Most of you know – I like to read. When I am asked what my hobbies are – I say woodworking, gardening, traveling (especially to any beach) AND reading. . .
I like to read historical novels – either fiction or non-fiction (after all, I WAS a social studies teacher). And I read almost any novel that moves along pretty quickly. I’ve never gotten into westerns – or – surprise – romance novels. . .!
In one of Arthur Conan Doyles’ novels about Sherlock Holmes called A Scandal in Bohemia, which I read many years ago – the detective Holmes is hired to find a discriminating picture of the King of Bohemia taken with a woman named Irene Adler.
The picture poses a risk of scandal for the king and Holmes is supposed to find it and destroy it. So he - of course - must first – find the picture.
He does this by going to Ms. Adler’s home – and then having his side-kick Professor Watson throw a smoke bomb into an open window and cry out: FIRE!
Irene Adler exposes the hidden place of the picture by going to the place where it is kept and taking it – before she flees the building - at which point Holmes is able to grab it from her.
Asked by Watson how he knew this would work – he simply tells Watson that it is elementary.
When a person thinks their house is on fire - they’re most likely going to rush to that which is most valuable to them– and take it with them – as they leave the building.
Where your treasure is - there your heart shall be. . .
People will inevitably reveal what they value most — by their actions. Irene Adler’s most valuable possession was the picture of her with the king of Bohemia, which was linked to her safety and reputation.
Other people may value money more than anything and will go to great lengths to secure and gain more riches – as we heard last week with the man building bigger barns.
For many people, their success or family is the most valued treasure of their lives, which is revealed in how they spend their time and energy.
A person’s heart is tied to what they value most in life – which is why Jesus told us last week: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” And wanted us to grow rich in what matters to God – not to store up treasures for ourselves here on earth.
And this week strikes a similar chord by wanting us to “provide money bags that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.”
For Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
So when the fires rage – as they do in California. Or the flood waters sweep in - as they did in Kentucky. Or when the tornado sirens go off --
Hopefully we make sure we and those we love are safe – and are not like Ms. Adler – needing to stop and pick up some THING that is so important to us we would risk our lives over it.
Remember, it’s perfectly fine to have possessions – to have money in the bank to adequately prepare for our futures. And to be content and happy.
But we have to keep things in perspective.
Where your treasure is – there your heart shall be.
If we view our possessions or success in life as the result of our own talent and effort – we will think of ourselves as owners of these things – and cling to them tightly – maybe even risking our lives over them.
People inevitably reveal what they value most by their actions – and how they spend their time and energy.
But remember: in reality – we are all stewards of what God has provided. God gives us the ability to do whatever we are doing: all of us earn our wealth and possessions with borrowed abilities.
And we are called to be grateful – which expands our hearts – which allows us to be generous with the gifts God has given us.
Where your treasure is – there your heart shall be.
All that you possess will never set you free.
Seek the things that last – come and learn from me.
Where your treasure is - your heart shall be.
Jesus was teaching his disciples when he was somewhat rudely interrupted by someone who wanted him to resolve a family dispute over inheritance. This man was not really asking for advice – he just wanted to try to get Jesus on his side: “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me”.
We might hear a faint echo of another two brothers disputing over half an inheritance – the two brothers in the parable of the prodigal son. . .
Anyway – this man wanted Jesus to get the money for him. But Jesus was quick to see the real problem in this man’s heart: was greed! – the intense and selfish desire for something: especially wealth, power, or social status.
Jesus uses the opportunity to warn his disciples and the rest of the crowd listening – about the danger of greed and placing one’s confidence in earthly possessions – which is still relevant for us today because so many people’s main priority in life is to become wealthy which they think will bring them a good and happy life.
So let’s look at the parable or story.
I’m sure many of us can identify with the land owner: he is a happy man – a rich man, and he had a good harvest – what farmer would not rejoice in that?
This is the essence of life for many people today – to be successful and to be rich – which this man enjoyed – and there is nothing wrong with any of us enjoying it also.
