Sunday, October 15, 2017

What About the Servants?

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

What about the servants?

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I’ve prayed with this parable hundreds of times.  It is packed with insight.  Insight about the king:  all he wants is for everyone to enjoy the feast, but time and again the invited guests shrug off his kindness and friendship.  They’re too busy, too focused on their own priorities to enjoy the king’s hospitality.  That’ll preach – I’ve preached it before: look what happens when we set our priorities higher than the king’s; the king sends destruction upon us and our city.  Whatever that means, I don’t want it.  There are insights about those who receive the invitation and are willing to come:  we don’t have to be worthy to come to the feast, as long as we’re willing to receive the invitation and say yes, we get to go to the feast!  That’ll preach – I’ve preached it before.  We don’t have to be smart, holy, or have it all figured out – all we have to do is come when we’re invited.  Will you come?  Insights about the difference between being worthy and being prepared:  we do have to come wearing our love of God and our trust in Christ and the Sacraments.  That’ll preach – I’ve preached it before.  We don’t have to be worthy, but we do have to be prepared – wrapped up in our trust of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, relying on His grace in the sacraments, or we’ll be thrown out.  Getting dressed for the feast is to wrap ourselves in Christ, His love, His discipline and obedience, accepting of and conforming ourselves to His teaching and God’s plan. 

Mmmm…good…very good, Dr. Carter – as one of my professors used to say.

But what about the servants?

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What do the servants in this Gospel tell us about being a family of joyful missionary disciples of Jesus Christ?  We’re supposed to get busy summoning the invited guests to the banquet.  Hmm…have we done that this week?  Go…tell those invited…all is ready…  What’s that look like?  Who are the invited guests? 

Some of you have been members of this parish for years.  Who used to be in youth group with you, but you haven’t seen at Mass for ages?  Who was Confirmed with you – received their First Communion with you – are they among us now?  Surely the Catholics we grew up with who have wandered away are among the invited guests we should be summoning to the feast each week.  I know it looks like we decided to remodel the dining room on Thanksgiving day in here…but in all the ways that really matter, “everything is ready, come to the feast.”  Among your family and friends, who has wandered far from the saving embrace of Holy Mother Church and the Lord Jesus Christ in the sacraments?  Who are you thinking of right now?  When was the last time you offered to bring them to Mass with you?  Surely that’s at least part of what it means to be a joyful missionary disciple of Jesus Christ

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What do the servants in this Gospel tell us about being a family of joyful missionary disciples of Jesus Christ?  We need to be about the Master’s business summoning the invited guests and absolutely everyone else to the feast.  “Invite to the feast whomever you find…the bad and the good alike…”  There are no qualifications for the invitation the servants are called to spread.  Race, color, nationality, sexuality, success, background – invite to the feast whomever you find.  Intelligence, personality, likability, profession – invite to the feast whomever you find.  Married, divorced, divorced and remarried – invite to the feast whomever you find.  Criminal, madman, liar, lunatic, leper, outcast, offensively smelly or just as offensively clean and proper and ridiculously polished – invite to the feast whomever you find. 

What do we learn from the servants?  That joyful missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Eucharist and strengthened by the Sacraments who are eager to live for the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls must be busy summoning everyone to the feast!  Those who have been invited – former Catholics, lapsed Catholics, fallen away Catholics – and everyone else!  “Go out therefore into the main roads, and invite to the feast whomever you find…the good and the bad alike.”  Sounds an awful lot like something we’ve been saying for a while:  whoever you are, however you are, you are welcome here!  In the middle of our construction, and dirt and mess – you are welcome here.  All of them – all of you – are welcome here!

Oh – there’s work to when they come to the feast.  Guests can’t be caught without being wrapped in a saving love of Jesus that knows, accepts, and freely – freely – conforms their life to the discipline and teaching of the Church.  We love one another through that – walk with one another as we get there – serve one another while the Holy Spirit works beyond our obstinance, fear, pride, and hubris, and convicts us to be transformed from the ways and thinking of this dying world to be through, with, and in Christ Jesus.  Yes – there’s work to be done once the guests arrive to clothe them in the wedding garment…but if we get too caught up in that before they even make it inside the door we’ve messed it all up.

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Joyful missionary disciples of Jesus Christ go about summoning people to the feast.  All the people.  Calling the wayward back home and seeking out all the rest.  Whoever you are, however you are, you are welcome here!  And if you can hear the sound of my voice on our new speakers today – you are called to be heralds of this good news!  Who did you invite to Mass this weekend?  Who will you invite next weekend?  Are you doing that?  How are you doing that?  Will you do that? 

“All things are ready – come to the feast!”

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Oil and Water...

27th Sun OT Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul/Danville

Gratitude and anxiety are like oil and water.

