Sunday, September 24, 2017

Home Depot at Dawn on a Saturday Morning

25th Sun OT Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

         Home Depot at dawn on a Saturday morning.  Home Depot or Lowe’s.  I don’t know if it’s like this around here, but in Lexington it surely is.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time in even bigger cities – Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Washington DC – it’s the same there, too.  At dawn on a Saturday morning, there’s usually a gathering of folks looking for work.
 
         Back before I went to seminary, the “going rate” was half a day’s wages for a full day’s work.  There was a lot of fear and anxiety among those hunting for work.  Would there be enough work to go around?  Would the work provide enough pay?  I’ve known some folks who had to work odd jobs for a living – because of their backgrounds or mistakes they’d made in the past – some because of mistakes they were making in their present.  But the fears and anxieties seemed to be the same, and to go even deeper than wondering if there’d be enough for food and shelter.  Is this all life really comes down to – having to scrape just to make do?  Is this all I’m worth?  Why do some out there seem to get all the breaks and live a better life than I get to live?  Do I matter to anyone?  Where do I fit in?

         It’s easy for us to look at this reality and shape it up as an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ thing.  Even those who care about them, want to see something done to make life better for them.  Here we are – working jobs – getting an education – even if we’re struggling, we’re getting by.  But them – life’s hard for them.  Some of us think it’s their fault – they wouldn’t have come here if they’d get jobs; if they’d overcome life’s challenges.  Some of us have great compassion for them – we should help them, we should reach out to them.  But don’t you see – both of those perspectives leave the world divided into ‘us’ vs. ‘them’.

         Here’s the kicker, folks.  We are them.  There’s no them, actually – only us.  When it comes to the Kingdom of God, we’re all standing outside the Home Depot at dawn on Saturday morning…

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         The Kingdom of God is like a landowner who went out…to hire laborers for his vineyard.  And what does this parable tell us about this landowner? 

         Well…there’s enough work to go around, and this landowner wants to get everyone busy.  Even the “johnny-come-latelys’.  In fact, this landowner is so eager to get everyone busy in the vineyard, he comes looking all day – not just at dawn.  And he’s not just looking for the eager and ready.  No – he seeks out the ‘idle’ and the just ‘standing around’ and says, “You, too go into my vineyard.”

         That sounds a little bit like something we said a few weeks ago, doesn’t it?  Whoever you are, however you are, you are welcome here.  But let me take that a step farther.  Whoever you are, and however you are, you are welcome here – and we need you to get busy. 

We haven’t been able to kick off our Children’s Liturgy of the Word yet this year because we don’t have enough volunteers who are willing to help make it happen.  Our parish Service Committee is struggling to get off the ground and find folks to help plan, lead, and guide our parish’s efforts to serve one another and the community around us. Our capital project still only has about 50% of our parishioners participating – half of us doing the work that will benefit us all.  What if the rest of us who haven’t contributed yet made a $200 pledge to be paid over the next 5 months at $10/week? What if our participation in this effort grew to 100%?

Hmmm… Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fat guy dressed in fancy clothes going out around 4:15 on Saturday evening, and again at 8:15 on Sunday morning, and yet again at 11:15 on Sunday morning, and saying, “You, too, go into the vineyard – there’s room for more and we need you.” 

Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven in this time and place is a little like a pastor saying there’s enough work in the vineyard of our parish that there’s something for everyone to do, and we’re not getting it done until everyone finds the work they’re cut out to do?

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Over the next several months, there’s going to be enough work and ministry around our parish that it will seem as busy as the vineyard in today’s parable.  Over the next several months, there’s going to be talk of how to get involved in our family of faith so that we can all become joyful missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Eucharist, strengthened by the sacraments, eager to live life for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.  It’s going to look and sound like I’m spending my days dreaming up stuff for folks to do to get involved in the mission and ministry of the Catholic Church in Boyle County, Kentucky.  Some of you are going to think I won’t be happy until all of us are involved in some way other than coming to Mass on the weekend.

