The Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Stewardship Sunday

Today’s readings

This is indeed our home.  It can be easy to come to think of this place as a school, or an auditorium, or even as a worship space and fills a function and other than that, doesn’t mean anything different.  But as I said in the video this is our home: this is where we come to find peace when we’re struggling; this is where we go to make a difference as we did (earlier today/yesterday) and witness to our faith; this is where we gather to celebrate our faith in God and receive the grace he pours out on us through the sacraments of the church.  This isn’t just any old building, it’s a community, it’s a family, and it is us.

And because this is our home, we have to attend to it.  We have to fix what’s broken, we have to strengthen what’s weak, we have to invest in a community so it will be here for our children and grandchildren.  And so this is one of the very few times that I will come to you and give the “money” talk.  Because I get it: I know that everyone has demands on their finances, sometimes very significant ones.  But if this is our home, then we are called to make an investment in its present and future, just as previous generations have done for us.

Our Gospel reading today calls us to give to God what belongs to God.  This then becomes a reflection on the first commandment of the Decalogue: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.” This is echoed by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.”

Giving to God what belongs to God is foundational. Failure to do that leads to all other kinds of sin. Today, we have in our Scriptures an examination of conscience. Have we been zealous to give to God what belongs to God? Have we taken time for prayer? Have we been of service to our brothers and sisters in need? Have we made teaching the faith to our children our primary priority? Have we been vigilant to prevent anything from getting in the way of celebrating Mass as a family? If we have fallen short in any of those ways, this is the time to reverse the course and get it right. Caesar gets what’s his one way or the other. We have to be the ones who are on fire to give to God what belongs to God.

We’ve accomplished a lot as a parish in the last year.  I hope you saw that wonderful list in the bulletin a few weeks ago when we presented the parish financial report.  It was a full and engaging year, and we should take pride that we as a parish could do so much together.  I am grateful for the way the parish came together to provide a beautiful sign out on Route 59, that we found a way to repair many of the sidewalks and other concrete around the facility, and to revamp our parish gym.  What a blessing that we could get those things done!  But, just like any home, there’s a lot to be done.  We need to repair the parking lot, the floor in Cana Hall, and the windows in the Commons, to name but a few.  We need to take care of those things and provide space in our budget for when stuff happens, like the air conditioning going out in the school office, or a leaking pipe in the narthex.

One of the very first things I did when I found out I was coming here was to sign up for online giving.  I wanted to make sure that I was giving expression to my gratitude for all that God does in my life.  And so it is in that spirit that I ask that each of you discern how you can help us to meet our increased budget needs through your offertory support.  While we all have different resources to draw from and commitments to fulfill, we can each give something in support of our parish family.  We are doing our best to use modern conveniences to assist parishioners in their giving.  We have electronic giving options to help meet the demands presented by the fast pace of our lives.

In the past week or so, you probably received a letter from me asking for your support.  After you have prayed about your response, I would ask that you fill out the enclosed letter of support and send it back to us.  You can mail it to the parish office, to my attention, or you can drop it in the collection basket this week or next.  Please know how very much I appreciate the support you give to our parish.  It helps me accomplish the mission we have as a parish to worship, teach the faith to people of all ages and to reach out to others in acts of service and charity.  Please know of my prayers for you every single day, and how much I love being your pastor.  May God bless us all as we continue to Make Christ Known together!

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time: Make a Difference Day

Today’s readings

Our Gospel today warns us of coming persecutions.  At some point, we will all be dragged before synagogues and rulers and authorities of some sort, and we will have to give an account of what we believe.  Now for us, it’s not going to be so literal, obviously.  But we may have to give an account of why we believe in Christ or why we follow a religion that inconveniently speaks out against threats to life and family.  We may have to tell others why it is that we would give up such a beautiful Saturday to clean church pews, or trim a neighbor’s hedges, or play bingo at a nursing home.

