Archive for the ‘15th Sunday’ Category

God’s List 7-15-2018

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Have you ever wanted to give God suggestions about how God ought to do things? Not earth-shattering suggestions, perhaps. Just simple things…like the foods we eat. Why not put all the vitamins and minerals in the tasty foods? Save all the fat and cholesterol for spinach and brussel sprouts.
God could also use some advice about the kind of people God calls to do his work. God seems to have this thing about calling very imperfect people. Certainly Abraham was imperfect. Why he once tried to pass off his wife as his sister. And Moses was imperfect. He once killed a man in a fit of anger. Then there was Samson. Look how easily he let a woman lead him. And then David. Adulterer. Murderer. Surely God could have done better. And Jonah – fleeing from God because he hated the people of Nineveh.
For that matter, I probably would not have chosen Simon Peter. Sure he ended up as a rock, but before that he was a wishy washy coward. And James and John. Always jockeying for a place of prominence.
Can you imagine a church board interviewing the prophet Amos!
“Now, Mr. Amos, let’s have a look at your credentials.”
“Credentials?”
“Yes, your credentials. Where did you go to school? What major theologian has influenced your thinking? Where were you first ordained?”
“Theologian?” “Ordained? Well you see, I’m a shepherd by background. I really haven’t had much formal training. I did work for awhile dressing sycamore trees, if that counts for anything. As for theology, I don’t know that any one person has influenced my thinking. But I’ve seen people cheated in the market place. I’ve seen widows thrown out of their homes. I’ve seen children sold for a pair of shoes. And God has told me it’s not right. God has called me to confront the doers of injustice in society and to proclaim God’s righteousness.”
“Sycamore trees? Righteousness? Well, Mr. Amos, Hmmm…we really were looking for someone with a doctorate. And we would prefer a ministry that was not confrontational.” Poor Amos. He wouldn’t have made it past the first interview. God just isn’t very good at choosing the kind of people who represent God…”Hum” – I wonder?
Pastor Jim Moore recalls when he took a course in pastoral care as a part of his seminary training. One day he was asked to visit a woman in the hospital who had lost her will to live; she had no cards or flowers, and she sat all day in a darkened room. But Jim was terrified. He felt that he was too inexperienced, and that he wouldn’t know what to do. And his nervousness affected his visit.
First he pushed the door open too hard and it slammed against the wall. Next he walked over and accidentally kicked the bed. He stammered, stuttered and said all the wrong things in between long periods of embarrassed silence. Finally he tried to say a prayer, but even that didn’t come out right. He left the room that day with tears in his eyes, ready to quit the ministry. He felt ashamed that this patient had needed him, and he had failed her.
But a few days later Jim went courageously back. Imagine his surprise when he found the woman sitting up in bed writing letters. Flowers and cards were everywhere. She recognized him at once, and began thanking him over and over for the visit he had paid her.
Jim was confused, because he knew he had botched the visit. He had done everything painfully wrong, and he confessed as much to her.
“But that’s just it,” she replied. “I felt so sorry for you! It was the first time I had felt anything but self-pity for months. And that little spark of compassion for you gave me the will to live. As followers, as disciples of Jesus our weaknesses are often blessings in disguise.
Former professional baseball player Roy Campanella, who was confined to a wheelchair following an accident, found an important resource in his faith. He had felt only anguish and despair immediately following the accident, and he spent many nights crying himself to sleep. He healed poorly in those first few months, and one day his physician came in and told him frankly that if he didn’t become responsible for his own healing, he would never recover.
Campanella knew that he would never leave his wheelchair. He knew that he would never play ball again. But he also knew that the doctor was right. All his life he had found help in his faith. And now, from the depths of his despair, he turned once more to the Lord. He had a nurse read him the Twenty-third Psalm, and from that moment, Campanella improved. He knew that God was on his side.
Sometime later Roy Campanella had an encounter with an elderly woman in Florida. He was sitting in his wheelchair at a ball park when he noticed a crippled, elderly woman working her way slowly up a steep ramp. She had braces on both legs and a crutch, but she struggled up the ramp until she reached him. Then panting from her exertion, she looked at him, and then took his hand in hers. And she thanked him for her life.
She had been a patient in the same New Your hospital when he was recovering form his accident. A stroke had left her paralyzed on one side of her entire body, and she had lost her will to live. But the doctors told her about Campanella and his courage and faith in the face of overwhelming adversity. She had been so inspired by the story that she determined to make the effort to live. And now she had traveled over a thousand miles to meet him in person and thank him.
Time after time we have seen people who were physically weak develop such spiritual strength that they have inspired others.

