Sunday, September 30, 2018

2018/09/30 - Cut it off


Before Mass:
There are at least two themes in today’s readings – the big one has to do with how we see people who are not part of the in-crowd, and I have a story to tell which you’ve probably heard something similar before, but I want to give it a new twist.  But first, I want to touch on the 2nd reading – James seems to be speaking out against Wealth – but I think it’s deeper than that – and I think it actually pulls a deeper meaning out of all the readings.  It’s about stumbling blocks or obstacles.  As you listen to each reading, consider what it tells us about how we block or try to block God from working.
Homily:
Imagine you’re going into battle back in the days of sword and spears.  What kind of armor would you wear?   The lightest option is leather armor – which would provide ‘some’ protection against a sword but not much help against a spear.  You can upgrade to chain-mail – which is like a shirt made of chains – which improves our defenses, but is a bit heavier – or we can go all out and wear plate armor – like the typical knights used to wear – the full body steel suit which would repel most weapons of the day.  Yeah – if we wanted to play it REALLY safe, we’d go with the plate armor.  On the other hand, those suits weighed like 45-50lbs, SO you’d expend a bunch of your energy just moving around.  You wouldn’t be able to turn your head much to see dangers coming at you – you wouldn’t be able to move as quickly to avoid a hit from a spear – you’d get really hot and sweaty in the suit – come to think of it, If I were going to battle, a plate armor suit might be the worst option.
That’s like all of the securities we fill our lives with…and I think that’s what James refers to in the second reading.  We build up our bank accounts and insurance – we have our freezers full and our canned goods stashed up – we exercise and eat right to maintain our health – in all these ways, WE are in control – we have put on our heaviest armor to protect ourselves from whatever life throws at us.
But James is saying that all of our man-made safe-guards will actually be our stumbling block.  By maintaining total control of our lives, we effectively push God out of the picture.  He can’t save us – or at least we can’t RECOGNIZE that he’s saving us, because we think our defenses and our armor are what saves us.
That’s what James means when he said “your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;”.  The gold and silver aren’t bad, but God gave us that wealth so that He could bless others through us.  The greatest joys in life come from sharing what God gave us – so when we hold it close and put our trust in the wealth instead of God, not only are others missing out on the blessings, but WE miss out on being the instrument of God’s action, so we don’t accept the blessing God is trying to give US!
We are all going into battle – the battle for our own soul.  Take a hard look at what we have in our lives that is a stumbling block – things that will trip us or others – things that prevent God’s Spirit from acting in our lives – whatever we’re carrying into battle which is a liability, drop it here – cut it off, as Jesus says….  Better to enter battle without it.

To tie that idea to the other readings, let me tell a story:
Imagine you’re walking along and accidentally fall into a well.  You’re not hurt too bad, but you’re like 10 feet underground and the sides are too slick for you to crawl out, so you do the only things you can do – you lift a silent prayer –God help me!   And then you shout at the top of your lungs – HEEEELLLLP!
A minute later, an Islamic man comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – your people attacked out country – I don’t want your help.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  And you shout for help again.
This time someone of a different race comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – my parents told me never to trust your kind.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  And you shout for help again.
Next, a person of another Christian faith comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – you’re not a in the real Church – I don’t want your help.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  And you shout for help again.
You’re getting really weak now, but you keep shouting – the next day, a Catholic comes to the edge and reaches a hand to help you out – but you recognize him as from a family who your family doesn’t get along with for political reasons – you withdraw your hand and say – leave me alone – I don’t want your help.  Confused the man leaves – and you go back to doing all you can do – God help me!  But you’re too weak to shout for help again.

Next thing, you wake up in front of the pearly gates – and you realize where you are and you’re ticked off – God – how could you let this happen?  I trusted you to help me!  God said – I sent help four times, but you wouldn’t take the help.  Who in the world COULD I have sent that you wouldn’t have had a prejudice against?  

