What’s the difference between prayer in church and prayer in a casino? In a casino, you really mean it.
Prayer is so woven into the fabric of what it is to live as a Christian that perhaps sometimes we forget to ask that simple question: “why do we pray?”. And if we forget to ask why we pray, then there must be a danger that one day we may simply forget to pray altogether.
This Sunday’s scripture readings can help answer the question “why do we pray?” at several levels.
At a very basic level we pray because we recognize that by ourselves, we are powerless. Moses recognizes that the attack of the Amalekites is a real danger to the people of Israel: by themselves they may not have the wherewithal to resist, and their escape from Pharaoh will have been in vain. They have no military strategy or secret weapon to save them. Moses turns instead to constant prayer “from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Ps 112:3). He does so having faith in God, knowing that Israel’s “help is in the name of the Lord” (Ps 120:2).
So too with the widow in the gospel: she has nobody to defend her rights; only by constant “prayer” – not in this case to God, but to the unjust judge – can she hope for justice.
It is right that we should, in humility, recognize our powerlessness and be constant in bringing our needs before the Lord. But if that were all there were to prayer, we would have to say that the more powerful somebody is, the less he or she would need to pray. Perhaps this is why the unjust judge, entrusted with considerable power and authority, has “neither fear of God nor respect for man” (Lk 18:4). Why bother praying for divine assistance if you already have the military might or the political clout or the money to defend yourself and others against aggressors and injustices?
There is a clue at the end of the gospel passage: after telling us how God will see justice done swiftly in answer to our constant prayer, Christ adds, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8)
It seems he will find lots of praying going on, at least from those who recognize their powerlessness; but will he find any faith?
We might initially think that a strange question. If people are praying to God, surely, they have faith in him? But in the gospels even the demons know that God exists, and they implore him to act in certain ways. In that very basic sense, you could even say that they pray to God; though we could not say that the demons have “faith”.
What Christ asks of us is not merely that we should pray insistently for our own needs and for justice to all – though certainly we must pray for that. He asks us to have faith: that is, he calls us to believe in God and his word, and freely to commit our whole selves to him.
Prayer isn’t about persuading God to do what we want, however noble that may be; it is about inviting God to mold us in faith into what he wants for us. Prayer can’t change God; it should change us.
Through our prayer our faith is nourished and deepened: and that is one reason why Christian traditions of prayer – whether liturgical or private – focus on the scriptures. Praying with the scriptures, using words given to us by God, we enter more deeply into “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15); we learn more profoundly the holiness to which our Lord calls us.
As Christians we have Christ himself as our model: God made man was himself a man of insistent prayer during his life, and ultimately on the cross, pleading for us and alongside us for our redemption. Ancient Christian tradition sees Moses’ prayer with arms extended as prefiguring the cross (cf. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 97). The self-emptying of the cross is the point around which all the scriptures and all history turn, and it must be the focus of our prayer as we look to answer Christ’s call to follow him.
Why do we pray? To be like Christ and to be with Christ, now and forever.
Ya know, one of the things I do every day is to check my “Memories” on Facebook. Sometimes there are little things, silly things. And sometimes there are memories that remind me of milestones, things I’ve done, places we’ve gone, moves we’ve made.
And sometimes there are huge things, not so pleasant things, like memories of some of Scott’s health scares, of people we’ve lost.
And every one of these Memories that Facebook is so happy to remind me of helps me to remember …to be kind….to be thankful.
The Gospel appointed (Lk 17:11-19) for today tells us about Jesus healing ten lepers. And yep, they were all happy and excited, and I’m sure that would have been a pretty major Facebook memory for them. Yay! But ya know, only one of the ten, one, had the grace to turn to Jesus and say, “Thank you.”
As y’all know, I lost my daddy twelve years ago, and Momma died five years ago. And as painful as that was, my sibs and I were privileged to actually be the caretakers for both our parents in their last months and weeks and days. During that time, we all had the chance to thank Momma and Daddy for being the amazing parents that they were. We had the rare opportunity to make sure that we had nothing left unsaid, that our parents knew how much they were loved and honored and appreciated. We had the opportunity, which we grabbed with both hands, to say thank you.
In the past however long I’ve been on Facebook, some of y’all have held my hand through the health scares (terrors?) that Scott has experienced. Heart attacks. Cancer. Mega-major hernia surgery. These things were life changing. Relationship changing too. In any of these scenarios, I could have lost him. And let me tell you, that helped me to learn to appreciate him even more than I already did. These things taught me to be ever and oh so thankful that he is still with me. These things taught me to make sure that he knows just how very much he is loved and appreciated.
