Archive for the ‘Ordinary Time’ Category

Count On It 11-17-2019

Thursday, November 14th, 2019

One night in 1983, over 100 million television viewers saw the
movie The Day After. Filmed in Lawrence, Kansas, it portrayed what
that city would be like after a nuclear attack.
Just before the film began, a warning flashed on the screen, saying,
“Because of graphic portrayal of nuclear war, this film may be
unsuitable for children. Parental discretion is advised.”
The warning was well given. For during the next 128 minutes, the
movie showed shocking scenes of death and destruction. The script, too,
was shocking and disturbing. It made us realize that the possibility of a
nuclear attack was greater than we had ever imagined.
The words and images of today’s gospel are reminiscent of the
words and images of that film.
Jesus portrays for us, graphically, the destruction of Jerusalem and
the Temple. For Jews, the destruction of these two things was equivalent to the end of the world. Precisely for this reason, the Church uses this gospel passage as
one of its readings for the end of the liturgical year. It wants us to reflect
on the end of the world.
It wants us to reflect on that moment when the world, as we know
it, will pass away.
It wants us to ask ourselves, “How prepared will we be for that
moment when it comes?”
A few stories to help us reflect…
John was a building contractor for a construction company. His
specialty was large luxury homes.
To increase his income, John routinely cheated on the materials
that went into the homes. He was so clever at concealing these shortcuts
that he joked to a close friend that even he couldn’t detect his own
shortcuts.
Sometimes his cheating reached such a proportion that the homeowners were in fairly serious danger because of the under
constructed electrical systems and the like. The building contractor’s shortcuts were especially dangerous in
the final home he built. Even he worried about some of the things he did
in that home.
You can imagine his utter consternation, therefore, when the
company gave the contractor this home as a retirement gift. It would be
the home in which he and his wife would spend the rest of their years.
How is this story a parable of life? What corners are we cutting in
our life, figuring nobody will be the wiser for it? Speak to God about
the shortcuts in our life.
In April 1987, Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle was returning by
plane to his home in Dallas. Suddenly he began to sweat and have
difficulty breathing. The thought flashed into his mind: “I’m having a
heart attack!” He summoned a flight attendant and was given oxygen.
When the plane landed, he was rushed to a hospital.
Later, Mantle told an Associated Press correspondent about dream he had while he was in the hospital. “I dreamed I died and went to heaven. Saint Peter greeted me. I
said, ‘I’m Mickey Mantle.’ He said, ‘Really? Come in, God wants to
see you.’
“I went to see God, and he said, ‘We can’t keep you here because
of the way you acted. But do me a favor and sign six dozen baseballs.’”
When the humor of Mantle’s dream subsides, truth emerges: No
one will escape God’s judgment, and no one will get VIP treatment in
that judgment.
What frightens us most about standing before God in judgment?
Speak to God about this fear, and ask God how we can overcome it.
I would like to close with these few words, think of them when you
start worrying too much about anything. Especially about when the end
of the world might happen.
If God were to drop us a postcard today, I think he might write,
“My dear sons and daughters I love you in Jesus more than you can ever
know. Through the human nature of my son I share all of your life with
you – even the sickness and failure and pain, even the final cross and the knowledge of death. Not all, or even many, of the crosses you will put up with in life are of my making. Believe me, I grieve over them just as
much as you do. But in the midst of it all, I will be there. I will be there
with you. I will be there for you. And a relationship will be forged
between us that earth and time and heaven and hell will never be able to
break. I love you. True, bad things are bound to happen – but never the
worst. I will always have you, and you will always have me. Count on
it!”

Worshiping at our own altars 11-10-2019

Sunday, November 10th, 2019

A writer had a dream in which she visited hell.
To her surprise, this hell had no infinite fire or bottomless burning
chasms of tormented souls. It was not like the hell she had pictured at
all; in fact, it was rather “church-like.” She was led through some dark
passages lined with the doors to many cells. Each cell she passed was
identical. The central piece of furniture in each cell was an altar and
before each altar knelt a sickly, weak, greenish-gray, ghostly figure in
intense prayer and adoration.
“But whom are they worshiping?” the visitor asked her guide.
“Themselves,” was the reply. “This is pure self-worship. In their
worship of their own beings, in placing their hopes and dependence on
themselves and their own dreams alone, they are feeding on themselves
and exhausting their own spirits. That is why they look so sickly and
emaciated.”
The writer was appalled and saddened by row upon row of cells,
small prisons for their pathetic, non-communicating inmates, who were doomed to spend eternity in solitary confinement, themselves their first,
last and only object of worship.
God, as revealed by Christ, is not the vengeful Judge or cosmic
Tyrant who takes cruel delight in our failures; the God taught by Jesus in
our Gospel is the God of life, a God whose limitless love put us and all
of creation in motion. God will love us for all eternity – but there
always exists the possibility that we will refuse that love. That refusal to
accept God’s love, the refusal to respond to God’s love, is precisely the
meaning of hell. Hell is not a place where God puts us – it’s a place
where we put ourselves. But to become “children of the God of life” is
to dismantle the hells we create and set in their places the justice, peace
and forgiveness that are the building stones of the kingdom of God.
Worshiping at our own altars. Lord have mercy!

