Tag Archives: salvation

21st Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

This homily probably could have used some editing or “tightening up” but here’s how I preached the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle C of the Roman Catholic Lectionary this Sunday, more or less. 

Reading Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20

I suspect most of us are familiar with the custom in St. Louis of asking someone you just meet for the first time “What high school did you go to?” The question confounds newcomers to St. Louis. Why would you want to know where I went to high school? Sociologists say the St. Louis question of what high school a person attended is a way of getting to know a person. The high school attended is an indicator of social status. If I know what high school you attended, I’ll have a clue if you come from a wealthy background or poorer. I’ll know a bit about your social status or if we have similar backgrounds. Supposedly, answering the question about your high school helps people negotiate what their relationship is going to be with that person.

Jesus asks a similar question in the gospel, today. When Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am” He’s not looking for some indication if the apostles know his name. When Jesus asks “Who do people say I am” he is asking what kind of relationship do they have with him. Adding a couple more words in the question would get closer to what Jesus is asking. “Who do you say I am to you? Or “Who do people say I am ‘for them’? Jesus is asking for a relationship status update. Jesus wants to know what is the disciple’s relationship to him is going to be.

Various answers are given by the disciples. Some say you’re a prophet, a kind of spiritual teacher They relate to you, Jesus, in a non-intimate way like a person looking for wisdom that you might give. But teachers can be dismissed as not knowing what they’re talking about. Teachers can be ignored.

Peter gets the right answer. “Jesus, you are savior for us!” What’s Peter saying? By knowing Jesus as the loving God who comes among the human race so humans can relate to him in a way that people just can’t with a “spiritual being” folks can have a relationship with a person that can even save humans from the forces that seek to wipe out human existence.

Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?” is an invitation to enter into a relationship with Him. Jesus isn’t just someone to know stuff about, or a teacher that provides moral guidance about how to live a good life. Jesus wants to have a relationship with his followers that enables them to live through death. Christ, the name means “Savior,” wants humanity to relate to him like we relate to a spouse, a friend, or a lover who saves a person from being consumed with selfishness until there’s only a bitter old man or woman without love in their life, unable to experience love or enjoy life fully.

Relationships are a two-way street. Both parties in a relationship have to figure out who the other person is to them. It could be best friend. This person might be the love of my life. It might be helpful to understand the Gospel of Jesus asking who people say he is if we’d flip the question around. Who are we “to Jesus”? Who does Jesus say we are, sitting in these pews? Who does Jesus say the rest of the inhabitants of this planet are to him; anyone who has lived, lives or every will live on this insignificant rock perfectly positioned in a not too far, not too close orbit around a star in a remote corner of the universe? We are the beloved human race he called into being so that he could have someone to love and became one of. We humans are the creatures Jesus loves like no other created being, so much so that he deems us worthy of saving from death. We are the beloved bride of  the groom Christ who can not stand the thought of ever being separated from. So loved are we as individuals and a race that Christ desired us from before time began to live with him and be like him even when we allowed death to invade the beauty of life. Who does Jesus say we are? The Word of the Creator God says humanity is the love of his life worthy of salvation even when they betray the relationship He wants with men and women through their sinful acts that weaken the relationship like adultery is to marriage. Relationships are a two-way street. To understand who Jesus is to us, it’s helpful to know who we are to Jesus. We are the beloved spouse he wedded himself to in the incarnation, so that he might save his us from death in order to live in his house, forever beyond the limits of space and time.

When the Gospel author Matthew has Jesus say to Peter you are the rock, the solid foundation on which Christ will “build” his church Matthew is saying the Church makes possible the relationship with Jesus. Peter is not being made Pope in that instant. Peter becomes the symbol of authentic faith. His statement is raised up by Christ as the foundational truth on which the church stakes humanity’s fate. The church is the Body of Christ. Matthew, the writer, is teaching the community he wrote his Gospel account for that the church is the human vessel that makes possible the relationship with Jesus that saves from death. Peter is a symbol of the Church. The relationship description Peter voices is the rock, the solid foundation of the truth proclaimed by the Church throughout the ages. The role of the church is to hand on generation to generation through sacraments, preaching and catechesis a relationship with Christ that saves from death. Outside of the rock solid relationship Jesus offers through His body, the church (which is safeguarded by the successors of Peter, the Pope and the leadership of the church in union with the Holy Father) there is no hope of living after death.

