Saturday, July 30, 2016

2016/07/31 - Vanity of vanities

IN the70’s, Carly Simon had a song called “You’re so vain”… us old people could probably sing it… “you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you… don’t you?”
That might be where some of us learned what vanity is…. Vanity is self-centeredness or conceit.  Imagine a guy who is constantly checking his reflection in the mirror – we can him ‘vain’ – thinking the world revolves around him.
That’s kinda like another meaning of vanity which may be familiar to us… the little counter in your bathroom or bedroom where you wash your face and fix your make-up…. Again – it’s vanity – all about looking at your SELF.  self-centeredness.
But when I hear this reading, I get the impression he’s saying everything is useless – worthless – a waste of time  - a futile effort.  Isn’t that how it hits most of us?  So which is it?  Conceit or Worthless?
Let’s do a little scripture study.  See – when St. Jerome translated the original Hebrew text into Latin, he translated the Hebrew word ‘hebel’ as ‘vanitas’… and ‘vanitas’ was later translated to English as ‘vanity’. 
But the original word ‘hebel’ would typically be used to represent vapor, fog, steam, breeze or breath. Notice – every one of those things is passing… non-permanent… picture opening a pot of boiling water and all the steam comes out – but 10 seconds later, that steam is gone.  So – ‘hebel’ really is implying something that comes and goes… it lacks substance or permanence…
So – the writer of that reading is saying – everything we do on this earth is vanity – it is without substance – it is non-permanent….it’s here then it’s gone.  Why waste your life working for stuff that is like vapor?
That matches up with what Jesus says in the  Gospel… You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;  and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Why waste our time in our brief life concentrating on building wealth which will just be left to somebody else who didn’t work for it?  It occurs to me, that by leaving a large inheritance to our kids, we also deprive them of learning the value of a dollar and the value of hard-work.  Don’t get me wrong – an inheritance is a good thing – in fact, the Bible says in another place that a wise man leaves an inheritance for his children.  But today’s reading puts a cap on that… why spend your whole life working so that your kids and grandkids can sit in the lap of luxury and waste their lives away??
Is money bad – no – it’s a necessary means of supporting yourself and your family.
Is working a bad thing – no – in fact, to work hard at a job worth doing is one of the greatest gifts that life offers… but… if work becomes our goal and we focus all of our life, effort, attention to it – then it becomes our god.  I know this is a real danger especially for Men, but some for women as well.  It is in working hard that we feel like we’re fulfilling our purpose in life.  We get such a good feeling out of it that we can easily become work-a-holics and center our lives around work.  This is exactly what the reading is warning us about.  It is vanity for us to invest all of our time and energy into building wealth when it will all be left to somebody who didn’t earn it.  Not only are we wasting our effort, but we’re depriving our next generation of the good feeling from working hard.  God gave us the ability to build wealth… but is that the purpose he gave it for?? 
That goes for everything in life – our possessions, how we spend our time, what we read or watch or think about.  All of this is passing.. it is like vapor.  In the big picture, it is insignificant and unimportant.   And that really fits both of our definitions of vanity… it is all passing or worthless….and it’s all self-centered….  All is vanity.
So – what are we SUPPOSED to do?  The last line of the Gospel gives us a good clue: Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
How can we be “rich in what matters to God”?  I could give you some answers right now – but you probably wouldn’t really listen.  None of us wants to be told what to do.  Instead – each of us has to answer that question for ourselves.  Every moment of every day, we have to ask – is this helping me become rich in what matters to God?  Add that to your prayer – what IS it that matters in life?  What is my goal?  What is my purpose?  See – until we decide that the most important thing is to live for God, then all of the other stuff in life will continue to block out God – like fog blinding us from seeing our true destination.  Here’s the point of the readings:  All of our ‘stuff’ is fog – and one day when we die, the fog will lift – and we’ll be left standing face to face with God – and realize that everything else has been in vain.
(I can just imagine God singing Carly Simon’s song to me – with slightly different words – “You’re so vain, you prob-ly think that LIFE is about you……don’t you”.  )

Saturday, July 2, 2016

2016/07/03 - The Kingdom of God is AT HAND

What is the Kingdom of God and whats it mean that the Kingdom is at hand? 

We hear that so often, we might not even have thought about it, but if we had to put it into words.  If you had to describe it to your five year old, what would you say?  My first thought is that the Kingdom of God is heaven’… did anybody else think that?

