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Posts Tagged ‘Homily’

In today’s gospel we read:

“Your light must shine before all,

so that they will see the good things

you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

From a book called “Out of the Saltshaker

by Rebecca Pippert, (Intervarsity Press, Downer’s Grove IL)

comes this true story

of an unusual young man.

John was in his final year of college.

He was a brilliant new Christian

and a bit different from other students.

His entire wardrobe for four years

consisted of a T-shirt, blue jeans

and no shoes.

Across the street from the campus

was a very conservative church,

attended by well-dressed parishioners.

One Sunday,

John padded through the front door.

The service had already begun;

John walked slowly down the aisle,

searching for a seat.

As he neared the front, it became clear

that no empty seat was available.

So John squatted on the floor

in front of the pulpit.

While this was acceptable in a dorm,

it was hardly acceptable in this conservative church.

You could feel the people glare.

Even the pastor stopped preaching,

wondering what to say or do.

Just then, a deacon in his eighties –

dressed in a tailored suit

and using a cane – began to walk

from the back of the church

down to where John was seated on the floor.

All eyes were focused on the deacon.

His cane clicked with each slow step.

He was a dignified man with silver hair,

respected by all.

How could someone like him

understand someone like John?

As the deacon reached the spot

where John sat,

Eeeryone stopped breathing.

What he was about to do

was a thankless job, but it had to be done.

Even the pastor stopped preaching

until the deacon completed his task.

Looking down at John,

the Deacon dropped his cane to the floor.

Then, with great difficulty, he eased down

onto the carpet and sat beside John.

He wanted to make him feel welcome

and not have to worship alone.

When the pastor gained control of himself,

he said to the congregation,

in a voice choked with emotion:

“What I have prepared to preach to you,

you’ll never remember.

But what you just saw,

you’ll never forget.

This story fits in beautifully

with today’s Gospel where Jesus says:

“No one lights a lamp and puts it

under a bowl; instead it is put on

the lamp stand, where it gives light

for everyone in the house.

In the same way your light must shine

before all, so that they will see

the good things you do and

praise your Father in heaven.

Someone has pointed out

that there are three motives why people

do good things – such as the deacon did:

pleasure, practicality or pure love.

Let’s take a look at each:

first, pleasure.

In his famous Christmas Carol,

Charles Dickens describes how

Ebenezer Scrooge responds to people

after his conversion. Dickens says:

He went to church. . .

And patted children on the head

And questioned beggars. . .and found

That everything could yield him pleasure.

He never dreamed. . .that anything. . .

Could yield him so much happiness.”

People have felt the same way when they’ve

volunteered to help out in prisons,

soup kitchens or retirement homes.

And so the first motive why people

do good things is because it makes them

feel good. It brings them pleasure.

The second motive why people

do good things is out of practicality.

A politician once said:

“Love your enemies, because someday

you’ll need them as friends.”

That is clearly a practical motive.

Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran pastor.

When the Nazi’s came to power,

he was reluctant to speak out at first.

When he did, he was arrested and jailed.

He said in a famous statement:

When the Nazi’s came for the communists,

I didn’t speak out

because I wasn’t a communist.

When they came for the Jews,

I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. . .

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak out

because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me. . .

and by that time

there was no one left to speak for me.”

So the second reason for doing good is

practicality: If I want others to help me,

I’ve got to help them.

This brings us to the final reason:

pure love:

the reason the deacon

sat on the floor with the college student.

He probably got no pleasure out of it,

nor was there much John could do for him.

He simply did it because it was right.

He wanted to make John feel welcome

and be treated in a loving way.

People who do good things

usually pass through three stages.

First, there is the fun stage.

That’s when they say, “I love doing this.

Why did I wait so long to get involved?”

Next, there’s the intolerant stage.

That’s when they say,

“Anyone who doesn’t get involved

isn’t really a true Christian.”

Finally, there’s the reality stage.

That’s when they suddenly realize

that their involvement

is only going to make a dent

in the world’s problems.

At this stage, saints are made.

So what motivates people

to do good things

follows a pattern similar to what

is said generally, about commitment.

First, it’s pleasurable.

It makes us feel good.

Second, it’s practical.

If we help others, they’ll help us.

Finally, it’s out of pure love.

It’s why the deacon helped John.

