Sunday, August 31, 2014

22nd Sunday Ordinary Time - Matthew 16: 21-27 - "Suffering Servants" or "No Pain, No Gain"

We are called to live a radical life!  
We are a people called to live counter-culturally to the secular world!
We live in this world, but are called to live in ways not of this world.
We are called to live by God’s will, not man’s will.  
The ways of this world are not God’s ways.  What this world reveres is not what gives glory to God or gains us entry into His heavenly kingdom.

Poor Jerimiah!  He is called by God to warn the people that their ways - are the ways of destruction.  He goes to the people on God’s behalf and is made a laughingstock.  He speaks the word of God to the people and they not only ridicule him and deride God’s message, but imprison and torture poor Jerimiah.  

His sufferings are great; for bringing God’s warning to the people of punishment for their sinful life.  Jeremiah is filled with the word of God.  He would like to choose safety – keeping quiet, hidden; so the people would not bring him sufferings, but God’s word burns within him.  He is fairly bursting at the seams to speak the will of God to the people.  He cannot keep quiet and so bears the sufferings inflicted upon him.   God’s word is not what the people want to hear, but is necessary to their salvation.  The people want to go about their sinful lives unmindful of God’s will.  Jeremiah suffers greatly because he must speak God’s truth.

Paul tells us that there are sacrifices we must suffer in this world for living God’s truth.  The sufferings of those who discern the will of God are acceptable and pleasing to Him.  God’s servants bring His truth to His people, so they may have life.  Discerning the will of God and living in His truth is the call of Christian baptism.  This world holds no treasure or reward.  Those are found only in the kingdom of God for those who listen to His word and observe it. 

In last week’s Gospel, Peter calls Jesus, “. . . the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus tells him that no human has told him this, but it is revealed to him by God, the Father.  

God’s revelation to Peter of the truth of Jesus is clear, but today, Peter’s humanness, his fear clouds God’s revelation of the Truth.  Peter fails to discern God’s truth of the necessity for Jesus’ coming Passion.  Peter, when Jesus tells the disciples of what lays ahead for him in Jerusalem is, in his humanness, fearful.

Peter, like many of the Jews, is looking for liberation from the Roman oppressors.  He seeks what is immediately expedient in his worldly life, not what is God’s plan for His people.  He seeks a warrior king, to come, with force, to overthrow the Romans.  The Jews seek liberation to live as an autonomous people, not salvation to live as God’s holy people.  

Peter fails to recognize God’s will.  His admonition to Jesus is only from Peter’s human perspective.  God’s plan is obscured from Peter’s heart.  He cannot understand how the death and rising of Jesus will bring about God’s salvation for his people.  Peter thinks to himself, “How can Jesus’ mission continue, if he is dead?” And maybe more self-indulgently, “What will happen to me and the rest of our group, if Jesus is gone?  Where will we go, what will we do, what will become of us?”  All very human questions and human reactions to Jesus foretelling of his suffering, crucifixion and resurrection.

We hear in Romans 11:33:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord . . .?”
Knowing the mind of God, discerning His will is the life to which all Christians strive.  By our baptism, we are charged, “To go forth making disciples of all nations . . .” Our mission is to bring God’s Word to all people.  In His love, we are called to remind the people that they are God’s beloved children.  God seeks his beloved creations to leave this sinful world behind, the place of the evil-one, to be welcomed home into the peace of His heavenly kingdom.

When we look at the world today and how ever increasingly secularism pervades our culture, we may feel daunted and despaired, like Jeremiah.  We may want to hide our Christian faith, blend into the cultural background.  Keeping silent the Word of God within us for fear and shame of what the world may think of us and do to us.  We too may be afraid of becoming a laughingstock for speaking God’s Truth.  Truth that goes counter-culture to the world’s beliefs on family, marriage, the sanctity of life, the very existence of God and the pervasiveness of evils in the world.

