Friday, May 25, 2012

2012/05/27 Pentecost - The Solution

Did you ever ask yourself why am I here?  I mean why do I come to church?  Why is it that ANYbody would give up a beautiful Saturday evening or worse yet, why would anybody get out of bed on a Sunday morning when you could sleep late?

What is it that makes our youth go to the Catholic Heart Work Camp or to TEC or to sleep in cardboard boxes like we did at Shantytown last week?  Most teens I know would rather stay at home and play with the X-box or playstation or whatever the latest gadget is.  Why would they give that up?

What is it that makes our adults volunteer to teach religious ed, to be lectors and singers and ministers of holy communion?  And greeters, ushers, gift bearers, church cleaners and decorators, parish council, cemetery board, buildings and grounds.... People are INVOLVED!  But why? 

We visit the sick, make meals for funerals, and why in the world would anybody go to a funeral?  Thats no fun. But in fact, some of our parishioners went to TWO funerals Saturday morning.  Why? 

This being Memorial weekend we also ask - why would any man or woman leave their home and family to go to a seemingly god-forsaken corner of the world?   

We cant solve all the worlds problems its impossible for us.  Yet we all feel PULLED to be part of the solution to give whatever we can of our time and talents to make the world a better place.  So - What is it that compells us to do that? 

You can probably offer some very valid answers to all those questions but I have an analogy Id like to share which might lead us to one answer which we find in todays readings. 

I like tea hot or cold, I dont care BUT My sweet tooth demands that theres got to be sugar in there. 

So, I have here a jug of teaand some sugar - I like to use this natural sugar, which is more course than the white sugar most of us are used to   so we'll pour this sugar in that all we gotta do?  No.  It's not enough to just sit in the bottom... The sugar has to dissolve... To become part of the tea. 

What are the two things we could do to get it to dissolve?  First, any sweet tea drinker knows that sugar won't hardly dissolve if theres any ice in your tea.... It's best if you heat it up.  Second, you gotta move it around.  All that sugar sitting comfortably in the bottom isn't doing a bit of good... You need some turbulence to get it moving. 

Before I go on - there's a technical term You may remember from 5th grade science. When mixing something into a liquid - the liquid is called the 'solution' and the thing being dissolved is called the 'solid'.  Thats an important thing to remember, otherwise what Im about to say may not make sense so remember in this case the TEA is the solution. 

I usually have a cup of hot tea each morning at work.  And I use a clear mug just like this, so its easy to watch the sugar dissolve.  Ever notice as you stir your tea how some of the sugar seems to dissolve quickly and other crystals just seem to keep hanging on?  Eventually, it all dissolves, but some of the sugar tries to maintain its own form and personality rather than giving-in to become part of the tea. 

As Christians, we are like sugar in tea.  When we're baptized, we become part of God's family - it's like be dropped into a huge world-sized glass of tea.  The good news is that unless we remove ourselves from the glass before being dissolved - we WILL be dissolved....eventually.  Most of us try to move to the coolest part of the tea - away from the heat - and away from that spoon called the Holy Spirit which tries and tries to stir up our hearts to Love.  Like the big wind that drove the Apostles out of the upper room in the first reading, the Holy Spirit can stir US up by swishing that spoon in alternating directions - creating turbulence in our lives.  If we avoid the turbulence, we avoid being dissolved. 

Now like the sugar, In order to be dissolved, we have to give up our own form and personality - give up our self-centeredness and ego - to become part of the 'solution'. That solution is the Love of God... since God is Love... we are being stirred and dissolving into God.  We become Love. 

The more we practice Love and doing 'what Jesus would do', the more we become transparent in the tea until we cannot be distinguished from the tea...just like you cant SEE the sugar in the tea anymore, we cannot be distinguished from God, because our Love makes us transparent. 

In order to make the world a sweeter place, all of us are compelled by the Holy Spirit to come out of our comfort zones to try to make a difference.  In the end, we MUST become part of the solution.  God is the solution.  Let your hearts be stirred into action.                 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

2012 May 6 - Sons of Encouragement

            Let’s have a little test… if I introduced somebody to you as Richard Junior… could you tell me what Richard’s DAD’s name is?  Richard.  And, if I introduced Jeffrey Junior… his dad’s name is:   … Now if I introduce somebody in the Bible named Bartimeus – what is his dad’s name?  Timeus – in the Hebrew culture, it was also normal to call a son by his father’s name, but you add the prefix BAR to it.  So Bar-Timeus is kinda like saying Timeus Junior.            

Well, in today’s First reading, we meet Barnabas.  We might call him Barny for short – but then we could miss the meaning of his name.  Following the rule I just told you, do you know what Barnabas' Dad's name is?  No... :) not in this case, I tricked you.  Barnabas was just a nickname meaning “son of encouragement”.  It was the nickname that the apostles called him because of all the things he did to build up other people.  As with most things in the Bible, that is not a useless piece of trivia.

