The days
can be…

Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.

St. Paul was not speaking of anything new, at least in part of his letter to the Church at Ephesus. In a certain way, everyone had and has heard it before: the days are evil.

The roman poet Cicero wrote “O tempora o mores” a little over one hundred years before Paul was to write to the Ephesians. It translates literally as ‘Oh the times! Oh the customs!’ The inference is that the times and the customs are far worse today than the old days. Edgar Allen Poe used Cicero’s quote as a title for one of his poems. It appeared in the movie (staring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur) Mr. Deeds Goes To Town. Politicians used the phrase in recent elections.

There is quite the history and tradition of looking at the evil of the day, not seeing the evil of yesterday, thinking that tomorrow will somehow be different, and giving up with the saying: the days are evil or “O tempora o mores”

The second part of Paul’s letter offers the antidote: be filled with the Spirit, address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing and play to the Lord in your hearts, give thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

In other words, living the life of Jesus is the antidote. There is a way of living, speaking, singing, playing, and thanking that destroys evil. We have to be different.

There is a great contemporary Christian song: Chain Breaker by Zach Williams. In it, the composer recounts how Jesus is the difference maker. Jesus takes away pain, makes a way, breaks prison bars, and breaks the chains that bind us. The wisdom in the song starts when the composer confronts us with our reality: We’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles. We’ve been hearing the same old voice tell us the same old lies. We’ve trying to fill the same old holes inside. He then tells us that Jesus’ better life, really the best life, makes the difference.

Certainly, the days are what they are – evil – but there is a way out. It is never the way the days or certain people are, but what we can be in Jesus. Jesus explicitly tells us: the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. That is huge. We have to feed on Jesus, be part of Jesus, hold faith in Jesus, and live Jesus’ life daily.

Eat and
run.

“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

Elijah is both literally and spiritually in the wilderness in today’s first reading. He is so despondent that he asks the Lord to take his life.

Elijah had engaged with the worldly prophets of Baal and Asherah, the false gods that the people of Israel had come to adore. With God’s power he destroyed those prophets and any hope their false gods could deliver. We would think that he would have had a new found confidence, obviously, look at what the One and true God had done. But something is wrong. Elijah experiences a sense of failure, some kind of downer emotion that is not at all obvious to anyone. It is inside him, a nagging evil that leaves him deflated, despondent, depressed, and ready to die. He sits under the Broom tree; the end has to be now.

Most of us have experienced hard situations like Elijah did. We may feel down even though all around us seems great. There may be true miracles in our lives, but we take a different message from them. We grow sad or even despondent.

This story is repeated many times in scripture. Hagar lays Ishmael under a bush and waits to die. Jonah sits under the Castor Bean tree and is angry and despondent.

Some people calls these times ‘bumps in the road,’ but they are more than that to us when we are in the middle. Previously, Elijah was seen as assured and triumphant. He seemed to have no problem finding his way, yet now we see a very different Elijah, an Elijah sharing more in common with Hagar and Jonah. All were, at one time, seen as the blessed of God. Yet they came to ask: ‘Where is the blessing?’

The answer and blessing, as always, comes from God. While we meet a very different Elijah, we meet the same Lord who ministered to Hagar and Jonah. We meet the true God who feeds us, provides drink, gives strength, and shows the way. Elijah’s story, that of Jonah and Hagar, invite us to get up, to eat and continue moving forward. Just as God stays close to Elijah in order to help him overcome his travails, we must have the same confidence that God is present and will be present in our lives; He stays close to us. It is always down to Jesus’ promise: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever”

Growth
confusion.

I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds

Today, we find ourselves caught among the complainers and those who refuse to grow.

The Israelites were barely across the sea – having complained there that God’s servant, Moses, had led them to their impending deaths. Now, they were complaining about being hungry. Not just complaining, but dramatically complaining. They didn’t think, or intellectualize all that God had done for them. They forgot what God had done faster than we forget many of life’s minor daily details.

It is said that the human mind forgets things because our focus is on understanding, not remembering. For instance, we may go to a baseball game, or picnic, or family event not so much to remember the brands of hotdogs and chips we ate there, but to grow in understanding of times together. We do remember aspects of those events, but only as a byproduct our understanding and growing.

