Life or Death.

Sunday Readings for November 10, 2019.church-abandoned-64768

I enjoy laughing at the clunky way that TV, movies, and other media depicts Catholicism. Sometimes a character or church reflects more of what I find authentic Catholicism to be. More often than not, Catholics on the screen is curmudgeons old priests, crabby nuns, and dusty statues of long dead saints in empty, dark churches. (Some weeks I would prefer this Catholicism to what I experience daily, but I digress.)

I think the reason that this is the way that Catholicism is expressed on the screen is that most people see God as the God of the dead. Religion is for the dead or nearly dead. Religion is old and tired. Saints are literally dusty relics of a long gone era. 

In our gospel this Sunday, when Jesus is confronted with a question about resurrection, he explains that to God all are alive. Our God is a God of the living, not the dead. That those who die with Christ, rise also with him. The purpose of baptism and Christianity is to to inoculate us to death. 

The purpose and good news of belief in Jesus Christ is that he beat death for ever and we can beat death too!
Sometimes we get caught up in all the ways we live that reality out. Certainly we should help others and have good liturgy. We should teach the faith and learn the faith. We should have good community and even better celebrations. But all of that, all that the Church does is to participate in the death beating, life saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

The purpose of the Church is make disciples of Jesus so that each and ever soul might be saved and spend eternity with God forever. Nothing short of Life over Death is the whole story. 

LIVE IT: Listen to John Mark McMillan’s song “Death in Reverse.” You have to follow along with the lyrics because they are poetic and hard to understand. It’s one of my favorites and all about Life overcoming Death. 

 

Are the Avengers, real?

Sunday Readings for August 4th, 2019.

clement-m-JIOP2qvo8yk-unsplashIn addition to long walks, running through sprinklers, and late night bonfires, my family has been watching all of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe this summer. Good versus evil, superheroes, mostly quippy dialogue, self-sacrifice – everyone in my family finds something they enjoy in these films. 

Last night we watched Avengers. In the middle of an intense battle scene, Captain America jumps between two uneven pieces of the flying Helicarrier. When he lands and then saves the day, both of my daughters snickered. They giggled. And I heard their eyes roll in unison (I’m a dad, I can hear eye rolls). 

I asked them why they were snickering and almost in unison they both replied, “Ha, well, that isn’t real.” I ignored for a second the desire for reality while watching a movie about superheroes, interdemensional travel, and Norse gods, and I asked them why they thought it wasn’t real. My older daughter said that it just didn’t look real. Like you could tell it was computer animated. It just didn’t look authentic. 

This 2 seconds of video from a 90+ minute movie that is almost entirely unreal was the only time my kids scoffed at how real things looked. When an army of aliens, with 4 thumbs each, attacked New York City, my children didn’t bat an eye.  

We aren’t as good as we think we are at recognizing what is real and what is not. Even in our own lives, we can find countless examples of times we perceived something incorrectly or were tricked into seeing something that wasn’t there. This is the whole basis of the TV show Brain Games. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus warns against greed. Not only because greed rots the soul and drives us mad with self obsession, but also because greed causes us to care deeply about things that aren’t real. Greed puts value on what isn’t ultimately valuable. 

In C.S. Lewis’ work The Great Divorce, when the main character goes to heaven, he finds a place more real than Earth. Heaven is so real that the people who were flesh and blood a mere moment ago are now ghost like. The grass is so hard, so real, that it cuts into people’s now ghost like feet. 

All we take for granted as real, we perceive through our senses. We see, hear, taste, and the rest what we consider reality. 

Jesus comes to tell us that there is something even more real than what we perceive now. Jesus warns us that if we care too deeply about what we believe to be real now, we will put far too much value on what is truly nothing more than dust. When we value what isn’t valuable, we will miss what is truly real and valuable.

My prayer is that each of us grows rich in what matters to God. May we fall in love with that which is most real. 

LIVE IT: Take a screen fast for 24 hours. No TV, no phone for entertainment, shopping, etc., just use it as a phone as necessary. During that time consider praying, asking God to show you what is real. 

The Sun will die.

November 18 Sunday Readings.

william-malott-721211-unsplashLast winter in the middle of a 4 day period where the high temperature in Minnesota was below zero the entire time, my thermostat stopped working. We had installed a new fancy, smart thermostat, but the intense and lasting cold was too much for it, and it’s software malfunctioned. A thermostat isn’t something I think about too often, I just expect it to work. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we depend upon it working without really worrying about whether it will or not. 

