Enough.

Oct. 2nd Sunday Readings

I’ve run out of gas three times in my driving life. Honestly, it’s a little embarrassing. empty_gaugeWho runs out of gas multiple times? My first couple cars had “dummy” lights that turned on when I was getting close to empty, but my GMC pickup truck didn’t. Often I would try and push my truck’s range and three times, I went too far.

I don’t know if you’ve ever run out of gas, but fixing the situation can be complicated. Each time, I was too far away for my wife or a friend to come get me. Yes, I was that guy on the side of the highway who had to buy a $23, one gallon gas can in order to put enough gas in my truck to drive it back to the gas station and fill it up. I now have the most expensive collection of one gallon gas cans of anyone I know.

The gospel this week is about having “enough” faith. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They want more faith, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. Jesus responds by saying that if they even had a speck of faith (as small as a mustard seed), they could do completely radical, miraculous things (tell a tree to move and be planted in the ocean). So this part of the gospel says that even a micro-speck of faith is enough to do miracles. Cool.

On the other hand Jesus tells the story of the servant who does what is expected and doesn’t receive any praise for it. Jesus seems to be saying that we shouldn’t be too proud of our faith lives because doing what is expected isn’t particularly exceptional.

So, how much faith is enough?

When I was out of gas on the side of interstate 94, one gallon was enough to get my car started (yay!), but it wasn’t enough to really go anywhere (sad face). When you go to the gas station do you just pump in one gallon or do you fill up your tank? We fill it up all the way, right?

Same needs to be true about our faith as well. We don’t just go to God to get one gallon of faith. Sure, that would be enough to move a mountain or command a tree to move or maybe make us feel good, but it isn’t more than the bare minimum. We aren’t filled up with just a gallon, our capacity to receive God’s love is greater.

How much faith is enough? A very little is a lot and we can never have enough.

God is infinite, and thus his capacity to love is infinite. God is always ready, willing, and able to love us more. The fact is, we are limited in how much we can receive. The good news is that we can increase our capacity. How? By going back to Jesus, again and again to be filled to over flowing with his love and mercy. Then, and only by God’s grace, can we continuously grow our ability to receive God’s love.

May you and I seek to be completely filled with God’s love and never settle for just enough.

LIVE IT:
Grow your capacity to receive God’s love this week. Whatever you “normally” do for prayer in a day, add 2 minutes of silence. If you don’t normally pray, start with 2 minutes of silence. If you have a robust prayer practice, add two minutes of silence at the end.

Don’t look the other way.

Sept. 25th Sunday Readings

In my first year of marriage, I had this conversation with my wife maybe 1,783,537 times:

Me: Honey, my love – look, I cleaned up after myself (spoken proudly).
Wife: Darling, really. Really?!
Me: What do you mean? I wiped this down and washed this and put these things away.
Wife: Yes, and yet, dust bunnies remain there and streaks over here and look under here, untouched by your cleaning.
Me: I, literally, didn’t see any of that.
(Okay, maybe I embellished the sweet talk a bit, but you get the idea.)

I don’t think it was that I was bad at cleaning (maybe), it was just that I didn’t notice any of those unfinished tasks. I didn’t see the dirt and dust. It wasn’t a matter of effort or desire, but of vision. I didn’t clean what I couldn’t see.

Honestly, I think after college and guy apartment living, I had trained myself to ignore the dirt in the corners. I learned, through repetition, that as long as you got the big stuff, everything was good to go. I practiced seeing the big stuff and ignoring the little stuff.

I think the same thing happens in the gospel this weekend. Jesus tells a story of a rich man (who traditionally is named Dives) and the poor beggar Lazarus who sat just outside the rich man’s door. I think it wasn’t that Dives was an evil man, but he practiced ignoring Lazarus for years. Day after day, Dives would leave his home and ignore Lazarus to the point that he didn’t even see him any more.

What’s the result of years of ignoring Lazarus? Dives experiences the eternal, fiery, torments of hell. In a plot twist, Dives sees Lazarus and Abraham far off. Dives asks if Lazarus will do for him exactly what he didn’t do for Lazarus – show him mercy.

I can’t speak for you, but I think I have trained myself to ignore the poor.

Like Dives, I’ve learned to look away from every Lazarus I encounter. Most of the time when we stop at the top of an off ramp, I purposefully ignore the people asking for a handout. When we encounter someone on the street downtown, I rarely even acknowledge they are a human being in need of help. I’m happy to write a check or attend a fundraiser, but I don’t know the truly destitute who are my neighbors.