Maybe that’s because I’m convinced that we’re all like those folks I used to visit at dawn on Saturday mornings.  Maybe it’s because I know that we’re – all of us – just like them, deep down wondering:  Is this all life really comes down to?  Is this all I’m worth? Do I matter to anyone?  Where do I fit in?  And I know the only real answers come from getting involved.  And maybe – just maybe – it’s because the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who goes out all day every day trying to find laborers for his vineyard, because getting ‘hired on’ – finding one’s place in the work – and doing our share in the vineyard is what it’s all about.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

No More Mr. Nice Guy

23rd Sun OT Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul - Danville

“No more Mr. Nice Guy.”  A decade ago, I realized that being nice was crippling my faith and my witness.  So, I decided, right then and there, ‘No more Mr. Nice Guy.’  That’s a tough commitment to keep.  Our culture teaches us to be nice.  ‘Play nice,’ we tell our children from day one.  We compliment someone by saying how nice they are, and when someone says that about us we feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Not me – when someone tells me I’m nice I wonder if I need to step up my game.  ‘No more Mr. Nice Guy.’

The Enemy wants us to believe Christianity is about being nice because it makes Christianity socially irrelevant.  Nice takes truth out of the public sphere, making it impossible for us to be salt and light in the dark, bland world.  Nice turns us into the kind of lukewarm, so-so Christians that, according to the Book of Revelation, are so repugnant to Jesus we’ll get spit right out of the kingdom of God.  And being nice jeopardizes our own salvation.

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“Jesus was nice,” you say.  That’s what the world wants us to believe.  But Jesus was anything but nice.  “I came to set fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze.”  (Luke 12:49) That’s not very nice, Jesus.  “Get behind me, Satan.”  Now Jesus, play nice with Peter.  ‘He entered the temple and overturned tables and seats…’  (See Mark 11.)  That’s not playing nice.  I can’t find a single example of Jesus being nice in all of the Gospels – not a single one.  That’s why I say: NO MORE MR. NICE GUY!

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The problem is we’re confused about the difference between nice and kind.  The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that nice describes someone who is “agreeable.”  Nice ‘goes along to get along’ – nice says agreeing is the most important thing.  Our culture values being nice over everything.  Truth is irrelevant when being nice is the name of the game – because truth creates the possibility of agreeing and disagreeing – and disagreeing isn’t very nice.

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Here’s the problem – it’s simply not possible to be nice and an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ; it’s simply not possible to be nice and live our prophetic role in the world.  “You have been appointed a watchman…” we heard in our first reading.  If we speak the truth we’re sometimes not being very nice, but we save ourselves.  That’s right – save ourselves – because if we don’t stand up for the truth we run a great risk.  It’s right there in the scripture:  If we tell someone the truth and they don’t listen, they risk punishment, but we save ourselves.  But if we’re nice and just try to get along by swallowing the truth to be as agreeable as society wants us to be, the other person may die for their sins…but, God says, “I will hold you responsible.”  Being nice can result in our own guilt and death.  So – No more Mr. Nice Guy!!!

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Some of you think I’m saying we should become some kind of Catholic Antifa that runs around preaching an angry Christianity and violently forces the truth on others through civil unrest. That’s because some of you think the opposite of nice is mean.  That’s what our culture has tried to teach us – if we’re not nice then we’re mean and hateful.  But the opposite of nice in reality is simply disagreeable. 

That’s right - ‘No more Mr. Nice Guy’ does mean I’m disagreeable sometimes when we’re talking about truth. Truth is truth, whether we agree is irrelevant.  So – yes – I want us all to be disagreeable when it comes to the truth; when others disagree with the truth in matters of faith and morals taught authentically by the Church.  Because agreeing with the truth taught by the Church – all the truth - that’s who we say we are every single time we walk through these doors, make the sign of the cross, and join in the celebration of the Mass.  For a Catholic Christian, the truth taught by the Catholic Church is not up for debate.  Catholic Christianity isn’t very nice.  No – it’s not very nice…but it is – and must be – immensely kind.