The man is in a good place – and he is looking forward to more of the same – “and I will say to myself, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy. Eat, drink, and be merry.”
And the man’s next move? He wants to build bigger barns — not because he doesn’t have any barns – but he wants bigger ones to store the wealth of his crops. So he will tear down the old and build newer, bigger, barns.
Everything was fine and good. In fact - it describes the typical lifestyle of many Americans. We want to improve our lives, increase our wealth, and find more ways to enjoy ourselves. We want to store up our wealth and possessions so that we can enjoy them in the days to come. We are always planning for the future – making good investments in stocks, life insurance, trusts, commodities, and properties.
Again, everything was fine and good – UNTIL GOD ENTERS THE PICTURE. When God enters –everything changes. Because God said to him, “you fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.”
All the man cared about was BIGGER BARNS. –But God brought a new perspective. The man isn’t going to live to see his bigger barns – he doesn’t even have a chance to get the project started. He was planning ONLY for this life on earth – not what comes after. God was not in his life. He did not even consider God — or others – in his decision to build bigger barns –
God said to him: “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself” This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for themselves – but is not rich toward God. . .”
Jesus wants us to see things in the right perspective. He told the man who interrupted him: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Did the man really need bigger barns – or did he just want them??? He could have given the excess to those in need — but much like Lazarus who sat at the door of another rich man and was ignored day after day –
This man probably wasn’t aware of the fact that people around him had needs that weren’t being met – the ones who had no food on their tables – perhaps didn’t even have tables — the ones who were lacking their daily bread.
JESUS DOESN’T WANT US TO BUILD BIGGER BARNS OR TO RENT A BIGGER STORAGE UNIT TO STORE ALL OF OUR STUFF – JESUS WANTS US TO BUILD BIGGER HEARTS – one’s that are big enough to realize that we pray “Our Father” because God is father of us all – which makes all of us brothers and sisters – who should care for one another.
God wants us to expand our hearts – so that when we pray “give us this day our daily bread” we know we are praying for more than just enough to eat – but praying for roofs over our heads, decent wages, affordable health care, clean water, and safe places to live for ourselves – AND for our brothers and sisters.
Jesus wants us to build bigger hearts – convert or change ourselves so that we think more like God thinks - so that love and forgiveness will take over the earth – and the world will be a better place.
God wants us to build bigger hearts – not so that we store up treasure for ourselves – but so that we can grow rich in what matters to God.
IT IS perfectly fine to have possessions – to have money in the bank – to adequately prepare for our futures –and to be content and happy.
But we have to keep things in perspective.
If we view our possessions or successes in life as the result of our talent and effort – we will think of ourselves as owners of these things.
But in reality, we are all stewards of what God has provided. Whether we are into farming or into manufacturing, or business — it is God who provides
God gives us the ability to do whatever we are doing.
God gives us the ability to think, to calculate numbers, to build, and to make plans — the ability to speak and to breathe.
All of us earn our wealth with borrowed abilities.
And we are called to be grateful – which expands our hearts – which allows us to be generous with the gifts God has given us.
Open our eyes, God our Father, to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened – who have less than we do.
Make us serve them truly after the example of Christ and at his command.
And may your Church, your body made up of all of us here – always stand as a living witness to truth and freedom. To peace and justice. That ALL people may be raised up to a new hope.
Lord, give us bigger hearts – hearts filled with gratitude and generosity —- so that that world can be a better place. AMEN!
It’s a familiar story. One we have heard a hundred times.
It is such a popular story that it has become a cultural norm when we want to point out someone who is doing good.
We’ve even included it in our secular laws, the Good Samaritan Law - protecting anyone trying to help their neighbor - even if things go wrong.
It attempts to convey what it means to be kind in a hurting world.
But this is NOT a story about being nice. This is a story about transforming the world through the power of the Gospel.
In the story, Jesus is sharing that there are three types of people along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.
The first type are the robbers – whose motivation in life is “what is yours is mine at whatever cost.”
And the robbers will take whatever they need through violence, coercion, and whatever means necessary.