Let’s close with a prayer

attributed to St Ignatius Loyola.

Lord, teach me to be generous.

Teach me

to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil and not to seek for rest;

to labor and not to ask for reward,

except to know

That I am doing your will. Amen.

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Epiphany – Year A

John Donne

was a famous writer in 17th century England.

One of his stories concerns a man

who was searching for God.

One day the hero of the story decided that

God must live on top of a high mountain

at the far end of the world.

And so he set out to climb it.

After a difficult and dangerous journey

through great forests and dense jungles,

the man arrives at the mountain.

As he stands there looking at it,

he sees that it is much steeper and higher

than he had ever dreamed.

But because he wants to find God

more than anything else,

he does not become discouraged.

Before beginning his climb

he decides that the best route

is by the east side.

The next morning at the crack of dawn

he begins his climb

up the east side of the mountain.

It so happens that about that time,

God who was indeed on top of the mountain,

begins to think to himself,

“I love my people so much,

to show them my great love,

I will descend the mountain

and live among the people as one of them.

So God studies all four sides of the mountain

and concludes that the best route down

is by the west side.

The next morning at the crack of dawn,

God begins his descent.

And so it happens,

that as the man is climbing up the east side

of the mountain,

God is climbing down the west side.

As luck would have it, the two pass

on opposite sides of the mountain.

When the man reaches the top of the mountain,

he finds it empty.

He falls down and begins to weep.

“Why should I go back down the mountain?” he asks.

There’s nothing there but poor people.

Why should I make the dangerous journey

back to my village?”

John Donne intended this story to be a parable

for the people of his time.

Many of them were searching for God.

When they couldn’t find him,

they decided that God didn’t even exist.

To these men and women Donne was saying

that God dwells among his people.

This is the great message of Christmas,

that God took up residence among his people

that is where we must look for him.

And that is where we will find him.

And this brings us 

to the feast of the Epiphany,

which we celebrate this Sunday.

The epiphany is a mystery of light,

symbolized by the star

that shone over Bethlehem.

The true source of light is Christ.

The divine plan was mysterious

as John explains in his gospel:

“The light came into the world,

but people loved the darkness rather than the light

because their deeds were wicked.” (John 3:19)

In the mystery of Christmas

Christ’s light first shines

on Mary and Joseph in Nazareth.

The light was also seen

by the shepherds of Bethlehem,

who rush to the Grotto. (Luke 2:12)

The shepherds

together with Mary and Joseph

represent the “remnant of Israel” –

those poor ones,

to whom the Good News was proclaimed.

Finally, Christ’s brightness shines out,

and reaches the Magi,

who are the first pagans,

to come to Christ.

The palaces of the rulers of Jerusalem

are left in the dark.

Moreover,

when this news is taken there,

it does not give rise to joy,

but to fear and hostile reactions.

The personal presence of Jesus here on earth

is the beginning

of the universal reconciliation

of the world to God.

Jesus is the ultimate destination of history.

The church is called

to make Christ’s light shine in the world.

Matthew’s gospel says to us:

“In the same way

your light must shine before all,

so that they may see goodness in your deeds

and give praise to your heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 5:16)

And here’s where John Donne’s story

helps us better understand

the two important lessons

of Christmas and today’s feast.

The first lesson

is that God has truly come down from heaven

to live among his people.

And the second lesson is

that the people among whom

he has chosen to live

were not temple dwellers.

They were not intellectuals in universities.

They were not kings in palaces.

Jesus chose to dwell among the poor,

among the homeless,

and among the hungry.

Let’s close with a poem that sums up

the message of Christmas in practical terms:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with the flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to feed the hungry,

to  release the prisoners,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among brothers and sisters,

to make music with the heart.” (Anonymous)

(with notes of Benedict XVI, on the Epiphany, circa 2008)

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Advent II – Year A

ADVENT II – year A

In 1911 captain Robert Scott

and four other British explorers

set out on foot for the South Pole.

They travelled 800 miles

through deep snow and bitter cold.

A year later they reached the South Pole.

But on their return journey,

their glorious victory turned into bitter defeat.

Two men died along the way.

The other three froze to death

just a few miles from safety.

When the bodies of the men were found,

the last words that each had written

were still readable.

