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Old and New

Old and New

I saw a card while I was picking out birthday cards for my family which said on the front cover: You are my favorite “what if.” Though I am not sure why someone would send such a card, I confess, having just celebrated a reunion of the volunteers whom I worked with in Northern Ireland in ’79 – ’81, it did set my imagination down that road for a while – thinking about some of those ‘what if’ people and ‘what if’ moments of my life.

I suspect all of us have those ‘what if’ moments in our lives. Moments when a choice we make closes off one trajectory of ‘what if’s’ and sets our feet firmly on the path that becomes our life. Turning points which set the course for everything that follows. Some of them are chosen. I chose this college; that degree; this person to take to the prom; that company’s job offer. Others happen to us: This cancer. That company’s closing. This accident! Whether by choice or fate, those turning points set the stage for everything that follows.

Today’s first reading tells the story of one of the bigger turning points in the early church. Paul and Barnabas are on the road, doing their usual thing. They arrive in a city, then they meet with the synagogue leaders. Paul shows them his bona fides as a Pharisee and asks permission to speak. They grant it. And then he preaches to them. And rather successfully, so that many people begin to notice, and not just the Jews. The authorities in power feel threatened and start a persecution, throw Paul and Barnabas out of the synagogues and sometimes the cities. In the mean time, a TON of gentiles come to believe in their message. That pattern is repeated again and again.

It gradually becomes apparent that God was not going to be limited to the borders of religious background any more than He was limited by the borders of geography! So eventually Paul and Barnabas had to change their strategy, and follow the path of the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We hear that turning point this morning: We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. We now turn to the gentiles. What a profound moment in the church.

New Testament scholar, Frank Stagg, points out that these stories in Acts show the Church gradually coming to understand and to embrace this truth: The Gospel cannot and will not be hindered by any man-made boundaries or categories—not race, not gender, not national identity, not religious background, not geographical location, not social-economic status. At each defining moment of the narrative in Acts, the Holy Spirit shows up as a persistent and powerful force drawing the church across any and all boundaries that separate or segment humankind. And so at the very last, with the final sentence Luke uses to close his story of the book of Acts, Paul is shown living and preaching in Rome, welcoming ALL who come to see him, preaching the Gospel unhindered by any constraint. It was a huge turning point in the church.

I like to think that our current Pope is one of those great ‘turning points in the church.” Like every Pope, he brings his gifts to the office. I believe his pastoral and scriptural approaches to discipleship are a huge opportunity and blessing for the church. Fr. James Martin, SJ, in an article in America Magazine, summarized the pope’s encyclical of last week – “The Joy of Love” – into a kind of top ten list. Point #10 says simply: All are welcome.

He writes: “The church must help families of every sort, and people in every state of life, know that, even in their imperfections, they are loved by God and can help others experience that love. Likewise, pastors must work to make people feel welcome in the church. “Amoris Laetitia” offers the vision of a pastoral and merciful church that encourages people to experience the “joy of love.”

So, to quote Men in Black III, this might be my NEW favorite “What if” moment in the church. My new favorite ‘turning point’ in the history of St. Ann church. What if we, the members of St. Ann parish lived with such a welcoming heart, that anyone who comes through our doors would know they are loved by God? What if we made sure that at every mass, we LOOKED for people whom we didn’t recognize, and made sure to introduce ourselves? What if there was only one sign emblazoned on the front of our St. Ann Church—WELCOME, ANYBODY!

That would be a turning point worth living for…

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love meWhat is your most feared 4 word question? Some might answer:

  • What day is today? (Means you forgot an anniversary or birthday)
  • How old are you? (If somewhere with a beverage you shouldn’t have at your age)
  • Where have you been? or it’s variation:
  • What have you done? (They know good and well, but now you know the stuff is about to hit the fan.) But none of those trump THE four word question:

Do you love me?

Those four words are guaranteed to send chills down the spine of every man, woman, young adult, teen or adolescent who has to give an answer. We know it is a loaded question before we ask it or answer it. If the person who is asking, doubts our answer, then nothing we can say or do really can prove it, can it? If we are asking, and we doubt their answer, they cannot prove it. There is a powerlessness in both the asking and the answering of that question.

