My friends, we continue our 2019 journey of faith just a month old with this third Sunday in Ordinary Time. And as we always say, “ordinary,” meaning no major feast time, but never “ordinary” in the message of the Scriptures for us. Our daily lives as Christians call us to so much more than ordinary, “run-of-the mill” responses.
Each day, we are called to be good listeners, hearers of other’s stories and to respond in the ways that we can. Sometimes, as we look at the inaction in Washington, at the lack of openness in our Church to hear the voices of all the baptized; we wonder what can be done. Sometimes we feel hopeless, but we cannot stop praying, asking for guidance from the Spirit of Jesus, asking for the strength we need to speak our truth to the powers-that-be, to our elected officials, to our Church fathers. We cannot let them remain inactive when we know they can do more.
I personally have gained a bit of hope recently as I work on a spreadsheet recording the ministries of the Rochester Franciscan Sisters and Cojourners. Many Sisters after countless years of ministry in education, nursing, social services and more still record in later years that their ministry continues—that of “prayer ministry.” They do not stop and nor should we!
Sometimes we are like the people in the first reading today from Nehemiah. This reading reminds me of the Mayan people that I spoke of in last week’s homily. If you recall, their approach to worshipping their Goddess was always to be “stooped” before the all-powerful one—their way to show respect for her. You will also recall, the doorways into their temples were built low so as to keep them in the posture of being bent low before their God.
Nehemiah finds the same thing going on within the Chosen People of Israel. Today’s reading finds them just newly back from exile and presenting themselves as “bowed down” before God and worshipping their God with their faces to the ground. There is a definite fear within them because of their past failings with regard to serving God as they should. But fear should never be our response to our God who loves us so completely and Nehemiah says as much!
He, as all good and true prophets do, tells them the truth—“Today is holy, do not be sad, do not weep—for the joy of our God is your strength.” In other words, where God is concerned; we need never fear, but only trust, only believe, and know that we are loved. What we can understand within this context, when it comes to God and our relationship with God is that we will always be given another chance to do that which we were given life to do.
With regard to the stalemate in Washington, somewhat relieved as of yesterday, the reckless disregard for the needs of real people versus the need of one in power to have his way like a petulant child, Paul in his letter to the Corinthians has some words of wisdom for us as we try to respond. We are one body and what one does affects the rest of the body. We all have been given gifts with which to respond to our world and we must discover those gifts and use them every day of our lives. At the very least; we can pray as the Sisters do every day!
Some of us have the gift to speak words of wisdom to others (tongues, as Paul says), some, the gift of writing, discerning for others the words of wisdom (interpreting, as he would say), some the gift of advocacy—standing with those who are suffering and working for justice for them.
A branch of the Winona Interfaith Council, The Sanctuary Movement in Winona is attempting to do just that. The Wesley United Methodist church in Winona has become the host church to assist the undocumented among us find their way toward legal status in our country. People from many different church denominations came together for an initial training time yesterday to prepare themselves to assist our undocumented sisters and brothers as needed.
There are so many ways among all of us to help and I know that all of you are involved in countless ways—from feeding the hungry through our city’s food shelf, to Home Delivered Meals, staffing Winona’s Warming Center so that the homeless or those in need of a warm place to be can have that respite. Many of you gave warm clothing this winter when asked and I want you to know of my gratitude for your generosity.
Every bit of this helps—please know that it does! Sometimes we feel that we can’t do much to affect the bigger issues of Church and State, but know that you do, every time, as Joan Chittister says, “You listen with the ear of your hearts.” ( the Rule of St. Benedict).
“Listening with the ear of our hearts” in the small everyday things of a city, feeding and clothing those in need strengths us for the larger tasks of speaking up to our Congress, our president, our bishop and our pope. Listening with the ear of our hearts will not let us rest or say that I can’t do what needs to be done in any situation.
Sometimes we just need to try to do a new thing that we haven’t done before and we may surprise ourselves—we may find that the words we need to say or the words we need to write are suddenly there! Remember the Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth, through us if we allow her to!
I list all these good actions that all of you are already doing not so that you will become complacent and say, “I’ve done my part,” but that you will know that you are making a difference and to keep at it!
“Listening with the ear of our hearts” is what allows us to speak kindly to another, to show patience in the midst of upset, to try and see another point of view, to understand that others may be carrying a heavy load and are doing the best that they can.
We know from the gospel of Luke today that our model in all of this, Jesus, prepared most of his life for his public ministry—no doubt much prayer and reflection went into the day when he was able to walk into his home town synagogue, knowing perhaps that he would be rejected, read the words of Isaiah and speak his truth, given by God, that yes, today these words, telling of the coming of the Messiah, in your hearing, are fulfilled!
My friends, to follow Jesus, our brother, calls us to the same—lest his strength, his courage, his vision, his listening with the ear of his heart stop there; we too must step up and let his words be evident through us—that glad tidings are being brought to the poor, so many poor in so many ways, that the blind, who cannot see, in so many ways, now have sight, that those who are prisoners in body, mind and spirit have been set free and that truly these Scriptures are continuing to be fulfilled! Amen? Amen!