Today, on our Make a Difference Day, we take our give strong witness to our faith in our work. As we come together to pack meals at Feed My Starving Children, make blankets for Linden Oaks, or clean up our parish grounds, our presence and concern may be the way God is using to get someone’s attention and see his presence in her or his life. As we engage in whatever we have signed up to do today, God may give us gifts that answer prayers we didn’t even know we had in our hearts, and definitely answer the prayers of others. Our work gives witness to who Christ is in our lives; Christ who loves us first and loves us best.  Sharing that love in the work we do today is a powerful way to help others know the presence of Christ in their lives.

Living our faith is always going to cost us something and that something is likely to be status or popularity, or at least the wondering glance from people who aren’t ready to accept the faith.  But the volumes that we speak by living our faith anyway might just lay the groundwork for conversion and become a conduit of grace.  We are told that we don’t have to hammer out all the words we want to say; that the Holy Spirit will give us eloquence that we can only dream of.  And it’s true, if we trust God, if we live our faith when it’s popular or unpopular, we will have the Spirit and the words.  God only knows what can be accomplished in those grace-filled moments!  I pray that you see Christ everywhere as you witness today.

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Listen to the voices of hope in today’s Liturgy:

“But for you who fear my name, there will arise

the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

“For everyone who asks, receives;

and the one who seeks, finds;

and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

“Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.”

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

The Divine Liturgist today is inviting us to find our hope in God, and inviting us to turn over our lives to God in hopeful anticipation that God will answer our needs. Sometimes I wonder how willing I am to actually do that. It’s almost like I want to pray to God just in case I can’t fix things on my own or work out my needs by myself. Kind of like a divine insurance policy. Maybe your prayer is like that too.

But that can’t be the way that the Christian disciple prays. We have to trust that God will give us what we really need. He certainly won’t be giving us everything we really want. And he probably won’t be answering our prayers in exactly the way we’d like him to. And we will certainly find out that he will answer the prayers of our heart in his own time. But he will answer. He will give to the one who asks. He will be present to the one who seeks. And he will open the door to the one who knocks.

The Christian disciple must be willing to accept God’s answer in God’s time on God’s terms. When we do that we might even find that when God gives us what we really need, instead of what we really want, our lives are so much more blessed than we could ever have imagined. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Have you ever been sure of the Lord’s call in your life and it just terrified you?  I have.  And for those of us who have been in this position, we can perhaps understand Jonah’s reaction in today’s first reading.  He had been called by the Lord to preach to the people in Nineveh.  And let’s be clear about this: the people of Nineveh were unspeakably evil and had long been persecuting the people of Israel.  And so for Jonah, this call was a bit like being called to preach to the people of ISIS or something like that.  Not only did Jonah fear for his life in going to them, but, quite frankly, he also could not possibly care less if they repented and God had mercy on them.

But it’s a little hard to run away from God.  He always catches up with you sooner or later.  If that weren’t true, I wouldn’t be standing here today, I can tell you that!  It would certainly be easier for us Jonahs if we would just give in to God’s will at the beginning and not have to do all this running.  But sometimes the human heart just isn’t ready for radical change.

That was true of the scholar of the law in today’s Gospel reading.  I think his question is more about testing Jesus than really wanting to be converted, but even so, he can’t help but get caught up in Jesus’ teaching.  The question is, is he ready to “go and do likewise?”  The reading ends before he can make that decision, but the implication is that it will be very hard for him to really love his neighbor in the same way that the good Samaritan loved the robbery victim.

And so those of us who look a lot like Jonah or the scholar of the law today, need to pray for softening of our hardened hearts.  Will it take three days in the belly of a big fish for us to finally give in to God’s will?  Or can we just give in and trust?

Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Pride and presumption are insidious sins. They make any kind of grace impossible, for they even deny that grace is needed or wanted. If we have no need of a Savior, then no relationship with God is even possible. And not having a relationship with God is something we call “hell.” So the disciple doesn’t get to harbor pride and doesn’t get to presume that God will take care of her or him. Instead the disciple must be very mindful of God, and must constantly nurture the relationship in such a way that they are caught up in the very life of God.

The Hebrew exiles in Babylon realized how far they were from this relationship, and with the prophet Baruch, pray a prayer of repentance. And that was an experience the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida needed to have. They were totally unmindful of God, and they refused to repent. Which is inconceivable given the mighty deeds Jesus had been doing among them. Even a ton of bricks falling on them wouldn’t seem to get them to repent. Jesus calls them to task on it. Who knows if that had an effect on them. What’s important is that we too are called to repentance every time we are so presumptuous of God’s mercy and favor that we refuse to repent of the things that separate us from Him.