The vast majority of folks who know me well know that not only did I teach, but I spent most of my adult life working in flower shops. And yes, while there are many, many happy memories associated with weddings and proms and births and anniversaries, there also are so many sad memories of families and loved ones ordering flowers for someone who has died. And invariably, those who ordered flowers in person for someone close to them, especially family members, almost always said one of two things: The last thing I said to him/her….. or…… The last thing he/she said to me was…. And for the most part not one of those people had expected the last thing said to actually BE the last thing said. Some of the more tragic things I was told was, “We argued.” “I wasn’t very nice.” “She was mad at me.” And of course there was always, “I love you.”
So you can imagine that, there, too, I learned my lesson. One does not get to be 64 years old without losing many, many folks who were loved. It’s for this reason that I almost always end a conversation with folks I care about with an “I love you” or a “Hugs!” or a heart emoji, or something to let them know they are important. You can bet that I want my last words to you to be positive, to let you know that you are loved and important and seen.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26.) I’m gonna go one step further here and say, “Do not end a conversation with someone you care for without telling them in some way how important they are to you.”
Now, with all that being said, how much more so does Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians resonate when he writes in 1 Thessalonians (5:16-18) “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
If you were to leave this world suddenly, would the folks you love know that you loved them? Would our God know that you love Him? Let me encourage you to make it so. Say thank you. Say “I love you.” Frequently. By your words, by your actions.
I’m gonna close with this prayer, thought to be written in 1912 by Father Esther Bouquerel, and is more commonly known as “The Prayer of St. Francis.”
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Oh, Y’all…… What a week for so many people. The devastation and loss of life because of that hurricane. Wow. And then a couple of friends of mine got some not so great news health-wise; another friend is battling cancer….. And THEN, yesterday I was looking at the scriptures appointed for today (coz that’s kinda what I do, ya know) and the Reading from the Book of Habakkuk in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament dontcha know) included this:
How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.
Wow, huh? So many times we feel that God just doesn’t care. That he has abandoned us. That we’re alone in our struggles and there is no help to be had.
Sometimes we want to give up, and we get despondent. And ANGRY. And we hurt. And we wonder WHY in THUNDER God made this happen, or LET this happen. Just like Habakkuk.
Lemme tell ya about my Daddy. Daddy was a man of great faith. Daddy was our family’s pillar of strength. Our hero. There wasn’t a thing he couldn’t fix, be it a boo boo in need of a band-aid, my dryer that only worked when Daddy was at my house, (I hated that dryer) or any vehicle made in his lifetime. And then he got sick. Way sick. Terminally ill. Cancer. Mesothelioma. Daddy couldn’t fix it. The doctors couldn’t fix it. And my father, being the man he was, said, “It is well with my soul.” And he started to teach us.
He taught us that God does not ‘give’ us the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that happen in our lives. Life happens. Crap happens. People make poor choices. Natural disasters occur. We get sick. Nowhere does Holy Writ support the claim that any of these things is God’s doing. What kind of God would we worship if he, indeed, sent us all the trials and tribulations and suffering and horror for which He is blamed?
Many Christians have suffered to the point of death at the hands of executioners, (consider the Holy Martyrs.) Many suffer to the point of death at their own hands. All we can say is that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). This may not solve our depression, but it does give us perspective. Even if our depression has caused us enormous doubt, this can be helpful.
When “bad” things happen to any of God’s children, God is grieved and suffers with us, and this was experienced most vividly in the hurt and suffering of Jesus Christ for all humanity. Any “bad” thing which happens is never the last word. Rather, God is the deepest and last word, and that word is love and eternal life with God.
The Bible clearly teaches that God does not cause us to suffer. For example, the Bible says that when we go through trials, it would be a mistake to say: “I am being tried by God.” Why? Because “with evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.” (James 1:13) In other words, God never causes the trials we face or the suffering that follows. To do so would be wicked, but “God does not act wickedly.” (Job 34:12.)
If God does not cause us to suffer, then who or what does? Sadly, humans are often victimized by other imperfect humans. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Additionally, we may face calamities because of “unexpected events”—that is, because of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) The Bible teaches that ultimately “the ruler of this world,” Satan the Devil, is responsible for human suffering, for “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19) It is Satan—not God—who causes people to suffer.
God is aware of our suffering. From the very start of human suffering, not a single teardrop has gone unnoticed by our loving Father, whose “watchful eyes” see everything. (Psalm 11:4; 56:8) For example, when his worshippers in ancient times were being oppressed, God said: “I have certainly seen the affliction of my people.” But was he only vaguely aware of their pain? No, for he added: “I well know the pains they suffer.” (Exodus 3:7) Many people have found comfort in that truth alone—the thought that God is aware of everything we suffer, even the trials that we or others may not be aware of or fully understand. (Psalm 31:7; Proverbs 14:10.)
