In preparing for today’s homily; I came upon one that I did nine years ago, the year that I was ordained and except for some changes to update to our current year, I feel it is quite sound, so I’d like to share it again. It is interesting that trying to live out Jesus’ way, truth and life does look the same from year to year, the challenge the same, the issues may have changed, but we are always called to respond as we believe Jesus, our brother, would have. If we forget his message to us and fail to live as he did; we can hardly call ourselves his followers!
It is always easier to follow the crowd, than to stand up, often alone, to do the right thing—to say, “Enough is enough.” Jeff Flake, Republican senator from Arizona has apparently done that in a new book entitled, A Principled Conservative.
In it he talks about how there had always been a certain decorum among members of Congress when talking to each other and he has seen that deteriorating over the past years—we all remember, the statement thrown at former President Obama during an address to Congress, “You lie!” It is hopeful that there are others like Senator Flake who will say to their colleagues that basically, “We are better than that!”
Hope is the operative word in the three readings that we just heard. We have a God who freely gives to us all that is needed in life to be happy and this happens in really a wonderful way. God has first loved us and that power to love so completely, so fully, so freely, does necessarily rub off on each of us. If we can slow down enough,
believe in the goodness all around us, we can then believe that we are loved mightily by our God—we have spoken recently of the Cosmic Christ and simply put, this means that God is in all of creation manifesting the God-head. And once we are sure of this love; we can then share the love with others.
When a person knows that they are loved and cared about, there is no end to what they can accomplish. If we think about how we felt the first time we fell in love, we recall that it seemed like, nothing could stop us—we could conquer the world with that one special person standing by our side loving and supporting us.
This is the kind of love that Isaiah is talking about today in addressing God. We are all invited by God to be refreshed and nourished—whether we can pay or not. God is presented here like a street vender; only what God offers is free! There is nothing we can do that would be bad enough for God to give up on us! That isn’t the message that many have received over the years.
If we wanted confirmation for what we stand for in this community, as a Catholic parish, proclaiming by our name that, “All are welcome at the table,” this reading from Isaiah would be it! It made me wonder nine years ago, as I still do today, when I read this passage if my brother priests and the bishops had ever read it. Or if they had read it, how they could not make the connection between Isaiah’s proclamations of the intent of God that all are welcome and are invited to the table and their opposing actions of turning people away because they are not Catholic, not “straight” in their relationships, divorced, remarried, using artificial birth control or having voted for the “wrong” candidate.
We frankly would not be a parish if this rhetoric was common fare for us! The God of Isaiah is eager to re-establish the covenantal promise that was broken—God is always striving to bring us back—to make us one, not to divide us. Our God’s table is big enough to include us all.
This reminds me of an interchange I had when I was first ordained, with a male priest who was reprimanding me for my, in his mind, “invalid” ordination by using the lovely words of John’s gospel, “That they all may be one” to excuse his unwillingness and that of other clergy members to make this prayer of Jesus, before he died, a reality, by pontificating—“One day, we will all be one!” It begged the question, “And Father, how is it that we will ever be one if you and others continually turn people away?”
Psalm 145 today displays a God who is open-handed, satisfying all of our needs. The covenant made with the Israelites has been extended to a universal embrace. Not, “I’ll come to you when you first come to me,” but a continual chasing after us offering something else, enticing us to come home—this last thought comes from the modern translation of the 23rd psalm in The Message.
The adjectives used in Psalm 145 are “lovingkindness” and justice—this is how God acts towards us. “Lovingkindness” isn’t even a word in Webster’s, but we get the idea—God is not just “loving,” but God adds kindness to the loving—that deep compassion and other-centeredness that we read about in Matthew’s gospel today. Jesus needs to get away for some R &R after he hears of John, the Baptist’s death, whom some think was probably, his cousin, thus the close relationship. Even in this out-of-the-way place; Jesus is besieged by the people, those who are sick and hurting.
The Scriptures tell us that, “Jesus was moved with pity.” In the Hebrew, “Splanchnizome” means, “profound inner emotion.” So, in other words, Jesus was deeply moved seeing their need. He simply wanted to help them in their pain—there was no, “I will help you when you do this or that—there was no stipulation—no hoop to jump through, just the simple invitation—“Come to the water.” God has always been and always will be, my friends, “For us!”—we will always be welcome with all our infirmities, blemishes and unkindness—whatever—the God who is loving-us-with-kindness will never turn away—but will be there for us! This is a true message of hope in my mind—one for the peace of our souls and one that we can truly share with others.
We have all experienced times when a family member or friend needed hope to believe that something in their life would get better. I can think of no greater comfort than to remind another that when all else fails—when friends seem absent—God is still there—God is with us—we are not alone. For those who had the opportunity to see the musical, Francis and Clare, one of the songs sung by Francis is this wonderful message of us, “not being alone”—that God is with us in all of creation.
Nine years ago, I was a staff chaplain at Winona Health and part of my responsibilities then was to do spiritual groups with the seniors at Lake Winona Manor. In one of those groups; we were using an Old Testament series that presented the Israelites in Egypt and of God working through Moses to bring them out of slavery. The presentation was done by an evangelical group, so at times; it had quite a bit of drama. The one thing that did touch me though about the presenter was his obvious faith in a loving God, one who would give every chance to an often, errant group of people whose faith seemed so fickle. He stressed the thought over and over that God asked Moses, someone who couldn’t even speak well to be “the message” of God to Pharaoh, just as we, my friends, are asked to be “the message” of God to our world.
And how do we do that? We do it by the way we live our lives—which means speaking out when we see injustice. Nine years ago the economic gap between white and black Americans was growing, not lessening. I’m not sure, but I would guess that this is still the case. Our elected leaders, then and now, were and are working on a budget for our country—one would think given the message today that God is for all of us, not just the already rich, that the decisions on how to construct such a budget would be clear—for many, if not all of these Congress people probably claim to be “Christian”—we can’t be about making the rich, richer—we have to care for the least among us and we have to let our legislators know that this is our will in order to be faithful to God’s call that we be “the message” in our lives, of God’s love for our world—every one of us.
Nine years ago; I rose up for all of us that if we don’t do this here and now, then God’s action is silent in our world. God’s love will only be present if it is present in us—we have been given that responsibility because we know Jesus. Now, it can feel daunting at times when we see all the needs, but if each of us does our part; we can start a groundswell that moves around our world so that we don’t have to witness one part of the globe starving to death as it was in Africa nine years ago and is still true today while others have more than they can ever use.
At the start of this homily; I asked you to recall when you first fell in love with someone and of how that felt—the fact that that energy made you feel like you could do anything, perhaps, move a mountain! Let us, each one of us challenge ourselves this week to do one thing different that makes life better for another. We might take a minute now to consider what that one thing might be….
With the one thing in mind and the intention to do it; I can guarantee you that your week will be different—your life will be better, fuller—and watch for the chain reactions—just as evil begets evil, good most certainly begets good. If God is for us and God is, who really can be against us?