The disciple is called to humbly place himself or herself in God’s mercy, acknowledging dependence on a Savior who has loved us into existence and sustains those who follow him. The disciple shuns pride and presumption, and humbly prays with the Psalmist, “For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us.”

The Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Sometimes it’s hard to accept that something is in our best interest when we first hear of it.  I can remember often growing up not wanting to do something like go on a retreat or join the youth group, but my parents giving me that gentle nudge to do it anyway.  And then of course, when I went, I’d always have a really great experience, and then I had to admit to them that I liked it, which was harder still.

I always think of that when I hear this week’s Gospel reading.  I think it’s a pretty human experience to resist what’s good for us, especially when it means extending ourselves into a new experience, or when it means having to inconvenience ourselves or disrupt our usual schedule.  We don’t want to go out into the field and work today, or go help at the soup kitchen, or go teach religious education, or go to the parish mission, or get involved in a ministry at the church, or join a Bible Study, or whatever it may be that’s in front of us.

I remember specifically an experience I had when I first started in seminary.  I became aware that some of the guys, as their field education experience, were serving as fire chaplains.  That scared the life out of me, and I said to myself that I’d never be able to do that.  Two and a half years later, one of my friends at seminary asked me to join him as a fire chaplain.  Figures, doesn’t it?  I told him I didn’t think I had the ability to do that, but he persuaded me to pray about it.  Well, when I prayed about it, of course the answer was yes, do it.  And so I did, and found it one of the most rewarding spiritual experiences of my time in seminary.

People involved in ministries here at the Church can probably tell you the same kinds of stories.  Times when they have been persuaded to do something they didn’t want to.  They could probably tell you how much they grew as people, how much they enjoyed the experience.  When we extend ourselves beyond our own comfort level for the glory of God, we are always rewarded beyond what we deserve.  And that’s grace; that’s the work of God in our lives.

What’s important for us to see here is this: God extends his mercy and forgiveness and grace and calling to us all the time. We may respond, I think, in one of four ways. First, we may say no, and never change, never become what God created us to be. This happens all the time because we as a people tend to love our sins and love our comfort more than we love God. We would rather not be inconvenienced or challenged to grow.

We might also say no, but later be converted. That’s a little better. Let’s be clear: there is no time like the present, and we never know if we have tomorrow. But God’s grace doesn’t stop working on us until the very end. So we can have hope because God does not give up on us.

We might say yes, with all good intentions of following God, being in relationship with him, and doing what he asks of us. But perhaps we get distracted by life, by work, by our sins, by relationships that are impure, or whatever. And then we never actually become what we’re supposed to be.

Or we might actually say yes and do it, with God’s grace. We might be people who are always open to grace and work on our relationship with God. Then that grace can lead to a life of having become what God wanted of us, and that puts us on the path to sainthood, which is where we are all supposed to be.  The model for that, of course, would be the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was able to say “yes” to God’s plan for her and the world right away.

Today’s Gospel is a good occasion for a deep examination of conscience. Where are we on the spectrum? Have we nurtured our relationship with God and said yes to his call, or are we somewhere else? And if we’re somewhere else, what is it that we love more than God? What do we have to do to get us on the right path? We know the way of righteousness. We know the path to heaven. We just have to make up our minds and change our hearts so that we might follow Jesus Christ, our way to eternal life.

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the little line in the gospel reading that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.”  It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus.  We disciples are to take care how we hear.  Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.

So how do we hear the words of the gospel?  Do we hear them as something that seems nice but doesn’t really affect us?  Do those words fly over our heads or go in one ear and out the other?  Do we hear them at Mass, and then live however it is we want, leave the same way we came, ignoring what we’ve just heard?

Or, do we really hear the Word of the Lord?  Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up?  Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing?  Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society?

We believe that the Word proclaimed is the actual presence of Christ.  We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us.  If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.

Take care, then, how you hear.