Ah, there’s the problem. The people of Israel forgot, not only the details, but also failed to understand, comprehend, or integrate the things God had done in their journey to freedom. They missed real faith in God. They did not grow.

On the other end are the people following Jesus around. Sure, they thought, but only with their stomachs. They only remembered what Jesus had just done for their physical wellbeing. They did not move beyond that to an understanding, comprehension, or integration of the things Jesus was teaching. As the days progressed, following Jesus around, they missed the spirit – the reality of God’s truth and their call to faith in His truth. They went so far as to say to Jesus: “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?  What can you do?” in spite of everything they had seen Jesus do. Their stomachs grew but otherwise they did not grow.

Paul confronts lack of growth and refusal to get what God does. Don’t live for today or get caught complaining. See what God is doing. We learned of Jesus and were taught in Him. Abandon the futile. Let us be renewed in not just remembering, but in understanding and growing.

Called to
greatness.

I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call

Our Christian lives, as we have reflected on over the past few weeks, are not about the past. We can certainty take lessons from the past, but we cannot live there.

St. Paul clearly calls Christians out on living in the past. He writes: live in a manner worthy of the call you have received. That is important to us, to live and move forward.

The feeding of the multitude happens about right in the middle of Jesus’ thirty-second year. It is in fact, the pinnacle of His popularity with the crowd. He had been teaching them “many things” when He saw they were “sheep without a shepherd.

What He had been teaching them was the truth of His Father’s Kingdom plan. It was a new way of thinking, living, being, and acting. It was forward thinking – for today and tomorrow. It was in complete uniformity with all the prophets had been trying to get at – and as with the prophets, the people would not listen. The people could only look backward. They missed Jesus’ point. They missed tomorrow because they were stuck in yesterday.

Shortly after the multiplication of loaves the people would turn away, the majority left Jesus. He wouldn’t do today what He did yesterday – We see that they were stuck back there. They wanted a repeat performance.

For this past week the youth of the Church gathered new tools and new skills. They have set out on a mission to make the choice – to pray, plan, organize, gather people, and set to work to rebuild our Holy Church, our parishes, and our communities. So must it be with us.

We are called to greatness, but not to live in yesterday’s greatness. Our call is to a new greatness, a magnificent greatness. This greatness comes from carrying out the Father’s Kingdom plan as laid out for us by Jesus. So we must get into action.

Here’s the part where everyone says – well what do I do? The first step is pick up the Holy Bible and check out the kingdom blueprint. Then pray, ‘Lord, what would You have me do?’ Then listen. He will point out those we should invite. He will show us how to live and do in a manner worthy of our call.

Great green
today.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.

As you know, over the past two weeks we have been focusing on history. There was our reflection on historical errors that keep repeating themselves because of the world’s sinful lather, rinse, repeat lifestyle. We reflected on manifest destiny, not as a political or social call, but as a call from God – by which we overcome all obstacles in furtherance of our carrying out God’s kingdom plan.

Today we hear the most well known Psalm of all – The Lord is my Shepherd. Psalm 23.

The 23rd Psalm is very well known chiefly for one reason – we hear it as we reflect on the history of a person who has died. It is said at almost every funeral home service and funeral or Requiem Holy Mass. It is, of course, comforting – being led by peaceful waters, protected, free from fear, anointed, having plenty – all is green and beautiful – but is it right?

Reading the words of Psalm 23 over and over, we are struck by the fact that it is not a mere reflection of some past benefit from God. It is not a historical re-telling of what God has done, but an indication of what God has done, is doing, and will be doing in our lives. For those who love grammar, the verb tense in the 23rd Psalm is the “habitual present.” God’s action is dynamic, regular, and repeated.

God’s Son, Jesus, is in the great right now. He is not just the past, a historical reality – the Lord was our shepherd, nor is He something we are just waiting on, off in the future – the Lord will be our shepherd. No, He is in our now.

It is time for us to take the 23rd Psalm as the prayer, poetry, and hymn of our everyday lives. All of the promises of God and the reflections of David in singing out this great hymn are about our now. Jesus is shepherding us. He is protecting us – have no fear in witnessing faith and prayer daily and publicly. He is gifting us with refreshment – that reserved for His faithful. He is feeding us, giving us rest, and calling us to follow His right path. Our God is amazing and now.

Faithful, it is about today. Let not the Psalm be a hopeful reflection only after death, but our reality today.