Jesus came to See and to Save those who were Lost 11-3-2019

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

The first Sunday after All Saints Day we have saints fresh
on our minds. Today the Gospel lesson tells the story of one
such saint. He is curiously and obviously flawed. In fact, his sins
and failures are so plain that his acceptance by God is somewhat
a scandal. But in the end he becomes an example of Gods
gracious work. And his inclusion in the circle of God gives
ordinary people like us great hope. His name is Zacchaeus.
His is the story of a little, lonely, sinful man who has an
encounter with Jesus while Zacchaeus was hiding in a tree.
Quite a ridiculous place for a grown man, don’t you think? But
that encounter with Jesus changed his life in a very big way.
What lessons can this curious story teach us today?
FIRST, IF ZACCHAEUS CAN BE A SAINT, ANYONE
CAN. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Even worse, he was a chief tax collector. Do not think IRS here, think Mafia or drug dealer. In the world of the New Testament, tax collectors were local
Jews who purchased their tax collection job from the Romans,
and then collected the hated taxes for the hated Romans from
their neighbors, plus whatever extra they could squeeze on top
for themselves. Tax collectors had to be greedy enough to sell
their own soul for a shekel, and be willing to turn against their
own family and friends to turn a profit.
As you might imagine, tax collectors were invariably
wealthy, and invariably friendless. They were outcast from the
Jewish synagogue, and every other gathering of Jews in town.
So despised were tax collectors in the first century, that the
phrases “tax collector” and “sinner” were considered
synonymous. And yet Jesus sought out Zacchaeus. Like a
hunted animal hiding in a tree, Zacchaeus found himself trapped in the scope of grace. And when Jesus offered a kind word of
acceptance instead of a fire and brimstone sermon, Zacchaeus fell from the tree with wide-eyed amazement. How long had it
been since someone from the “good side of town” wanted to eat
with Zacchaeus?
The point for us is plain; Jesus has come to seek and to
save those who are lost. Even before sinners are seeking God,
God is seeking them. And sinners do not have to clean up their
act before God will love them; rather it is Gods love offered first
that causes a sinner to want to clean up his or her act. Every
saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. That is the hope
that keeps us all humble, and gives each of us the chance we do
not deserve to be acceptable by God.
SECOND, GOD USES THE LIVES OF SAINTS TO
SHOW THE WORLD GLIMPSES OF THE KINGDOM Of GOD. What makes Zacchaeus a saint if it is not his moral purity
or good deeds? It is the way God uses his story to instruct us all
in the way of the gospel. Zacchaeus gives us all hope, precisely because he is so unworthy. And this story reminds the Church of
our mission to embody the gracious initiative of Gods welcome.
Does it bother you that the sinners who were so drawn to
Jesus in the New Testament are often so uncomfortable today in
His Church? God does not only use lives that are pure and clean,
like unbroken shiny glass windows. Sure the light of Gospel can
shine through such clear lives, and thanks be to God for moral
and godly people today like that. But God can also use broken,
stained lives. Like odd shaped pieces of broken and stained
glass, God can assemble these into a beautiful picture of the
gospel too. The Church is a mosaic of stained glass lives,
assembled in a way that only God could conceive. Stained glass
can tell the story of the gospel too, can it not? Thanks be to God!
Zacchaeus was a new man after the meal with Jesus. He
lost his Midas touch, gave away half of his money to the poor,
and paid back every person he had cheated (which was the entire town!) four fold. He gave away his wealth, but gained a
community of faith and friendship. And what is more, he
foreshadowed the cross that would come only one week later for
Jesus, when he would be again in the presence of thieves up a
tree. And again, with his last breath, Jesus would be welcoming
every crook who would accept a chance to sit at the banquet
table of Paradise. Why? Because he had come to seek and to
save those who were lost. People like you and me. People who
call ourselves Church. If nothing else Church and Church
people like Zacchaeus must be about seeking and welcoming
those who are lost.
I close by asking that when you approach the table of the
Lord today, think about that. Come humbly. Come gratefully and leave walking a bit taller than before
assembled in a way that only God could conceive. Stained glass