Sorry to be late with this homily–it is Pastor Dick Dahl’s contribution from yesterday–he has given us a wonderful message–enjoy!
Let’s begin by considering the three readings we’ve just heard. The book of Malachi, by the way, is the last book in the Old Testament. It consists of only six brief passages, and the author is anonymous because “Malachi” means simply “my messenger.” The passage we heard is an indictment of the priests who had profaned God’s table by offering stolen, diseased or impaired animals in worship. The real issue here was performing worship that outwardly looked good but was dishonest and disrespectful to God whom it was supposed to honor.
Then in the reading from Matthew Jesus told people not to follow the example and behavior of their religious leaders who sought praise and honor for themselves, but did not themselves carry the burdens they put on others.
Finally we listened to Paul’s affectionate letter to the Christians at Thessalonica.
Paul thanks God for the way they received the words he had preached to them as the words of God and had changed their lives when they believed it.
From the first two readings comes a challenging invitation. It is the whole point of this homily. The invitation is both very simple, but also one that cuts through hypocrisy, mixed motivation, and misguided efforts to control God. It is simply to do the right thing, for the right motive, solely out of love for God. It involves not caring if anyone else knows when I’m doing something good or if anyone sees it. It also involves not trying to control God by what I am doing. I am not gaining points or trying to make myself better than others. Whatever I’m doing I’m doing solely out of love for the One who loves me—who loves me overwhelmingly and always. Paul was delighted to see the Christians at Thessalonica responding with such love.
If all we’ve known is conditional love, opportunistic love, it’s hard to accept the overflowing love of God. People have been taught to think of themselves as imperfect rather than as good, rather than as the divine children of the Loving God who has breathed, his Spirit into each of us.
A couple days ago I listened to a talk by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr. He pointed out that in the creation story in Genesis God is pictured as affirming six times each stage and part of creation as good and finally it all as verygood. Humans—along with all of creation—are good, lovable, valuable. We recognize this goodness in newborn children, in young animals, in the beauty of nature, but we often find it difficult to recognize it in ourselves—to accept that our indwelling God is doing for each of us what we cannot do for ourselves.
The first humans are pictured in Genesis as given the freedom to enjoy all of creation, to eat from any of the trees in this wonderful paradise. The only thing they were warned not to do was to take part in the knowledge of good and evil. They were warned that if they began dividing the world into good and evil, it would result in destruction and death. By separating things, the dualistic mind always views one person, one tribe, one religion, etc. as better than the other, one as right and the other as wrong, we are drawn headlong into divisiveness.
So, sadly, Christianity has focused on good and evil, especially on sin, rather than on the original blessing that emphatically asserts all creation is good in God’s eyes.
Our challenge is to accept this reality. Think of the many times we have heard that when Jesus cured someone, he told them, “Your faith has saved you.” They had not professed belief in some set of dogmas. This isn’t what he meant by “faith.” A word closer to his meaning is the word “trust.” They opened their hearts to him and they were transformed within. We are invited to open our hearts, spirits and awareness to the transforming, loving presence of God within us.
Paul reassured the Colossians: There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything. (Colossians 3:11) The Spirit is dynamically implanted in us. We cannot lose this implanted Presence and hope.
Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional—always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being.”
So we can’t buy God’s love with burnt offerings, as the priests in Malachi’s time were trying to do. We also don’t buy God’s love with our practices and rituals. We have been blessed with the Gift, the gift of God’s love and dynamic presence in and around us. We don’t take part in the Mass to earn or deserve the love that has been given to us freely. We can’t earn it and we don’t deserve it, but neither can we lose it. Amazing isn’t it?
So, again, the challenge, the invitation is to do the right thing, for the right motive, solely out of love for God. The right thing can involve everything that we do—that which is fun and that which is difficult—working, playing, eating, sleeping—all in gratitude for the foundational Blessing that we enjoy.