First Sunday of Lent 2-18-2018

February 16th, 2018

On T.V. today, we see a lot of political debates. Reporters usually interview the winners and losers. To the losers, the reporters often ask very blunt and often irritating questions.
I would like to take you to one of those interviews—except the participants are not politicians.
They are Jesus and the Devil. The Devil, like in the gospel, has just lost very badly in his debate with Jesus over such things as power, prestige, values. I believe it would go like this—let’s listen:
“Mr. Devil – How are you feeling after the debate?” “Terrible, lousy – how would you feel if you just got your _____ kicked by Jesus?
“Do you plan on a rematch — A second debate?”
“You can count on it, but next time, I am going to develop a new strategy, a new plan of attack! I’ll tell you one thing, Mr. Reporter, the next time I won’t be wearing a red outfit with horns and a tail. That outfit is too obvious. I must come up with some new outfits, with some new temptations, and remember this—you can count on one thing—I am not going away!” shouted the Devil.
Till the day we die, we are going to be tempted to do or say things that hurt ourselves—hurt others—and damage our relationship with God. We are going to wrestle on a regular basis with how to keep things like food, work, relationships, sex, money, computers, sports, the list goes on—how do I keep them in a healthy perspective and not abuse them, not allow them to get out of balance.
In these areas of our life and in many others, we are gong to be under attack. We are in a Giant Tug of War with Mr. Devil.
It’s OK to tell little lies, your wife will never find out. Cheating in school doesn’t hurt anyone. You don’t need God, look out for number 1. Church is for hypocrites—you’re a virgin—everyone does it—a couple of pills won’t hurt at all—come on—just one drink. “A Tug of War”.
The Good News is that we are not in this “Tug of War” alone. Our God has said over and over—I am with you. It won’t be easy, but no matter how dark it gets—you are not alone. I want to be your partner!
In closing, I have one final and very important point to make.
What happens when we blow it, when we give into temptations that get us into trouble, cause us to sin, leave us with a lot of guilt?
Do we pretend like it’s no big deal? I hope not.
Do we beat ourselves up over and over again with tons of unhealthy guilt? I hope not.
Or, do we take responsibility for our actions—stop blaming other people, sincerely ask for forgiveness and healing and move on trusting in a God of second chances? A God who says, start over – try again. I hope so.
“I am not going away”, proclaims the Devil.
“I am with you always, through it all”, shouts the Lord of Hope. “Don’t forget, we will win the battle together—Believe it!”

GOD’s Absolute Love 2-11-2018

February 9th, 2018

I remember some years ago Bishop Fulton had a prime time TV show opposite Milton Berle every Wednesday night. One night he told about his visit to an African leper colony. He had brought along a supply of little silver crucifixes so he would have something special to give to each of the 500 lepers in the camp. The first leper he met had only the stumps of his left arm. And his right arm and hand were covered with ugly, open sores. Sheen took one of the little crucifixes, held it a few inches above the leper’s hand, and then let it drop into his palm.
In a flash, he was struck by what he’d done. “All at once”, he said, “I realized there were 501 lepers in the camp, and the most leprous of them all was myself. I had given a crucifix—the symbol of God’s absolute love for all of us—but then I had pulled back and closed my eyes to what the symbol implied for me. So I looked again very hard at that little crucifix, and I knew what I had to do. I pressed by hand to the leper’s hand with the symbol of love between us, and then I proceeded to do that for all of the remaining 499 lepers”!
None of us, thank God, are lepers. But there’s not one of us, if we are honest, whose heart hasn’t been wounded or even broken many times, not one of us who doesn’t need healing. So it is to all of us that Jesus is speaking by his actions in Sunday’s gospel. In stretching out his hand, touching that leper and healing him, Jesus is telling us—once again—that God does love us all no matter how damaged or broken we are. He’s telling us that no matter how bad we have been, our God will always be there for us, always be waiting for us to open our hearts so God can heal us.
That’s the first half of Jesus’ message, but there’s more. In addition to what God wants to do for us, there’s the matter of what God wants us to do for one another. And it turns out to be exactly the same thing; we are to become healers too, healers of one another. That sounds wonderful, but how do ordinary, wounded people like us become healers? Very simply by remembering how our own wounds feel and remembering what we need when we are broken. What we would like, of course, is a quick fix for our wounds, but what we need is a friend who will reach out just as Jesus did, take us by the hand, when our hand isn’t looking so good, and walk through the darkness with us and not let go of us halfway!
If that is what we need as we try to walk through our hurts and losses, it is also exactly what our brothers and sisters need. And it is something each of us can give.
Here is a real life example of what I am talking about.
Some years ago, an old man collapsed on a busy street corner in downtown Brooklyn. Within minutes an ambulance rushed him to Kings County Hospital. There he kept calling his son.
A nurse found a dog-eared letter in the man’s wallet. From it she learned that his son was a marine stationed in North Carolina.
That night an anxious marine showed up at the hospital. Immediately, the nurse took him to the old man’s bedside.
The man was heavily sedated. And so the nurse had to tell him several times, “Your son is here! Your son is here!”
Finally, the old man opened his eyes. He could barely make out his son, but he recognized his marine uniform. At that point, the son took his father’s hand and held it lovingly.
For the rest of that night, the marine sat at the man’s bedside. Occasionally, he patted the man’s hand and spoke to him tenderly.
Several times the nurse urged the marine to take a break and get something to eat or drink. But he refused.
Toward dawn, the old man died.
When the nurse extended her sympathy to the young man, the marine said, “Who was that man?”
“Wasn’t he your father?” the nurse asked.
“No, he wasn’t”, said the marine. “I never saw him before in my life”.
“Why didn’t you say something?” said the nurse.
“I would have”, said the marine, “but I could see that he was too sick to realize I wasn’t his son. I could also see that he was slipping fast and needed a son. So, I decided to become that son”.
Ordinary—wounded people can do things like this marine did for the old man. Extend a hand of friendship and help someone walk through the darkness to a new day.
Jesus did it—this marine did—we are asked to do the same.
Lord Help Us!