God feels for us when we suffer. Our Heavenly Father is not only aware of human suffering but also deeply moved by it. For example, God was sincerely troubled when his ancient worshippers faced trials. “During all their distress it was distressing to him,” says the Bible. (Isaiah 63:9) Although God is vastly superior to humans, he feels empathy for those who suffer—as if their pain were in his heart! Indeed, “Our Heavenly Father is very compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11) Additionally, Our Heavenly Father helps us to bear our suffering. (Philippians 4:12, 13.)
We must also remember that our Lord Jesus knows what it is to suffer, to mourn. He wept at the grave of Lazarus, he wept over Jerusalem, and he suffered horrifically during His Passion.
God will end all human suffering. According to the Bible, God will bring an end to the suffering of every human on the planet. By means of His Heavenly Kingdom, God will drastically change the human condition—for the better. Regarding that time, the Bible promises that God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) What about those who have already died? God will bring them back to life here on earth so that they too can enjoy life free from suffering. (John 5:28, 29) Will anyone be plagued by painful memories of past suffering? No, for Our Heavenly Father promises: “The former things will not be called to mind, nor will they come up into the heart.” (Isaiah 65:17.)
When he was first diagnosed, Daddy said that, if he got better, he got more time with Momma. If he didn’t, he got to see Jesus. It was a win/win for him. And he said, “It is well with my soul.”
Let me share the lyrics to “It Is Well With My Soul” with you.
It Is Well With My Soul (Song by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Music)
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
And has shed His own blood for my soul
It is well With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul
It is well With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul
It is well With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
‘Cause of You, Jesus, it is well
It is well With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
Songwriters: Christopher C. C. Stafford / Philip Paul Bliss
It Is Well With My Soul lyrics © Bethel Music Publishing, Capitol CMG Publishing, Integrity Music, Universal Music Publishing Group, Walt Disney Music Company, Warner Chappell Music, Inc
I guess what my point here is, no matter what happens to us, God is with us. We may not see him. We may not hear him. But he is there for us to give us peace. To comfort us. To help us say, “It is well with my soul.”
Today we commemorate archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. In the past I didn’t know much about them. And in order to write this sermon I investigated and I found out interesting information that is useful for all of us who are Christian. In my native country, however, people celebrate Saint Archangel Michael as a special saint. There is a tradition called – Slava which is the day when family celebrate a saint or an angel believing that they are their family protector. My grandparents also celebrate Slava in commemoration of Saint Archangel Michael. Let me say a bit more about this custom. Slava (Serbian Cyrillic: Слава, lit. ‘Glory, Celebration’, pronounced [ˈslâʋa]) is a tradition of the ritual of glorification of one’s family’s patron saint, found mainly among Serbian Orthodox Christians. The family celebrates the Slava annually on the saint’s feast day. During the year there are hundreds of saints, but the most of the Slava celebrations occur during the winter. Dates and saints that are most common are: November 8th Sveti Dimitrije (St. Demetrius ), November 21th Sveti Arhanđel Mihailo (St. Archangel Michael), December 19th Sveti Nikola (St. Nicolas). This custom of honoring a family patron saint, celebrated chiefly by the Serbs, but also by some Macedonians, Montenegrins, Bulgarians and Gorani. If we look further, angels are not only celebrated in Orthodox Church. They are celebrated worldwide. If we investigate more we can find out more details in Christian sources about angels and demons.
Who are angels in Christianity?
Angels are represented throughout Christian Bibles as spiritual beings intermediate between God and humans: “Yet you have made them [humans] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalms 8:4–5). Christians believe that angels are created beings, based on (Psalms 148:2–5; Colossians 1:16). There are 4 types of angels: First Sphere, Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. However, chapter 20 of the Book of Enoch mentions seven holy angels who watch, that often are considered the seven archangels: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Saraqael, Raguel, and Remiel. The Life of Adam and Eve lists the archangels as well: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael and Joel. It is also good to know about bad (fallen) angels who are called demons. 7 fallen angels are named after entities from both Christian and Pagan mythology, such as Moloch, Chemosh, Dagon, Belial, Beelzebub and Satan himself. Following the canonical Christian narrative, Satan convinces other angels to live free from the laws of God, thereupon they are cast out of heaven. Some medieval scholars of demonology ascribed to a hierarchy of seven archdemons the seven deadly sins: Lucifer (Pride); Mammon (Avarice); Asmodeus (Lechery); Satan (Anger); Beelzebub (Gluttony); Leviathan (Envy); and Belphegor (Sloth).