But we know how powerless we are before those words in a different way, too. Deepest down, those are the words we want to hear – that one answer that makes all the difference in our world. I love you. But we know that words are cheap – that words can spill from lips without the backing of the heart. SO, we want to hear the other say the only YES that really matters. YES – I love you, not just with my heart, but with my life. When we ask that question, when we answer that question, we want to hear that yes in both words and in deeds.

I suspect that Jesus knows that about us as humans. And that he knew that particularly about Simon Peter. Because it is only after Peter told Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” – that Jesus asks him to feed his sheep. “It is not enough, Simon, for you to say the words. You must DO the loving. You must do the actions that speak the love in your heart.” And though it might have seemed harsh for Jesus to ask three times, especially in front of the rest of the disciples, it gave Simon the chance to reverse his three betrayals. And it gave Jesus the chance to impress upon his disciples AND US, that it is never enough to just say the words.

“Do you love me?” That is the feared question that our Lord asks not just of Simon Peter, but of all of us this Easter season. Then, be about the feeding and tending and loving of my sheep. Be about the actions that back up the words of your heart.

So, let me suggest one, very concrete way of doing that. Read the Pope’s new encyclical – The Joy of Love. It is a reflection on the recent synod of the family. It is meant to situate our human love of the family within the great framework of the Love of God. It acknowledges that families are not perfect – that they struggle and fail and succeed in various and sundry ways. But together, as a family, they are called to do the work of that foundational love that then strengthens them to be able to tend to all of the sheep of God’s flock. (click HERE to download the pdf)

Do you love me? Hear that question, not as a moment to strike fear into your heart, but as an opportunity to show, in both word and deed, that you do indeed love your Lord…

(at 11 am mass only) A final question to our first communion children. What did Jesus do for the disciples while they were out fishing all night long? What did he have ready for them when they were done? BREAKFAST! Yup, breakfast. Maybe not your favorite kind – fish and toast, but it was breakfast nonetheless. Because Jesus knew they would be hungry, he became a short order cook – and made sure they were fed. And then he told Peter to do the same – to make sure the sheep were fed. And 2000 years later, that same Jesus has breakfast ready for us, doesn’t he? Again, maybe not your usual breakfast – wine and bread – but food nonetheless. Why? Because he knows that we are hungry – he knows that we need to take in the food that will nourish us and strengthen us. And like that morning on the lake, Jesus is asking us the same thing he asked Peter – do you love me? So when you receive the Lord and get back to your pew, I ask you to make the same response as Peter – to say: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you…

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mercyFor the first time in 14 years, the UMSL spring break coincided with the ST. Ann break. So I was on a mini vacation Tues through Thurs. and a little out of the news circle. However, I do get an email called the “3 O’Clock Stir”, highlighting 6 stories which will appear in tomorrow’s Post Dispatch.

One of the stories this week was about a 14 year old whom has been doing a blog since he was ten on politics. In response to Mr. Trump’s tweeted question about the reporter who got too close for comfort: “What did she have in her hand? It could have been a knife, or something dangerous.” He responded with two words: “A Pen.” He was LAMBASTED on social media. “Nerd. Geek. Moron.” And those are just the printable words he was bombarded with. I, like many of you I hope, am just shaking my head in quasi disbelief. Can we go any lower? How did we get here? How did we get to a place where people’s comments and engagement in the world all become a source of attack and defense and not a source of a civil and reasoned discourse?

I think about that because I tried to put myself into the shoes of the disciples for the week we recount in the gospel today. Thomas misses the first appearance of the Resurrected Jesus. He is, at best, skeptical. The other disciples are enthusiastically committed to their experience of Jesus having been raised. You can almost hear the conversations: Don’t you trust us? Why would we lie to you about THIS? Did he grumble each morning – “I will never believe it until I see it! And, I just want the same proof you got – I want to see his hands and side.” Can you imagine how that scenario would play out on today’s social media/twitterverse?

Here is the important thing, though, and what perhaps I most needed to learn from this gospel THIS year. Thomas stayed CONNECTED to the community, and the community stayed connected to Thomas. Somehow, there was room there for his doubt, room there for his questionings. He did not need to leave the community. The believing disciples did not cast him out or marginalize him, or call him a ‘cafeteria apostle’ because of his struggle to believe. Rather, together they walked and prayed and reflected. Together they found a way to be of support and love to him. And because of that, he could be there among them when Jesus comes a week later.