Demons 2-4-2018

February 4th, 2018

At the crack of dawn while the village slept, they made their way to the place where Jesus was visiting. Some came with paper bags on their heads. Others had on phony noses and fake mustaches. Yes, some of the men even came disguised in women’s dresses while some of the women had shoulder pads on under their sweaters and wore trousers so they’d look like men. Each had come alone because no one wanted anyone to know the reason for the visit. So, what a surprise it was to discover themselves in the courtyard of the home where Jesus was staying.
“Oh no!” One man gasped as he took the paper bag off his head and looked at the woman sitting across from him as she removed her beehive wig. “You mean you have a demon too?” “But you’re my wife!” ”
And you’re my husband! You never told me you had a demon?” She exclaimed.
The man next to her took off his fake beard and stared in disbelief at his wife sitting across from him as she took off her fake beard as well. Together they asked, “Have we both got demons?” And together they answered, “I guess we do.”
All over the room people who had come in various sizes and disguises had surprises had surprises as they bumped into neighbors, friends, relatives, and associates. Over and over they found themselves saying, “You have to be kidding!” “You have a demon too?” Well I never would have guessed it. How many times had we eaten together and not once did we suspect one another of having a demon.
Without knowing they would all be together, they had come intending to have Jesus expel their demons. As they waited in awkward silence for Jesus to appear, one lady spoke up. “Since now we know we all have demons, we might as well talk about them more openly to one another. After all, we have time. He can’t really take off our demons all at once.”
So, as they sat there waiting, gradually they began to describe the demons that possessed them. One potbellied man started out very quietly as he looked straight forward above the head of the woman across from him. He said he thought his demon was the suicidal thoughts that came into his head from time to time. He hadn’t wanted to tell anyone he had that demon because he was afraid they would think he was crazy.
A woman in floral patterned house dress checked to see if the man who had just spoken had finished and then she cleared her throat. “I get so depressed. I don’t feel like talking or walking. I just want to sleep all the time, and when I’m not sleeping, I eat donuts. So depression and overeating are my demons but I wouldn’t tell anyone because I’m afraid people would think I was really off the wall.”
“I get depressed too,” a young boy chimed in. “It is good to know someone else feels that way,” he said with relief. “I’m afraid to tell my friends because they’d think I was a wimp.”
“Well, I have to be strong so my family can lean on me and I don’t feel very strong a lot of time,” a huge man with big hands and muscular arms and legs said softly. “My weakness is my demon and I’d be afraid to tell the other fellas that.”
At first, the conversation stopped and started, lapsing into long silences, but as one, then two, then three villagers spoke up, more and more people wanted to speak. Husbands and wives shard their demons with one another: fathers and sons, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters. As one revealed his or her demons and the fear of speaking about them due to what others might think, everyone else listened with an understanding heart. Their understanding arose from having many of the same demons and fears themselves.
As they spoke, they gradually readjusted their chairs so they could see and hear one another more clearly. The potbellied man said, “I’m not as afraid as I was. I don’t feel so anxious. I wonder if my demon has fallen asleep.”
And the woman who ate so many donuts said, “I’m not as afraid as I was either. I think my demon must have gone out to lunch.”
“My demon must have gone with yours,” added the man with the big muscles. From all over the circle others talked about how they were less fearful.
Then the door opened and there in the archway stood: the one for whom they had been waiting. He had a warm smile on his face and they all smiled back, expecting him to call them one by one. But he did not. He surprised them by telling them they could go home because they had already been exorcised. Their demons had been expelled and sent on their way.
“How can that be?” Was he kidding them?
He motioned them to be quiet as he said, “Think back for a moment about what had just happened. Many of you have known one another for years. In some instances you have shared the same bed, the same office or table or playing field. Yet, you were unaware that each of you had your own special demon. And why was that? Because of your own fear of admitting what you were going through. And that is the real demon! That is the demon which had paralyzed and cut you off from one another. That is the reason the demon has controlled you and had you in his power. The exorcism I have to offer, you have already experienced because you have come together and listened to one another as you have never done before. Your demon no longer controls you.”
Then he told them that he had lots of work to do that day. They could all go, and as they left they could drop their disguises in the waste basket near the door. After all, they no longer had any need of disguises. Their demons had gone.