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By the time I got to his house, he and his wife had been at work all day.  The two month old – their first – had been at the babysitter’s where’d he’d slept most of the day.  That’s the unfortunate routine that had developed – the little guy slept all day at the babysitter’s, so he wouldn’t miss a thing when mom and dad came home.  My friend’s wife stayed up long enough to say hi to me before taking the baby for his evening feeding.  When my friend collapsed on the couch, I could see the signs.  Bags under the eyes.  Sentences that rambled on with strange twists and turns before making the point that only sometimes connected with where they started.  Dozing mid sentence.  I’ve seen that look on some of your faces, in varying stages.  The baby crying out at Mass that leaves you exasperated; trying to keep the young ones entertained at our first Family Night catechesis a few days ago.

The baby had taken several weeks to start gaining weight.  The docs assured them they’d done everything right – but he admitted:  there were times we were afraid we were failing the parent test.  The career wasn’t advancing as fast as he’d hoped – would he be able to provide for the family?  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept more than two or three hours.  Between trying to share the wake-ups with his wife, there was the new level of awareness and concern he felt over his new responsibility as a dad which had him up checking the locks on the windows and doors, aware of the cars that drove by on the street, alert to the voices of the neighbors out back lest they be signs of trouble.

Overwhelmed?  Not quite – but almost.  But anxiety was definitely a part of his reality.  And the weight of it was visible.  Suddenly I heard the shrill cry – the ‘I’m full but somebody needs to adjust these bubbles in my belly’ cry.  With a meager grin, my friend – the new dad – staggered to his feet and trucked off to the bedroom to retrieve his little one.  I said a quiet prayer for him.  Knowing many first parents, I recognized the signs and symptoms.  It’s pretty predictable, really.  Weary, not much sleep, the heavy weight of taking the new responsibilities seriously – you could smell anxiety in the air.  I knew it was going to be OK – I’ve had many friends who’d been there before.  But living in that moment, I wasn’t sure if my friend could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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What’s it look like for you?  That moment of anxiety.

For me, it usually comes in a flash vision of the depth and breadth of my pastoral responsibilities.  Sitting at my desk, a budget tucked in over there under and a report of a few lagging or cancelled pledges for our capital campaign right when the expenditures are really ramping up. I glance at my calendar and see the roadmap for the next several weeks, with all its travel, meetings, and objectives knowing only about half of it will get done.  Seeing the list of urgent and important things that need my attention as Pastor and Vocations Director grow each day, with very few things getting crossed off the list.  I see the 15 cards I need to write and send, and shudder to think of the times I have to cancel Mass at the prison because I just don’t have any choice otherwise.  I try to focus on this one thing I’m trying to get done right now, but at that moment the email chirps with two urgent messages and the phone signals a text message that needs immediate response; and all at once and I almost lose my breath.

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What does it look like for you?  That moment of anxiety?  That moment when things come very near – or tumble head over heels into being – overwhelmed.  Maybe it’s the frightening diagnosis from the doctor?  The empty house that seems so quiet and dark and lonely?  The stack of bills that outweighs the balanced checkbook?  The pile of laundry and stack of dirty dishes at the end of a full day’s work followed by an already full evening of cooking supper, helping with homework, settling petty disputes, getting ready for the band contest or soccer game or whatever is coming up for the weekend? 

What does it look like for you?  That moment of anxiety?  That moment when things come very near – or tumble head over heels into being – overwhelmed. 

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My friend came walking back into the room holding his new baby a completely different man.  The bags under his eyes – I swear to you – the bags under his eyes were gone.  All the insomnia-produced confusion had vanished.  The complexion of his skin was clearer – and there was a freshness – a glow – a revitalized almost carefree countenance surrounded him when he walked back in.  ‘Every time,’ he said…’Every time he recognizes me and smiles, and I pick him up, I realize how thankful I am for all of it – the dirty diapers, the sleepless nights, the testy wife and the exhaustion – every time, I thank God for it all – and somehow, it all becomes OK. 

Isn’t that the wisdom Paul shares with us today?  Have no anxiety at all – but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’

Gratitude and anxiety are like oil and water.  When the flash of all that God has filled my cup with takes my breath away, somehow I get excited – I feel the working of the Holy Spirit in and through all that we are and all that we do and gratitude washes over me.  ‘Thank you, God.  Thank you for the challenges and the mysteries – thank you for the twists and turns I can’t see around yet – thank you for so many ways I get to be an agent of your love and salvation in this world.’  And – just like that – peace comes rushing in, and I’m ready to take another step. 

When we believe God is who He says He is, that He loves us the way He says He loves us, and will provide for us the way He says He will – when we see in this poor little piece of bread and tiny helping of wine the life, death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus broken and poured out to give us everything we need in this life and the next – when we can rest in who God is with gratitude…the anxiety vanishes, even if just for a moment.  And we can take just another step – in peace…sweet, refreshing peace.

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Gratitude is the antidote for anxiety – when we feel overwhelmed, if we can find what we’re grateful for in that moment, things fall back into place and we find a way to move forward with joy and peace.

What does that look like for you?