Embrace

In the the movie The Passion of the Christ, there is a brief, fleeting image that I will never forget. Jesus has already been scourged and is now carrying his cross to Golgotha. He falls hard to the stone paved ground. In his effort to lift up his cross again, Jesus embraces his cross. The scene makes reference to another moment when Jesus embraces his mother. The question left for us the viewers is this: “Does Jesus love his cross?” 

In the Gospel this Sunday Jesus warns us that if we love anything, prefer anything to God and to Jesus’ mission, we are not worthy of the mission. Then Jesus instructs us that whoever doesn’t take up his cross isn’t worthy of following Jesus.

I think this tells us two things:

  1. Following Jesus is something we do on purpose. We don’t accidentally become disciples of Jesus. Whether it is one big decision or a hundred little ones (probably a little of both), if we want to follow Jesus we have to “take up” the mission. 
  2. It’s not enough to accept the idea that we will suffer and maybe suffer for our faith. We have to embrace our cross. 

I don’t suffer well. I am bad at suffering. I don’t want it and I will do nearly anything to avoid it. I think a lot of people I know are like this too. This makes us vulnerable to the temptation to chase comfort and ease. If I am constantly just trying to get comfortable and satisfied, then my comfort is my highest value. If comfort is my highest value, then I won’t embrace, much less love, anything that causes me to suffer. 

I think this is a daily battle for many of us. We are sold comfort, security, entertainment, and convenience on every screen, billboard, broadcast, and notification. If all day long I choose ease, ease will become my God and I will prefer it to Christ. 

Which leads me back to the first point – We have to embrace the Cross on purpose. Maybe that means fasting or giving or doing something beyond our comfort zone. Maybe that means actively accepting and owning the suffering we already face. Whatever the case, to follow Jesus means to take up our cross even if that means suffering. The only way to embrace suffering is to trust in God. The only way to trust in God is to embrace suffering. 

LIVE IT: Pick up a cross. Literally. Go a find a cross or crucifix and hold it for 5 minutes and during that time ask God to help you take up your cross that day. 

Sunday Readings for June 28th, 2020.

To Deny the Gift

I can’t force my older kids to do things. They haven’t totally figured that out yet, which is nice. I think the oldest one suspects the truth and every now and again pushes a bit. For the most part they are obedient and respectful kids. I’m blessed and they are blessed because of it. Consequently, I rarely seek to make them do or not do something.

Sure there are times that I put my foot down, but usually we give our children choices and then make the alternatives we prefer the clear winner. Sometimes our outside the box thinker tries the alternative option. Usually it doesn’t work out well. We give options and make clear consequences. That’s what we are supposed to do right?

God doesn’t force anyone to do anything either. God doesn’t make us love him or make us worship him. We are free to follow or not to follow Jesus. We are free to go to heaven or no to go to heaven. Because grace is a free gift and we do nothing to earn it, we can sometimes erroneously get the idea that we also can’t deny it. But that isn’t how gifts work. Just because we didn’t earn it, doesn’t me we are forced to accept it. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” In other words, God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of grace, the gift of salvation, the gift of his love. God freely gives grace, salvation, and love, but we can deny it, just like any other gift. 

If we can deny it, then it follows that to receive it we must accept it. The ability to accept it is a gift from God too, but that doesn’t mean that our choice to receive the gift is unimportant. No friends, if we want the free gift of God’s love and grace, we must cooperate with God’s action in our lives. 

The Good News is that God wants us to accept the gift of his love more than we want to. God wants to give us his grace more than we want to accept it. God wants us in heaven, in perfect intimate relationship with him, more than we desire heaven for ourselves. 

God doesn’t force us to accept the gift of his love and grace. This means we have to participate in the reception of that gift. Here are 3 ways to accept that gift today:

  1. Sacraments – Go to Mass. Go to Confession. Go to a Wedding or ordination or baptism. Pray for and receive grace. If you haven’t been in a while, start with confession. It’s personal, private, and easier than you remember. 
  2. Scripture – Read the Bible. It’s pretty straight forward. Start by reading a gospel, Mark. Just read one section. Do it 3 days in a row and then keep it going. God will reach out to you through the words on the page. 
  3. The Poor – Find a way to give to someone in poverty. Bring food to a food shelf (or HNOJ collects everyday). Check in with your neighbors. Give to someone’s poverty even if their poverty isn’t material. 

Live It: Try one of the three suggestions above on how to receive God’s grace and love. Make a plan and follow through before next Sunday.

I’m your huckleberry.