We may feel the better part of valor is discretion: avoiding the sacrifices we will be called to make in standing up for what is holy and pleasing to God.  Conforming ourselves to the cultural beliefs – du jour - may give us momentary peace among the sinfulness of this world, but will lead us to eternal sufferings in our life beyond.  

Be transformed! – Be counter-cultural! – Discern the will of God!  Hear His Truths in your heart, observe all that He teaches us through our Lord, Jesus Christ and go forth preaching the Good News to all people!

Be mindful of God’s will.  Listen to His voice and never tire of doing what is good, what is right, what is holy and pleasing to Him.  Lose your life to the evils of this world and find everlasting life in God’s heavenly kingdom.  For what treasures can we bring with us or of what worldly honors can we boast to bribe or impress He who sits on the judgment seat at the gates to eternal life? ~ Amen

Deacon Don

Saturday, August 16, 2014

20th Sunday Ordinary Time - Matthew 15: 21-28 - "Change of Plans"

Jesus was masterful in outwitting his opponents when they challenged him in attempts to trap him into saying or doing something for which they could bring a charge against him.  Many of our Gospel stories, such as, the ‘Woman Caught in Adultery,’ or ‘Keeping the Sabbath,’ or ‘What is the Greatest Commandment,’ were challenges by the Scribes and Pharisees to confound, confuse and outwit Jesus.  Yet, in each instance it was Jesus who defeated his challengers; outwitting them, confusing them and confounding them into silence.

These experts in the Law of Moses failed in each instance to trip up Jesus in their clever attempts to silence him.  But now in today’s Gospel, Jesus is challenged by another who does bring him to silence - a Canaanite woman.

Jesus is not silenced because he has no answer to the woman’s pleas for mercy, but because she is not a Jew.  Canaanites were a pagan people who dominated the lands that God gave to the people of Israel.  They were considered unclean and unworthy, not to be engaged in conversation or commerce, but separate from the chosen people of Israel.

Jesus tries to ignore her because he comes only to the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel.’  His mercy and compassion does not belong to her – she is not from among God’s holy people.  His mission of salvation belongs to God’s chosen people alone.

Despite her lowly station in life and her knowing that Jews will have nothing to do with Canaanites, she continues in her cries and pleas, her wailing and beseeching Jesus for mercy and healing for her daughter.  Jesus walks on: ignoring her, but she follows after him and his disciples, shouting and calling out.  The disciples, just to get her to leave them alone, for she is creating quite a spectacle, ask Jesus to ‘get rid of her.’  She reminds us of the old woman who kept pleading to the ‘Unjust Judge’ for justice until finally, in desperation for peace, he gave in to the old woman’s rant.

Breaking with acceptable behavior, as Jesus often did, he enters into a personal encounter with this unclean woman; telling her his words of God’s love and mercy are meant only for the chosen people, Israel.   

Here is where Jesus is challenged by another, but does not prevail.  

The woman responds that others also listen and hear Jesus’s words of God’s love and mercy and they too have come to believe.  What is meant solely for the ears of God’s chosen ones also reaches down to the unchosen.  They too have heard the Word of God spoken through Jesus and have responded in belief, with hope and desire.

In these words spoken by a woman, one who is unclean, un-chosen and un-welcomed, Jesus is awakened to a great faith.  That she, this Canaanite woman, could make such a statement opened Jesus’ eyes to a great faith in God’s love and mercy – a love and mercy is possible for all people who hear the Word of God and respond.

From this grows a new direction for Jesus’ ministry.  After our Lord’s Passion, death and resurrection, in his final commission to his disciples, – he tells them, 
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” 
This commission to the disciples is also our commission.  We continue the apostolic mission of bringing the Word of God to all nations and to all people.  We, God’s holy people, are the heralds of his promise of salvation found through Jesus Christ, for all God’s beloved children.  We are called and commissioned by our baptism to continue to preach the Good News, by word and action; calling all the lost sheep back into God’s fold, so they too may enjoy his love, grace and peace in the heavenly kingdom – forever and ever. Amen.