It is my deepest hope for both our St. Ann community and the Newman Center community – that we know there is room for questions and struggles and doubt. I pray that we know there are ways for us to disagree and hold differing opinions, and yet still be bonded together as members of a family of faith. And that is the civility that I pray for our political discourse in the months leading up to the November elections.

In 2000, Pope John Paul called this Sunday in the Church’s year Divine Mercy Sunday. Based on the vision of Blessed Faustina of Poland, it strives to awaken us to the need for mercy in the church and the world. There is a chaplet that is prayed about this, a call to make use of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and an invitation to let the divine mercy become ever more a part of our lives and our world. It hopes to awaken in us the remembrance that Jesus’ first words to the Apostles were of peace and not condemnation. How destructive that could have been if Jesus had played the ‘blame game’ or the ‘shame game’. Instead he builds a community around peace and reconciliation. And he states a truth. When you forgive people, they are set free. When you hold them bound, they are trapped.

So, today, and in all the days leading to the November elections, let mercy be the key word in your heart. When you are tempted to join the social media frenzy about anything – whether politics or life in general, say only the good things that people need to hear. Make it a challenge to re-write the front page stories from the vantage point of mercy. How would a merciful God tell this story?

“A Pen.” Who would have thought two words would unleash such a firestorm of craziness? The good news, there is an antidote – ONE word that can unleash a firestorm of goodness. Mercy.

Let us all be instruments of your mercy, Lord…

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Happy Easter!

Published on 27. Mar, 2016 by in Sunday Homilies

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freedomMy classmate, Fr. Kevin, loves movies as much as I love golf. At the Chrism mass on Thursday, he told me I HAVE to see a movie called ROOM. It was one of the films nominated for Best Picture this year. YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS FILM. (and for those who do not like spoilers, I invite you to leave the church now)

The film begins on Jack’s fifth birthday. He wakes up and says “Good Morning” to all the objects in the room, a chair, a table, a closet, a toilet, a bathtub, a TV. He wakes his mother and they begin to make Jack’s birthday cake. Immediately, you sense that something is not right. And it isn’t. Jack’s mother is a kidnapped young woman. She has been held in sound proofed shed for the last seven years against her will. And Jack is five years old. When you do the math, you figure out what is going on. The mother has tried to create a loving environment in the cramped shed. She tells him stories; the Biblical story of Samson is one of his favorites. She shields him when her kidnapper enters their space, telling him to stay in the closet until he is gone. She has created a world, a world of love within the small space.

But Jack’s fifth birthday is a turning point. His mother begins to explain to him that the world is bigger than what he sees in the room, or what he watches on their TV. At first, Jack is angry. He accuses his mother of lying. Why would they stay in the room if there was a bigger world? Why would she deny him that? There is no other world, it’s not true! But at long last, she convinces him that he needs to do something, something that will change their lives.

At first, she tells her captor that Jack is sick and needs to go to the hospital. He doesn’t buy it. Plan B. She tells Jack what her real name is and what to tell others. She teaches Jack how to stay stiff and still in the carpet. Then she teaches him how to roll out of the carpet that is in the shed. Roll, Jack, roll. She then rolls him in the carpet and tells her kidnapper that Jack died in the night.

The man puts Jack, rolled up in the old carpet in the back of his pickup truck, and he drives away, presumably to bury his body, the evidence of his crime. As the truck drives along the streets of the town, Jack begins to roll. It is a titanic struggle. As you are watching the film, you begin to rock back in forth trying to help Jack escape. Finally, after what feels like forever, Jack rolls out of the carpet, and for the first time in his young life, sees the wide open sky. Jack freezes. It is almost too much to process. Everything he knew, everything he believed, everything he thought was real, explodes. The world is not a single room, his mother didn’t lie. Like a butterfly bursting out of his cocoon, Jack finds a life he never knew before – beckoning.

To make a long story short (and further ruin the movie for you), Jack does jump out of the truck and run, he does find help and save his mother. But that is only halfway through the film, so there is still some story I haven’t ruined, yet.