These are the people who leave us physically, mentally, or emotionally beaten and bruised along life’s road with nothing left but our shallow breath.
The second type of person to walk along the dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho is represented by the priest and the Levite – whose motivation is “what’s mine is mine— and I must protect it even if it means you get hurt in the process.”
They aren’t bad people. Both the priest and the Levite are deeply respected in their communities. They very likely follow all the social rules and norms. They sit on local governing boards. They pay their taxes on time and help in their neighborhoods.
They also show a great deal of love to those within their immediate communities – but because of what crossing the road to help – might cost them . . . they put their heads down and go about their business.
So without even recognizing it – they do more harm than good. Their focus is inward – toward their needs and the needs of those who are most like them.
It’s the motivation that leads the good and decent priest and Levite toward a life of valuing their reputations — instead of their relationships.
And it often results in them choosing their own individual rights over the health and well-being and the rights of others.
Unfortunately, this is the group where I fall most often in my life, and if we are all being honest with ourselves – it’s the group that most of us fall into more than we care to admit: play it safe. Stay in your comfort zone. Don’t rock the boat. And let others take care of themselves.
But then – there is the Samaritan - one of the despised groups for the Jews in Jesus’ day – whose motivation, much to the surprise of Jesus’ audience – is love.
And along one of the most dangerous roads in all of history – is motivated by the understanding of “what is mine is yours – if you need it.”
My safety is yours - if you need it.
My security is yours - if you need it.
My resources are yours - if you need them.
My health is tied to your health.
My well-being is tied to your well-being.
Dr. Martin Luther King preached on this text often and once said that the real difference between the priest and the Levite from the Samaritan – is the question they must have asked themselves.
The priest and the Levite likely asked: “If I stop to help this man - what will happen TO ME?”
While the Samaritan likely asked a very different question: “If I don’t stop to help this man - what will happen TO HIM?”
Fear has a way of making us behave badly. It was true for the priest and the Levite, and it is still true for us today.
When fear is the motivation of our lives - we tend to cling to our own safety and our own individual rights.
When fear is the motivation of our lives - we end up placing our hope in thinking: “It is against my rights.” OR “don’t tell me what to do” as opposed to Jesus’ greatest commandments: “Love God and love your neighbor.”
It doesn’t take looking very long to know that right now – we are all on the road somewhere between Jerusalem and Jericho.
It’s a dangerous world out there. The heart-breaking exhaustion of just getting by is real.
It’s not just a virus we have been dealing with now for two years – but it’s everything else, too.
It’s the layer upon layer of being beaten down and bruised along a dry, hard, and often times, lonely road.
So – we have choices to make. We can choose to make our decisions out of fear. And for a time, choices based on fear have a way of making us feel safe – but that is fleeting at best.
The other choice is to cross the road to help our neighbor. When we cross to the other side, we will get a glimpse of something Jesus talked an awful lot about.
We will see what transformation looks like.
We will finally understand who we are called to be.
And best of all, we will finally encounter the Kingdom of God we’ve been longing for – and are consistently invited by Jesus to help build.
My name is Justus, and I was one those gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem when that noise like a strong driving wind filled the entire house.
Ah, Pentecost – people still ask me about it every once in a while. I remember it as though it were yesterday - though it has been 20 years or so since then.
History was being made: the end of the old era, the beginning of a new - and I was there.
I was 19 or so - down from Galilee to Jerusalem for Passover. A mere kid.
It was the year they killed Jesus, a fellow Galilean, who I had met a time or two and saw him do some incredible things --
And who claimed to be the Son of God.
After that fateful Friday on which he was killed - I just stayed in Jerusalem - hanging around with some of his followers – hiding actually - for we thought we could all be the next ones the Roman authorities turned on.
And then three days later - word came that Jesus had risen from the dead!
And it was true: Jesus began appearing to his apostles and others for weeks on end.
Then, one day, he took us to the Mount of Olives where he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from our sight.
Jesus told us we were not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait, for in “a few days, we were to be Baptized with the Holy Spirit,” whatever that meant.