How about you?

I think for me this story is a challenge to see with new eyes. Jesus is asking us to unlearn all that we have taught ourselves. Particularly, he is inviting us to really see the poor and vulnerable. Jesus is challenging us to stop ignoring those around us who are in real need.

How important is it that we see the poor and vulnerable? Jesus suggests our eternal future depends on it.

LIVE IT:

Look for and see the humanity of the poor and vulnerable. That may mean looking into the eyes and greeting someone asking you for money at an offramp or downtown. It may mean reading the stories of the poor. It may mean simplifying your life so others can simply live.

At HNOJ here is where you can learn more about the poor and vulnerable.

What’s your #1s?

Sept. 18 Sunday Readings.

I recently heard in a homily from Fr. Mike Schmitz (click here for podcast homilies), that 6a00d83451b36c69e201b7c87ccd69970b-600wibefore about 100 years ago the word “priority” was never pluralized. Like the word never had an “s” on the end of it. Now we talk about our “priorities,” but 100 years ago we never used the word like that. Why?

The word “priority” actually means “first thing,” and basic logic tells us we really can’t have more than one “first thing.” And yet, we try to hold onto many things as our first, most important thing.

Jesus calls us on our bologna in the gospel today. Jesus reminds each of us that, at the end of the day, only one thing can be our #1 priority. No matter what we do, no matter what we say, one thing always comes first. One thing will always end up being our most important thing. If we aren’t purposeful about choosing our priority, we might end up prioritizing something that actually enslaves us.

Jesus uses the example of money and possessions to explain that if we try and hold onto multiple priorities (with one being money) eventually, our money, our status, our possessions will work their way to the top and we will become slaves to wealth.

Honestly ask yourself right now – what is my priority? Stop reading and really think about it.

Ha! Caught you, you tried to list a number of things, like family, friends, church (cuz you thought you were supposed to), and maybe other things.

A simple (but not-so-easy) way to figure out your priority is to analyze where you spend your time and your money. It’s as straightforward as examining your calendar and your checkbook (or online banking statement).

Ask these questions:

  • How do you spend the most of your time?
  • If you have nothing else to do, how do you spend that time?
  • How do you spend the majority of your money?
  • If you have some extra money, how do you spend it?

Did you like your answers? Honestly, I didn’t like mine. Time to recommit to a new priority.

LIVE IT:
Figure out how you spend your extra time and money. If the answer isn’t the absolute best thing you could be doing with that time and money, consider fasting from spending money and time in those ways. Then pray about how you think Jesus would want you to spend that time and money. Tell me how this goes; I’d love to hear if anyone tries it.

Unexpected

For our first Valentine’s day after we got married, by wife told me she planned a surprise date. She said I needed to get dressed up nice and to have a light lunch because dinner was going to be memorable. My expectations were set for only the best of the best, the most interesting restaurant, the most creative food – she took me to White Castle. whitecastle2

You can imagine my disappointment. She thought it would be cute and funny and White Castle did a whole Valentines day thing with flowers and reservations, etc. My expectations were not met.

Usually when our expectations aren’t met, it’s something bad. When we say something is unexpected, it isn’t a good thing. If we are an ardent consumer of the news or twitter addicts, we might think that unexpected news is always horrible stories of terrorism, violence, or tragedy.

Our readings this Sunday say something different. Our God is the God of the unexpected. In the first reading, Moses seems to talk God out of destroying his chosen people (even if they deserved it). God unexpectedly listens to one of his creations. In the second reading, Paul explains that God took him, the worst of the worst, a blasphemer and killer of Christians, and have made him his missionary disciple to the world. God chooses the unexpected to serve him.

In the gospel, Jesus tells three stories that all feature an unexpected characteristic of God. The shepherd seems to abandon 99 sheep to save just 1. That isn’t what is expected of shepherds. The woman loses a coin, finds it, and then invites everyone over for a party that probably cost more than the coin. Not sound fiscal strategy. The betrayed and disrespected father is expected to punish his wayward son, but instead welcomes, loves, and restores him.

We think we know what to expect from God. Mostly, we’re wrong.

The readings this weekend invite us to be open to the unexpected love, mercy, and joy in our God. What do you expect from God? How do you expect God to respond to your sin? Are you willing to say yes to God and let him surprise you?

Live it:

Grab your phone and set a reminder – 7 a.m. tomorrow morning – to say this prayer, “God, surprise me today.”