Worshiping at our own altars 11-10-2019

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
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

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?
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.
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

Your Halo is on too Tight 10-27-2019

October 27th, 2019

I would like to do a little replay of this Gospel to understand it
better. I would like the people on the right side of the church to be
sinners and the people on the left side to be Pharisees. I am going to
tell a story, the gospel story again, using different words. When I ask
you to stand, one side at a time, please stand.
One time Jesus told this story about those who considered
themselves better than anyone else and were always comparing
themselves. One time two people came to the church to pray. One
was a Pharisee and the other was a public sinner. The Pharisee came
to the front of the church, genuflected and then prayed to God this
way (will everyone on this side of the church please stand today in
this play you are the Pharisees). The Pharisees prayed in this way, “O
Lord I give you thanks that I am not like everyone else. I give you
thanks that I am a Catholic, that I come to Mass on Sunday, and that I
am better than others. I give you thanks that I am a registered member and I am better than others. Especially I give you thanks that
I am better than those sinners on the other side of the church. (Now
look at those sinners on the other side of the church.) Pharisees
please sit down.
Time for the sinners to pray (will everyone on this side of the
church please stand), without even raising their eyes to heaven they
said, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said, “It is a shame,
but the Pharisees return to their homes without grace while the
sinners return to their homes full of God’s mercy.” Please be seated.
A question for us is, what was the sin of the Pharisees? There are
probably good people, they are involved in the church, they go to
meetings, they abstain from serious sin, but they do one thing that is
very wrong. The sin they committed is that they compared
themselves to others.
In a large family sorrows and heartbreak come when the children begin comparing themselves to one another. One says, “I am better
than the rest of my brothers and sisters.” Or one says, “I am not as
good as my brothers and sisters.” God loves and respects each one of us. God does not compare people one to another, and in the parable
today Jesus asks us not to compare ourselves. Problems come when
religion says, “my religion is better. I am better than you are because
I belong to this religion.”
On my hand there are five fingers. Each finger is a different shape.
Each finger has different strengths. Each finger has a different size.
My thumb is stronger than my little finger. One of my fingers is
longer than the others, yet every finger is important on my hand.
What foolishness, if my fingers have a fight amongst themselves,
comparing themselves to each other and trying to decide who is better
or who is worse. All of them are needed. We are all fingers on God’s
hand. God needs each one of us. Each person has gifts and
weaknesses. Some of the fingers on God’s hands are full of sins and
troubles. Some of the fingers on God’s hands might have diseases,
but each finger is important and God loves each finger equally.
We are all supposed to fit together. Let us respect each other, let
us accept each other and let us not give in to the temptation of comparing ourselves to one another.
I close with this story about a person who thought he was better than
anyone else.
A modern-day, self-righteous, self-appointed saint went to the
doctor for a check-up. “I’m not feeling very well these day,” he said.
“Please examine me thoroughly, and tell me what’s wrong.”
Whereupon, the doctor began with a few questions…
“Do you drink a lot?”“No, I never touch the stuff. I’m a teetotaler, and proud of it.”
“Do you smoke?”
“No. I’ve never gone near tobacco, and I’m proud of it.”
“What about your sleeping habits?”
“I go to bed early. While others are out carousing late at night, I’m
in bed by 10:30, and I’m proud of it.”
“Well, what is your complaint at this time?” “I have terrible pains in my head.”
“Aha! That’s your trouble. Your halo is on too tight!”