For example, pay attention to what Barnabas did today.  He took a huge risk by bringing Paul to meet the Apostles.  Let’s put it into context – let’s say somebody showed up at church today and his first name is Osama.  How would we react?  I would think most of us would be more than a little bit apprehensive of staying in the same place as him.  We know what he’s done – we’ve heard all about it – we’ve seen the pictures and watched the TV as the world trade center was falling.  We’re not only scared of him – we are terrified...that’s why they call him a terrorist.  There’s only one reason he would be coming to our church – to plan his next attack – and we are likely his target.

That may sound like an exaggeration – but that is exactly what happened in the first reading.  Paul was the worst of the worst when it came to persecuting the church.  He had been hunting down and killing Christians… and the Apostles knew it… they’d heard all about it… they might have even watched their brothers and sisters being stoned to death.  They were not only scared of him – they were terrified of him.  There’s only one reason he would be coming to THEIR church – to plan his next attack – and they were his likely target.

This is where Barnabas stepped in.  Barnabas had seen with his own eyes what Paul had done and how he had truly changed – so Barnabas stuck his neck out and convinced the Apostles to give Paul a chance.  And you know the rest of the story – Paul became one of them – he became one of US.  And we were invigorated by the fire with which he preached the Gospel.  There was something in the way he talked about Jesus that we could just tell – it was personal – it was meaningful.  Because we let Paul into our church, WE were changed. 

So – maybe Osama isn’t coming to our church – but we often have “outsiders” at our parish.  During the summer especially, people live up at the lake – some people stay for the summer – others just for a weekend.  Are they welcome here?  Friends and family come to visit – they join us for worship on Sunday –  Folks from surrounding parishes often join us because the Mass schedule just happens to fit into their schedule for the weekend.  Are they welcomed here?

I immediately think of the greeters at the door... They are here to make everybody feel welcomed.  They are the Barnabas as our front door.  Like Paul, our visitors have been sent here by the Holy Spirit for a purpose... They are here to change us.  Through our welcoming and encouraging of THEM, we grow.  We come here to be fed… with the Jesus’ words and with His Body and Blood,… but it's more than that.  We come together as a community because we ARE the body of Christ – and we BECOME the Body of Christ.  The purpose of coming together is not just to foster MY relationship with Jesus – but to encourage everyone else… to build up the body!  To foster each other’s relationship with Jesus.  Like Barnabas – we are all son’s of encouragement for one another. 

I know, I know – most of us just want to be left alone.  Just let me go to my pew and don’t bother me.  But when we do that, we’re not just cheating ourselves – we’re cheating those around us – and therefore, we are cheating Jesus.  He wants – no – he NEEDS us to reach out to others.  To encourage them in THEIR walk with the Lord.  And look at what happens when we do that… WE catch fire.  Just like the Apostles who were ignited by Paul’s fire, WE are changed when we reach out to people around us…. And that is what this is all about.  We are here to be changed.  We are the Body, we receive the body, and we become the body.

Without Barnabas, we might never have heard of Paul.  In fact, half of the New Testament would never have been written.  Much of what God needed to tell us through Paul’s letters would not have been said.  God needed Barnabas.  The Church needed Barnabas.   WE needed Barnabas.

I want each of us to do a little homework.  Think this week about who has been your Barnabas.  Think of that person or persons in your life who have encouraged you – somebody who when out of their way a little bit to help you out, and it changed your life.  I’ll share a couple of my own stories as an example.

Some of you have heard this story... Back in 2000 when I first applied to enter the class to become a deacon, I was rejected.  They had so many men apply that they decided to leave us young guys until the next class.  I was a bit bummed, but accepted it as God’s will.  Then, a buddy of mine, Jim...without my knowledge, wrote a letter to the Bishop recommending that the he reconsider and accept me into the class.  A few weeks later, miraculously, a spot opened up in the class… and I got a phone call.  I can honestly say that without that letter, I would not be here today.  Jim was my Barnabas.

Also, you may not know this, but up until a year before I was ordained, I could not read in front of a group.  I can't explain it...I would just hyperventilate.  Fortunately, people at work and here at church encouraged me... They might not have thought they were doing anything noteworthy, but those words of kindness had a deep impact on me.  Those people were Barnabas for me.

I can think of other people... I won’t mention her name, but there is a lady in our parish who I think is a saint.  She always has an encouraging word.  When I first came here, she immediately made me feel welcome – and I hear that from many other people who have come here.  She is a Barnabas. So- think about it:  Who is your Barnabas?  It’s enlightening to actually put your finger on the person or persons who changed your life. 

And then, finally- think about who are YOU a Barnabas for?  Is there anyone who will look back on their life and point to a YOU as their Barnabas?  Is there a young person or co-worker or family member who needs to be built up?  The world around us needs us to be Barnabas.  Is there a young person who needs your encouragement to consider the priesthood or religious life?  The CHURCH needs us to be Barnabas….”sons of encouragement”.