Labor Day

Today’s readings:   Genesis 1:26 – 2:3, Psalm 128; Matthew 6:31-34

Today, we’ve gathered to celebrate and bless human labor.  Human labor is a cornerstone of our society and our world, dating all the way back to the creation of the world, as today’s first reading shows us.  We know that, at the completion of the creation of the world and everything in it, God sanctified the whole of it through rest.  That’s an important point that I think we maybe don’t get the way we should.

We know that we don’t get enough rest.  We are sleep deprived, we take working vacations, we very often don’t take all the vacation we’re allotted, and some don’t take a vacation at all.  And so our lives are out of balance and I think, very often, we don’t do our best work when we’re working.

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that this kind of thing is just crazy.  Worrying about work isn’t going to add a single moment to our lifespan.  In fact, it will more likely reduce them.  We are told very clearly: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”

We are certainly required to work hard and always give the best that we have to our employers or employees.  That’s a matter of justice.  It’s also a participation, the Church tells us, in the work of creation.  Work is sacred and always has been, because, as the Genesis reading today shows us, work was instituted by God who told us to fill the earth and subdue it, having dominion over every living thing.  We work because it is a sharing in what we were created for, the very imitation of God.

But there is that matter of balance.  And we do have to step back and realize that God did indeed sanctify the whole of creation by blessing it with that seventh day, with that day of rest.  And so we do our spiritual lives no favors when we ignore the commandment to observe the Sabbath through rest and worship.  So much of our lives is consumed in labor; may we never fail to sanctify that labor by observing rest and worship.

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”  My family has had a plaque with that very verse on it for as long as I can remember.  This has always been one of my favorite quotes from Scripture.  But it certainly is a hard thing to say, and Joshua makes that very clear in today’s first reading.  Serving the Lord makes demands of us.  We are called to live the Gospel and serve the poor and love everyone as we love God and forgive, and so much more.  We are also told that we have to turn away from the worship of other gods, whatever those might be for us.  Are they the gods of wealth, success, prestige, or self-interest?  We must turn away from them.  Are they gods that hold us back, bound to our own comfort, reluctance, or apathy?  We must cast all of that out.  Serving the Lord requires nothing less than total self-giving, because the Lord has first given everything to us.

The kingdom of heaven, as Jesus reminds us today, belongs to those who are like children before him.  We must become childlike in our trust and obedience to the one who gives us life, love and salvation.  We are called to decide today whom we will serve.  Will it be the Lord, or someone or something else?  For those of us who step forward to receive the Eucharist today, the answer must always and only be, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Tuesday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We know how the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees affected the Pharisees.  They resented everything Jesus said and did, and sought occasion to put him out of the picture.  But I cannot help but think that for Jesus, these occasions had to be rather frustrating.  Here are the most educated of the Jews, the people he came to save, and they just were not getting the point.

Jesus’ point in today’s gospel is that the Sabbath is not the goal in and of itself.  What is important is that God should be glorified in everything that we do, not that we spend time criticizing what others are doing.  The path to holiness consists in tending to our own spiritual house and not in dwelling on what others are doing.  And these religious leaders should have known better, they should have taken better care of their people: perhaps had the Pharisees provided something for the worshippers to eat, those who were hungry would not have had to risk violating the law.

Today’s readings speak to all of us about our true vocation as worshippers. We were made – all of us – to give honor and glory to God. In order to fulfill that vocation, our worship then must be authentic and joyful and a serious priority.  We must get all the details right – not the miniscule details crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” – but the details of taking care of one another, and making our worship mean something in our lives.

We were made to worship God in Spirit and truth.  We can do that by making every moment, every action of our lives, an occasion of worship – because that’s what worship really is.  The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.  May his lordship in our lives lead us to fulfill our vocation as a worshipping people.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Our first reading from Acts this morning tells us that the early Christian community cared for one another deeply, and were generous in that care.  They were even selling their possessions to give to those who were in need.  Nobody felt needy, nobody felt cheated, nobody felt like they were doing more than their share.  People were worshipping not just with their minds, but also with their hearts, and their worshipping didn’t stop when they left the worship place.  That was the kind of worship Jesus was encouraging Nicodemus to practice as well.

So the same has to be true for us, really. We have to be willing to give of our hearts, to believe not just when we’re in church, but also when we are in the rest of our life.  We have to trust God to take care of us when we stick our neck out to help someone else.  We have to worship not just with our minds but also with our hearts.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is a perplexing one, to be sure. But in the light of Easter, we can see that Jesus was proclaiming that God is doing something new. Not only that, but God wants us all to be part of that new thing. For Nicodemus, that meant the old ways of worshipping and living were no longer sufficient, and really no longer needed. God was looking not just for people’s obedience, but also their hearts.