In today reading we read: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Revelation 12:7-12 and John 1:47-51 where angels and archangels are mentioned, too. I would like to share these verses in order to let us learn more about the Bible prospect of angels.
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
I would like to conclude that in one hand we have fallen angels who are tempting us. Many sins that we commit we do with demons` help even though we might not be aware of it. Here are their names and sins they help us to commit – : Lucifer (Pride); Mammon (Avarice); Asmodeus (Lechery); Satan (Anger); Beelzebub (Gluttony); Leviathan (Envy); and Belphegor (Sloth). But as Christians we are blessed with angels and archangels who are also praying for us and helping us in doing well. As mentioned in chapter 20 of the Book of Enoch there are seven holy angels who watch, that often are considered the seven archangels: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Saraqael, Raguel, and Remiel. This means that we should also pray to archangels and angels the same way that we pray to saints and Holy Mary in order to pray for us and to help us in our daily life. Wishing you a blessed celebration of archangels in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Prayer to Your Guardian Angel
Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love
commits me here,
Ever this day,
be at my side,
To light and guard,
Rule and guide.
(‘From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their (the angels) watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united to God. ‘ – from the Catechism of the Catholic Church; 336.)
There were two major league baseball players, a catcher and a pitcher. They were not only good friends but also men of faith. They both loved baseball so much, that they could not imagine being happy in heaven if there were no baseball there. So, they made a pact that whoever would die first would try to come back and report whether there was baseball in heaven or not.
Shortly after this agreement, the catcher suddenly died and entered his eternal reward. A couple months later, being a man of his word, he appeared in a dream to his friend. “I have good news and I have bad news,” he said. “Which do you want to hear first?” The pitcher responded, “I’ll take the good news”. “Well, the good news is this: there definitely is baseball in heaven. The field is perfect, the crowd is always supportive, and I play every day.” “Wonderful,” said his friend. “What’s the bad news?” “Well, the bad news is, I’m looking at the line-up for tomorrow’s game, and you are scheduled to pitch.”
It is going to happen to all of us sooner or later, with warning or unexpectedly. We will need to pass from this life to the next and make an account of the life we have lived. That is why it would be wise for us to listen to Jesus’ teaching in today’s parable. In this disturbing but important parable we hear how a rich man did not reach eternal life, even though he had been abundantly blessed.
Why did he fail? There is nothing in the parable that shows he was a dishonest man or a mean man. Nothing that says he was unthankful for what he received. He seemed to be a person who enjoyed life and who shared what he had with his family and friends as he feasted sumptuously every day. Nor is there anything in the parable that shows that he mistreated the poor man Lazarus who was at his gate. He did not insult him or abuse him. In fact, it seems that he never even noticed him.
This is what I would suggest is the failure of the rich man: he did not notice Lazarus at his gate. The two of them did not live far apart. Lazarus was sitting at his very door. Yet the rich man lived his life isolated from the poor man. There was a gap between them. The rich man lived his life without noticing the poor man who was close at hand. After his death, the rich man certainly noticed Lazarus. Not only did he notice him, but he wanted to bridge the gap between them. He begged that Lazarus would bring but a bit of water to cool his tormented tongue. But after death we discover that the gulf becomes a chasm, and it is no longer possible to cross it.
Obviously then, the point of the parable is to notice Lazarus at our door and to reach out to him while there is still time.
Lazarus is at our gate. He is one of the more than one million children who are homeless in America, who sleep every night on our streets. He is one of the many fellow Americans who are afflicted with and dying from AIDS. Lazarus is at our door. She is one of the millions of Americans who have no access to health care, who must choose between buying her heart medicine and putting food on her table. Lazarus is at our gate. He is an acquaintance who lost his job through downsizing and has just taken out a second mortgage. She is an elderly woman who is in a nursing home now for ten years where no one visits.
Lazarus is at our door. He is the person in our school or in our office that cries out for respect but must face ridicule every day. She is the person struggling with mental illness who comes off a bit odd and is discounted as a person of value. He is our next door neighbor who recently lost his wife of forty years and hangs around the driveway as we come home, looking for company.
Jesus calls us to notice Lazarus at our door, and to reach out and cross the gulf that isolates us from him. He calls us to do this in a very personal and specific way. It is important to notice in the parable that the rich man did not ignore all the beggars in Israel, but only Lazarus who was closest to him.