Kevin remarked: “I have never seen a better symbol of the resurrection in my life.” What we celebrate this Easter is the fact that Jesus opens up a new world, a new life for all of us. Jesus helps us to see that our cramped little existence is not the whole story of our lives, there is a big bright wide sky to see. Our celebration of Easter reminds us that when sin has kidnapped our souls, has forced us into a restricted room, a confined space; when we think that what we have around us is all there is and all there could ever be – we are to trust there is more, live into the promise there is more, and find the fullness of the resurrected life. By breaking free from the tomb, Jesus demonstrates that life is more than just a limited existence. That is what we rejoice in today.

And when we truly believe this, it changes everything,[at Easter Vigil: It washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy. casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride] especially how we treat one another. There is another scene in the movie. Jack’s hair had never been cut. The kidnapper obvious did not trust Jack’s mother with anything sharp. When they return to the real world, Jack’s mother has a difficult adjustment. She feels guilty for being kidnapped. She feels guilty for not trying to escape earlier. She even feels a bit guilty about Jack’s very existence. She attempts suicide, and is taken to the hospital. While she is gone, Jack tells his newly discovered grandmother that he wants to get his hair cut. When she asks why, he reminds her of the story of Samson from the Bible. “I want to give her some of my strong,” he says.

We live in a world of victims and victimizers. We live in a world where people are forced to live or choose to live restricted, small, closed lives. Easter calls us to know we have been made for more and we are called to share that more, to give the world some of our strong. Happy Easter!

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faithApparently, we have a budding theologian among our children’s liturgy of the word group. He was smart enough to ask the question “Why do we call it Good Friday? We don’t call it Good Easter, or Good Sunday. So why do we call it Good Friday? There is nothing good about it.” Smart kid! On the most important level, he gets it. There is not much that is good about death. There is not much, on the surface level, that seems good about this day. But I love that he asked that question. I hope that he keeps asking that question, and questions like it for the rest of his life. For I believe that Good Friday is all about asking good questions….

He is not the first to ask questions about this day. The author of the letter to the Hebrews gives an answer to one of those good questions to ask in our second reading: Why did Jesus have to die? He tells us simply: Now we have a God who completely understands our struggle. Who completely gets the difficulties, the hardships, the wrenching losses and the physical pains of what it means to be human. In this, he reveals a God who is not aloof from our experience of life, but understands it completely. Thus, he concludes, we can confidently approach God to receive his mercy.

Perhaps a second “good question to ask on Good Friday” is: What do we know about God because of the Death of Jesus?

Fr. David Baronowski writes: The death of Jesus was absolute proof of God’s personal love and care for each of us. For the God who took on flesh and came among his people loves us in an individual and personal way. We are not simply one among billions. Each of us is the one for whom Christ died. As Saint Augustine told us, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love.”

There is a story that my brother Joe tells in his First Communion video – it is about a soldier in battle time. The shelling was heavy and the soldier’s friend forward of the battle lines was caught in one of the first blasts. He saw his friend take the hit and he began immediately to climb out of the fox hole to get him. His sergeant pulled him back. “Where are you going son?” “I’m going to save my friend.” “You can’t go out there. Your friend is done for, and if you go out there, you will get killed or shot up as well. It is not worth it. Leave him, son.” “Sir, I’ve got to go, and you can’t stop me.” With that, he leaps out of the hole, and runs across the field to where his friend was laying. After a moment, he begins to hoist him on his shoulders and starts to carry him back. Another shell blows up, close by, and they both fall. After a bit, somehow, he gets back up and staggers his way back to the fox hole, and collapsed there, with the body of his friend. The sergeant is angry: “See, I told you it was not worth it. You friend is dead, and you are all shot up. What a stupid waste that was! It was not worth it.” “Begging your pardon sir, but it was worth it. You see, when I got there, my friend was still alive. He looked at me and said: ‘I knew you would come. I knew you would come.’ So you see, it was worth it.”

Isn’t THAT precisely why this Friday is Good? It reveals the promise of God to all of us who lie wounded and broken on the battlefield of life – that He will come to us. He may not take away our cancer. He may not cure our sickness. The terrorists that plotted Tuesday bombings may be plotting the next attack. But God will come – and we will not be alone.

And then, perhaps, there is this final GREAT question that I hope my young friend learns to ask: How might I live the goodness of this day in my own time and space? How might I be that compassion and mercy and presence of God in a world that saw the bombings in Brussels this week, and the beheadings of ISIS this year, the tragedies of the Syrian Refugees, and the seeming daily killings on the streets of North St. Louis? How might I take the power of the cross and make that a pledge for a different way of living in this world?