One of the men was Bill Wilson,

the doctor of the expedition.

Twenty years before,

Bill had attended Cambridge University.

His classmates nicknamed him “the cynic.”

He had a mean personality

and an even meaner tongue.

He once wrote these words to a friend:

“I know I am…proud…bitter…

insulting…and always selfish.”

On the polar expedition, “Bill the cynic”

Became “Bill the peacemaker.”

And just before he died,

Captain Scott wrote to a friend:

“If this letter reaches you,

Bill and I have gone on together.

We are very near it now;

and I should like you to know

how splendid Bill was…everlastingly cheerful

and ready to sacrifice himself for others.

His eyes have a comfortable blue look of hope

and his mind is peaceful.”

Meanwhile, in his last hours Bill Wilson wrote:

“So I live now,

knowing that I am in God’s hands

to be used to bring others to him,

if he wills a long life…

or if I die tomorrow.

“We must do what we can

and leave the rest to him…

my trust is in God,

so that it matters not what I do

or where I go.”

The story of Bill Wilson illustrates

what today’s scripture exhorts us to do.

First, the gospel reading asks us

to take top heart the words of John the Baptist:

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”

And second, Paul exhorts us

to live according to the spirit of Jesus, saying:

“May the God of endurance and encouragement

grant you to think in harmony with one another,

in keeping with Christ Jesus,

that with one accord

you may, with one voice  glorify…God.”

Bill Wilson’s remarkable change

illustrates what the church urges us to do

during the season of Advent.

It urges us to “repent,

for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

When Bill Wilson was at Cambridge University,

he never dreamed

how close the kingdom of God was for him.

He never dreamed that in 20 short years

he would be called by God

to give an account of his life.

And Bill Wilson’s classmates

never dreamed how much he would change

in those 20 short years.

The man who was proud, bitter and selfish

became a man

who was splendid, cheerful and self-giving.

The man who was known as “the cynic”

became the man

who was known as “the peacemaker.”

History is filled

with men and women like Bill Wilson –

men and women

who began life as selfish individuals

and ended life as loving, generous people.

The lives of these people

remind us

that we to can turn from our sins

and become loving, generous people.

The lives of these people

remind us

that God wants to do for us

what he did for them.

The lives of these people

remind us

that God wants to give us the same grace

that he gave them.

Advent is a time

when we recall

what God had in mind for us

when he created us.

Advent is a time

when we recall

what God wants us to become.

Advent is a time

when we recall that God wants us

to make something beautiful of our lives.

Advent is a time

when we try to respond to God’s plan for us

as generously

as did men and women like Bill Wilson.

This is what advent is all about.

It’s the season that invites us to

take to heart,

the words of John the Baptist

in today’s gospel:

“Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!”

It’s the season that invites us

to take to heart Paul’s prayer for us

in today’s second reading.

Let’s close by repeating it:

“May the God of endurance and encouragement

grant you to think in harmony with one another,

in keeping with Christ Jesus,

that with one accord

you may with one voice

glorify the God and Father

of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Welcome one another, then,

as Christ welcomed you,

for the glory of God.”

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27th Sunday – Year C

Late one afternoon

archaeologist Gene Savoy and his companion

became lost in a jungle in Peru.

 

A sickening feeling came over them.

They Knew

that if they did not reach camp by sundown,

they would never reach it alive.

 

They began to run about feverishly,

searching for the trail

that brought them into the jungle.

 

Suddenly they realized

that this feverish running

was only making matters worse.

Then they stopped and stood perfectly still.

 

As they did,

a thought passed through Gene’s mind.

 

God is in the jungle; it is God’s house.

 

 

When Gene was a boy in Oregon,

his parents had taught him that God

created the universe,

sustains it

and lives in it.

 

Instantly,

Gene relaxed and put all his faith in God.

He said later,

“I looked up into the beautiful world

of wild orchids, and fragrant blossoms

where hummingbirds hovered.

Yes, God was here, too. My heart quieted.”

 

Then, as I stood and stared,

something within me seemed to say:

“Walk a few paces to the left.

As I did, there was a tiny trail!”

 

Gene said later,

“I am proud of all of my discoveries.

But my greatest discovery, I believe,

was in recognizing God’s presence everywhere.”

 

That story fits beautifully

with today’s Scripture readings.

