Saturday, July 15, 2017

2017/07/16 How is it that you DON'T hear?

Before Mass:
Every month I get 10 copies of a new CD – and several of them in the last year have been great – so great that I think everybody should listen to them.  So, we have three hundred copies of each to give away.  Today I’ve got Religionless Spirituality –it’s timely because you hear people say – well, I’m spiritual but not religious – or – I can pray without going to church – I don’t need religion.   This CD is the best I’ve heard to help those people.  Pick one up on the way out.  I’m not taking donations for it today because I want everybody to listen to this CD – and if this goes well, I plan to continue to get three hundred copies whenever a particularly good one comes along.  If this sounds like a ministry you’d like to support, talk to me – or – make a donation in the CD rack.
I think it’s important what we listen to – and actually that is the theme for today.  It may not sound like it at first… Today’s Gospel is the familiar story of the Sower and the Seed.  We’ve heard it enough that we might think we know the story and not really listen to it.  I’d ask that we all simply try to focus all of our attention on listening this morning.  There are a couple of themes you might notice: The most obvious theme is that WE are the dirt in the story.  You might also pick up on the fact that God is a bad farmer.
But then, Jesus says something odd after that parable:  “whoever has ears ought to hear”.  Who is he talking about?  Anybody here NOT have their ears with them today?  Then He is speaking his word directly to you today…..  Listen.

So – you probably noticed the first theme of the Gospel:  we are the dirt.  How much the word of God sinks into us depends on whether we are good soil. 

You might also have noticed that God is a horribly wasteful farmer.  He spreads the seeds of His Grace and Love all over creation… letting it drop wherever it will – so that most of it is simply wasted, never bearing any fruit.  Picture a tractor with a seed spreader driving down the highway with the feeder wide open…. That’s how extravagant God is with his word.

But the main theme is actually about Listening:   God is always speaking His word to us.  Always.  Every situation – every moment.  Do we hear Him?

I was standing outside last night talking to someone – and suddenly she mentioned the sound of the crickets – and it amazed me that until that moment, I hadn’t even noticed how loud they were.  That is like God talking to us – because He is speaking constantly, His voice becomes background noise and we don’t hear it.

God is speaking His word to us in every situation of our lives.  How is it that We often don’t recognize Him speaking –
- It’s part of the background noise
- It’s drowned out by the “important” things in life
- Or we just don’t WANT to hear Him
- Or maybe nobody ever taught us how to hear Him

Every week we come here and hear the Word proclaimed – and a homily to follow.  God is OBVIOUSLY speaking to us here at Mass… but how much of it falls on good soil?  If the parable is a good representation, then at best, 25% of the people in the pews are actually listening AND changing their lives.

Many people have lost the skill of listening.  Part of it is too many distractions:  for example:  I cannot have a serious conversation if the TV is on in front of me… my eyes and mind keep wandering back to it.  I know myself well enough that if I need to concentrate on what somebody is saying, I have to turn off the TV.

Likewise, most people with cellphones have a hard time listening to anyone if they’re holding their phone…  a text comes in and you glance at it and all you can think about is how you’re going to respond. 

Also – if somebody starts talking to us and we think we already know where they’re going with it, so we only half-listen.  Oh – and then there’s the fact that most people really just want to talk about themselves –so while they’re pretending to listen to you, they’re really just thinking of what they want to say next….waiting for you to shut up!

God is always speaking His word to us.  Anyone with ears ought to hear!  But listening doesn’t come easy – we have to train ourselves to become effective listeners. 

There was a TV show back in the 70’s called Kung Fu.  I know most of you never heard of it, so let me give you the back story:  it was about a Chinese man named Caine who moved to the US in the old wild west.  He was a shoulin priest – and a master of kung fu.  He was always having flashbacks about his training in the monastery as a boy.  The scene I remember more than any other was when Caine first met Master Po who was to be his teacher.  This old man was blind from cataracts, and he insisted that Caine fight him… Caine refused – I can’t fight a blind man, it wouldn’t be fair!  The Master insisted, so Caine took a swing at him and was quickly knocked to the ground three times.  This is the conversation that took place right after that: 

Master Po: never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Young Caine: No.
Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Young Caine: [looking down and seeing the insect] Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

2017/07/02 - Disciples for Dinner

Before Mass:
We are continuing our walk thru Matt chapter 10 – picking up where we left off last week.  Jesus continues his instructions to the Disciples and he’s trying to get them to sign on the dotted line to be His disciple…and he has some strong words for them:
"Whoever loves father or mother … (or) …son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What’s He talking about?  We’ll touch on that in the homily.
The common theme between the first reading and the Gospel today seems to be “how do we treat our prophets and disciples”.   The first reading shows Elisha the prophet being welcomed into the home of a couple in Shunem.  They didn’t have to be hospitable… the guy could have gone to an Inn to get food and lodging.  So why invite him to stay?

