Archive for February, 2020

Ash Wednesday 2-26-2020

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

Ann was so thrilled. Her mom and dad had given her a new car. It
was big and red and had a great sound system. “Ann, this belongs to
you. The only thing we ask is that you take care of it.”
“Oh, I will, I will”, she said. And it looked like she did. I mean,
every morning she got up and washed all the car windows. And every
afternoon, she washed the whole car. And every evening she polished
the car by hand.
Nevertheless, in less than a year, the car was making terrible
sounds. And finally it quit running completely.
At first, she was ashamed to tell her father. But finally she went to
her parents, in tears, and burst out “there’s something wrong with the
car. It’s not working anymore”.
After a long conversation they realized what was wrong. “Ann”,
her father explained, “it’s not enough to keep the outside of the car
pretty. The most important part of the car is the inside. You never
changed the oil; you never checked the battery; you never tuned the
engine”. “Will you help me fix the car, daddy?” said Ann. “Yes of course
I will. But there’s one thing I would like you to do. Just for today. I
want you to take a handful of mud and smear it on the front hood of the
car. Just for today. It will help you remember that what is really
important about a car is its inside”.
It might seem strange to you, what that father is asking. But God
is asking you to do the same thing today. A lot of times, we give a lot of
attention to taking care of the outside of ourselves. We bathe our
bodies; we comb our hair; we brush our teeth; and we put on nice
That’s all good. We should. But there’s something more
important about us. Our souls. That’s the part inside us. God says
today: Take care of your souls. Put some ashes on your forehead to
remind you that the most important thing about you is what’s inside.
That’s the part of you I want to take care of. That’s the part of you I
want to turn into pure love.
We are lucky to have Lent.

Those People 2-23-2020

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

A school had organized a food drive. A teacher was looking at all
that had been collected. Not just the usual mac-and-cheese donations,
but some pretty high-end items filled the bins: gluten-free crackers, rice
pasta, artichoke hearts packed with seasoned oil, and quinoa.
Another woman walked by, and seeing the items that had been donated,
smiled and said, “Too bad they won’t know what to do with most of it”.
The teacher asked, “What do you mean?”
“Those people won’t know what most of that stuff is. I mean,
really, Quinoa?” The teacher had heard correctly: “Those people”.
The teacher knew “those people.” Eight months before she had
been one of “those people”. It had been eight months since the last time
she had gotten groceries at the local food pantry. Eight months since the
long-overdue child support from her ex-husband kicked in. Even though
it wasn’t much, it made the difference between being able to buy enough
food for her and her family to make it through the week–and for that she
was grateful. “Those people.”
She remembered the first time she had gone to the food pantry.
She drove by several times before working up the courage to pull into
the parking lot. “I can’t” she whispered and went home – to the empty
refrigerator and kitchen cupboards. Finally, desperation overshadowed
“Those people.”
She finally walked through the door. She could feel the heat on
her cheeks as she filled out the paperwork, telling complete strangers her
life history, how much money she earned, and what she spent it on.
“Those people.”
She quickly learned that food pantries are hit-or-miss. Some days
the shelves are full, and with really good things – and other days you can
barely pull a few meals together from the dented cans and spoiled
produce. But beggars can’t be choosers, right?
“Those people”.
She made five trips to the pantry over eleven months. When she
told her kids, she expected them to laugh or get angry or be embarrassed. Instead, they helped her put the groceries away, quietly. She remembers
all the meals she made with the food pantry items. Oven-roasted
chicken with quartered rosemary potatoes. Turkey chili. French toast.
More mac-and-cheese that she cared to admit. One of her favorites was
an organic risotto, flavored with mushrooms and olive oil.
“Those people”.
She wanted to walk up to that woman in the hallway, grab her by
the shoulders, and shake her: You don’t know a thing about how it feels
to walk into one of “those” places and be one of “those” people.
You’ve never looked at your kids and had to hide your tears because you
had no idea how you were going to feed them”. But she didn’t. All she
could muster was: “I like quinoa”.
If only she knew.
It’s not that we “hate” others: it’s our attitude of superiority over
those who don’t measure up to our “standards” of what is good and right
and correct, it’s that lack of respect and empathy for the poor that Jesus
condemns. The Kingdom of God is first realized when we can see “those people” as our brothers and sisters, worthy not only of our help
and understanding but of our respect; that, in their perseverance and
courage as they struggle to make lives for themselves and their families,
the love of God dwells in their midst, as well as ours. The Kingdom of
God begins when we realize that “those people” are us.

Billy, Billy, Billy 2-16-2020

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Not very long ago, I was having dinner at some friend’s house, and
got a chance to sit next to….Billy. Billy is somewhere between one and
two, probably closer to two, and has strong opinions about what he likes
and what he doesn’t like. No matter if mamma is telling him in a sweet
voice how nummy-nummy the mashed peas are, no matter if dad ends
up eating half of the loathsome vegetables himself in order to show him
how mmm-mmm good they are—if he doesn’t like them, he starts
throwing. He threw the spoon, he threw the cup, he threw the bowl…and
finally, in an unguarded moment, he threw the Gerber’s jar and the
peas…right at me.
Billy is young. He hasn’t had a chance to learn yet how to respect
things. He doesn’t know that when you throw things, they sometimes
get dinged or cracked or broken. He’ll learn. In fact, that is one of life’s
great accomplishments…learning respect. It’s a life-long process. I
remember comparing how my cousins and I used to do dishes, compared
to the way my grandmother did, for instance. As teenagers we tore into those dishes as quickly as we could, they went flying. There was always
at least one fatality, quite often an old cup or plate. We were a little
better than Billy, but we had a way to go. Things still got dinged and
cracked and broken.
And then there was Grandma. Perhaps she was like most old
people. She handled the dishes slowly, with a sort of reverence. Her
wrinkled old hands took hold of each platter and glass as if it were a
special old friend. I don’t remember her ever breaking anything. She
had learned respect. She knew how easily things can get dinged and
cracked and broken. She knew how to respect food and clothes, and
pencils and pens….and people.
Because if unimportant things get dinged and cracked and broken
when they are not respected enough, so can people. If people are abused
or roughed up or overlooked and banged around often enough…they get
dinged and cracked and broken.
It isn’t enough, Jesus says, not to murder. You have to show
respect to everyone. Not harbor anger against them. Not use abusive
language against them or hold them in contempt. It isn’t enough, Jesus says, to avoid the actual act of adultery with
someone. What is needed, is respect for someone else and their
relationship, and respect for yourself, that you don’t even entertain the
It isn’t enough, Jesus says, to avoid swearing to things that are
false. What is needed is so much respect for the people around you that
you don’t swear at all, you just say yes when its yes and no when its no.
We Americans are just now learning how important it is to respect
things instead of wasting them; respecting the environment, the rivers
and streams, the soil and air, instead of abusing them.
And we need to grow in respect for ourselves and for each other.
This means, not having to dominate every conversation. Not having our
own way. Not inflicting our moods so freely on each other. Respect is
one of the most basic types of love.
And why should we show ourselves and each other so much
respect? Because God has shown complete respect to us!
1. Do I show respect to myself?
2. Is there someone close to me that I am disrespecting?