And so we waited - about 120 of us - meeting morning and evening in that upper room — talking, reading the Jewish scriptures, praying – and waiting.
9 days had passed since Jesus’ departure. And then one morning when we had gathered together for early prayer – the building where we were meeting was hit by a whirlwind – you could hear the wind howling – but could not feel it blowing in the room.
And then came the flames – dancing flames appeared in the room – hovering over each one of us.
“God Almighty,” a person shouted. And Peter began praying loudly and others joined in. It was eerie to say the least –
wind blowing that you could not feel – and flames that did not burn – like the glory of God on the mountain when God appeared to Moses.
All over the room flames were flickering - flaring over people.
And as those flames flickered over each of us - it seemed like the brother or sister would explode! Joy would flood their faces – tears coursed down their checks - the praise of God filled their lips.
People were laughing and weeping – kneeling and standing – dancing and singing. We were all happy and giddy – and bursting with joy.
The sounds – they were amazing, too. Moments before the room had been filled with the sound of a windstorm. Now the room was full of murmurs of voices – some loud, some soft, but all intense.
But it was NOT Greek or Aramaic I heard – languages familiar to me. No it seemed like all kinds of languages were being spoken – powerfully, joyfully, but all unfamiliar to me.
We were pouring out into the streets by then, attracting the attention of others. Since it was a major feast day for the Jews – there were thousands of pilgrims in the city from all over the place.
I did not know what I was saying – but it felt good to lend my voice to God and just speak out to express the fullness of joy I was feeling.
As I was speaking – people began to gather round and listen. A couple of families came by – and then ran off to get others and soon a hundred people or so were gathered around me.
Finally, I seemed to run out of words and just stood there with joy on my face.
Someone called to me in a language I did not know – saying in Greek once they knew I wasn’t understanding them: Don’t stop!
Don’t stop what - I asked
Don’t stop saying all the wonderful things you are saying about God’s greatness in Cappadocian.
Cappidocian? Yes - aren’t you from there like the rest of us. I had know idea how I came about speaking fluent Cappidocian. . .
Some in the street began to accuse us of being drunk. But Peter said: it’s only nine in the morning - how can we be drunk? What you are witnessing is the fulfillment of a prophecy – that your sons and your daughters will speak of the goodness of God – all because God’s Holy Spirit had come upon them.
Then these others began to ask to be Baptized – so that they all could be blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We got the crowd moving to the Pool of Bethesda – where Peter spoke to the crowd:
“This is the baptism of repentance in the name of Jesus of Nazareth - whom God raised from the dead and exalted to the highest place. When you are baptized, I want to assure you that you are both forgiven and loved by God. And you will receive the same gift of the Holy Spirit you have seen upon us this day.”
Hundreds of people came into the pool and were Baptized that day – and they began to praise and worship God. And in that place - it seemed like the languages of all nations were turned toward God on high who had brought salvation and the joy of the Holy Spirit upon ordinary people – from Jerusalem to Cappadocia and everywhere in between.
Pentecost. Ah, Pentecost. That was the day that God began to pour out the Holy Spirit – and it has never stopped since. Over the years I’ve seen the Spirit come in many ways – sometimes like that day – sometimes quietly – sometimes in jubilation. But it is the presence of the Spirit, the Spirit of God, that matters – not our emotions or circumstances.
Pentecost? Yes, I was there, and have never been the same since. Because the Holy Spirit moves and breathes within me. Oh, I know – many of you have already received the gift of the Spirit at your Confirmation. . . but have you used the gift???
If not – why not? Get ready – because I hear that noise of a strong driving wind when you begin to sing: Spirit of God I am yours. . . come fill my heart and make me whole.
Today’s feast of the Ascension is both a celebration of ABSENCE and one of PRESENCE. Let me explain.
The disciples had already lost Jesus once – when he died on the cross spending three days in the tomb to break the chains of death and gaining for us eternal life.
On the first day of the week, when his faithful followers found the tomb empty – St. Matthew said they were filled with both fear and great joy.
St. Mark said that trembling and astonishment came upon those who went to the tomb.