Then Jesus also talks about hospitality in the Gospel, and this time He seems to be encouraging US to treat his disciples with hospitality.  So listen for that theme – and you might ask yourself – what have I done for God’s prophets?

Picture this Gospel as a Disciple Boot Camp – where these potential disciples are trained hard, instructed about how to be disciples, and you might say, the men are separated from the boys.  Jesus sees several issues which they will face and here he addresses a couple of them:
"Whoever loves father or mother … (or) …son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;

Is Jesus saying we should not Love our families?  No – I think he’s just overhearing the excuses being made in the crowd and he’s addressing it. Everybody had their excuses – some had families and jobs and some had to take care of aging parents.  I can just hear it – well – the 10 commandments tell us to honor our father and mother, so I need to stay here and take care of them.  If I don’t I’m breaking God’s law!

Do you see what’s wrong with that argument?  Yes – honor your parents is one of the 10 – BUT – it’s number 5.  What’s number 1?  There is one God and you shall love Him alone.  Is the order really important?  Jesus thinks so – he said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.  That’s the GREATEST law – which means everything else takes at best second-place.  Our PRIORITY is to love God.  When we put anyTHING or anyONE in front of him, our priorities are messed up.

If Fr Eugene had used that excuse – “well , I need to stay at home and take care of Mom and the farm”, he wouldn’t be the disciple he is!  He would not be here today!  That’s a scary thought, because it seems to me he is right where God needs him to be.

Then Jesus said something perhaps even more perplexing:
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

We could read that literally and say that we all have to become Martyrs to please God…. But I don’t think that’s the message for us today.  See – Jesus is still talking to these potential disciples, and trying to convince them to sign on the dotted line – trying to get them off of the fence.  Either you ARE my Disciple or you’re not.. which is it?
Again, using Fr. Eugene as the example, he didn’t give us his life physically – but in every other way, he did – he left his entire life, lifestyle, and livelihood – all his friends and family – everything he was comfortable with – when he left for the seminary to become a Priest.

This is a perfect example for every one of us.  We are ALL called to be disciples – Jesus wants US to sign on the bottom line.  But in order to REALLY be a disciple, we gotta be all in.  Either we ARE His disciple, or we are not..which is it?  We have to surrender everything in our life at the feet of Jesus and allow Him to use us as He sees fit.  Everything?  Yes – Everything.

Jesus, I give you my time, my abilities, my money, my family, my job, my sex life, my property, my relationships… everything…where do I sign? 

That’s our first challenge for today – but there’s a second challenge:  How do we treat the Disciples of Jesus?  Our media and movies like to make Christians look like bumbling, backwoods, stupid folk – or like inflexible, dogmatic, self-righteous, secretly-evil people.  Do we treat Disciples like that?  Do we support them, or call them Jesus Freaks and stay away from them?

I think that’s why Jesus raised the issue today – to encourage US-   Like the woman in the first reading, to seek out the Men and Women of God and take care of them. 

What’s in it for us when we do that:  God WANTS to reward those who take care of his prophets.  Notice –t he Shunemite lady didn’t ask for a baby – but she was blessed.
Jesus says “he who receives a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward”.  What is that reward?  Think about what would happen, for example, if you invited Fr. Eugene over for supper every month or two… what would happen to your home?  First, you might notice anything in your house which you’d be embarrassed to have lying around when Father comes over – and you might just realize you’re embarrassed about it at all – and get rid of it.  Second – the conversation around the dinner table will be different than you normally experience – and your kids will get to see and hear you talking to Father about Church matters, and they’ll realize this is important.  Third – your kids will get to know Father as a person – not just a Man of God – but a Man’s man… his love of sports, his humor,  - and he’ll get to talk to them one on one – which makes THEM feel important… and just maybe light the initial spark to consider a religious life.  (I remember as a kid we’d have priests out to the house all the time – and I wonder if that’s part of why I felt called to ministry)

Perhaps one of the reasons we have less men seeking the priesthood and women seeking to be nuns is because we’ve gotten away from inviting our local Prophet into our home?!   In short – a righteous man’s reward is simply the reward of having a righteous man in your midst!  Our parish is a better place because of his presence… just imagine bringing that home… it can change your life and make your whole family more righteous.  Also, notice what Jesus said – "Whoever receives you receives me” – so when we invite Father over, we are inviting Jesus himself into our home!

Finally – our hospitality is directed to more than just Father.  Every one of sitting here are called to be Disciples – and to reach out to everyone else.  Think about your own actions:  how can I reach out to fellow disciples better?  How can I help our Parish to be more welcoming?  How can I personally be more welcoming? 

We get a lot of visitors here – just like Elisha the prophet – passing through our town.  What is Jesus calling you and me to do to welcome them?

In summary, let me repeat our challenges today:  First – sign on the dotted line – either I’m all in as a disciple, or I’m not really a disciple.  Second – go out of our way to take care of God’s servants.

When we put discipleship ahead of everything else, the rewards will be out of this world.