Homily – 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Friends, I would like to dedicate this homily to a woman that I’ll call Karen (not her actual name) to protect her and her family that I have “walked with,” in the spiritual sense for the past year and who went “home” to God this past week.  I dedicate it to her out of respect for the relationship that we had, but even more so, in the light of this homily, because the readings for this Sunday speak so well to an issue that she and I addressed often in our time together, that of the mercy and love of God.

But first, a bit of back story so that you can know my friend better.  I had not known Karen before a year ago when I was called by one of her friends, who also knew me and thought I might be able to be of help to her friend.

Karen had been diagnosed with cancer at the stage 4 level and was trying to come to terms with that.  Not only was she beginning to deal with her own passing, but a year before this, she had suffered the loss of one of her sons, also to cancer—a death that parents can never really get their minds and hearts around—that of their children .

So Karen was grieving—a feeling, a state of mind and heart she had come to know well in her life that also included the loss of her mother at a young age and two failed marriages.  Her first marriage did give her three children—two sons and a daughter and her two remaining children, along with their spouses, gave her four grandchildren.

It was clear to me early on that these children and grandchildren and extended family meant the world to her and the pain and grief that she was experiencing was all about leaving them—would they be all right?—the concerns of any good parent!

Karen decided to fight the cancer aggressively with chemotherapy and after two cycles, it seemed she was getting more ill, rather than better, so she stopped the aggressive part and moved into comfort cares.

Many of us, unfortunately, were raised to believe that God came to redeem us, in Jesus, and required payment for our wrong-doing in life.  Not much, at least not enough in our training was about the mercy of our good God.

The reading from Colossians today, supposedly from Paul, speaks to this issue in the idea of “washing us clean of any original sin.”  Modern day Scripture scholars—“revisionists,” they are called, tell us that everything we read in Scripture may not have come out of the mouth of the particular writer “credited” with it and I would suspect this is an example of that.

Formerly-active Catholic priest, Matthew Fox, now an Episcopalian priest, speaks of each of us being an “original blessing,” not a “sin.”  As a small aside, when I was in chaplaincy training, an Episcopalian priest on staff at the hospital where I trained told me my only Episcopalian joke and basically it is the definition of an Episcopalian which is “Catholic Lite,” one-half the guilt.

When I think of God as depicted by Jesus in such stories as the Prodigal, the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, the Woman who Lost a Coin and turned her house up-side-down in search of it, and by the way, this is the female version of the Good Shepherd who left the 99 in search of the one lost sheep; I find myself agreeing with Matthew Fox—God sees us as “blessing,” not “sin.”

Stating that from the beginning, humankind is “sin” in need of redemption, rather than “blessing” from our good God, sets up a chain of events that keep humankind quite miserable, beating our breasts and makes God a masochist demanding the life of Jesus to appease God’s anger for our imperfect natures, which in fact God created!  I don’t know about you, but it makes it quite difficult for me to love such a mean God as that. But of course those who devised such a plan don’t want us to think, but simply to obey.

So, in my time with Karen, I assured her that she was mightily loved by our God and then, she as a Methodist, growing up, and me, a Catholic, shared prayer and communion many times over this past year, remembering not the vengeance, but the  love of the God we both shared

Due to the accumulated grief experienced in her adult family with partners struggling for connection with their children and the ultimate care of them, on Karen’s part, the relationships weren’t always smooth, so in this last year of her life, Karen’s main concern was that this family could be a family in the best sense of the word.

The apostles in today’s gospel ask that Jesus would teach them, “how to pray.”  This question bespeaks the desire for a relationship with God—going to a trusted friend, not to someone that they feared.  These same apostles often saw Jesus go off alone, “to pray,” and of his relationship with the one he called, Abba, translated, “Daddy” or “Loving Parent,” and they saw the strength and power that he had to teach and heal after his time away. They wanted that strength and that relationship too!

Often times with Karen;  I would tell her to ask Jesus to help her carry what she couldn’t carry alone and over the year we spent together, she saw the relationship between her adult children grow—that her grandchildren were spending more time together and we prayed prayers of gratitude.

We don’t often enough realize how much God wants to be part of our lives—wants a relationship with us—if we would just ask.  We are often told not to read the Scriptures literally to get the true sense of their meaning and that was never so true as in the first reading today from Genesis.  We read, God said: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great…their sin is so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.”  We read this and wonder—if God is all powerful and all knowing, God doesn’t need to go anywhere, God knows!

And then we look at the discussion on how merciful this God might be.  Our trouble friends, as humans, is that we always assume that God’s ability to show mercy, caring and love is on a par with our own, when in reality, there is no end to the ability of God to love us.  It reminds me of when my grandson, Elliot and I are playing against the monsters—our opponents, or the “bosses” as he says, our strength to fight against them is in the “bazillions!”  When you think of the love and ultimate mercy of God, think my friends, in the “bazillions!”

So, I began this homily, dedicating it to my friend, Karen,  and I will end it there as I know she is presently experiencing this over-the-top love of our God as she will now for all eternity and that Jesus who promised that God would never leave us will watch over her family too and be with each of us as well.  We can never out-do our God where love is concerned—that is our hope and our promise! Amen?  Amen!