Quarreling is our current national pastime. Whether it is politics, covid/stay-at-home orders, race, religion, the environment, sex, parenting, sports, money or whatever – we quarrel about nearly everything. Not only do we like to quarrel, we enjoy watching other people quarrel. A significant portion of cable networks is just video of people quarreling about some topic. We have build vast online frontiers where we can pick a fight at a moments notice.

Somedays I wonder if people want to change the US motto from “In God we trust.” to “Well, actually…” It seems it would be more accurate. In the Gospel this week we read about Jesus teaching a truth that caused the Jews to “quarrel amongst themselves.” What caused them to quarrel? Jesus said that his flesh was bread and if they ate his flesh, they would live forever. Later Jesus preaches this:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. 
John 6: 52-59

Jesus wasn’t speaking in metaphor. Jesus wasn’t talking symbolically. Even those of us who enjoy quarreling won’t argue with a metaphor (though we might argue how accurate it is). Jesus teaches this truth over and over again in John 6. Jesus was so committed to this teaching that he was willing to loose every single follower if necessary. 

What would make this teaching necessary? It is true. Jesus gives us himself, his own body, both on the cross on Calvary and in every single Mass in the Eucharist. The truth is is that if we eat of his flesh, we can have eternal life with him forever.

If we have the true intimacy that comes with full communion through the Eucharist, we will draw ever closer to Jesus. Just as Jesus will enter into us through our consuming of his flesh and blood, we will enter into the inner life of the Trinity in Heaven. There is no more intimate relationship than this. 

People have and will quarrel about this truth. That doesn’t make it any less true.

The decision each of us has to make is whether we will walk away because that teaching is hard, not modern, and weird, or whether we respond like St. Peter and say, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Do we believe what Jesus says is true or will we quarrel?

LIVE IT: 2 steps to this micro challenge: 1) Read the entire chapter of John 6. 2) Go for a walk and think about what happens and what Jesus teaches. 

Famous.

I met famed Minnesota Twins pitcher Jack Morris. Okay, truth be told, he rubbed up against me on an airplane and then sat down right behind me. Everyone else was bothering him and I could tell he just wanted to watch Avengers on his phone in peace, so I didn’t bother him. But I watched him a bit. 

I knew his reputation as being a little bristly or salty. I’d heard he was polite, but didn’t totally enjoy being bothered all the time. I’d heard him rip on a broadcast of a Twins game, mercilessly the younger players and their style. And by the time I got done watching him interact with people, I was convinced that all those things I already knew about him were probably true. 

I think fame and reputation make it heard for people to really see the famous person. Naturally I think we fill in a lot of information about a person, especially a famous person, from what we already know about them. If we’ve heard they are difficult, we interpret everything through that lens. I mean, come on, Tom Hanks can’t be that great, right?

This Sunday we will heard proclaimed maybe the most famous piece of scripture that appears in the New Testament. John 3:16 is painted on the wall of our worship space at HNOJ. It is held up on signs at sporting events, at least it used to be. It might be the most memorized piece of scripture. Rightly so. It’s been said it is the entire gospel message in one sentence. 

Like a famous person, we can fill in what we know about this scripture and not really hear what it is saying. We hear the first three words and we go on autopilot. The way around this is to take it slow and break down each and every phrase we read. Let’s try it:

God so loved the world – God chooses to love the world. The world is broken and ugly and diseased and on fire, and he loves us anyway. God loves you, personally and intimately. 

That he gave his only Son – God has only one Son, and he was and is willing to sacrifice him for you and for me. 

So that everyone who believes in him – We can believe in Jesus. Believing isn’t just acknowledging his existence, but it is believing who Jesus is, what he says, and following what he does. Believing means calling him Lord and doing what he says. Believing is cooperating with God for the salvation of the world. 

Might not perish – If we don’t believe, we will perish. Following Jesus is life, to deny him is death. 

But might have eternal life. – Choosing to believe and be 100% sold out for Jesus means eternal life and joy with God forever. 

John 3:16 is a famous piece of scripture, and so, we have a choice to be a fan of it or to live it. We have a choice to marvel at a distance or to come up close and let its meaning rule our lives. God loves us. He sent Jesus as a gift for us. We are called to believe in him with our every action and decision. By his grace and our cooperation, we will have life with God forever. 

LIVE IT:
Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Write out entirety of John 3:16. If you are a crafty/artistic person, do your thing. If not, just take your time and write it out slowly. After you’re done, read it out loud. Believe it. 

Sunday Readings for June 7, 2020.