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?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Drowning/Not Drowning

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

#smh #faceplam  #headdesk  Remember?  Jesus breaking the third wall like Frank Underwood in House of Cards and saying, “There he goes again – sometimes Peter just doesn’t get it.”

I’ve always imagined the rest of the apostles them rolling their eyes at him, too.  Always the first one to speak up – like Hermione Grainger in the Harry Potter stories whose hand shot up so fast and so often her friends, even Ron and Harry, rolled their eyes at her.  ‘Oh! I know professor…call on me!  The teachers at Hogwarts began to roll their eyes at her, too – even when they knew she had the right answer.  But that’s the difference between St. Peter and Hermione Grainger.  He was always ready with an answer – but very often he was wrong.  ‘You can’t let them crucify you!’ Peter said.  Do you remember Jesus’ response?  ‘Get behind me Satan!’  Shot down! ‘It is GOOD that we are here!  We’ll build some shrines to commemorate what we just saw!’  This time, it was God Himself who seemed to roll His eyes:  ‘Hey – be quiet a minute.  That’s my Son!  Why don’t you try listening to him for a change?’  Talk about shot down!  

Peter often got it wrong, and in today’s gospel he gets it wrong big time.  He messed up the chance of a lifetime.  A chance to walk on the water – and he botched it!  What we typically see in this Gospel is just how much St. Peter got it wrong.  But maybe its time we take a look at the ways St. Peter got it right that stormy night.  After all, Peter was there, he took a risk, and he asked for help.

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Peter was there.  I find it hard to believe Peter didn’t know a storm was coming – he was a fisherman after all. But there he was anyway – right there in that boat – right there with his community of faith – gathered together and doing what they’d been asked to do even with a storm was brewing on the horizon.

I heard a story once about two car salesmen.  One was a natural – he could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.  The other guy was terrible.  He had coffee breath, his hair was always askew, he couldn’t keep up with the paperwork or the pricing strategies or even the inventory.  The natural salesman was so good, he’d show up for a few hours, sell a few cars and then go home.  He never worked weekends – he didn’t have to.  At the end of the year sales banquet everyone – everyone – was shocked that the horrible salesman took home the fattest bonus check.  The sales manager said, ‘I knew all along he’d sell more than the rest of you jokers.  He’s not be best salesman, but he showed up for work every day.’  

How good are we at showing up?  Do we use excuses about incense or Latin or liturgical style to keep us away?  Do we have better things to do than be a part of the ministry of the parish beyond weekend Mass?  Half the battle is showing up – and Peter always showed up.  He was there with his community of faith.  Peter was there…

…and he took a risk.  There he was, in a small boat crammed with tired, stinky, scared men.  The storm was raging – it probably seemed like they were just moments away from total destruction.  And to top it all off, they saw a ghost walking toward them on the water.  Not exactly the typical moment for taking a risk.  But that’s what Peter did.  ‘Lord…command me to come on the water.’

I was 15 years old when Kentucky started the lottery. What I remember most was thinking how perfect the slogan was; there’s no arguing with it.  You can’t win if you don’t play!  We don’t have to risk our money on the lottery – it’s perfectly OK if we don’t.  But it’s true:  there’s no chance of winning without playing – without taking a risk.  You can’t win if you don’t play; Peter played.  He took the risk.  He got out of the boat and began to walk on the water.

What risks have you taken lately regarding your faith?  What risks are we taking together as a parish?  If we’re showing up together, are we holding on for dear life, or are we stepping out into the miracles Jesus is inviting us to experience?  Peter took a chance – he was there, he took a risk…

...and he asked for help.  We all know Peter sank because he was afraid – I think that’s all we ever remember about this story because, like Peter, we often let our own fears become bigger and more powerful than our faith.  But what Peter does when he begins to drown is so much more important than his mistake – he cried out for help!  If only you and I were as ready to ask for help when we’re sinking!

There were two of them hanging there, remember?  Equally guilty – equally deserving of death.  Two criminals hanging there with Jesus on Calvary.  Only one of them died with the hope of life beyond the pain.  What was the difference?  The ‘good thief’ asked Jesus for help.

When was the last time you asked for help?  ‘Bless me father, for I have sinned…’  When was the last time you said those words in the confessional.  ‘I just don’t know how to pray anymore…can you help me?’  When was the last time you asked for help?  ‘I don’t know how to walk and talk with Jesus like a real honest to goodness friend.  Can you help me?  Peter would have drowned that stormy night if he hadn’t asked for help.  Our faith will die, too, if we don’t learn to cry out for help.  Peter showed up, he took a risk, and he asked for help.

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We can learn a lot from St. Peter.  All of us have been in Peter’s shoes.  What I love about this story is that it sums up Peter perfectly.  He was always there – right in the middle of things.  He always showed up.  Sometimes he made a fool of himself, sometimes he ran off at the mouth and got the crazy eye roll and rebuke for it.  But it didn’t stop him – he was always there, and he was always a risk taker.  Even after he had denied Jesus three times, he took a risk and ran right back to Jesus to let Him restore their relationship.  He never seemed to have trouble asking for help.  