Manifest
destiny.

In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.

Last week we began by focusing on history – the lessons of history which are soon forgotten. If we look at the trajectory of the worldly, they live a ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ lifestyle, never breaking free from the destructive patterns of behavior brought about by sin and selfishness.

Today, we have more historical lessons. The history buffs among us, and those like me who fondly remember their history teachers and professors, recall the term ‘manifest destiny.’

Manifest destiny was a popular term in the early to mid nineteenth century. Its philosophy taught that the expansion of the United States throughout the continent was both justified and inevitable. It focused on three themes: (1) The American people and their institutions contained within themselves special virtues; (2) The mission of the United States was to redeem and remake the continent; and (3) It was our irresistible destiny to accomplish these things.
Seems almost faith based, doesn’t it. In fact it was a kind of faith – a worldly faith.

In our first reading, the priest of Bethel confronted the prophet Amos and tried to drive him away. Amos responded in true faith. Amos replies: I am just a man who followed my herds and gathered the fruit from the sycamores until the Eternal spoke to me, as I was minding my flock. He said: Go and speak My words to the people of Israel!

Amos was given a true manifest destiny. He had God’s virtue to share, it was his mission to remind and remake Israel, and it was his destiny to accomplish this. No priest nor anyone would stop him.

Paul reminds the Church at Ephesus, and us, that they and we have a manifest destiny – a true one in Jesus. We have been granted Jesus virtues, we are chosen to remake the world in God’s image, in accord with His kingdom design, and it is our mission and destiny to not just work at it, but to accomplish it. We should never allow anyone or anything to stop us.

We are reminded that Jesus sends us as He sent the twelve. He gives a true manifest destiny: not political, not earthly, not self-serving or selfish. Let nothing stop us from manifesting God’s destiny each day.

We are
among them.

Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD! And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house—they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

History is amazing study. The more we delve into history, the more we find humanity repeating it over and over.

Since Israel’s freedom from subjugation under the Pharaohs, the people began to lose faith and complain. They complained in various was over forty years of wandering. Joshua and the Judges came, they complained and began to follow gods of stone and wood. Trees and flowers held more fascination for them than the great miracles God was doing in their midst. By Ezekiel’s time, everything was god but God. He was at the end of three centuries of pagan life in the two kingdoms.

Ezekiel sums up the ways people had gone astray. Among these are a covetousness that lusted, longed, yearned, and desired each person’s own selfish ends. It is selfishness in its purest and most extreme form. Israel misread God’s love, grace, and goodness. They thought they could do whatever they wanted without consequence. Israel abused blessings on loan from God – they took the worship and gifts that were to go to Him and placed them at their own purposes. Selfish desire was more important than community, family, children, and life itself.

As we well know, greater responsibility is attached to those who own superior spiritual advantages. Israel ignored what they had, owned, possessed, held right in their hands. They wiped their memory clear of all that God had done and lived ‘for the moment.’ Today was all that mattered to them. As such, their sin demanded a more severe judgment.

Jesus faced a similar resistance in His hometown. People focused on what they thought were being said, and who was saying it (their perspective) instead of what was actually being said and what it represented. Their selfish ends were once again in front. They misread God’s love in their midst. They did not consider consequences.

Ezekiel and Jesus confronted hard hearts that would not move and selfishness. Those traits in our world today are a thousand times greater than former times. So now, today, we must stand forth. They must know that we are among them by the truth we tell.

We can’t
lose.

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

Isn’t losing, missing the mark, coming up short, or being a moment too late frustrating?

If we have ever experienced anything like that we know just a bit of what Jairus, the synagogue official, must have felt as he rushed through the crowds with Jesus on the way home. His daughter lay dying. They were trying to run, but the crowds prevented them. The woman stopped Jesus, and they were distracted for those precious few moments. Jairus certainly was worried: I’m going to be too late, I can’t save her, and I’m going to lose.

With all this on his heart and mind, suddenly Jairus’ servants confronted them. They were blunt: “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” He should quit.

That is the essence of the Christian life, isn’t it? We are running toward our heavenly goal. We do all the things necessary to get there. We go to Jesus. We attend church, receive the sacraments, pray, and read scripture, but still feel from time-to-time like we are not going to make it. We often feel pressed upon, like how Jesus, His disciples, and Jairus felt as the crowds surrounded and pressed in on them. The world and its allures distract us and pull us away from our mission. They delay us, and ultimately try to make us feel like we are going to lose. We should just quit now.