We cannot be expected to reach out to the millions of people without health care or the tens of millions who are dealing with grief. But we can be expected to notice the Lazarus who sits at our gate. Who is he? What is her name? You know it. The name is coming to your mind right now. That person is the person that the gospel calls you to recognize, to notice, and to touch. Do not ignore him or her. Do not pretend that the need of one so near to you is not your concern.
There is good news and bad news in today’s gospel. The bad news is that we are very likely ignoring people who are close to us and who are in need. The good news is that there is still time to change. Lazarus is at our door. Jesus calls us to notice him and let our love have influence. Reach out, cross the gulf that presently separates you from him. After death, it will be too late.
Today the Mormon Church no longer practices polygamy, but at the end of the nineteenth century there were plural marriages in Utah. The great American humorist Mark Twain was having a lively discussion with a Mormon about the practice of polygamy. The Mormon challenged Twain to come up with any Bible passage that expressly forbade a man to have two wives. “Nothing easier,” Twain replied, “No man can serve two masters.” (“Mark Twain | Bible.org”)
In today’s Gospel of Luke, we hear Jesus challenge us to ask ourselves if we are serving two masters. Are we serving God or money? Which one is our master? Jesus tells a story that teaches us we cannot serve two masters – God and money. We have to choose one.
Over the past few weeks, we have been hearing some very challenging parables and instructions from Jesus about how we are to live and relate to one another. Don’t invite people to a party who will invite you in return.
Rather invite those who can’t repay – the poor, the needy, the marginalized. Time and again we see him being showing partiality to the poor or associating with tax collectors and sinners and recommending that others do the same. Many would say that what Jesus is proposing is revolutionary, or so idealistic that it could not possibly be done. And when he adds such outrageous statements as “No one can be my disciple who does not hate father, mother, brother, sister, even his own life,” we might be tempted to ask, as I’m sure the apostles were, “Where is he coming from? What’s it all about? And does he really mean it?”
Well, he is coming from God, and it’s all about the Kingdom of God, and yes, he does really mean it. The question is, just what is it that he really means? What he really means is to set up a new world order, a really new world order. What he means is to change the world. That’s why he came, and he is telling us that we have to do radical things to accomplish that. Does he really want us to hate our parents? No, that’s just a concrete way of saying that nothing in this world is more important than following him, than joining the work of establishing the kingdom.
He was not the first to talk this way, to say things that shook people up. The prophets did the same thing. In our first reading today, we hear the prophet Amos say some harsh things about certain practices of his time. Amos has been called the prophet of social justice because he is always calling attention to injustices in his society, particularly the treatment of the poor. And today it’s about cheating. He castigates merchants who fix scales and devalue money so the poor will have to pay more than the goods they are buying are worth. He is fierce in his denunciation of such tactics. He winds up saying, “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob, never will I forget a thing they have done,” a statement that seems to foresee dire things for people who grow rich on the backs of the poor.
Then in the Gospel passage Jesus tells a story about someone who cheats. A steward has been growing rich by mishandling his master’s property. Sounds pretty contemporary. But when he is found out and threatened with punishment, he is very wily in finding ways to assure his security for the future. Surprisingly when the employer returns to settle matters and finds how clever the steward has been in dealing with the debtors, he praises him and so, it seems, does Jesus. This, of course, raises all sorts of problems for us who read it today, as it did when Luke wrote his Gospel. Is the employer and is Jesus praising this man for his dishonesty?
That could hardly be the case. Indeed, to prevent misunderstanding, Jesus says, “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” Jesus is using the story then not to tell us to imitate the steward in his dishonesty but in his prudence and cleverness in taking care of himself. We, however, should do it not for material gain, but to do our part in furthering the Kingdom of God.
A few weeks ago, in the Gospel Jesus told the crowds who were traveling with him, and he told us as well, that nothing less than complete commitment on our part will satisfy him. And he warned them, and us, that we should know what we are getting into if we accept the challenge. I am sure it was not easy to be a committed follower of Jesus in the first century when Luke wrote his Gospel. And it certainly is no easier today.
Christian commitment means trying to change the world, and when we consider all the crises we face in our world today, our temptation is to throw up our hands and say, “What’s the use? What can I do to try to change things?”
Well, it’s true. Alone we are pretty helpless. But the good news is that we are not alone. We are not simply individuals trying to carry out the impossible. First of all, we are members of the Body of Christ. We have one another; we have all those who profess, not only the Catholic faith, but anyone who claims to be a Christian. Together there is much that we can do that we could not do alone. And even more important than that, we have Jesus as our leader.