In a few moments – we will have a chance to venerate the cross. . Certainly bring all that is wounded and broken to that time – all that needs forgiveness and healing and grace. AND, bring the desire, however small and fledgling it might be, to continue to break open the power of that day in your time and your space.

Why is this day called Good? It is a great question to ask. And an even more important one for us to answer with our lives….

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servantThis past January, while on vacation with my support group, Bishop Stika said a memorable thing at one of our daily masses. He was talking about a challenge he gave to the priests in his diocese. “Are you living your priesthood as a celibate or as a bachelor? Many will tell you it is tough not being married. And in some ways, they are right. But you did not choose ‘not to be married’. You chose to be celibate – you chose the freedom to embrace the church and serve her with all your heart and soul. The temptation in the priesthood is to live as a bachelor – enjoying your quiet time, your fishing, and your hobbies. And, as a person who is not readily accountable to another person, it is easy to get comfortable in your patterns of rest and work.

It is easy to live like a bachelor. So, when that phone call comes in the middle of the night, and you are living your priesthood as a bachelor, you won’t answer it. But if you are living it as a servant, you will. And when you are asked to beyond the call of duty, if you are living as a bachelor, you won’t. But as a servant, you will. So the choice is yours – are you willing to live your priesthood as a celibate, or will you live it as a bachelor?”

It has been a good examination of conscience for me since that January vacation. There are times, when I would look back on the end of a week’s journey and realize, I did a good job as a bachelor this week. Got my round of golf in. Made sure I got enough sleep. Had the chance to go out to dinner with some friends and made use of the opportunity. All of those are good things, aren’t they Lord? But then I remember, I had the chance to visit some folks in long term nursing facilities far outside the parish boundaries, and did not do so. I could have used a window of time to drop by the upper block classrooms, but I never feel like what I would do off the cuff is better than what the teacher had planned, so I didn’t. And then there was that student who didn’t look like they were having the best day. But rather than engage them deeply, I did the “I’ll keep you in my prayers’ thing. Prayers are always a good thing to do. But was that the celibate/servant thing to do? Hmmm…

Though we might use different words to describe that level of commitment depending on the context of our lives – isn’t that precisely the ‘question’ that Jesus ‘asks’ his disciples as he washes their feet? “If I, your Lord and Master have washed your feet, then you must do the same.” And, isn’t that exactly why Peter resisted having Jesus wash his feet? Peter knew EXACTLY what Jesus was asking of him in that loving action. Who will you be living your life for, Simon? Will it be about you – making sure you have your needs taken care of, making sure that you live comfortably within the confines of your life as a fisher man and a fisher of men. Or, will it be not about YOU – but rather, about the love that you pledge to the world that I send you to?”

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asks not just the embarrassed and reluctant Peter and his disciples. Some 2,000 years later, do we understand what he has done for us as well?

In a few moments, you will have the opportunity to discover the amazing freedom that comes from the choice to be a servant and not a bachelor. There are three chairs here. I’ll be manning the one in the center. Come there if you need your feet washed and your heart loved and any smallness of heart washed away. The servers will start the other two. Once they have washed your feet, they will hand you the towel and basin to wash the feet of the person after you…

As we celebrate what this night asks us to do ‘in memory of me’, may we do ALL of this – our communion, our prayer and praise, and our washing of the feet and serving of one another, not as a bachelor, but always as a servant, with generous hearts and generous love.

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dashBefore the reading of the gospel:

It is not the first time that any of us has heard and celebrated the story. We know the players. We know the plot line. We even know the outcome – the good guys win.

And yet, we still gather to hear and tell the story – to let it pierce our hearts and lives. If you are like me, different parts of the narrative call to us year by year. So I ask you: “What is the most important part of the passion for you THIS YEAR? What line, what character, what moment calls to you and invites your attention? As you hear this story proclaimed – be attentive to that movement of the spirit, for it may say much about the journey the Lord invites you to be on.

After the Gospel

For some, it is the moment when Jesus dies upon the cross, and, having journeyed with him, they feel the power of that moment to set them free. For others, who have been hurt by ones they love, they identify with Peter in the courtyard. Still others hear Jesus’ words, uttered on the cross as impossibly difficult for them. “Father forgive them.” How can I say that when I have been so hurt?