The author Brian Doyle, when asked why he is Catholic once wrote how the Church had helped him to be in relationship with Jesus as savior and saved. Mr. Doyle wrote about the authentic faith handed onto him by the Church represented by Peter,

“Sometimes I desperately need to lean on a god wiser and gentler than myself. Sometimes I desperately need to believe that when I die I will not be sentenced to Fimbul, the hell winter, where there is only the cold voice of Nothing, but rather I will be at peace and draped in Light. Sometimes I am nudged toward belief by the incredible persistence and eerie genius of the tale [handed on by the Church’s Gospel]: the encompassing love of the mother, the wordless strength of the Father, the Lord of All Worlds cast ashore on this one as a mewling child in dirty straw. Sometimes I am moved past reason by the muscular poetry and subtle magic of these [Gospel] stories. Sometimes it is an intuitive yes as the light fails and the world is lit from below. And sometimes I simply cast my lot with the sheer bravura of such a patently brazen lie. That a man could die and live again is ridiculous; even a child knows that death is the end. Or is it?”

Doyle, Brian. Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies (p. 80). Loyola Press. Kindle Edition.

512px-Rome_basilica_st_peter_011c

Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Possibly the work of Atnolfo di Cambio. Thought by some historians to be much older. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Mattis. This applies worldwide. Via commons.wikimedia.org

The author of this quote recently died in middle age of a brain tumor. Family and friends say he died at peace, knowing his relationship with Christ as savior was the rock that would break the power of death, the key that would open the door of his house in eternal life.

 

Don’t just see Jesus as one of many gurus that offer wisdom or moral teaching for a happy life in this world as some do. Do not delay! With the assistance of the Church, through its sacraments, preaching and catechesis, fall in love with Jesus, the one who saves and who loves you to death…and beyond.

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Lent Message Series 2017: ROOT CAUSE

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? If I have any loyal readers, thanks for you patience.

I’ve been trying out an idea from the author of the book Rebuilt, Father Michael White. He is pastor of a parish that has become rather famous in the Catholic Church of the U.S. because of their seeming success in revitalizing their parish using many of the practices of the “mega-church” movement.  The leadership at the  Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland (home of Rebuilt) think preaching using the organizing principle of a “message series” is an idea that will engage parishioners. So, the last few weeks I organized a “series” based on the Sermon on the Mount that the Catholic Church was reading in the Sunday Lectionary called “Turn On Your ‘Kingdom Positioning System’ Or Be Lost.” The Sermon on the Mount is a kind of “directional system” for how to navigate the Christian life, like a GPS guides your route in a the physical world. Parishioners did remember the theme but I’m not sure how much practical life-change as Fr. White in the link above describes in his reason for using the message series.

So for Lent I’ve planed out another series called “Root Cause.” I’ll be exploring the “root cause” of why humanity is in the mess it is and ultimately needs the redeeming work of Christ to save it. Hopefully I’ll give some practical ideas on how to experience life-change (conversion of heart is the goal of preaching and liturgy). I’ll try to post each week’s “Message,” here on the blog. By the way, apparently it’s called a “message” instead of a homily because folks don’t want to be preached to but get advice and teaching on how to live their life as a Christian. Hmmmm….isn’t that what a homily is?

Root Cause: From Tree to Tree (Lent Week 1)

Root Cause Message Series Poster

Readings for the First Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

Parents know children will ask questions about the world. Why is the sky blue? Why does it have to thunder? It scares me! Parents realize kids won’t understand all the technical science language of light refraction that produces blue so they tell a story of how God likes to paint the sky with His favorite color. As for thunder; how many times have children been told it’s the angels bowling instead of the difficult concept to explain to a 4 year old that electricity in lightning supercharges the molecules of air that produces a sound wave boom across the sky. Stories have always been told to make sense of serious questions.

I like to think that thousands of years ago children seated around a campfire in a middle-eastern desert while traveling to some proposed “promised paradise” were asking their parents why humans have to work so hard to survive and then die anyway? (Besides asking “Are we there yet?”) And so, because truth has to be told in ways that the children could understand, a story is told. The story uses images anyone could relate to. A tree full of delicious fruit would seem like heaven to people wandering around without anything sweet in the hot, dry desert. Snakes, ugh! The ancient dessert travelers probably had seen their share of illness and death caused by the slithery creatures the embodiment of danger. The Adam and Eve tree story reveals that humans had it perfectly good and then “the evil one” tricked men and women into thinking they could ultimately control their lives. So humans had to leave their perfect life. They rebelled against God and suffered the consequences. Now we’re doomed to our fate because humans make bad choices to reject the Law God gave us. Those choices perpetuate illness,  trap us in suspicion of others and cause death. Like a fairy tale about witches who build houses out of gingerbread and lure children in “for dinner” humanity was given the chance to choose the good, to love; or people can choose to fill their selfish bellies and believe the evil witch or snake or devil really has what satisfy their soul hunger that isn’t for food.