Following in the footsteps of St, Dominic we share a common call to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. St. Peter encouraged us to “place our gifts at the service of one another” (1 Peter 4:10) so our call is expressed in many different ways and in many different ministries depending on individual gifts.
Reading I: Nm 21:4b-9
Responsorial Psalm: 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Reading II: Phil 2:6-11
Gospel: Jn 3:13-17
Liturgical Colour: Red.
Today, we come together to commemorate the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross. We celebrate this feast day on September 14th of each year.
Today’s Feast day was originally established to commemorate the anniversary of the finding of the True Cross of Jesus in Jerusalem on September 14, 326 by St.Helen, who was the mother of the Emperor Constantine.
The cross is an amazing and wondrous symbol of contradiction. The cross has become the most recognised religious symbol in the entire world, it is the ultimate symbol of God’s love, forgiveness and redemption. In the ancient Roman world, historically, the cross was the symbol of degradation, suffering, of torture, and execution. Death by crucifixion was extremely brutal. Now the cross is the ultimate symbol of God’s love and of our salvation.
Today the Church gives all of us the place at which we ought to stand – by the cross of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
And from there we can move not only the earth, but can storm heaven as well!
From the cross of our Lord, the gates of hell are shattered, the devil and his angels are disarmed of their power and eternal death is totally destroyed.
From the cross- the people who dwell in darkness see a great light – the glory of God shining forth from the face of Christ;
From the cross – a host of captives are set free and the ancient gates are lifted up high.
From the cross- sin will be removed from our hearts and our minds lifted to heaven.
So must the son of man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (Jn: 3:15)
In our first reading today, we get the description of how God healed the complaining Israelites through the brazen serpant. In the second reading, we see how St.Paul explains how God Exalted Jesus for his self-emptying on the cross for our salvation by granting him resurrection.
In todays Gospel, answering the question raised by Nicodemus, Jesus explains how he is going to save the world by his death on the cross. Jesus cites the example of how brazen serpant raised by Moses representing the healing power of God, saved the Israelites in the desert from snake bites.
So comparing his cross to the serpent of bronze lifted up by Moses, Jesus tells us that those who are bitten by the serpant of sin can be healed by a look of faith to the ever forgiving cross.
At the cross of Jesus there were three men looking at him: two sinners, the criminals hanging in crucifixion near him, and an unbeliever, the centurion. One of the criminals asked him: “ Aren’t you the Messiah? Then save yourself and us. “ But the other one rebuked him: “ Have you no fear of God, seeing you are under the same sentence? We deserve it after all. We are paying the price for what we’ve done, but this man has done nothing wrong”. The he said: “Jesus remember me when you enter upon your reign”. And Jesus replied this: I assure you; this day you will be with me in paradise”. Notice the two looks: the look of the impenitent and the look of the repentant. The third one who looked at Jesus on the cross was the centurion. We read in the Gospel according to saint mark: “ the centurion who stood guard over him, on seeing the manner of death, declared: ‘clearly this man was the son of God” ( Mk 15:39)
The feast of the exaltation of the cross provides us with the opportunity to remember, in a special way, Jesus’ passion, and the significance of his death for us upon the cross. Through the Holy Cross, God has entered into our suffering. The good news is that when we suffer those earthly trials and crosses from which it is humanly impossible for us to escape, Jesus our Lord is intimately there with us in the midst of all our sufferings.
The cross is the eternal hope of Christians. The cross is the staff for the lame. The cross is the deposing of the proud. The cross is the hope of those who despair. The cross is the haven for the bestormed. The cross is comfort for those who mourn. The cross is the glory of all of mankind. The cross is the crown of elders. The cross is the light for those who sit in darkness. The cross is freedom for slaves, it is the wisdom for the ignorant. The preaching of prophets and the joy of priests. The foundation of the church. The cleansing of the lepers, the rehabilitation of the enfeebled. Bread for those who hunger, a fountain for the worst of thirsts.
How splendid and wonderful is the cross of Christ!
It brings life, not death
Light, not darkness.
Paradise, not its loss.
It is the wood on which Our Lord and Saviour, like the greatest of warriors, was wounded in hands and feet and side , but who thereby healed all our wounds.
A tree destroyed us in the beginning and, a tree has now brought us salvation from death.
Sometimes Jesus says the most startling things. When you hear them, you want to stop and say, “Does he really mean that?” You know that business about loving your enemies, doing good to those who hurt you, or turning the other cheek if someone slaps you on one cheek? Or even worse: “If your right eye scandalizes you, pluck it out. If your right hand scandalizes you, cut it off.” And in today’s Gospel passage, “Unless you hate your father, mother, brothers, and sisters, and even your own life, you can’t be my disciple.”