Obviously, my story is exaggerated, but the point is that God can and does act through every person in the world – and any time we try to draw boundaries around ourselves about who is In and who is Out – we are blocking God’s action.  If we continue drawing those boundaries, they’ll get smaller and smaller until we are the only one left in the IN crowd and we’ll even find fault with God and block Him as an outsider. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

2018/09/09 - Speech Impediment

Before Mass:  I have a message to deliver today which I don’t WANT to deliver.  It is a hard topic to talk about – and at least two people have helped me to see I didn’t communicate it well the first time – so I’m offering some tweaks to hopefully be clearer.  First – know that I acknowledge the scandals recently brought to light are evil – and the handling with cover-ups was also wrong.  While that’s not really the key focus of this homily, any mention of the scandal MUST acknowledge the evil that was done, because so many are hurting.  This homily is an attempt to start to explain just one reason how we got here.

Homily:
I have a theory – The Gospel says that after Jesus cured him, this man could speak plainly.  I think that implies this guy was not deaf from birth… see – if he had been deaf from birth, he wouldn’t know what speech was – if he’d never heard a word spoken, he wouldn’t know how to put the sounds together.  Yeah – you could argue that maybe Jesus’ miracle was a super-miracle because it also gave him the ability to speak plainly – I’ll grant you that might be – BUT – it also says before he was healed, he had a speech impediment.  That implies to me that he knew how to speak – like maybe he USED to have hearing and was able to speak, but lost his hearing somehow.  I’m told it’s typical for someone who cannot hear themselves speak to speak with an impediment.  When you have a speech impediment, it means no matter how hard you try to speak the truth plainly, others cannot understand you.

Who cares, right?  Well – I think this man represents all of us.  In one way or another, we’re all deaf to the voice of God and we cannot speak plainly.  There are the obvious reasons why we don’t hear God:  a) some of us aren’t even listening, b) all of us are surrounded by noise – and c) any moment that’s not noisy, we put in our earbuds or flip on the TV or pick up the cell phone to talk to somebody because God forbid that we would actually be SILENT for a few minutes.  Those are the obvious reasons we’re deaf to the voice of God – and perhaps that explains why Jesus had to take the guy AWAY from the crowd – so he could hear.

But I think most of us have a more personal reason why we don’t hear God anymore.  For most of us, somewhere along the line someone spoke a lie to us – and we believed it.  You’re not good enough – you’re unlovable – you’re unforgivable – you can never live up to what God expects of you.  Can you see that in your own life?  Think about that addiction or sin which we just can’t get past – and we won’t even bother going to confession because we know we’ll just do it again… With that kind of problem, it’s easy to see how we fell for the lie,… “you’re not good enough”.   And since we won’t take it to Jesus for healing, we have not EXPERIENCED the mercy and healing of God, so we cannot SPEAK to the world about it… we have a speech impediment.
This man also represents the Church.  Today, our Church has woke up and realized that we’ve been deaf.  For years, we turned a deaf ear to the wrong-doings of a few – and as a result of that, we have a speech impediment because we can no longer speak as the moral compass for the world.   But this problem didn’t “just happen” – it was a long slow slide into deafness.

The world has told us that we have to be politically correct so we don’t offend anyone – and we fell for that lie.  Now – we certainly should be compassionate and not cause un-necessary offense, but if we avoid speaking Truth which will save someone, we’re doing Christianity right!  I mean – look at our brother – he didn’t get nailed to that cross because he was a nice guy – no – he would tell it like it is – plainly pointing out where the religious leaders had gotten it wrong.