We have to remember that the opposite of nice is not hateful.  You see – I can’t find Jesus being nice in the scripture, but I also can’t find a single instance of Jesus being mean or hateful.  Not a single one.  Jesus was disagreeable, but He was never mean or hateful – in fact, He was just the opposite – He was always kind and loving.  Was Jesus kind and loving when He kicked those folks out of the Temple?  Yes.  When He rebuked Peter?  Yes.  I once caught someone snorting cocaine.  I snatched the vial out of his hand and flushed it down the toilet.  I wasn’t very nice – but it was the kindest and most loving thing I could have done.  No more Mr. Nice Guy.

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Brothers and sisters – we’re appointed watchmen.  We’re watchmen over each other – we’re watchmen over our families, our neighbours, the people we work and shop with – we’re watchmen over every living soul we come in contact with.  But we can’t do that well if we’re focused on being nice! 
We must be kind – always kind – always loving – always welcoming.  If I disagree with you, you’re still welcome here.  Whoever you are – however you are – you are always welcome in this community of faith.  You are always welcome – and I promise to always be kind; we will always be kind to one another in this family of faith.  But when there is disagreement with Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church, don’t expect me to be nice and agreeable.  Kind, welcoming loving, patient – yes.  But truth is truth, and that’s our business as women and men of faith.

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Some people prefer priests not preach about things we might disagree about like immigration, the sanctity of life and marriage, the atrocity of capital punishment, or the need to let our faith live so brightly in our hearts that we might be accused of the dogma living loudly in our lives.  Some people prefer priests never rock the boat when it comes to theology, liturgy, or doctrine. Some people prefer their Christian brothers and sisters stay out of their business – and some people prefer to stay out of other people’s business.  In other words, some people prefer that Christians be nice.

Those folks are pretending the readings for our Mass today don’t exist.

Well…you know what I say to that.  ‘No more Mr. Nice Guy.’  I won’t risk my salvation or yours.  The stakes are too high for this life and the next – my salvation is tied up in yours – and your salvation is tied up in mine and the person next to you in the pew and living across the street from your home.  So, I’ve decided – No more Mr. Nice Guy.  What about you?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Focused on Freedom, Forgetting About Sacrifice

22nd Sun OT Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul - Danville

How could Peter get it so wrong after just having got it so right?

Today’s Gospel follows immediately after last week’s Gospel.  Peter got it right – “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus was impressed! Cue the awesome Rocky background music, right?  Jesus thinks they might be ready to hear the rest of the story now, so He lays it out for them.  What this is all about – how it’s all gonna’ work.  So He begins to speak about sacrifice – His and ours…  SCREECH!  Rocky music stops…big scratch in the record…everything comes to a screeching halt…and Peter jumps right up in Jesus’ grill, wagging his finger:  No!  Bad Jesus!  This will not happen!  And quick as a wink we go from Peter becoming the first Pope to Jesus scolding him like a bad puppy.

How could Peter get it so wrong after just having got it so right?  He got focused on freedom and forgot about sacrifice.

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We do that sometimes, don’t we?  Get focused on freedom and forget about sacrifice. When Jesus becomes a living person in our lives, and not just a story or a wise historical figure.  We begin to see who we really are…beloved of God, made by Love for Love…we find the freedom of living our lives being loved by God and trying to love others.  We find the freedom that comes from living a faith that isn’t focused on rules, a faith that isn’t about behaving but about belonging.  And that freedom catches us like a gentle summer breeze and lifts us up so high that we never want to come down.

And that’s what Jesus came for, isn’t it?  Yes!  Yes it is! But that’s not all He came for…there’s more.  There’s so much more.  And we know what that looks like, don’t we?  We know – but sometimes we’d rather not talk about that…  It looks like sacrifice.  It looks like “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”  And when someone starts talking about it, we get out our wagging finger, just like Peter did, and start shaking it at whoever is talking…rebuking them like Peter tried to rebuke Jesus.  We sometimes get stuck focusing on freedom and forget about sacrifice…but there is no true and lasting freedom without sacrifice, and that’s what Jesus really came to give us: true and lasting freedom. 

Focusing on freedom and forgetting about sacrifice looks like the prosperity Gospel peddled out there in some corners of the world, trying to convince you that if you follow Jesus you’ll get rich and enjoy the million-dollar-home-pleasures of this world.  But when the flood waters rise, those possessions possess you, sacrifice is forgotten, and you get trapped as a slave to your things.