In the gospel Jesus says, “In those days after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” The sun is another thing we just depend upon for light and heat. Without it, we would die. We don’t think about it too much and I think even fewer of us worry about whether or not it will rise in the morning. Yet, when it is darkened, it is a big deal (see total eclipse from 2017). 

Jesus says that the very things we depend upon every day, the very things we rarely think about but depend on for our very existence will be go away. On the one hand that is a horrifying prediction, but that’s not the whole story. jorge-vasconez-285707-unsplash

What Jesus is really saying is that even when something as necessary and as basic as the light from the sun and moon is taken away, he will still be there to save us. The light and heat from the sun is something we can’t imagine living without. Yet, Jesus promises that at the end of time, if that will be taken away and we will be okay because he will come to save us. 

In other words, do we put more trust in the sun or in Jesus? Do we depend more upon the heat and light of the sun than we depend on the saving love of Jesus Christ? It’s a crazy thing to ask ourselves. But that is the radical call to faith that Jesus asks of us – Depend on and trust more in Jesus than even the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky. The celestial bodies can’t save you, but Jesus will. 

LIVE IT:
Whether you are awake in the morning to see the sun rise or you witness the sun set (which in MN is about 4 in the afternoon), turn your mind to God and pray something simple like, “Jesus I depend upon you, more than the sun and the moon. I depend on you.”

It ain’t over till it’s over.

July 1st Sunday Readings.

In game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Texas Rangers were one strike away from David_Freese_on_April_30,_2010winning their first World Series championship. It was the bottom of the 9th inning and there were two outs. All the Rangers needed was one more strike or a pop up or a ground out. Their championship hats and t-shirts were ready, waiting to be distributed. The champagne was on ice and the Ranger’s lockers were being covered in plastic. 

Down 1-2 in the count, St. Louis Cardinal David Freese hit a line drive over a leaping Nelson Cruz for a triple scoring two runs and tying the game, sending it to extra innings. Immediately in the 10th inning the Rangers scored two runs to go up 9-7 and in the bottom of the 10th inning they were one out, one strike away from wining it all, again. But Lance Berkman hit a single that tied the game sending it to the 11th inning. 

Freese again stepped to the plate where he hit a walk-off home run that won Game 6 and sent the World Series to a Game 7, which the St. Louis Cardinals won. Twice the Cardinals faced elimination and twice they narrowly escaped to play another inning or game. 

Whether you were a fan of the Rangers or the Cardinals, Game 6’s motto was, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

In the gospel this weekend Jesus cures the dying (or dead) daughter of Jarius, a synagogue official. At one point, other officials from the synagogue tell Jarius not to “trouble the teacher” since his daughter is dead. Jesus tells him to have faith. 

The other officials want to throw in the towel, to give up, but Jesus shows us what faith can do. Jesus shows us what it means to keep the faith. Jesus shows us that it’s not over till it’s over for the daughter of Jarius and for us too.

When it comes to faith, it’s not too late for us. If you are reading this, it’s not too late for you. God hasn’t given up on us. As far as God is concerned, we are a game tying single away from changing everything and returning to him. 

Maybe you’re thinking, “I am what I am. I can’t change.” Or maybe you often say, “I’m not a religious person, God wouldn’t want me.” Or maybe you’ve thought, “It’s too late for me, I’ve made my decision about faith & God & Catholicism.”  If you’ve thought any of these things or sentiments like them, let me be clear – you’re wrong. 

The game isn’t over yet. You might feel like there are two outs in the bottom of the 9th and you are down 0-2, but know that even by the skinniest of margins, God can save.
More importantly, God desires to save you. God desires to be near to you. God wants you near to him forever in heaven, and it’s not too late. It’s not over yet. 

Live It:
Admit to God in prayer right now, “God, it’s not over, till it’s over. I know you’re not done yet.”

Winners Fail.

March 18th Sunday Readings.

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Winners.

Nobody likes to fail. I don’t know about you, but I want to win every time. My reaction to Olympic events are a good example of this. When Americans won, like Team Shuster – the Men’s Curling team, I was elated and relieved and thought, “Good. Everything is right in the world.” When the Norwegians or Dutch easily captured the gold in a cross country skiing or speed skating event, I wondered what happened to my fellow Americans.

Yet Jesus says in this weekend’s gospel that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus changes the paradigm. No longer is it winners and losers, but those willing to fall and die will bear fruit.

If we want to help others, if we want our friends and family to know the saving love of Jesus, we don’t win them, we die for them. Jesus is clear that the way the victory is won is through self sacrifice. St. John Paul II beautifully said, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.” That sounds like winning to me.

Jesus is clear about one more thing. Jesus is going demonstrate and be the example per-excel-lance of this form of sacrificial love. Jesus will fall like a grain of wheat and die. Through that death will come life for us.