For me, the moment was in the garden, the moment that makes the rest possible. “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will, but what you will.” How do you pray like that? Because I haven’t been liking very much what I have experienced of God this.

Personally,

  • my friend Dave’s death from ALS was tough.
  • mom’s two broken hips and surgeries and follow up have drained my energy.
  • Mom’s continual health decline has not been fun to accompany – will she recognize me in a few months?

In the public square,

  • I am not liking what appears to be my political choices come the fall election.
  • The continued erosion of civil liberties gives me pause.
  • The senseless acts of terrorism and violence against Christians in the Mideast is troubling and tragic.
  • And the refugee crisis continues unabated.

“Not my will, but yours be done.” Really? You had to go and say and pray that?! You had to live that freely and openly to the Father’s will, come what may? Don’t know difficult it is to do that? How seemingly impossible that is for us? Sigh! SIGH!

Which is EXACTLY why you did that. So that we might see in you an example, a witness that it can be done. That it should be done by those who strive to believe. Ahhh! Lord. That is why that is in my head. Because you are inviting me to trust. To surrender. To give my life so freely and completely…as you did. Not to be protective of my time as I am sometimes want to do, but to stay open at each moment. Not to be fearful of a phone call from the personnel board, should that come. Not to spend time wondering how long my mom will still be around on this planet and will she remember me in even a few month’s time?

And you? What moment caught you? And what is the invitation you find in that moment? What is Jesus’ passion and death trying to awaken inside of you?

We know this story. We know its beginning and ending. But what happens in the middle – the middle of our lives as we live it here and now – that is what truly matters…

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voicesI grew up with voices in my head. Voices that spoke pretty loudly at times. Voices that tried to convince me of two very different things. On the one side, there were the voices that said: “You are a good kid, Bill Kempf. You are a good listener, obedient, respectful, and genuinely caring for people.” Voices that very seductively tried to have me buy into the one end of the confession and repentance spectrum: “Everything is fine between me and God’ – there is nothing to be repented of. You’ve got this ‘God and You’ thing down.”

On the other end were the voices that said this: “You are just Fred’s brother, or Joe’s brother, or Dennis or Walt’s or Mary’s brother. There is nothing special about you.” In fact, you are so unworthy of being your own self, of being loved, that when you fail, not even God could forgive what you have done. God could never want a person like you.” Both ends of that spectrum are deadly for the spiritual life. In today’s gospel we see those played out. And we see the desire of Jesus to embrace people hearing those voices on both ends of the forgiveness spectrum.

The ‘Scribes and the Pharisees’ fall perhaps into that first category – those who figure that they have it all together. And because they do, they can judge those who do not have it together. Because they believe that they have it together, then how easy is it for them to take to task those whom, like the woman, obviously don’t. And because they resent this Jesus who called rich and poor alike to repentance, they set their trap.

You can hear the tension after they present their case. “What do you say?” Their righteous challenge echoes through the air, and it hangs there, in the middle, as surely as the woman stands there in the middle.

So, what does Jesus do? He bends down and begins to write upon the ground. Maybe with a stick. Maybe with his finger. But he writes on the ground. We don’t know what he writes. But I can surmise why. He writes to buy some time, doesn’t he, for a reasoned response. He lets that mob mentality energy kind of die down in the sudden silence. People shuffle a bit, straining to hear what Jesus will say. And in that silence, suddenly, they can hear their own heart beat, can hear their own breath. They can see the flushed face of the women they make stand there, no longer a nameless woman caught in the act, but a scared human being, worthy less of judgment and more of mercy. He writes to give them time to return to themselves. And then we hear that most famous of all lines. “Let the one without sin, be the first to cast the stone.”

This time, he bends down and writes again – but no longer to buy time. Rather, to give them time to look into their own heart – to see their own need for mercy. In that space, in that non-judgmental moment, THEY are offered salvation. They are offered mercy – not the judgment of Jesus, calling them out, one by one in a Texas stare down; not Jesus holding them in their sin as they held the woman – but rather, that gentle doodling on the ground which allows them the time to see their need for the very mercy they were refusing to give.