If he were here today, what would he speak out against?  First of all, obviously, he’d point out where the religious leaders have done evil.  The actions themselves were worse than sinful, but the handling of them was perhaps equally as bad.  But - I think he’d point out that the recent scandals are actually a result of a process that started a long-long time ago.  We stopped calling sin ‘sin’.  As a result, it became easier for these leaders to rationalize their actions somehow.  We stopped being the moral compass when:

 We  (the Church)  stopped speaking out against contraception because the vast majority of the people in our pews think the Church is wrong in their teaching – well, if we would actually HEAR the prophecies of Pope Paul IV in Humanae Vitae 50 years ago, we would see that the Church is RIGHT.  He predicted that if contraception became the norm we would see:
o Marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards
o objectification of women’s bodies
o Public authorities imposing use of contraceptives

 We  (the Church)  stopped speaking out against homosexual acts because we didn’t want to offend anyone.  The world would tell us that by speaking out against the sin, we’re inciting hate – but we all know that we are called to love the sinner but hate the sin…regardless of what sin it is.  But it’s not homosexual acts by themselves!  It’s ANY sex outside of the Sacrament of Matrimony… homosexual, heterosexual, and by those vowed to celibacy!  We lost that moral high ground when We stopped speaking out against pre-marital sex.  I can’t bring it up because whether you’re Catholic or Christian or no religion at all – EVERYBODY is doing it – so let’s not talk about it and offend anyone. 

 We  (the Church) have been bitten by the modern-christian mentality of free-grace where we no longer have to work on anything wrong in our lives because God will forgive anything – so we don’t even TRY to fix our short-comings.  We’re told that if we TRY to work on improving ourselves - we’re saying that the sufferings of Jesus weren’t enough.  So – don’t put pressure on anybody to actually CHANGE their lifestyle – you might offend somebody.  

And let me assure you that as a preacher, I don’t LIKE offending anybody.  Besides, who am I to tell anyone to repent when I’ve got my OWN sins to deal with.  I’m in as much need of God’s mercy as any other person here – maybe more.  There are things I still can’t bring myself to say from this pulpit because I KNOW there will be backlash and consequences from those who take offence.  Either there will be an outcry – or worse – they’ll just stop listening – and convince others to stop listening. 

I remember in the lead-up to the Gulf war, there was all the talk about weapons of mass destruction and it just never was clear that we should go to war – but we had to just trust that our government had access to information which we were not allowed to see – so we couldn’t really speak out against the war…. And anybody who DID speak out was immediately charged with “you’re not supporting our troops – the men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country”.  I never did feel right about how that charge was twisted like that… it had the effect of silencing people who our country NEEDED to speak up.  I don’t know the whole story – but one of my favorite music groups basically lost their career for speaking out against the war because they were labeled as “anti-american”.  It was an all-on boycott which collapsed their careers. 

Our country was deaf and had a speech impediment.  Our leaders only heard what they wanted to hear – and anyone who spoke up was shamed into silence – they were given a speech impediment.

That mentality has impacted every one of us – even in the Church (now I’m speaking to individuals including myself).  We have become deaf to the voice of God and we can no longer speak to the world about the Mercy of God because we haven’t experienced it for ourselves.  Go back to one of the greatest Christian Hymns of all time – Amazing Grace – study the words – this man recognized that he was the worst kind of man –  While he was trading slaves, he filled his life with noise so he wouldn’t hear the voice of God – that little voice of conscience in his mind which was screaming at him to stop!  When he finally stopped to listen, he started studying Christian Theology and recognized himself as a wretch and repented – catch that?  He recognized that he was a sinner and he asked God to save him.  Because of that, he was able to speak plainly – or shall I say – SING plainly about the mercy of God.  (sing it)

    Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
    that saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost, but now am found,
    was blind but now I see.


Does that touch your heart?  Not because they sang it at your grandpa’s funeral – but does it touch your heart PERSONALLY because you have LIVED it?  If we don’t connect with the words personally – that I was a wretch or I AM a wretch – then we are still deaf.  The world needs to know first of all that God loves every one of us… that’s the main message.  We are NOT here to present the world with a bunch of rules to make their lives miserable – not at all – we’re here to SHOW the world the path to joy – to show them the compass which points the WAY.  The most effective way to do that is to give our personal witness of mercy and love.  WE are the moral compass of the world – and if we’re witnessing to the Joy we’ve personally found, the world will follow.   Like the crowd in the Gospel, once we’ve witnessed how God can change us, we can’t help but tell everyone.

Ephphatha!  Be Opened.