First, It illustrates the prophet Habakkuk’s words

in the first reading, when he says,

“The just man, because of his faith

shall live.”

 

And second, it illustrates

Jesus’ words in the gospel reading,

when he says,

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,

you would say to this mulberry tree,

‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’

and it would obey you.”

 

This brings us to an important point

about faith.

It’s a point we tend to forget –

one that can cause unnecessary worry.

The point is this:

 

Even the strongest faith in God

tends to go in and out of focus.

What is clear to us one day

becomes cloudy the next.

 

Like the sun,

our faith sometimes hides behind a cloud

and disappears for a while.

We’ve all experienced this in our lives.

How do we explain it?

 

These times of darkness are usually caused

by one of three things:

human nature, ourselves, or God.

 

First,

they may be caused by our human nature,

which has “highs” and “lows.”

 

In other words, our faith simply reflects

the natural mood swings of everyday life.

 

Commenting on these swings,

one writer says:

 

“On one day, life is beautiful. . .

we appreciate everything and everyone. . .

on such a day it is difficult to know

why we ever thought life was difficult.

 

 

On another day, however, nothing is right. . .

it is a time

when we count more enemies than we have

and find fault with every friend.

 

On such a day, it is difficult to know

why we ever thought life was easy.”

 

Our faith is like that.

This simply goes with the territory of being human.

 

Second, the periods of darkness of faith

may be caused by ourselves.

We can bring them on by neglecting our faith.

That is,

we can let our faith grow weak from sin

or from lack of spiritual nourishment.

 

In other words,

just as our body grows weak from abuse

or lack of physical nourishment,

so our soul grows weak from sin

or spiritual nourishment.

 

Third and finally,

these periods of darkness may be caused by God.

That is,

God allows them to happen

in order to strengthen and deepen our faith.

 

God uses them to help us to mature in our faith,

just as God helped Abraham mature in his faith.

Abraham was thrown into darkness

when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. (Genesis 22:1-12)

 

Regardless of the cause

of these periods of darkness,

the agony they can produce is great.

 

In his novel The Devil’s Advocate,

Morris West describes the agony of a person

experiencing a long period of faith darkness.

The person says:

 

“I groped for God and could not find God.

I prayed to God. . .and God did not answer.

I wept at night for the loss of God. . .

Then one day, God was there again. . .

I had a parent. . .God knew me. . .

I had never understood till this moment

the meaning of the words ‘gift of faith,’ ”

 

And so we come back to our original point.

At times in our lives,

our faith seems to go behind a cloud

for a while.

This creates a period of faith darkness.

 

Sometimes this is simply a reflection

of our human mood swings.

Sometimes it is caused by a neglect of faith:

either though sin

or a lack of spiritual nourishment.

 

And sometimes it may be allowed by God,

in the sense that he uses it

to strengthen and deepen our faith.

 

Jesus teaches us that faith starts with humility.

The beginning of true faith

is accepting that Jesus is the creative Word of God,

Who brought everything out of nothing.                                          

 

As we seek to strengthen our faith,

it would be wise to do everything out of our love of God.

Learning to know, love and serve God better,

may seem to have no immediate reward,

except peace in our hearts

and the knowledge that though trusting in him

we will be granted a share in his everlasting glory.

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Lent 3 – year C

 A Dallas city newspaper

carried a photo of some prisoners

on a work release program.

 

They were restoring a condemned house

on the city’s west side.

Several days later

one of the prisoners wrote to the editor,

saying:

 

“Thank you for the coverage . . .

the last time my name and picture

appeared in the paper,

was the day I was sentenced . . .

so it was a real joy

to see my picture in your paper

doing something good.

 

“When I entered prison 18 months ago,

I was a lot like the house we just remodelled . . .

but God took charge of my life

and has made me a new creation in Christ.”

 

We could hardly find a better illustration

of the point Jesus is making in today’s gospel.

 

The first half of the gospel

tells about two groups of people who are killed

by recent tragedies in Jerusalem.

Jesus ends his reference to these tragedies

by saying to his hearers,

“If you do not repent,

you will perish as they did!”

 

The second half of the gospel

tells about a fig tree

that was planted inside a vineyard.

A vineyard was an ideal place

for fig trees to grow.