Deacon Don

Sunday, August 10, 2014

19th Sunday Ordinary Time - Matthew 14:22-33 - Seeds of Fear

There is a storm brewing. In fact, it has already broken upon us.  We are like the disciples in the boat tossed about on a stormy sea with wind and waves, thunder and lightning; crying out to the Lord to save us.

These are troubling times - wars, famine, persecutions, slavery, pestilence and plague, executions, assassinations, and murder, abortions, starvation, denial of basic human rights and dignity, exploitations and inequality, threats and terrorisms – unspeakable horrors in the world today.  Look to the east, look to the west, to the north and to the south – within and without our own lands . . .

But then when have we not been in troubling times.  

Throughout the history of mankind we have always been victims of our own greed, pride, sloth, envy, wrath, lust and gluttony.  Encouraged by the evil-one, we wander away from the protection of the shepherd; exploring the far corners of the pasture – believing we are masters of our own fate.  We stumble into briars and rocky places; falling into dark caves, snares and traps; carried away by lions and wolves - predators who slay and devour.

We cry out for a savior
We search the horizon for a rescuer
We beg for a deliverer to release us from the dangers that threaten our lives;
We pleading for a redeemer who will free us from the perils that besets us

In our despair our faith weakens – our hope fails – we feel abandoned and lost.
We are like lost sheep, crying out to be saved from the follies of our own design.

Like Peter, we only need to reach out to our Lord, Jesus to find our hope and courage.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd, our Redeemer and Savior.  Jesus is the one who stretches out his hand to bring us out of the clutches of the evil-one - away from sin and destruction: into the arms of our loving God and the peace of His heavenly kingdom and life eternal.

As was Peter when he climbed out of the boat we, in our humanness, we begin in hope and desire, excited to see our Lord, but then, in the turbulence of the stormy sea, we begin to doubt. Fear creeps into our hearts and we begin to flounder and flail; sinking into misery and despair, crying out to be saved by our Lord.  

The evil-one betrays us with doubts and fears – telling us what God has promised is not possible – that we are unlovable and unworthy of God’s grace because we are irredeemable sinners.  It is hopeless to try and live up to the expected perfection of Christ, so do not try, but settle for what is good in the here and now – what satisfies and delights us in this life.  Evil tells us that this is the only life that matters – all we will ever know – because what God offers is an impossible dream.

The evil-one makes us doubt – 
He leads us to question Truth, and plants uncertainly and fear in our hearts.  These are the tools of the evil-one – used effectively to defeat hope and discourage; turning us away from the love of God.

The evil-one sows the seeds of false promises among the good seeds of faith.  He promises us the rewards of this world - if only we believe in the false god’s he puts before us: – power, wealth, and command.  
False gods that cannot save, gods that have no life in them, promises that lure us away from the Truth of the Almighty’s promise of life everlasting and peace.

Listen to the Good News! – Jesus, the Christ is our safety and security.  
He is with us always, until the end of the age and stands by us in our time of need.  
He rescues us, lifts us up and sustains us.  Have faith in Him, for our salvation is in our Lord, Jesus Christ.  
It is with Him that we are raised up to new life. 
It is in Him that we receive God’s promise of Eternal Life.  
It is through Him that we are welcomed in the heavenly kingdom of peace
Faith in Jesus Christ is all we need.  

In Jesus’ death and resurrection we have new life.  Through God’s sacrifice of His only Son we have received forgiveness of our sins – He is the holy sacrifice - once and for all time – be not afraid.

Preach the Good News! – Tell all the nations that we believe that in our baptism we too have died to sin and are raised up to new life in Christ Jesus.  
Through our baptism we are made one with Him: members of the Body of Christ, His holy Church, where we are gathered; giving thanks and praise to our Creator who loves us and gives us His grace and welcomes us into His promise of peace in His heavenly kingdom – forever and ever - Amen.

Deacon Don