Archive for October, 2016

Jesus came to See and to Save those who were Lost 10-30-2016

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

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.

Your Halo is on too Tight 10-23-2016

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

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!”

A Grateful People 10-9-2016

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

There was once a stonecutter who was very happy with his life and work. He had a wonderful family whom he loved; he made a good living cutting and preparing stone for beautiful buildings.
Then one day he delivered a piece of stone to a merchant. The merchant owned many lavish possessions. The stonecutter began to feel he was missing out on something in his life. “I wish I were a merchant with such fine things,” the stonecutter thought to himself.
Amazingly, the stonecutter’s wish came to be. Suddenly he was a merchant who wore fancy clothes and lived in a beautiful home. His shop was filled with ornate trinkets and fine goods. The onetime stonecutter thought that life couldn’t get any better – until he saw the prince passing through town.
Then he began thinking that to be of noble birth would be much better than being a simple merchant. And so it came to be: He found himself dressed in royal garb, sitting atop a fine stallion, parading through the village. But under the hot sun and heavy clothing, he grew weary and cranky.
The stonecutter-merchant-prince thought that if he were the sun, he could have a profound effect on the entire universe. So he became the sun. And it was wonderful – until a cloud blocked his rays from getting to the land.
So he wished he could be a cloud to bring rain to water the earth. And so he became a cloud. He found himself looming over a desolate mountain valley. He showered the area day and night, creating lakes and rivers. In time, springs of life began to sprout up on the landscape. But the mountain itself remained immovable and unchanged. It was solid and more powerful than his cloud.
So the cloud wanted, instead to be the mountain. And so he became the mountain. For a while the mountain was happy to be such a powerful presence – until a young stonecutter came along and began to chisel away at him.
And the mountain wished to be a stonecutter again.
Some of us never know that moment of realization experienced by the grateful leper: we never realize how much we have received from God. Instead, we whine about what we do not have; we are mired in disappointment because they have more than me. We become cynical, distrustful, isolated and self-absorbed. As the Samaritan leper discovers, as the stonecutter eventually comes to understand, each one of us has been given much by God, and realizing those gifts, that spirit of gratitude, is the beginning of faith.
Rabbi Herald S. Kushner writing in his latest book, The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the 23rd Psalm, reminds us that gratitude is a conscious and intentional perspective of looking at our lives and our world.
“Each night as I prepare for bed, I put drops in my eyes to fend off the threat of glaucoma that would rob me of my sight and take from me the pleasure of reading. Each morning at breakfast, I take a pill to control by blood pressure, and each evening at dinner I take another to lower my cholesterol level. But instead of lamenting the ailments that come with growing older, instead of wishing that I were as young and fit as I once was, I take my medicine with a prayer of thanks that modern science has found ways to help me cope with these ailments. I think of all my ancestors who didn’t live long enough to develop the complications of old age, and did not have pills to take when they did.”
Gratitude is a conscious and intentional perspective of looking at our lives and our world. Gratitude is the beginning of faith. Let us be a grateful people.