I can just imagine those who were following him looking at one another in amazement, especially Peter and the others who were so close to him, and saying to themselves, “Where is he coming from? What’s it all about, and does he really mean it?”
Well, he is coming from the Father and it’s all about the Kingdom of God and yes, he does really mean it. The question is: what is it that he really means? Love your enemies? Well, your enemies are human beings, too, so treat them that way. As much as it may go against the grain. Maybe you’ll find that they cease to be enemies and become friends. Turn the other cheek? Don’t return violence for violence. The only thing that does is create more violence. Don’t we have plenty of examples of that throughout history and especially in our world today? Is Jesus saying we should just passively accept whatever harm or injustice someone or even society commits against us? No, not at all. What he is urging is that we do our best to be creative and find some non-violent way to deal with unjust situations.
So, what about our Gospel? Hating father, mother, brothers, and sisters? Well, by this time it should be clear that Jesus uses overemphasis and concrete language, first of all to catch our attention and then to say in concrete language what we would put in more abstract terms: there is nothing in this world that is more important than responding to the call to follow Jesus. And be aware that he is not just talking to the apostles or those who might have a special vocation. Luke tells us that great crowds were following him. So not only does he really mean it, he means it for everybody. Everybody is called to be a disciple. And Jesus pulls no punches in letting us know that accepting to be a disciple, accepting to follow him means letting nothing stand in the way. It also means a willingness to suffer with him and to be quite clear about what the cost will be.
It seems pretty clear that what Jesus is trying to do with these very startling statements is produce change: change in the way people think; then change in the way people act; and finally change in the way the world works. When you put this passage together with the one we heard last week about taking the lower place at a banquet and inviting to our own parties not those who can repay us but the poor, the weak, the lame, those who cannot afford to return the favor, we find a Jesus who is trying to create a new world order, a really new world order. One that is based, as we saw last week, on humility, and the courage to turn accepted social structures upside down, and complete devotion to the person and cause of Jesus. So, Jesus was looking for a change. But so were those great crowds that were traveling with him. They wanted a change, too. There were the hungry who wanted to be fed; the sick who wanted to be healed; the poor who wanted to be rich; the zealots and revolutionaries who wanted to be rid of the Roman occupiers and to set up a new kingdom of Israel.
But Jesus was thinking of something different. Oh, he was thinking of a kingdom all right, the kingdom of God, and he was asking for a radical response. Paul gives us a good example of that kind of radical response. He has given up everything to answer the call of Christ. In our second reading today, he is writing from prison where he is suffering for the sake of the Gospel. But he writes this letter to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, who has been a fellow prisoner with Paul. Paul speaks to Philemon about receiving the slave, Onesimus, as a brother in the Lord. It’s a good illustration of how this new Kingdom, this new family of God, crosses lines of status and power, making all members brothers and sisters in Christ, children of the same God.
When Jesus speaks about family ties and possessions in the Gospel passage, he is primarily asking for a change in mindset. All of us can begin to think differently. And then we can begin to act differently. We can be less consumerist, simpler in our tastes. We can begin to find room for others. We can find more time to serve the less fortunate. The doors of our homes and of our hearts begin to be more open. Prayer becomes more real in our lives. It may mean less television and more conversation. It may mean less money for recreation and more for God’s poor. Like Paul we begin to see, perhaps not slaves these days, but at least other races, colors, nationalities, sexual orientation, we begin to see them as our brothers and sisters. And with a certain amount of courage, we may ask others to do the same. This is how we work with God’s grace to establish the Kingdom here on earth. Jesus is asking each and every one of us to work with him, to struggle with him in the work that he has begun but that he left it to us to finish. It’s a noble enterprise, a noble vocation, one that is given to all of us if we want to follow Christ, to really follow Christ.
In today`s sermon I would like to say a few words about humility and the importance of being humble in our life. In Sirach 3:17-18 we read wise words saying:
My son, perform your tasks in meekness;
then you will be loved by those whom God accepts.
The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself;
so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord.
This is the lesson that I have learnt in my life and that I experience in some way. Last month I moved to Germany (Frankfurt). And I started working a very difficult job at the factory. This was a big life lesson for me to learn how to be humble and modest in terms of being able to do anything regardless of our qualification. My friends know how hard I was studying to be the best student for 5 years. Gaining my bachelor degree, specialist degree and at last master degree. I was hoping to get a good job based on my qualifications. I am 35 years old now and in my home country, Serbia, the life is very hard and youngsters usually finish universities and cannot find a job afterwards. This is why I had to move in another country seeking for a better life and a job. Unfortunately my language level of German is momentarily very basic and I cannot find a job which is for my qualification but the job for people without any qualification. Such as cleaning or production at the factory.