Focusing on freedom and forgetting about sacrifice looks like ‘my body my choice’ – spending life choosing whatever seems to make you happy this moment, doing with your body whatever you want to do whenever and however you want to do it without any sense of what the body is for and how that’s connected to the rest of who you are and who you’re called to be. 

Let me shock you a minute… It is your body.  And you are able to do with it whatever you want to do.  You can love and be attracted to whoever you love and are attracted to.  You can become whatever label describes your sexuality, your marital status, your politics, or your posture toward persons of other races.  God made you in freedom and gave you this body and empowered you with absolute free will to determine who and how you’ll be.  But you don’t have to be a slave to any of that – you can be free for so much more…

Let me shock you even more…  Whoever you are and however you are – you are now and you always will be welcome here!  Black, white, yellow, brown, green.  Male, female, trans, non-binary, or not really sure.  Same sex attracted, opposite sex attracted, no sex attracted, and everything in between.  Racist, bigot, fundamentalist, find a label, give it a name, and you are welcome here! Whatever you’ve done in the past – and, yes, even whatever you will do in the future – you are welcome here, God loves you, the Church loves you, this parish loves you, I love you and you are welcome here! 

You are welcome and you are free.  But there’s more to the story – there’s so much more to the story.  And here, in this place, in this family, we help one another learn how to live in freedom that doesn’t forget about sacrifice – because in sacrifice, we find the absolute apex of freedom and life and love!

Jesus – perfect love and freedom – did He live an empty life?  Was he angry, sad, and frustrated all the time?  NO!  That’s because He knew the freedom that comes from not holding anything back in sacrificing.  Peter & Paul – our patrons – they gave it all up – all of it!  Did they live empty lives?  NO!  Think of the happiest married couple you know, and what they’ve given up, how they’ve chosen to limit and curb and sacrifice the use of their bodies, and energies, and careers – how they choose to focus their love and attention.  Are they free to do whatever they want whenever they want?  Sure – but do they?  No.  And in sacrificing it all, they find the greatest freedom and joy imaginable.  Sister Marie Isaac – Fr. Alan…do we seem to be missing out on life and love and joy and all life has to offer?  NO!  The best freedom, the best life, the fullest life is in using our freedom to sacrifice and be free for so much more!

And so – be free – be you – be welcome here – but don’t become so focused on freedom that you forget sacrifice.  We are a faith of belonging, not behaving.  But we focus our freedom on God’s plan, God’s truth, God’s designs…and we help one another find our greatest freedom, even when that means sacrificing what we can do or who we can be so that we can become who we were meant to be. 

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

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How could Peter get it so wrong after he’d just gotten it so right?  The same way I do.  The same way we all do sometimes.  He got focused on freedom and forgot about sacrifice. We don’t have to have it all figured out to be a part of the family, any more than Peter had to have it all figured out to become the first Pope.  No – we just have to be here and be trying.  And whoever you are – however you are – whatever label you or others want to put on you – you are welcome here.  Because here – here at St. Peter & Paul – here at this altar – here in this family, we are women and men doing our best to live in love and freedom and sacrifice – here we challenge one another to grow and help one another to heal and trust Jesus for both.  Here we sometimes get it wrong, but trust Jesus to help us get it right. And we do it together – all of us together.

And whoever you are – you are welcome here! 
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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Who Do YOU Say That I Am?

21st Sun OT Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul - Danville

Can I trust you?  Do you love me? Will you marry me?  Some questions have the power to quite literally change our lives forever.  These are different than the questions we typically swim around in every day: “Do you want fries with that?”  The questions that take most of our time and attention are often the least important questions:  Regular or decaf? Today or tomorrow?  Walking Dead or Game of Thrones? Most of our time is spent asking and answering questions that don’t really matter in the long run.  But in every life there are supremely important moments when the big questions arise – questions that have the power to change us, define us – questions that will set our lives on a different course…

Who do you say that I am?