When something is At Hand, I immediately think it means something is coming soon like theres a storm at hand means its gonna get windy and start raining any moment now.

So putting that together, many of us would define that statement to mean that Heaven is coming soon.

But its been like 2000 years since he said that did he really mean it is coming soon?

We could interpret it that way but I think we would miss the point Jesus was trying to make.  So lets break it down a little bit.

Literally, the kingdom of God means God is the king and we live in His kingdom.  For example, If we lived back when David was king of Israel, then we could say we lived in the kingdom of David ...kinda makes sense, doesnt it?  David was the king so we live in the kingdom of David.  So, it follows that God is the king of the kingdom of God.  That might be heaven, but I think it is more than that.  I think we are ALREADY in the kingdom of God.

You see - The phrase at hand means something is close so it could mean it is a short TIME away OR it could mean it is a short DISTANCE away. Like within arms reach.

Think of a chef working in the kitchen creating a great feast.  Shes got all of her spices and seasonings and other ingredients at hand meaning they are within arms reach.  She doesnt even have to walk across the room to get it because it is at hand’…she just has to grab it.

I think these definitions may give us a better perspective on what Jesus means the kingdom of God is at hand means it is right there so close you can reach out and touch it!  You dont even have to walk across the room to get it just grab it.

The key, I think, to making this all make sense is the last sentence of the Gospel the Kingdom of God is at hand FOR YOU.  For YOU.  That little addition gives us some insight to how Jesus meant this.  It means you can make God YOUR king it is within your reach right now.  You and I just gotta decide that God is going to run our lives –… make the rules, impose taxes on us, set our economic policies, call us to war, or lead us to peace.  The KING makes all of those decisions not us!  If we choose to reach out our hand and accept God as our personal king, we give up our freedom to live however we want.  That doesnt sound like much fun, does it?  I mean, why would anybody CHOOSE to make God their king?

Because, look how the 72 reacted when THEY participated in the kingdom they came back rejoicing!  Their little missionary jaunt gave them great JOY!  Now does that sound like somebody who gave up their personal freedom?  No!  God gives us freedom yes but not so that we can do whatever WE want but He gives us the freedom to choose to do HIS will.  Doing His will brings true joy.  Joy that will last for eternity.

How do we get this joy?  How do WE participate in this kingdom?  Look at the first line of the Gospel, the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.  every place he intended to visit. 

Jesus sent them where HE wanted to go.  He sent them, not so much to prepare the way for him but By going there, they brought the Kingdom of God to that place.  By their presence, they made the kingdom of God present to everyone they met.  As a result, they experienced Joy and Jesus saw Satan fall as a result. 

Where is God sending you and me?  To Haiti?  To Louisville?  Maybe but remember he said the kingdom is AT HAND meaning close to you.  Each one of us is surrounded by other people.  Some are Christian, some are not.  Some are heterosexual and some are not.   Some are Democrat and some are Republican and others have given up on our political system.  Some are circumcised and some are uncircumcised.  Like Paul says in the second reading none of that matters anymore.  When we accept God as our King, the world is crucified to us, and we become a new creation.  Our job is merely to reach out to those who are close enough to touch and to share their pain to do what we can to relieve their suffering.  Basically Love one another THAT is what it means to participate in the Kingdom of God.  That sounds so simple,and it is!  We think this religion stuff has to be so complicatedlike we have to do this, and this, and thisbut The kingdom of God is right here!  Right now!  Every moment of the day, all we have to do to tap into the joy of the kingdom is to choose to go out of our way for the benefit of someone else.  Visiting the sick visiting our elderly who dont get out much or get much company maybe making them a meal or offering to do some yardwork for them. 

Reach out to your fellow student who seems to be depressed or having trouble at home.  Reach out to the men who are so self-assured that they think they dont need Godall they need is beer believe me they have pain we all have pain.  We must step outside of ourselves to learn their pain to empathize with them and to share their burden.  In doing this, not only do WE feel the joy of the kingdom, but they are freed from Satan and experience the same Joy and are hopefully drawn toward us and the Church.
The harvest is plenty – lot’s of people out there NEED our witness as Christians.  St. Isidore parish is the 72 disciples sent to every place where Jesus wants to go.  But he needs US to take him there.  If we don’t go there – Jesus can’t go there.  When we reach out to others, we make Jesus present… and indeed the kingdom of God is at hand – right here, right now.