What pulls us away – the typical excuses – I’m tired, I can’t make it, I don’t have time or energy, I’d rather do this, that, or the other thing. Jesus has me covered – I don’t need to do too much.

For people called to win, to be victors in Christ, we cannot take for granted or blow-off the effort we need to put out. We should be listening very carefully to the rest of today’s lesson. Wisdom tells us: But by the envy of the devil, death (losing) entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience losing.

We don’t belong to losing we belong to Jesus. Jesus told Jairus and those with Him to keep moving forward to win. “Do not be afraid; just have faith” Push back, stay on course, press on with Jesus and we can’t lose.

The storm has
no power.

A violent windstorm came up. The waves were breaking into the boat so that it was quickly filling up. But he was sleeping on a cushion in the back of the boat. So they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to die?” Then he got up, ordered the wind to stop, and said to the sea, “Be still, absolutely still!” The wind stopped blowing, and the sea became very calm.

What glory we have in the Lord, what marvelous love and power reign over us. Storms never win.

Today we celebrate two very special occasions. Our young brother Traviss is receiving his First Holy Communion. Our brother and sister, Larry and Donna, are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of their marriage. The Lord is His infinite goodness and wisdom has given us supporting scriptures and a Gospel reading that so speaks to these two events.

These events mark the way God lives with us. They witness to what God will do for Traviss – going forward, had done and will do for Larry and Donna – past and future, and is doing for us each moment of our lives. The power of God is displayed here today. His power protects us as it did Job in his struggles; as it did on the night of the storm. Storms never win. Jesus’ faithful people, living in Him, do.

Traviss – you will face challenges and will have drama in your life. We all have – and you know what? We win, because of our faith in Jesus, because of His awesome power and love for us. Remain faithful, just like Job did in the middle of all his troubles. As you start in your deeper relationship with Jesus, as you become more and more like Him, stand and be brave, because Jesus has you. That’s what God said to Job – you don’t get it man. I created everything and have total power. Don’t be afraid or question, just trust. The storm won’t win.

Larry and Donna – you’ve stood strong against the storm in your love for each other and your trust in the Lord. Fifty years ago you invited Jesus to stand at your side. You learned from Jesus’ question to His disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith yet?” You said – Jesus won’t be asking that of us. You are proof that with God love wins. The storm never wins.

Jesus chilled out in the boat because He knew the storm wouldn’t win. We have examples before us of the glory and victory that is ours. Each of us, no matter the storm, is in God’s loving care. Standing faithful – joined to Jesus the storm never wins.

What is it
really?

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

There is a disconnect between what people think of the Kingdom of God, what Jesus taught about it, and the stresses that have been placed on Jesus’ words for centuries. It is like one of those jokes you see in magazines or on-line; the same sentence with two completely different meanings, depending where you put the accent. Late night television hosts have tons of fun with double entendres.

The sci-fi author Damon Knight wrote “To Serve Man” which was later adapted into a Twilight Zone episode. It is a double entendre that could mean “to perform a service for humanity” or “to serve a human as food.” Think of that next time the Church calls us to serve our fellow man!

The parable of the mustard seed is one of the many positive statements Jesus made about the Kingdom. He placed His stress on our faith and our shelter in the Kingdom. Think about all its implications. A small start in faith will grow into something awesome. Planting a small seed of faith in someone – your children, grandchildren, a friend, co-worker, or neighbor, will grow into something great. The very Kingdom, begun through the work of the God-man, Jesus Christ, twelve co-workers, and seventy-seven disciples would grow into a great protective shelter for many. We all dwell in its shade.

The fact is, Jesus provided a very positive message about our home, our destiny, joy, freedom, forgiveness, and God’s rock solid guarantees. The Kingdom is not what people suspect it is; rather it is what Jesus taught it is. St. Paul picks up on this when he says: We are always courageous. If God’s message was punishing and negative, we would not be courageous, but fearful, cowering.

We need to place the stress back where Jesus put it. His is the message of hope, the message the world cannot overcome. We must be courageous for the beauty and joy that awaits us. The Kingdom is better than anyone’s negative stress or accent point. Live in and tell what the Kingdom really is!