This is the homily I gave during the last celebration of the Eucharist I presided at in my parish of St. Stephen. I move this week and next Sunday a new parish gets to meet their new pastor and I get to meet them.
15th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A
Departure Homily – St. Stephen Church, Caseyville
July 9 & 10, 2011
Matthew 13:1-23 (but only the parable about seed being sown and producing various yields)
Well, here we are. You and I have been together 13 years and the day you and I hoped wouldn’t arrive until sometime in the future has arrived. As you heard a few weeks ago I’m to take up the pastorate in another parish and 2 new priests are going to be standing at this pulpit very soon. The future has arrived because we cannot hold stop time. As a rock song lyric by the Steve Miller Band popular a few years ago says “time is always slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” The song talks about flying like an Eagle (sort of reminds me of Psalm 91 which is the text of “On Eagles Wings” which God lifts us up on, to a revolution yet to come, a new day when humanity will be able to
“Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution”
The solution for us Christians is a new order of creation made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ. The scriptures this evening/morning talk about this new order of things that Christ brings to humanity. It’s called the Kingdom or the Reign of God, that day when God rules, when his desire for the human family is all that exists. No more hunger, no more war, no more tears.
St. Paul in tonight’s/today’s second reading talks about how we’re in that waiting time, waiting for the future to be born. We exist somewhere between the conception of the new day that took place at the cross and resurrection and its final birth at the end of time when there is no more future. It’s a vision of the future I’ve tried to share with you these 13 years. Hopefully you’re more excited about the Kingdom of ‘God dawning, more aware of its presence even now among us because of my being your pastor.
Yet, the future can be scary. Even with the assurances of faith, the future produces anxiety in the human heart. That’s why we pray after the Our Father at Mass “keep us free from all anxiety as we await the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
For me there is some anxiety about what my new parish will be like.
Yet, my experience has always been that wherever I’ve gone, it’s been a good experience and there’s no reason to doubt this change in assignment will be different, since God is consistent and his body of Christ is present at St. Mary just as it has been here.
For you at St. Stephen I have heard the anxiety is about will happen to our parish community; will the new priests and us be compatible, like going on a blind date. (You might recall I used that analogy when I became your pastor and our blind date seems to have worked out rather well. That’s because you are a wonderful group of Catholics who are a delight to get to know and enter a relationship with. I have no doubt that you and Fr. Ray and Fr. Anthony will hit it off and work out well, together. And when their day to move on comes, you’ll be disappointed to see them go, too, because they’ll be a great “blind date.”)
As for sharing a pastor, don’t let there be anxiety about that, either. I came to you from a situation where I was pastor of two parishes. It worked fine. Both parishes got to know me; I got to know them and together we worked to build up the kingdom of God in Evansville and Walsh for 8 years. They continue to exist and do well as independent parishes, sharing a pastor with another parish.
[Tonight we celebrate baptisms, too. The children might be a little anxious about getting in a pool of water before all of you. Yet, a great thing is about to happen through the work of God and this community. These children are going to come to know Jesus. They’re going to become part of his Body that you represent. And with you giving them example, they’ll be able to move into the future without fear for their well being, for they will meet Jesus through this parish and come to know him alive, so what can death do to me if I’m part of his body? Nothing that would be the end of me can hurt me.]
The future always is full of potential. It is pregnant with hope of a new life for a Christian. As you know I’ve tended to quote “un-orthodox” sources for theological insight, like country western singers and musicals. It’s because I believe the truth God reveals is not just limited to scripture but found in the human experience, especially when that human experience is explored through music. Jesus used the everyday experience of farming to get his point across. I use song lyrics you hear on the radio and on the stage. The reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans we’ve heard might have been the inspiration for a song from the Broadway musical West Side Story “Something’s Coming” sung by Tony who is a bit of a Romeo character. But what he sings is true about being Christian, about this parish preparing for new priests and for me going to a new parish:
There’s something due any day;
I will know right away,
Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye,
Bright as a rose!
It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.
I got a feeling there’s a miracle due,
Gonna come true,
Coming to me!
Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something’s coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is,
But it is
Gonna be great![i]
What you and I have been doing for 13 years will not come to an end. The Kingdom is still going to be built here and in Trenton. And it’s going to be great when God makes it happen.
That’s the clue to understanding why we exist as a parish. Why we do what we do. We, pastor and parishioners are the tools that God uses to plant the reality of his order of creation. We are the tools, the seeds. God is the miracle worker.
To understand the parable of the farmer and the seed, you must know that farming was a bit different in Jesus’ day. No systematic row by row planting. No understanding that seeds’ germinate. Farming was haphazard, as haphazard as throwing seed around inefficiently. Yet GOD made a crop grow. God made grain appear and there was enough for bread and enough to live for another year.
As a pastor I like to think have been spreading around some seeds of the Kingdom of God for 13 years, here. And together, we’ve been trying to get the Good News out about God’s Reign. For me, there’s been lots of Baptisms, Confirmations, Celebrations of the Eucharist with preaching, Funerals and Weddings. In my chair as pastor I’ve sat through many, many meetings with you listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit and planning for the future of the parish while ensuring the present needs of parishioners. All of these sacraments, all of these activities at times seems like random efforts to get the Kingdom of God to appear. Now, with you, we must acknowledge we, you and I were the tools, our efforts were the seeds thrown out there. Some efforts will bear fruit, some will not. But we must never forget that it is Jesus Christ who will bring about the fruits of our labors. Jesus wants to do something good; he will make something happen from all these random efforts to proclaim Good News you and I have engaged in. And, never forget, Jesus will continue to work his Kingdom building through you into the future whether I’m here or not. It’s just a different set of tools. What Isaiah told us earlier is true. God’s plan for us will not be frustrated; his desire to bring people into his Kingdom will not be foiled.
So, let this be my final word to you, a testimony to how God has worked in my life and hopefully in yours while I have been your pastor. Of course, I’m going to use the words of another musical, one called Wicked about how the relationship of two unlikely friends put together by fate, who in the future will be known as the good witch and the wicked witch…but who have been changed permanently for good and for the better for having been involved in each other’s life by chance (or maybe by grace)…
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made from what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend…
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you…
I have been changed for good[ii]
[i] “Something’s Coming” from The Broadway Musical West Side Story, based on a concept by Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Larents, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, opened on Broadway in 1957.
[ii] “For Good” from The Broadway Musical Wicked: A New Musical, based on a novel by Gregory Maguire, music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, opened on Broadway in 2003.