A Difficult Challenge! 2-24-2019

February 21st, 2019

I find this Gospel very difficult. I say to myself – what a difficult challenge! What helped me were these two stories. Listen.
When Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for the presidency, one of his arch-enemies was a man named Edwin Stanton. For some reason Stanton hated Lincoln. He used every once of his energy to degrade Lincoln in the eyes of the public. So deep rooted was Stanton’s hate for Lincoln that he uttered unkind words about his physical appearance and sought to embarrass him at every point. But, in spite of this, Lincoln was elected the sixteenth president of the United States.
Then came the period when Lincoln had to select his cabinet, which would consist of persons who would be his most intimate associates in implementing his programs. He started choosing men here and there for the various positions.
The day finally came for Lincoln to select the all-important post of Secretary of War. Can you imagine who Lincoln chose to fill this post? None other than the man named Stanton. There was an immediate uproar in the president’s inner circle when the news began to spread. Advisor after advisor was heard saying, “Mr. President, you are making a mistake. Do you know this man Stanton? Are you familiar with all the ugly things he said about you? He is your enemy. He will seek to sabotage your programs. Have you thought this through, Mr. President?”
Mr. Lincoln’s answer was terse and to the point: “Yes, I know Mr. Stanton. I am aware of all the terrible things he said about me. But after looking over the nation, I find he is the best man for the job.” So Stanton became Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War and rendered an invaluable service to his nation and his president.
Not many years later Lincoln was assassinated. Many laudable things were said about him. But of all the great statements made about Abraham Lincoln, the words of Stanton remain among the greatest. Standing near the dead body of the man he once hated, Stanton referred to him as one of the greatest men who ever lived and said, “He now belongs to the ages.”
If Lincoln had hated Stanton both men would have gone to their graves as bitter enemies. But through the power of forgiveness Lincoln transformed an enemy into a friend. One simple act of forgiveness can change people’s lives. Are there any Stanton’s in your life right now?
Some years ago, a pastor in Boston was being harassed by a woman in his congregation. She started false rumors about him. She wrote vicious letters about him to his bishop and others. She initiated petitions to have him removed. After several months of this, the woman moved to another city and not long afterward was converted to Christ. Part of the process of her conversion was to realize the terrible wrong she had done and all the pain and suffering she had inflicted on her pastor in Boston. Consequently, she wrote him a long letter explaining what had happened to her and how deeply she regretted what she had done to him. The pastor immediately sent her a telegram with three words on it: “Forgiven, forgotten, forever!”
Is there someone we/you/me need to say those words to and mean them? Forgiven, Forgotten, Forever or do we want to live life like the trapped rattlesnake filled with resentment and bitterness and bite ourselves to death! I hope not. Lord help us!

The Toast 2-17-2019

February 17th, 2019

It was at your wedding, and you and the guests were standing around at the reception, having a good time. And the best man signaled for everyone to be quiet for the toast. Everyone raised their glasses. The best man smiled at you and began:
To you. He said. I hope you are always wealthy, wanting for nothing. I hope you are always full, feeling no emptiness inside. I hope you will laugh and laugh and never know tears. I hope that always people will speak well of you.
Hear, hear. Everyone shouted, and clinked their glasses.
And then someone else went to the microphone there at the head table. Someone who perhaps had not been invited. Dressed in the simple plain homespun robe of the lower class, he looked out of place among all the suits and ties and Sunday dresses.
Clearing his voice, motioning for silence, he raised a glass and began his toast. Looking deep into your eyes, he began: And I have a toast to make. I can say with certainty, that I love you more than anyone here. In fact, I love you more than everyone here put together. And here are my hopes.
I hope you are poor at times. Your poverty might lead you to search me out, and in me you have a form of wealth greater than any king.
I hope you feel empty inside sometimes. People always full get complacent, lazy, closed.
I hope that you cry sometimes. Nothing is more superficial than a person who won’t let the sorrow of others and his or her own pain come close enough to reach their heart.
Lastly, I hope you live your life so honestly and so sincerely and so close to me that people are mystified by you and speak ill of you. An easy conformity to the world does no one any good, especially you.
And then this guest, still smiling intently at you, drank his glass, emptied it with so much gusto you’d have thought he was drinking in the Kingdom of God.
Very strange good wishes – from a very special friend.

God Loves Me? 2-10-2019

February 9th, 2019

What I find helps me understand the Scriptures better is to get on the inside of some of the characters. These characters are human beings-just like us. I try to feel what they are feeling – I try to walk in their shoes.
In our first reading and Gospel we have two characters – human beings, Isaiah and Simon-Peter. They are both suffering from what we call today an “Inferiority Complex,” when it comes to God. Like these two characters, I believe many of us who come here Sunday after Sunday, also are suffering from an inferiority complex when it comes to God – How do I know? What do I hear?
1. We are not good enough.
2. We are not wise enough in God’s ways to consider ourselves religious.
Like Isaiah and Simon-Peter – we shy away because we cannot imagine God loving sinful people like us.
A perfect example – This week I had four appointments in a row – There was a basic theme that ran through all these people’s stories. “I feel unworthy” to be in a relationship with God. How could I be part of the church with all my sins, failures, and frustrations? How can I share in the ministry of Jesus Christ like he wants me – us to do?
These people’s reactions sound pretty similar to Isaiah and Simon-Peter’s reaction. We hear God say, “Listen – I have a special job for you to do.” We hear them say, “Leave me alone Lord – I am a sinful person – I am unable and unworthy to be used by you”.
Isaiah and Simon-Peter, all of us here we need to be reminded over and over again – of three very important points:
1. The Mystery of God – is that God loves us despite ourselves – Thomas Merton wrote that the root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved by God irrespective of one’s worth. I heard someone define a disciple of Jesus as a “loved sinner.”
2. We don’t have to be Perfect First to be used by God. God wants our yes – God will take care of the rest. There is a prayer card that reads: “Nothing would be done at all if a person waited until they could do it so well – that no one could find fault with it.” 3. The “Break Thru” point – in being in a healthy relationship with God in truly being a disciple of Jesus Christ is this: Trusting enough to give our faults – failures – sins to God and allowing the healing power of God to work through us and with us – When Isaiah and Simon-Peter finally trusted enough to do this, it changed their lives- they were both able to say and believe it,
Here I am Lord – Send Me – Send Me.
4. Let me close with a very few words from the wonderful spiritual writer and speaker Maya Angelou. I hope and pray these words – touch the hearts of those of us with the inferiority complex when it comes to God. Listen carefully:
“In my twenties in San Francisco, I began acting agnostic. It wasn’t that I stopped believing in God; it’s just that God didn’t seem to be around the neighborhoods I frequented. One day my voice teacher asked me to read a passage from a book. A section which ended with these words: God loves me. I read it again and closed the book, and my teacher said, ‘Read it again.’ I pointedly opened the book, and I sarcastically read, God loves me. He said, ‘Read it again.’
“After about the seventh repetition, I began to sense that there might be truth in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me – me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things, I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me and God?” Maya Angelou went on to say,
“…That knowledge humbles me, melts my bones, closes my ears and makes my teeth rock loosely in their gums. And it also liberates me.” “God loves me.” “Believe it”.