Do you hear the voices in your life that call out your need for mercy?

Then, to the woman, after they had all gone away, you hear that same compassionate voice asking: “Where are they?” “Where are all those voices that wanted to hold you in your shame? Where are the voices, external and INTERNAL that wanted you to believe that what you had done was deserving of death – both spiritual and physical. That you had no hope of being loved and forgiven and accepted ever again. “Has no one condemned you?” If they, in their human smallness of heart can let this sin go, then, can you trust that I can as well? In my imagination, the woman’s feet don’t touch the ground the whole way back to her home.

Do you only hear the voices of the Scribes and Pharisees saying ‘you have no need to repent? Do you find yourself, perhaps like the woman, only able to hear the voices which say there is no possibility of forgiveness for you?

Hear today the only voice you need hear –that of the divine physician Jesus, who desires THAT ALL should come to know God’s mercy and forgiveness. Hear him say to the self righteous side within – “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Hear him say to the seemingly unlovable part within you: Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more…”

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* Click image below to view bulletin (pdf)

March 13, 2016

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sonI have always been a sucker for stories of people who were lost who then became found. Early in my priesthood, I somehow got on the mailing list for Covenant House, and their begging letters would always tell the stories of the runaways who came to the big city with great plans, but that turned horribly wrong. They would eventually find their way to Covenant house, and be coaxed and welcomed home. And then they’d ask for money to “keep the doors open” to the next John or Sue or Fred or Mary who was lost and needed a safe place.

This summer, I realize why I was attracted to those kinds of stories, when at Christian Family Camp, we reflected on Henry Nouwen’s book – The Return of the Prodigal. One of the quotes that found a home in me was this:

If the only meaning in the prodigal son story is that people sin and God forgives – then it is easy to slide isn’t it – my sins are an occasion for God to show his forgiveness. There is no challenge in that way of reading the story…

Rather, Nouwen goes on to suggest, the ultimate purpose of the story is to teach each of us to BECOME THE FATHER. To become the one who looks down the road to all who live in the land of the lost, to all who have given up hope, to all who are searching for something beyond themselves to give themselves to. We are to become the ones, who always keep the door open.

With the YOUNGEST SON – we see that the Father is always looking down the road… hoping for the one who MIGHT come, who might return. Day and night, he keeps the door of his heart open. And when that son does return, there is no judgment, no disdain; no “I told you this would happen to you.” Instead, we see a fatted calf, a robe, a ring, sandals – you are restored to me.

With the OLDEST SON – who is just as lost in his anger and resentment as the youngest son, we see the same thing – leaving the banquet, inviting his son to come inside, to acknowledge what he sees – life where there was death. Inviting him to know the joy he knows at the return of every prodigal. He was lost – you are lost – come inside and be found again.

That is perhaps the final lesson of the parable, that invitation to become the heir, to become the welcoming love of God himself. And whether I get there as the younger son or the elder – eventually, I have to become the SUCCESSOR. I am to make the Father’s way of life my own and become transformed in his image.

So what does it take to become the father? Let me suggest one attitude and one practice.
The attitude is what I learned from the Covenant House giving letters – “The door is always open for you.” When we are wounded or when we wound another, it often ‘slams a door’ in the face of the other. The father could have shut the door on his son the moment he demanded his inheritance. He could have kept the door shut when he learned the older son would not enter the banquet. Instead, he keeps the door open. And more than that, he seeks out from that door, the ones who is lost. Can we learn to live, knowing we will suffer, knowing we might be taken advantage of with a door that is always open?

The practice – is generosity. There is nothing that the father keeps for himself. –Fatted calf, ring, sandals – all that disappears *snap* like that for the younger son. To the older son – “ALL I HAVE IS YOURS.” The father knows the secret: Resentment and joy cannot co-exist. Joy is the fruit of generosity. This week, be generous with your time and talent.

Let me end with a final quote from Nouwen’s book, one that perhaps sums up the entire story of the prodigal son:

It is comfortable to remain as the wayward or angry child. The world does not need another younger or elder son – converted or not – but a father who lives with outstretched hands, always desiring to let them rest on the shoulders of his returning children.

Let me repeat that: The world does not need another younger or elder son – converted or not – but a father who lives with outstretched hands, always desiring to let them rest on the shoulders of his returning children.

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