Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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There are few things more comforting, or more scary, than God watching over us at every moment.

The first reading reminds us that God’s love is stronger and more enduring than anything else we know. Even compared to the love of a mother for her child, God’s love for us is stronger than that. He will never forget us, and cannot possibly forsake us. He and us are connected more strongly than that, and His spirit dwells within us. Not a hair on our head goes uncounted, and every tear and smile He notices.

This is why Jesus tells us not to worry. Because of God, we are transformed. Life is now about more than food or clothes, money or respect. In fact, Paul tells us he holds the judgments of others as no account. God is mighty, and if we hold to our faith God will see us through. We will suffer sometimes. But even in our loneliest hour God wraps His arms around us, and we are never alone. “Even should a mother forget her child, I will never forget you.”

But if He is always with us in our suffering, He is also always with us in our prosperity. When things are going well, and we judge or shun others, He notices. When we choose not to serve God, even in the smallest moments He is watching over us, loving us, but also grieving at our choices. Because Paul reminds us that no one judges us but the Lord, but the Lord will judge us at the appointed time. “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts.”

The Lord is our rock and our salvation, steadfast and everlasting. But it is faithfulness which is required to cling to that rock. Today is the second week in a row where Jesus compares the children of God to the pagans. It is the pagans this week who constantly worry about what they will drink, what they will eat; last week we read that even the pagans are good to their friends. But because we know Jesus our lives should be different than if we didn’t.

Our loyalty should be visible; “faith is proof of what is hoped for, and evidence of things unseen.” If we have faith in God, then our faith is our assurance that God will provide for us. Our faith is evidence of God’s loyalty and love to us. God knows what we need, and we need not worry about what is lacking in our lives. Not that we should stop working and lie on the ground, trusting God to put food in our mouths. But that if we trust God He will take charge of our lives and they will be good. They will be holy.

Do not worry about tomorrow, sufficient for today is its own evil. Trust God and His judgments, and distrust your own. We are not called to be wise, but to be faithful. We are God’s people, and the only judgment we should be concerned with is God’s.

God’s love is ever faithful, and always watching over us.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Don’t be afraid to be holy.

The phrase “Don’t be afraid” is occurs more time in Scripture than any other. This is because the Lord our God is with us, and He is mighty in power. Today, the readings tell us not to be afraid to be holy. In fact, be reckless with your goodness. Last week the readings emphasized what is at stake when we sin; we either choose God or Hell. This week continues that theme; because the stakes are so high, we should be overly cautious and err far on the side of God. We should not be careful to act too foolishly in our goodness, because the alternative is to not act good enough. And if we make that choice, we condemn ourselves. Much better to be foolish, ridiculous, and contemptible for how holy we carry ourselves.

So if someone hits us, we should not get angry, or get even. We should offer our other cheek to make sure we commit no sin that would condemn us. This is what we are told in the first reading “You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him.”

This isn’t wisdom. We all know that it isn’t smart to give someone our coat because they demand our shirt. It’s not just, it’s not fair, nobody is getting what they deserve. But this isn’t about that. Our God is the God of the just, and the wicked who take advantage of our foolishness will meet justice here or at their judgment. The idea is that holiness is too precious to give up.

Jesus ends the Gospel with the phrase “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is not just by being cautious in holiness that we will be like God, but by being reckless as well. We should love our enemies against all reason, and forgive the people who have hurt us past all sense. As Christians, we are concerned with Heaven and with nothing else. Do not be afraid to be taken advantage of, or be hurt. God is with us.

Does this mean we should not work for justice, that we should not fight for people who are wronged? No. It means that we should be cautious, that in fighting for justice we do not swerve into revenge. We should stand up for the truth, and reprove our neighbor. But we should not if we can’t do it without sinning. This is where Jesus warns us to take the log out of our own eye before we take a speck of wood out of another’s. But with our caution against sinning, God let us be foolish in love. Let us go two miles with the man who demands we go one. Let us love even the people who insult us, that we hate because of how they make us feel. It is not smart or wise, but God knows the thoughts of us who want to be smart, and knows that they are selfish and vain.

Do not be afraid to be hurt. Be both cautious and foolish, slow to reprove and hasty to embrace.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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How much?

How much do we have to give God, how closely do we have to follow His commandments? How much will be asked of us to be holy, how much will we have to sacrifice? Everything, all of them, everything, all of it.