You can guess, this is very difficult for a highly educated person who was usually working in the office and with a laptop and a pen in his hands. But for us, who are Christians, we know that in God`s eyes all people are the same. He does not see people through their qualifications but through the perspective of what kind of person they are. He does not look at the diploma that we have, but he rather looks straight to our hearts. This is why I would like to share how being modest and humble is very important for all of us. Jesus is the example of the greatest humbleness. And we should always follow his example. But there is always hope that if we are humble in our life we could expect to be at the better place in the future. And this is what I also believe. Today we also read Luke 14. And there is a place which is in relation with humbleness that I would like to share with you also. Verses 7 to 14:
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
How we could know that we are on the right place? Simply by reading and obeying carefully what is written in the Bible. Normally, we all want to be at the better place and to be in better position. Today I gave my own personal example through my job position. But we can apply this to everything else. A relationship with our partner, friends, family members, colleagues. Sometimes being humble is not easy. But if we are humble we are Christ-like. Because Jesus was humble. And this is what he teaches us. I pray that these words from Luke and from Sirach will be useful to all of you reading this sermon and I would like you to think for a moment about some situation from your own life when you were humble and later you saw how good was it and worthy. God bless you and let us all be humble like Jesus. Amen.
Jesus says, “Try to come in through the narrow door.” Well, once we get to that narrow door, what will be waiting for us on the other side? In other words, what is heaven like? That’s a question we would all like to have answered, wouldn’t we? In the Gospel passage we just heard, Jesus actually gives some indication of what heaven will be like. He speaks as usual in homely pictures. There will be feasting; we will meet with our ancestors; and there will be some surprises.
There will be feasting. That’s not a new idea with Jesus. Isaiah the prophet had said the same thing. He had said that there would be abundance of food and drink and all the world would come to God’s holy mountain to live in peace and happiness where there would be no more war, not even preparation for war. It was a beautiful picture and Jesus picks it up to describe heaven in other places as a wedding feast or a great banquet. Everyone who comes through that narrow door will enjoy all that a feast conjures up: good company, relaxation, satisfaction, the mood of celebration. All in all, a wonderful time to be had by all.
Then we will be with our ancestors. The people Jesus was talking to had a strong sense of ancestry and so he offers them the very appealing picture of meeting up with their great ancestors in the faith, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets. It offers us the hope of meeting again our own departed family and friends as well as our forebears who passed on to us the gifts of life and faith down through the centuries. I don’t know about you, but I look forward to meeting many of these people. I find it exciting to think I’ll be able to talk with Cesar and Marcus Aurelius, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Rita, and of course, Jesus and his mother Mary and our patron, Saint Mary Magdalene. I can’t wait to see St. Dominic the founder of my order.
I have questions for all of them and it will probably take all eternity just to listen to them all and enjoy what they have to say. But then there is that third picture. Jesus tells us there will be some surprises there. We may find ourselves sitting down at that heavenly banquet next to people we never expected to see, and on the other hand there may be some who do not make it through that narrow door. What Jesus says is not a threat. It’s a warning. He tells us not to be complacent, not to be too sure of ourselves, and particularly not to judge others. God alone can read the heart and the deepest motives of the mind. God alone can perfectly judge the response we have made to the graces offered and the difficult circumstances that had to be overcome. Many who seem to be first in their manifestation of piety and church-going may be far back in the line when it comes to genuine charity – and charity is the only question in the final test. Love of neighbor.
And we know, don’t we, what the questions will be to see if we qualify to go through that narrow door, to get our passport to heaven, as it were. God is not going to ask us about our sex life or any of those things that seem to preoccupy us in this culture. God isn’t even going to ask us how often we missed Mass on Sunday. Instead, the questions we will hear will go something like this: Did you feed the hungry? Did you give drink to the thirsty? Did you clothe the naked? Did you take in the ones you saw sleeping on the street? Did you visit the imprisoned? Those are the questions we will be asked. And we know that, don’t we? The problem is we tend to get things mixed up. And that’s why we hear those words of warning, “Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last.” Again, not a threat, just a warning. But it’s a warning that should not upset us or make us sad or worried.
Jesus wants us to live a life that is full and happy, investing all we have in this human life of ours and that of others, living soberly and simply, generously and carefully, but above all living! That’s what Jesus did on his way to Jerusalem, walking that narrow road, the road less traveled, to that narrow gate of the cross and to the life and the glory to follow. And he invites us to come along, are you ready?