The truth revealed in the scripture story of the tree in Eden is this: evil is real. Evil tempts us with a false “world view” where humans don’t need God. Humans are tricked into believing in our own power to save ourselves, that the individual is the center of the universe and that other people who want what we have are obstacles to our happiness. Or to use the language of our present day national leaders the “evil one” presents “fake news” and “alternative facts.”

Our message series this lent will invite us to consider that the “Root Cause” of humanity’s sorry state is revealed in the human freedom to choose self-interest over self-offering of lives for the good of others. The evil one isn’t a snake, but evil is heard in the voices that tempt people to think they can or should be able to dictate how life should be lived instead of submitting themselves to the will of a God that doesn’t seem too be concerned enough to intervene. Ultimately the root cause of all things that deprive humans of a fuller life is the lie that took root in the human heart that God isn’t in charge, so humans can be.

Jesus, in his temptations in the desert comes face to face with evil. I suspect Jesus is wrestling with his human nature, the fact that every human being thinks they are the master of their life. In the desert with nothing to distract him Jesus must face the very human, deeply rooted sense of self-importance expressed in selfishness. This confrontation with the voice of evil reveals three roots that drink from deep veins in the soil of the human psyche of alternative facts about human relationships. The devil in the story tries to get Jesus to choose to believe disordered relationships can satisfy better than the perfect order of life God created.

One root reaches into the image we have of ourselves. Jesus is tempted to think of “me-first.” He’s invited to have a distorted sense of self-importance. We too hear the voice when our egos start to get the best of us. It’s been a hard day. Those kids have been a pain. My spouse has no clue about how much I give up to make her happy. I deserve a break. No body will notice if I spend a little of our money on myself. When ever we begin to think “me-first” or “it’s all about me” the evil one is probably whispering in our soul to choose to eat of the tree rooted in the bad soil of self-interest. Jesus rejects the suggestion of taking care of self before all others. He chooses to be a man who is concerned about the hunger for the Bread of Life that overcomes death that he alone can provide.

Another root branches out into the realm of the proper relationship between humans and God. Jesus is tempted to distort the relationship with his Father, to test God. When we tell God what to do instead of seeking his will we put down another root into soil that won’t produce good fruit. Thinking we can make God do something, thinking I know what I need better than the Father can lead to separation from the source of life. Negotiating with God in prayer, reminding him I took care of the poor or I’ll give so much money to the church if you grant me a favor, anytime we make the I in our prayer more prevalent than God the focus is off. God is in control and will always provide our daily bread. It’s our job to trust, to seek his will, to ask for his grace to persevere but never demand or to think we can manipulate the Father.

The third cause of root disease that Jesus is asked to prefer over a healthy root system to the tree of life is to see himself as ruler instead of servant. The devil promises what he can not give. Power to control the lives of people, to make them servants to Jesus’ desire. Christians who refuse to see themselves as servant to those who are  brother and sister in the human family are going to find themselves cut off from the fullness of life. When we use people to make ourself feel better, when we refuse the identity of servant in the image of Jesus we were baptized into, we let evil influence our free will. Christ chooses to be servant, not a ruler. So should we.

Trees will produce good fruit if planted in good soil with strong root structure. The root cause of the messed up human condition is a decision. Not a decision by characters in a story named Adam and Eve, but each individual’s decision to be swayed by the evil that whispers in our heart. You can do better than it seems God is doing for you. It’s my hope that our message series this Lent will help this parish confront that voice of temptation like Jesus did. Refute the fake news with Good News. Here’s the choice we confront once again this Lent. Do we put down our roots in bad soil? The soil of self-interest, making ourselves the center of the universe? Or, do we put our roots down in the promise of Jesus causing the tree of our life to become full of fruit that benefits the rest of humanity.

We children of God wander the desert land the limited span of the time our life will last asking questions. Why are things in this world such a mess? Why are humans constantly at war or making life so miserable for each other?  Lent begins with the story of a tree of life and knowledge at the center of a perfect garden. Lent ends with another tree, the tree of the Cross of Jesus which gives life and knowledge, the Good News. To chose to eat of the fruit of sacrifice of self that hangs on the tree of cross is how we “get back to the garden,” the perfect life God desires for all humanity. Choose to recognize the root cause of our troubles and be a part of the cause that roots out evil and produces the fruit that offers the fullness of life eternal to humanity.

A relief at Exterior of the Duomo (Milan) -Tree of Knowledge and Tree of the Cross of Christ By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

A relief at Exterior of the Duomo (Milan) -Tree of Knowledge and Tree of the Cross of Christ By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


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