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What’s the difference between these kinds of questions?  That seems important doesn’t it?  Regular or decaf doesn’t change who I am or set a destiny for my life.  But – whether I go to college or the seminary – whether I go to the convent or stay in the world – whether I love Betty, whether I trust my brother, whether I commit myself ‘until death do us part’ to Barney – the answers to these questions become part of who we are, who we commit ourselves to be, and become self-accepted guides and definitions on our beliefs and actions, on our attitudes and futures – these questions are less about information and more about identity.

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Who do people say the Son of Man is? It’s an interesting question.  But it’s not really an important question, is it? At least not on the order of having any significant meaning in my life.  That’s a question that might be answered exactly the same way by a Jew, Bhuddist, Muslim, or Athiest.  That question could have been equally answered by the Pharisees, Pontius Pilate, or St. Peter.  It lives completely in the realm of knowledge.  But there’s no lasting consequence – for anyone – in asking or answering that question, is there? 

If that’s the only question we’ve answered about Jesus, we can be stuck living a life of pseudo-faith on the level of knowledge, which gives us plenty of room to dodge and weave when push comes to shove; worse, it leaves us without a solid foundation in relationship with the One who loves us most perfectly and wants only to bring us to happiness.

Jesus doesn’t seem to be so interested in that question.  Yeah, yeah – OK – great – that’s why they think…but…who do you say that I am?  The answer to that question has the power to change us, to define our lives.  It has the power to bring us into relationship with Jesus Himself. 

Look at me a moment – give me your eyes – open your heart and let me ask you… “Who do you say that Jesus is?”  In the way you live your life, in the way you carry your crosses – who do you say that Jesus is?  Some teacher who had some good things to say but not much more?  That’s not worth giving my life to…that’s not worth basing who I am and how I am in this world upon.
But everything changes if you answer that question like Peter did.  Who do you say that Jesus is?  “You are the Christ, the Anointed One spoken of throughout all human history and in the scriptures; You are the only Son of the Living God!’  That changes things!  That changes us!  It changes everything about us!  You see – if Jesus is God Himself, the Only Begotten Son, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, if you say that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, that He is your Savior – then your life will be lived differently. 

Jesus is only your Savior if you bring Him your sins, over and over again in the confessional – otherwise you’re telling me who others say He is.  Jesus is only your Savior if you let Him save you.

Jesus is only the perfect Lamb of God who sacrifices Himself for us at each and every Mass – as He said He was – Jesus is only the Lamb of God if, when He becomes present on this altar you draw all of your heart and mind to Him and worship Him.  Think about our Sign of Peace…I’m always amazed that it sounds like an intermission – chatting, laughter, all the focus to the left or the right or behind…hardly a glance or a notice of the altar at all.  As if we’re completely overlooking the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ Himself right here in our midst!  It’s like we become so focused on chatting and greeting and catching up with our neighbor, who Jesus is, that He is present among us in the Blessed Sacrament – it just falls by the wayside.  Who do you say that Jesus is?  If He is the Lamb of God, you offer a genuine expression of the peace you share in Christ with one another but you offer it to Him keeping your heart and soul focused on the altar exchanging peace with your neighbor as a sign to Him that you know He is the source of the peace we build in this community.  Who do you say that the Son of Man is?

Who do you say the Son of Man is?  Lord of my life?  Then what I do with my life and my future isn’t fundamentally a decision that I make based on what I want to do.  No – if Jesus Christ is the Lord of Lords – if that’s who you say that He is, then your only desire in life is to know what He wants for you, knowing that His desire holds the key to your greatest happiness.  And rather than exercising your preference (reducing your life’s vocation to a choice between French Fries or Onion Rings), you’re instead all in praying with all your heart and soul, “Here am I Lord – I come to do Your will – Send me – Wherever You want me to go…whatever you want me to be…send me and I’ll go!”

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Some questions are general and report knowledge and have no real baring on our lives – who do people say the Son of Man is?  Some questions require us to search deep within ourselves, and when we give our answer they become part of creating us, they define us and change the shape of the rest of our lives:  who do you say that I am.  That’s what Jesus asks you today – what’s your answer – who do you say Jesus is?