LIVE IT: Holy Week is coming. Start now to think about Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. Remember God wants to do something for you this Easter. Healing, restoration, rest, peace, joy, whatever it is, Jesus wants to give you a tremendous gift this Holy Week and Easter.

Oprah and Purpose

February 4th Sunday Readings.

I don’t hate Oprah. I don’t know her personally and I’m not a disciple of her lifestyle 1*LrhFwqqUEA4Dk4wAerERngempire. The most I’ve encountered Oprah in the last year is when she essentially reported on California mudslides from her backyard and then she told the world she probably wasn’t going to run for president. Maybe I’m not the best kind of person to comment on her but here you go.

Oprah is a tremendous guru. Her ability to lead others, curate a world view, and pass along a particular lifestyle is nearly unmatched. I don’t follow her or know what she says, but even I have had a passing interest in her “favorite things” and her book list because they usually contain something that would make the kind of life I lead more interesting, easy, or fun. Oprah’s purpose is help others lead a comfortable life.

In the gospel this Sunday, we hear Jesus say, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Jesus states that his purpose is to preach. What Jesus is preaching is the good news that God loves us so much he would do anything to bring us back into intimate relationship. Jesus’ ultimate act of preaching was his death on the cross and his resurrection. In his death and resurrection, Jesus doesn’t just tells us that God loves us, Jesus preaches that to die for other is love. Through the resurrection, Jesus teaches that the only way to live is to die. Jesus’ purpose is to preach that if we die to self and follow him, we will be saved from death itself.

Oprah and other gurus teach their followers how to live. Jesus teaches us how to die. Jesus teaches us how to die to self and that only in dying to self can we truly live and truly love. Jesus teaches us how to love and how to receive the perfect love of God. This is an entirely different mission than any other guru.

What is your purpose? Who do you receive your mission from? Everyday we wake up and make the decision between whether we want to live for self or die to self. Everyday we wake up and reset our purpose, our mission. Jesus’ mission wasn’t to help us live a comfortable life, but to help us survive death. That same mission, to preach the good news, Jesus left for the Church – to you and me. Will you make Jesus’ mission your mission? What is your purpose?

LIVE IT:
Are you living on purpose? Take 5 minutes and quick write a short statement of your purpose in life. Don’t over think it. Then examines your life up and against that purpose statement. What needs to change?

 

Minnesota Nice?

April 2nd Sunday Readings.

Last week, I got flipped off while driving . I had moved into a turn lane to make a left at a stop light when a TruckCensoredlarge heating and air conditioning truck swerved into the turn lane. I clomped on my breaks and gave a little “honk honk” with my horn to let the driver know I was there and to avoid an accident. I didn’t lay on the horn angrily or scream – just a little, “maybe you can’t see me, fyi, I am here” kind of a honk.

The fellow Minnesotan driving the truck looked at me through his side mirror and proceeded to let me know that I was #1 in his book. This didn’t seem very Minnesota nice. Nor is it wise since his company’s name and phone number were painted on the side of his truck.

To further compound this awkward exchange, we were both heading to Menard’s and pulled into the parking lot at the same time. In a true act of Minnesota nice, we both avoided each other on our way into and while shopping at the home improvement store.

Minnesota has this reputation of being full of nice people. For the most part, this is true. When I told my wife the story of my morning, she responded that it wasn’t Minnesota nice to honk at the other driver in the first place, even if it did prevent an accident. Which made me wonder, is “nice” always good?

Sometimes we use the word nice when really we mean kind or generous or charitable. If those are the kinds of things we mean when we say nice, then by all means, be nice. But I don’t think that Jesus Christ left heaven, came to earth, suffered, and died on a cross just so that we would become irrationally polite.

Our readings for this Sunday teach us that Jesus’ mission was not to make mean people, nice, but to make dead people, live.

In the first reading God says through the prophet Isaiah, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” In the second reading Paul writes to the Romans, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” And the gospel is the beautiful story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

If Jesus didn’t come to make us nice, but to make the dead, live, then the question we need to ask ourselves when we lay our heads on our pillows each night is not, “Was I nice?” but instead we should ask, “Was I fully alive today?”

Man-Fully-AliveIs being kind, generous, and charitable part of being fully alive? Yes. Is being nice our sole goal each day? No. Being alive in Christ is our #1 priority and purpose each day. Are you alive?

 

LIVE IT:
Right now – Take 3 huge breathes and let the air slowly out of your lungs. Feel what it feels like to be alive. Now make a plan for something you are going to do tomorrow to be more alive than you were today.