We see those hearts at work in the early Christian community. The reading from Acts this morning tells us that the believers cared for one another deeply, and were generous in that care. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” They were even selling their possessions to give to those who were in need. Nobody felt needy, nobody felt cheated, nobody felt like they were doing more than their share. People were worshipping not just with their minds, but also with their hearts, and their worshipping didn’t stop when they left the worship place.

So the same has to be true for us, really. We have to be willing to give of our hearts, to believe not just when we’re in church, but also when we are in the rest of our life. We have to trust God to take care of us when we stick our neck out to help someone else. We have to worship not just with our minds but also with our hearts.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We know how the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees affected the Pharisees.  They hated every moment, and sought occasion to put Jesus out of the picture.  But I cannot help but thing that for Jesus, these occasions had to be rather frustrating.  Here are the most educated of the Jews, the people he came to save, and they just were not getting the point.

Jesus’ point is that the Sabbath is not the goal in and of itself. What is important is that God should be glorified in everything that we do, not that we spend time criticizing what others are doing. Perhaps had the Pharisees provided something for the worshippers to eat, those who were hungry would not have had to risk violating the law.

Today’s readings speak to all of us about our true vocation as worshippers. We were made – all of us – to give glory and honor to God. In order to fulfill that vocation, our worship then must be authentic and joyful and a serious priority. We must get all the details right – not the miniscule details crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” – but the details of taking care of one another, and making our worship mean something in our lives.

We were made to worship God in Spirit and truth. We can do that by making every moment, every action of our lives, an occasion of worship. The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. May his lordship in our lives lead us to fulfill our vocation as a worshipping people.

Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

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This isn’t a rural, agricultural area – although of course, it once was.  And your preacher today is a city and suburb boy, so some of the rural and agricultural themes of today’s Scripture readings threaten to pass us by.  And that would be too bad, because these themes are at the root of our call to worship, of our need for growth in faith, and our invitation to holy recreation.  And all of these themes are perfect ones for our observance of summer.

Someone asked me recently how I was enjoying my summer, and noted that things must be slower during this time of year for me.  I thought about my schedule of weddings, complete with preparing the couples for the sacrament, I thought about the fact that we still worship all summer long, day in and day out and that we still have to give a homily, however brief, on these warm days.  I thought about the appointments I have for pastoral counseling, the projects I’m working on for the fall, and all the daily emergencies that come up.  Slower in the summer?  Not so much.

And how many of you find yourselves in similar situations?  If you have children, then you have them more in the summer, and they’re going more places and doing more things.  Working for any company these days hardly ever allows for slow seasons, since every workplace is working leaner, or even completely understaffed.  Even professions like teaching, which traditionally pause in the summer, only give people the chance to pick up summer jobs.  And with the price of gas and the difficulty of air travel, how many of us are even traveling as much as we might these days?  Slower in the summer?  Not so much.

Full disclosure here: I am just today returning from a week’s vacation with my family.  It was nice to have the time off, and I really did appreciate the opportunity to recharge.  And that’s as it should be for all of us, because there really is a need for a Sabbath.  That’s what we’ve been telling our staff these days.  We encouraged every ministry to pause during July so that we can clean the buildings, touch up the paint, wax the floors, make repairs, and even just take a break from the normal hustle and bustle of parish life.  Even the Church needs a Sabbath now and then.

From ancient times, farmers would observe a pattern of crop rotation.  They would plant soil-enriching crops a year after soil-depleting crops.  And one year they would leave the land fallow – that is, they’d leave it crop-free, so that it would have a chance to rest and re-charge.  And that’s crucial in order to avoid a field that isn’t good for anything except to harbor rocks, weeds, and thorns – all those things that prevent a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold crop.

Isaiah prophesies a time when the word of God comes down to settle on fertile ground, a ground that lets that word accomplish the end for which God sent it.  This is a ground as fertile as a field enriched by rain and snow, “making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats.”  Clearly he was thinking about that good soil that can be sown with the seeds of God’s word, that will produce that harvest of a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.  And this is the kind of soil God wants all of us to be.  We need to be fertile ground so that God’s word, sown in us, can grow up to feed multitudes.

But clearly that takes a certain care of the soil that is in us.  It has to be kept from the poison of the world: profane entertainment, relationships that kill the soul, poor use of free time, becoming embroiled in the things of the world instead of the people of the world.  That soil has to be watered with quiet time, reflection on our faith, and yes, given that fallow time, that Sabbath that allows us all to recharge.

And so this summer provides us the space for all of that.  Whether our situations provide for extended vacations, or even stay-cations, or whether we keep on going doing what we always do, we need to take time for a Sabbath.  Even if that’s fifteen minutes of quiet in an otherwise chaotic day. Worship, faith growth, and holy recreation cannot happen if we don’t take time out to let God’s word permeate our being.  We have to give the Lord time to let his word fertilize and water us, so that we can become fertile ground for anything God wants for us, or anything God wants us to do.  Because the Psalmist is right: “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”  Blessed are we when we pause to become that good, fertile, fruitful ground.