St. Luke says the women came from the tomb frightened and when they told their story their words seemed to be an idle tale - and the Apostles did not believe.
And St. John said the disciples, upon viewing the empty tomb, simply went back home.
It took them a while to overcome their fear, and trembling, and fright, and astonishment – and then all were filled with joy upon having Jesus back in their midst.
But now he was leaving again. And this time they knew it was for good. And so as with any great loss in life – a feeling of grief set in.
Perhaps they expressed their grief in a way like the author of this poem does:
I miss you in the morning.
When all the world is new.
I know the day can bring no joy – because it brings not you.
I miss the well-loved voice of yours - and your tender smile for me.
The charm of you, the joy of your unfailing love.
The world is full of folks, it’s true, but there was only one of you.
I miss you at the noontide, too.
The crowded streets seem but a desert now, I walk in complete solitude.
I miss your hand beside my own, the light touch of your hand.
The quick gleam in the eyes of you so sure to understand.
The world is full of folks, it’s true, but there was only one of you.
I miss you in the evening - when daylight fades away.
I miss the sheltering arms of you, to rest me from the day.
I try to think I see you yet – there where the fire gleams –
Weary at last, I sleep, and still I miss you in my dreams.
The world is full of folks, it’s true, but there was only one of you.
Like any of us who have lost a loved one –
Jesus would now be physically absent from them. And they will miss him. I wonder if anyone said such things to them as:
-Well, he’s in a better place.
-Or it was God’s will that he was taken.
-Or to Mary: well at least you had him for 33 years.
-Or God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.
While meaning well, most such trite sayings do little to lessen anyone’s pain.
The absence of anyone we have loved allows the feelings of grief to set in. And sometimes that grief can be so overwhelming, it can cripple us.
But we know the rest of the disciple’s story. They did not remain in their grief very long. Through the power of the Holy Spirit – they began to do what Jesus told them to do – to go out and witness to others the Good News of his life and message.
In that way, the disciples must have been like the woman in this story:
Once a widow’s son died in a tragic accident. The woman, crazy with grief, mourned the loss so deeply that no one could provide her with comfort.
At last a friend took her to a holy man where she made her sobbing plea:
“Use your powers to bring my son back to me. Surely you are able by prayer or through some means to induce the Almighty to lighten my grief.”
The old man spoke kindly to the woman. “Bring me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. Then I will use that seed to remove the pain from your life.”
Immediately the woman set out in search of the magic mustard seed. “First, I will visit the home of a wealthy family,” she thought. “Tragedy is less likely to strike them.”
Soon she approached a beautiful mansion, knocked on the door, and spoke to the woman who greeted her: “I am in search of a home that has never known sorrow. Is this such a place? Please, it is vital that I know.”
“Never known sorrow!”, cried the woman who had answered the door. “You have come to the wrong house.”
As she sobbed she began to describe all of the tragedies that had touched her family. She invited the widow into her home to explain in greater detail what had taken place.
The widow remained in the home for several hours – listening and showing compassion.
When she left to resume her search, the widow visited a modest home about 5 miles away. The experience was the same.
Wherever she traveled, from mansion to hut, she was greeted with tales of sadness and sorrow. Everyone found her a willing and attentive and caring listener.
After months of travel, she became so involved with the grief of others – that she forgot about her search for the magic mustard seed, never realizing that it had indeed driven the sorrow from her own life.
When the disciples did what Jesus did – and said what Jesus said – they made his spirit present – and their grief was turned to joy.
We followers of Jesus Christ today – are called to do nothing more – and nothing less.
And so in the coming days, we should pray: come, Holy Spirit – empower us as you did the Apostles.
In his book, Go down to the potter’s house, Don O’Shea has a story about a king who had two artists in his realm who were bitter rivals.
One day the king said, “I want to decide once and for all which of you is the better artist. You must paint the same subject, so that I can judge between you. And what I want you to paint is your vision of PEACE.”
The two artists accepted the challenge, and a month later came back with their paintings.