This is the message today: there is no halfway to Heaven. We have before us fire and water, Heaven or Gehenna. Gehenna was the place in Jerusalem where people came to throw away their trash. It was a huge pit, that burned day and night. This is what Jesus puts before us, to be members of the kingdom of Heaven, or trash to be burned away.

We read the Gospel and immediately want to soften it. “He can’t mean literally cut out your eye, Jesus just wants us to do everything we can to avoid sin.” “He can’t mean that looking at a woman with lust is the same as adultery, He’s just over exaggerating to make His point.”

But this is the point, that Jesus sees clearly He cannot overemphasize. The stakes are too high; if you cannot keep from looking at a woman in lust, if everything fails before your desire, absolutely cut it out. You must do whatever you have to, to avoid the fire. Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. We are now not only bound by the letter, but by the spirit as well.

It’s easy to think that this kind of absolute holiness is only meant for a select few. In the Church, we have priests and monks and nuns who we expect to be holy, but we don’t hold ourselves to the same standard. Because we are not consecrated to God, we feel that the bar is set lower for us. We only have to be mostly good, because only a few people can be Mother Teresas.

That is a lie. “No one does he command to act unjustly,/ to none does he give license to sin.” We are a holy kingdom, and by our Confirmation we are made a royal priesthood. We are all ministers of God, and clergy are only supposed to be ministers to members of the Church. Perfection is demanded of all of us, however sinful we may feel.

And that’s the issue. No one feels good enough to be perfect. Too much of the time, it’s hard enough to just be ok. We are asked to be pure water in a brackish pond, and it’s hard to separate ourselves from the muck. How can we be in the world and not of it?

But God has revealed His wisdom through the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit bubbles up within us as a pure fountain. We are purified because Christ is holy, and He is in us. God is MIGHTY and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, even perfection.

The past few weeks the readings have circled around the idea of obedience to God. Obedience teaches us humility, and forces us to make room for God in our lives. We can only be perfect if He is there, and obedience not only teaches how to be perfect, like a parent teaches a child to pray by folding their hands for them, but frees us from the burden of perfection by ourselves.

The glory of what we believe is that we are not alone. Jesus is with us, in our suffering on the cross, and in our joy in our hearts. Perfection does not always have to be drudgery, but it can also be joy. When the law becomes our desire, and not our command, that is when we are progressing along the path of the Lord.

How much shall we give? Everything, because the stakes could not be higher.

But we are not alone, and the Church walks together with each other and Jesus in poverty and perfection.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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To be Christian is not very complicated. We do not have to be smart, or clever, wise, or strong. This is what it means to follow God: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own people. Build your faith not on human wisdom, but on the mighty power of God.

If we do these things, God will recognize us as His own, we will cry for help and He will hear us. If we work for justice, Isaiah says our wounds will be healed and our vindication go out before us. The psalmist says that our justice will endure forever, and our horn exalted in glory. In the Lord’s justice, we shall find salvation.

But Jesus also tells us that justice has been left to us. “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” If we will not share our bread, or clothe the naked, then who will? We are called to be salt and light, simple basic things. But it is on these things that all else depends. If a light in the darkness goes out, then there is only darkness. If salt loses its flavor, there is no other seasoning which can replace it.

God no longer works thunder and lighting to establish His kingdom on earth, but relies on His people. The glory of God is now seen only through our good deeds, and the words with which we proclaim His name. If we will not make justice then who will? If we will not speak about God, then who else will?

When Paul speaks to the Corinthians, he reminds them that when he visited he did not wow them with fancy speeches, or secret knowledge. He did not put on a good show, or have awesome music to persuade them to love God. He came in weakness and fear, and spoke only with the Spirit and power.

We forget sometimes the power of God. We are called to do so much, and there is such a thirst for justice in the world. We want to be strong to fix everything, and we are afraid when we think ourselves too small or weak to do it. But in our weakness the mighty power of God shines through. Salt and light are such small things. But the tiniest light throws back the darkness, and a little bit of salt goes a long way to season food. God does not need our strength, but our weakness so that His glory might be present.

God will confirm us in strength we do not have. “He shall never be moved;/ the just one shall be in everlasting remembrance./ An evil report he shall not fear;/ his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” We must trust God, and make justice where we are. If we do so, God will make miracles happen.