘memorable’ not ‘awesome’.  For the entire week, the clouds were hanging low so that we never even SAW any mountains.  The temperatures stayed right at 52 degrees… which is better than 22 degrees, but since it was mid-July and we were used to 95 degrees here at home, so it FELT like 22 degrees to us…. Did I mention we were camping?  The only place we were warm was in the tent in our sleeping bags.  Imagine a full week living outside in 52 degree, damp, dreary, rainy, misty weather… and we were there to camp for three full weeks!  That’s what today’s first reading reminded me of:  “Thick clouds cover the people….” We were getting pretty discouraged with Alaska…let’s just go home…this is no fun.  But – on the 12th day of the trip,  when we were in Denali park, suddenly the sun came out and the clouds parted on the mountain so that we could SEE the peak of Denali!  That may not sound too exciting to you, but after a travelling so far and spending so much time shivering, that is the moment when our trip went from ‘memorable’ to ‘awesome’!  That was our Epiphany.  We would never be the same after that moment.
What would have happened if we had just stayed in our comfortable sleeping bags that day instead of venturing out into the dreary cold?  We would have missed that moment… that moment of epiphany… when the mountain revealed itself.  Alaska never would have been ‘awesome’ to us.
 “Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the people….“
The Magi were part of the world which was covered in darkness – and that darkness was the fact that God had not yet revealed himself to the other nations… only to Israel.  In spite of that, they left their comfortable homes to travel – possibly for several months – to seek out the light.  Somehow, God had revealed to them that this strange star in the sky was the sign they had been looking for…. The sign of a great event happening in the land of Judah… a new king.  Now, you gotta wonder – didn’t EVERYBODY see this star?  Why was it that just the Magi followed the star?  The Magi were the only ones LOOKING for that sign from God.  See – the leaders in Jerusalem had the scriptures which foretold the coming of the Messiah – but they were comfortable in the positions of power and didn’t want to rock the boat.  Many others would have seen the star, but they were so comfortable in their pews at church that they didn’t even look UP to NOTICE the star or wonder about the significance of it.
Isn’t that you and me?  This is why these Mass Journals are important… we have gotten so comfortable with our religious practices that we think that’s all we need.  If I go to church and sit in my pew for 45 minutes, I can get on with life.  Don’t ask me to come out of the comfort of my pew… don’t ask me to step outside of the comfortable religion I’ve developed for myself… don’t try to redefine who Jesus is, because I’ve already created him in the image that works for me!!!
“Darkness covers the earth and thick clouds cover the people….“
Every one of us here has darkness – we all have pain – either physical pain from illness or disease or age creeping up on us – or pain in our hearts from what others have done to us – or from loss of loved ones – or well, you get the idea:  every one of us has a cloud hanging over our head. 
But that’s not the end of the story… the prophecy goes one:
“Thick clouds cover the people… but upon you the Lord Shines”
God is trying to break through the clouds of our hearts – right now!  Just like he sent the star to announce His coming into the world, every day, He sends light in some form to give us hope.  If we’re not looking for the star, if we’re not willing to step out of the tent, if we’re so fixated on how dull and drab and painful life is, we won’t NOTICE that the sun came out – or that God has sent a Star to light our way.  If we don’t ASK God to speak to us, we won’t notice the One Thing He’s trying to tell us.
Talking to a friend this week, he was talking about the major struggles he has had in the past year… and I mean MAJOR struggles.  2016 was one of the darkest times in his life.  At one point he was flat on his back in bed and completely dependent on people around him… he had no money… he couldn’t work… and no matter what he did, his health just seemed to get worse. 

But listen to what he said – and this is the punch line:  It was in those darkest times that I realized how blessed I really am.  Friends and parishioners stepped up to help him and support him.  If it wasn’t for the thick clouds, he might not have noticed those blessings.  And you know, those friends and parishioners might not have realized that THEY were the star that shone into the darkness for him.
Hopefully, our challenge for the week is obvious by now:  Keep looking for God.  Keep searching for the star He sends to lead your way.  He IS speaking to every one of us today.  Keep moving out of your comfort zones and SEEK God.  Let God to lead you to the Epiphany…. Look for the star.
Just like the Wise men, Once you’ve met Jesus…. Once God has revealed himself to you… can cannot go home the same.