The first artist painted a dreamy landscape with rolling hills and a lake without a ripple on the surface. The whole painting spoke of contentment and stillness – which was his depiction of peace.
However, as the king looked at the picture – he could barely suppress a yawn. Then turning to the artist he said, “your picture is pretty, but it puts me to sleep.”
Then the second artist presented his painting. It showed a thundering waterfall crashing over a steep cliff. It was so realistic that one could almost hear the roar of the water as it crashed onto the rocks - hundreds of feet below.
“But this is not a painting of peace as I ordered,” the king said angrily.
The artist made no reply but motioned to the king to come closer to the painting to see all of its details.
It was then that the king spotted something which had escaped him at first.
There among the rocks at the base of the waterfall – a small shrub was growing. And in the small shrub – a bird’s nest sat in the branches.
And upon looking even closer – the king saw a bird in the nest – a sparrow, sitting calmly on its eggs, her eyes half-closed as she patiently waited for her babies to be hatched.
On seeing all these minute details – the king was delighted at what he thought was a perfect picture of peace.
Turning to the artist the king said, “I like your painting very much – as it conveys a very important message about peace – and that is– it is possible to be at peace even in the midst of the chaos of life swirling around you.”
Jesus spoke to his disciples about peace in the farewell he is giving them in today’s Gospel from John. He was soon to leave them – and he wanted them to know a few things before he left – like:
“Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you. Not as the world gives it do I give it to you. So do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
It was a strange time for Jesus to be speaking about peace – because everything was in turmoil around him. One of his own was about to betray him. Within the hour he would be arrested and before the cock crowed – would be denied three times by his closest friend.
How, then, was Jesus able to talk about peace?
Because the peace Jesus speaks of is being in union with God. And Jesus was in perfect union with God. Which is like the bird at the bottom of the waterfall. With the chaos of life swirling around him - Jesus could talk about peace even as his enemies were closing in on him and death was just around the corner.
Because the peace Jesus talks about is NOT tranquility – which is an external thing – something which occasionally can surround us.
But the peace Jesus talks about and offers to us – is a state of inner calm – which one achieves by being in union with God and with others.
So an essential component of the peace of the kingdom of God — is righteousness – being in right relationship with God and others – and hence there is no peace for the wicked.
Peace results when one trusts God, and when the desire to be like God is the dominant force in one’s life. This is something which we can have even if, and especially if, we are in the midst of turmoil, conflict, and unresolved problems.
It is not the outer circumstances of our lives which brings us peace – but the inner state of our minds and hearts.
This is the peace that Jesus offers us: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”
This peace is not the calm of escaping from reality. It is something so deep it is independent of outer circumstances. It is the peace which surpasses all understanding, the peace which this world cannot give – and most especially – the peace no one can take away from us.
God, to believe in you and your word – even in the midst of the storms of life – can provide a place of peace for us.
In the midst of the seemingly impossible demands, deadlines and tasks at hand, our hearts and minds can be at rest in You.
Strength and boldness are released into us as we confidently rest in your peace.
In your presence we are refreshed, restored, and renewed in Jesus’ name. AMEN!
It happens to all of us. . . at weddings, at graduations, and at going away parties. It happens in nursing homes, cemeteries, in hospitals, and on playgrounds.
And many times we are embarrassed when it happens and we try to stop – but it’s always more healthy to continue than to stop.
Sister of Notre Dame, Melannie Svoboda, tells of the time it happened to her in a funeral home:
An elderly widow named Mrs. Benish lived down the road from our farm in a tiny white house nestled in a grove of trees.
Although she had several grown children, she lived alone. For many years she had been our babysitter, one we were fond of.
But when I was about 10 – she died suddenly in her sleep.
Hers was one of the first deaths to make a real impact on me. I remember going to her wake with the rest of my family and even surprised myself – when I burst into tears when I saw her motionless body in the casket.
Embarrassed by my tears, I sought refuge in a chair in a remote corner of the room – away from everyone else.
Suddenly – a man appeared out of nowhere and squatted down on the floor next to my chair. I did not know who he was — but I will always remember what he said to me.