If a fig tree couldn’t grow there,

it couldn’t grow anywhere.

 

A fig tree takes three years to mature.

If it doesn’t bear fruit in that time,

it probably won’t bear it at all.

 

This explains why the owner of the vineyard

instructed his gardener to cut the tree down.

 

And so it is remarkable

that instead of cutting the tree down,

the gardener begs the owner

to give it a second chance.

“Leave it this year also,

and I shall cultivate the ground around it

and fertilize it,” he says.

 

Jesus intended his parables

for two groups of people.

 

First, Jesus meant them for the instruction

of the people of his time.

Second, he meant them for the instruction

of people of all times.

 

The group of people

for whom Jesus told today’s parable

is, of course, the people of Israel.

Jesus tells them

that God gave them a choice place in his plan

and took special care of them.

but they didn’t bear fruit.

 

 

 

Jesus tells them further

that in spite of their failure,

God will be patient with them a little longer.

He will give them a second chance,

like the fig tree.

 

The wider group of people

for whom Jesus told this parable

includes all of us here today.

 

Jesus’ parable also applies to us.

We are like Israel.

God has given us a choice place in his plan,

and he has taken special care of us.

God expects us to bear fruit.

If we don’t, the, like Israel,

God will give us an opportunity

to repent.

If we don’t repent,

then, like Israel, we will perish.

 

This brings us back to our opening story.

Both the prisoner and the house

illustrate the point of Jesus’ parable.

Both were given a second chance.

 

The house was condemned by the city.

It was scheduled to be torn down.

But someone persuaded the officials

to give it a second chance.

 

“Let the prisoners work on it,” they said.

“If they can make it a useful property again,

then we won’t tear it down.”

 

The prisoner himself was also condemned.

He was considered unfit for society.

He was put behind bars.

 

Although society gave up on him, Jesus didn’t.

Jesus gave him a second chance.

Like the gardener in today’s gospel,

Jesus watered and cared for his spirit.

The man responded and became a new creation.

 

All of us can relate to that story.

At one point in our lives,

many of us here were like the fig tree,

the house and the prisoner.

 

We too were in danger

of being rejected as useless.

But in his mercy God took pity on us.

Like the house, the prisoner and the fig tree

we were given another chance.

 

Today’s gospel then,

calls forth from us a deep gratitude to God

for the second chance he has given us.

It also calls forth a deep determination

to make the most of our second chance.

 

And so we say to Jesus,

“Thank you, Lord Jesus, for our second chance.

Help us to make the most of it.

Help us carry out your plan for us.

Help us do this especially

during these remaining weeks of Lent.”

 

Let’s close with a poem.

It’s about an old violin which, like us,

was given a second chance.

It’s yet another image of your story

and my story and God’s love for us.

 

You may have heard it. The author is unknown.

I hope it will move you to celebrate today’s Eucharist

with more than ordinary gratitude and love.

 

THE VIOLIN:

 

“It was battered and scarred and the auctioneer

thought it scarcely worth his while

to waste much time on the old violin.

but he held it up with a smile.

 

“ ‘What am I bid good folks?’ he cried.

‘Who’ll start the bidding for me?

A dollar, a dollar, then two, only two?

Two dollars and who’ll make it three?

 

“ ‘Three dollars once, and three dollars twice,

 and going for three, but no!’

From the room far back a gray-haired man

came forward and picked up the bow.

And wiping the dust from the old violin

and tightening the loosened strings

he played a melody pure and sweet,

sweet as an angel sings.

 

“The music ceased and the auctioneer

in a voice that was quiet and low

said, ‘What am I bid for the old violin?’

and he held it up with the bow.

‘A thousand dollars who’ll make it two?

Two thousand and who’ll make it three?

Three thousand once, three thousand twice

and going and gone!’ said he.

 

“The people cheered but some of them cried,

‘We don’t quite understand

what changed it’s worth?’ Quick came the reply:

‘The touch of the master’s hand.’

And many a man with life out of tune

and battered and scarred with sin

is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,

much like the old violin.

 

“A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,

A game and he travels on.

He’s going once, going twice,

He’s going and almost gone.

 

But the Master comes and the foolish crowd

never can quite understand

the worth of the soul and the change

that’s wrought

by the touch of the Master’s hand.”

 

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