I close:
God seems to have this thing calling imperfect weak people – to be messengers. I believe God knows what God is doing! I wonder if any of us are on God’s list.

The Prison Angel 7-16-2017

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

She rises each day at 5 A.M. in her tiny prison cell. She spends the first hour in quiet prayer; then, fueled by countless cups of coffee, she begins her rounds of the cell blocks, distributing clothing, blankets and soap to prisoners. She visits the prison hospital, counsels new inmates, and meets with families. She has diffused tensions between desperate inmates and nervous guards; she has made the most hardened con accept responsibility for his crimes and seek forgiveness from his victims.
She is not the warden. She is not a guard. She is a 78-year-old nun known as Mother Antonia. Her “home” is Tijuana’s La Mesa prison, just across the border from San Diego. For 28 years, she has lived among the 6,000 inmates of what was once one of Mexico’s most dangerous prisons.
The only member of her order allowed to live inside the prison, Mother Antonia spends ten hours a day among the prisoners. Sisters in her community work in Tijuana’s neighborhoods providing support for families of both inmates and guards, counseling mothers separated from children, even helping arrange funerals for those who die in prison.
Mother Antonia’s own life and upbringing could not have been more different. Born Mary Clarke, she was the daughter of a wealthy Los Angeles businessman. A striking beauty, Mary grew up in a Beverly Hills mansion with Hollywood stars Dinah Shore and Cary Grant for neighbors. Twice married, she raised seven children who adore her. Mary’s many hours of charity work became a source of tension in her second marriage and eventually led to divorce. In 1977, with her marriage over and her children all grown, Mary felt a powerful pull to do more.
With the support of her children, she sold her belongings and drove to Tijuana, where she had been making church-sponsored relief visits, and began religious life. She convinced the warden to let her stay and began the dangerous task of winning inmates over with small acts of kindness.
(Her journey from Beverly Hills to the barrios of Tijuana is chronicled in the book The Prison Angel, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan.)
“I wanted to dedicate my life to the poor,” she says. “I didn’t want to just pity them. I wanted to become a significant part of their lives…I guess you might say I’m in love with these people who the rest of the world finds unlovable.”
The warden believes that Mother Antonia is the most important person at La Mesa. “Mother Antonia brings hope to men and women here. And they find hope in themselves. She spreads the love of God.” Beloved by the guards, her presence has made their jobs safer and more humane.
What drives her, she says, is her faith. “[My faith] is what makes my heart beat. That’s who I am.” Of her work among the prisoners of La Mesa, she says: “Like a mother, I always search for the best in my children.”
Mother Antonia models the sower of today’s Gospel, who sows seeds of encouragement, joy and reconciliation regardless of the “ground” on which it is scattered, and who is willing to do the hard work necessary to realize the harvest that Christ has promised.
I close: The reign of God is like a seed. That seed is the kindness we do, the worship we share in, the conversation around the dinner table, the soup to the sick neighbor, the decisions to put the family first. The seed is being sensitive to minorities. The seed is making your children bring back the little things they’ve stolen, and apologize. The seed is having them catch you at prayer. The seed is your being here.
I like the seed symbol, mostly, I guess, because it fits me. I can handle a seed. We seldom have the opportunity, or even the courage, to do the big things, the really big, heroic things. But everyday, like Mother Antonia, we all have the opportunity to do the small ones that display our values and the values of Jesus; values, perhaps, small as a seed, but seeds that will bear fruit thirty, forty, fifty years from now.
Remember this: do the little things well and let God do the rest.