He began by saying, “you must have loved Mrs. Benish very much.” Unable to speak, I nodded a few times.
Then he said, “Always remember this: never be ashamed of your tears. Only rocks don’t cry.”
Even back then, I somehow comprehended the simple - yet profound - truth of his words. Rocks don’t cry. . . never be ashamed of your tears. . . you must have loved very much.
Yes, it is because we LOVE that we shed tears: both tears of joy – and tears of sadness.
It is because we LOVE those who are getting married, graduating, or leaving behind a job or a home — that we shed tears.
It is because we LOVE the one in the nursing home, or being lowered into the ground, or about to have surgery, or being picked on at recess – that we shed tears.
It’s only if we are a rock – unmoving, unengaged, unloving – that our tears can be spared.
As one of my mentors simply states: tears are the cost of our love.
Or as the writer Washington Irving says:
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness - but of power.
Tears are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unfathomable love. So let the tears come.
And hopefully we will be blessed to have people like the stranger in Sister Melanie’s life who tell us it is okay to cry – or be blessed by people like Josh in our life.
Josh was a ten year old boy who, when out playing in the neighborhood –was supposed to be home by 6:00 for supper.
One night, he wasn’t home at 6:00. And the later it got, the more worried his mother became.
When he finally did arrive home, his mom wasn’t very patient with him and immediately launched into how she was worried and afraid that something had happened to him. She told him if he could not make it home on time –
he should have at least called. “Why were you late anyway?” she asked with more than a quiet, understanding voice. . .
Josh said, “well, I would have been home on time. But a couple of blocks from home I came across my friend Tommy. He was upset and crying because his bike was broken – so I stopped to help.”
“Why?” asked his mother in that rather loud motherly voice. “You don’t know a thing about fixing bikes.”
“I know that,” Josh said. “But I do know how to cry. So that’s how I helped my friend – I sat and cried with him. . .”
Josh knew the wisdom that comes from an old saying: Tears of sadness shared – are halved. While tears of joy shared – are doubled.”
We can’t always FIX things for people – in fact, most times we are kind of crazy if we even try. But what we can do – is share their tears – especially their tears of sorrow.
We cry because we love – and we can help others BECAUSE we love – as Jesus calls us to do in the Gospel: “as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
And do as the 3rd Eucharistic Prayer for Special Occasions calls us to: We need to “keep attentive to the needs of all so that, sharing their grief and pain, their joy and hope –
we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation and go forward with them along the way of Christ’s kingdom.”
We are all members of the Good Shepherd’s flock. And we follow him best when we imitate his care and concern for others.
The words of the Good Shepherd are words of healing – and so should ours.
His are words of peace, love, and hope – and so should ours.
Together, we walk on the journey of life. And together we help bear each other’s sorrow and share each other’s joy. . .
And we should have no shame of shedding tears, because after all, we are told in the shortest verse of the New Testament, that Jesus wept. He wept over the loss of his friend, Lazarus.
Tears are a sign of our love, our humanity and our vulnerability.
Pope Francis has referred several times in his homilies to “the gift of tears” which he believes leads us to showing mercy and empathy to those in need.
And then, as Christians – we live in the possibility and hope of what Eric Clapton sings in one of his songs:
Beyond the door.
There’s peace, I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven.
But we don’t have to take Eric Clapton’s word on that – we have God’s word that we heard both last week and this week in the Book of Revelation – which captured my attention and heart and led me to preach this homily.
Last week, the Book of Revelation told us:
“For the lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
And today we heard: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, God will always be with them as their God – and God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”
Yes, there will be no more tears in heaven because all of those things that cause us to shed tears of sorrow here on earth will be no more – no more death, or mourning, wailing or pain. No more sickness, failed dreams, frustrations or bullying.
And we will know God is with us – which is another cause of our tears here on earth when we think God has abandoned us –
when we forget that God is always with us. God never gives up on us.
That God is always willing to give us another chance – ALL because GOD LOVES US!