Peter tried a lot – and he failed a lot – but it didn’t stop him.  I think that’s because he learned something when he took those few amazing steps on the water.  What about you?  Are you here – really here?  Are you really with us in our parish’s journey of faith and mission to spread the Gospel and save souls?  Are you stepping out of the boat – are we taking any risks together?  What risk is Jesus inviting you to take today?  Don’t let fear or uncertainty stop you – you won’t drown.  Because every time we remember Peter, and cry out for help, we’ll find exactly what he found:  Jesus stretching out His hand and catching us.

Peter was there, he took a risk, and he cried out for help.  Lord, teach us to be more like Peter!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

#FavoriteHashtagOfJesus

Transfiguration Yr A (2017)
Ss. Peter & Paul, Danville

#FacePalm #HeadDesk
The Lord Jesus would have made good use of hashtags, I think.  “Please Lord, grant that my sons might sit one on your right and one on your left in heaven…”  #HeadDesk.  “Never, Lord – You cannot die – we won’t stand for it…”  #FacePalm “It is good that we are here, Lord – we’ll make three shrines right here to commemorate what just happened…”  #really #MissedTheBoat #BarkingUpTheWrongTree

I can see the Instagram post: Jesus taking a selfie with Peter in the background looking confused, Jesus breaking the third wall in the image, shrugging his shoulders, #WhataRYaGonnaDo.  I can see the meme on Facebook…Jesus transfigured into His Divine reality before them…Peter, James and John running around with slide rules and tape measures, pounding in stakes marking where the shrines will be erected, and God the Father’s voice booming from the very heavens saying #SquadGoals #Not.

Sometimes we just don’t get it.  That’s just the reality.  Even those who knew Jesus the best sometimes just completely wiffed, struck out, #clueless…  That’s the way it was even for our great patrons Peter & Paul.  Sometimes they just missed it.  #HereWeGoAgain  That’s the way it was for them…and that’s the way it is for us, sometimes, too.  Right?  

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember someone has something against you, go first and reconcile to them, then come and offer your worship and praise.”  But I can’t control if they’re mad at me; I’ll accept their apology when they come.  #HeadDesk  Hey – I’m at peace with everyone, see?  I hold hands during the Our Father and put on a friendly face during the Sign of Peace.  #FacePalm  

“I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.  Not a single part of the law will pass away.  Be holy, as your heavenly father is holy.  Don’t kill, or even harm another with your words – don’t commit adultery, or even look with lust on someone else – give to God what belongs to God, your worship, your priority, your faith and trust.”  But times have changed, surely Jesus didn’t understand – or the Church didn’t understand – the realities of same sex attraction; I’m only looking at these images on a screen, it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and it’s my body after all, right?  My body, my choice – it’s not a baby until its born, and until then it’s my right.  I don’t ever say mean things to someone else’s face.  Nobody takes Holy Days of Obligation seriously – Jesus understands – I’m just too busy and have other plans, so it’s no big deal – I get to Mass most weekends, that’s good enough.  Confession is antiquated – I go once in a while, and besides – I’m a good person, I try to be nice, and I haven’t killed anyone, what’s the big deal?  #HereWeGoAgain #SMH (that means ‘shaking my head’ if you don’t have your lingo on lockdown…

That’s just how it is…. it’s how it was back then, and it’s how it is with us.  Sometimes we just don’t get it. Sometimes we fumble the ball just like they did.

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But…Jesus doesn’t just shake His head and wander off.  (Though I do think He shakes His head, smh.)  He doesn’t give up hope.  Even when He corrects or chastises, there’s more to the story.  We miss the boat – we wiff – we overlook or misunderstand – and what does Jesus do?  He tells us not to be afraidHe invites us to look at Him so that we can understand better.  He comes and touches us, He takes us by the hand and bids us stand up beside Him without fear – and instead of looking at ourselves, instead of trying to figure it out on our own, instead of feeling frustrated that we missed it again or feeling afraid that we’ll never get it – instead of leaving us confused and guessing, Jesus comes near to where we are, revealing Himself for who He truly is…because it is only in seeing Him that we can understand ourselves – it is only in seeing Him for who He is that become able to be who we really are.

That’s why we have the Eucharist and Mass – so that in our quest to become joy-filled missionary disciples, we can gaze on Jesus in all of His reality here on the altar; gaze upon the one who loved completely, sacrificed completely, so that we can see the beauty and radiance of such love and become transformed by that love into that love as we gaze upon Him.  That’s why we have the sacraments – tangible encounters with Jesus Himself – which reveal ever more deeply who He is, the one who adopts us in baptism, who commissions us for service in confirmation; Jesus who feeds us in the Eucharist and forgives us in Confession.  When Jesus lifts our gaze to Himself in the sacraments, He empowers us to become bridges to God’s family, forgiving others as we’ve been forgiven, becoming women and men who are wholly devoted to the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of souls, just like He is.  That’s the lesson of the transfiguration:  Jesus reveals Himself to his friends so we can see more clearly who we are…

You and I – we’re missing the boat sometimes.  We make Jesus shake his head, and facepalm and headdesk every now and then.  But…with a smile, I think.  A loving, gentle, hopeful smile.  And then…He takes us by the hand, leads us to the altar, brings us to the confessional, reveals Himself to us and invites us to look at Him and see our destiny.  And in His Transfiguration, we are transformed.

Then he leans back, gathers us into the selfie, takes a beautiful snapshot, and posts it:  #SquadGoals  #OnFleek