I do think, however, Clapton is only partially right — for I do believe there will still be tears of joy in heaven. I mean when I get to see my mother and father again – and you get to see your loved ones again – and they get to see us – how could there not be tears of joy??? Which, when shared – will double.
How quickly time flies – as it is already the 4th Sunday of Easter – I don’t remember Lent going by this fast!
So two stories today.
The first is about a pop quiz given to a class of nursing students in their first year of training.
Most of the students did well on the quiz until they came to the last question – which they all left blank, with a few unsuccessful guesses. . .
The last questions was:
“What is the name of the person who cleans your dorm?”
The students all thought the question was a joke. But when they got their quizzes back – they all had it marked wrong.
They all protested but the professor said, “her name is Jill.”
And went on to say, “you will meet many people in your careers. All of them are significant. They deserve your attention and your care and most especially your respect. Even if all you can do is smile and wish them a good day – do it!”
The students all remembered the lesson – and all spoke to Jill the next time they saw her.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ demands that we respond to every person the same way the Good Shepherd responds.
Every person deserves our attention and our care and most especially our respect – because each person possesses the sacred dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God. Every person is a unique reflection of God.
This is why the charity of a Christian must reach beyond his or her own family and friends – beyond the parish community – and even beyond the needs of one’s own country.
As Christians, we have to be concerned about those who are hurt, starving, suffering, or dying throughout the world.
Our charity cannot be limited by anything including the parameters of our faith community.
Mother Theresa, for example, reached out to the poor of Calcutta. Most of these people were Hindi — not Christian. We help others because WE are Catholic – not because they are Catholic – everyone is created in the image and likeness of God. . .
Maybe someone is waiting to hear our words and see our actions that include them into the Lord’s flock.
It’s so easy to say that we need to reach out to others – but often times difficult to do.
It seems like we’re always on the run – totally oblivious to a neighbor who is rather down.
Or as parents who might be so caught up in the hectic schedule of our children with gymnastics, dance, school, scouts, sports – that we might not notice that our children have needs far greater than all the activities we take them to.
It’s often the case that others tend to need our support and love the most – when we are at our busiest.
Following the Good Shepherd requires our never being too busy to be aware of and to respond to those around us who need our love and attention.
The second story is about Maria, a little 9 year old blind girl, who lived with her father in a large New York City apartment building.
Maria’s father usually did not leave her alone – but he had to run our and pick up a few things - so left her watching – listening actually –
to a television program.
He spent more time out than he planned and when he rounded the corner to their building – the street was full of fire trucks and hoses, and fire personnel.
He looked up and to his horror – it was his section of the building that was ablaze.
And there, on the ledge outside the window of his apartment – was a terrified Maria – huddled into a ball.
The fire fighters could not maneuver the truck in such a way to reach the girl, so they had set up a net and told her to jump. She was frozen in fear.
Then her father took a bull horn and called to her. “Maria,” he said, “Daddy’s here. I’ll take care of you. You just need to jump when I tell you to. Are you ready?”
Maria stood up and said, “I’m ready.” Then he shouted – “Okay, jump on three. One. Two. Three.” – and she jumped safely into the net. She was so completely relaxed that she did not even strain a muscle from the three story fall. All because she trusted the voice that she knew loved her.
There is a voice calling us to jump – to take a risk.
But sometimes the noise of our lives is so loud, that we don’t hear the voice. But the voice is still there – and we need to hear it.
It is the voice of the Good Shepherd – the voice of Jesus speaking to us in the quiet of our hearts, in the love of our family and friends, in the cries of the needy calling out to us.
The voice of the Good Shepherd calls us out to us calmly and lovingly.
He tells us to jump from our places of comfort – to take a leap of faith. He tells us to trust in him because he is taking care of us.
The Good Shepherd is the risen Lord. He is with us. He will never leave us alone. Today we ask the Lord to allow us to slow down and hear his voice. And to respond to his call with open hearts.
Sorry for being off line for so long! I had computer problems and other things going on -- but looking forward to continuing our spiritual journey this weekend for the 4th Sunday of Easter! Fr. Matthew
Moments in time...