A Tip or Trick that Works.

I’m a sucker for a tip or trick. When I see a link from a DIY magazine and the article is titled, “21 Tips and Tricks to Keep your Garage Clean,” or “13 Tips and Tricks for a Healthy Lawn,” I can’t help but click. 

The worst is when those titles are just click bait and the tips and tricks don’t work or are unrealistic. When I find that gem of an idea, go try it, and it works, oh the glory! When I find a tip or trick that actually works, it can make the difference. 

In the gospel this Sunday we read about Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus brings his executive committee of Peter, James, and John up a mountain, and before them he is transformed. How so? He was radiant. So white, no one on earth could have bleached his clothing to that shine. With him was Moses representing the law and Elijah representing the prophets of the Old Testament. It was a sight no human had seen to this point in history. But they would see it again. 

The Transfiguration is a prefiguring, a taste of the resurrection. It is a glimpse into the future reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter’s natural inclination is to want to erect tents and stay on the mountaintop because he understandably wants to stay in the goodness of the resurrection. Of course they must go down the mountain and complete the mission. 

The transfiguration is a reminder to us now and to the disciples then that Jesus accomplished what he came to do. The death and resurrection of Jesus works. Christianity works. God saves us. Jesus’ mission was and is a success. When we read the account of the resurrection, we are reminded that Jesus saves and the result of that salvation is glorious. 

In the midst of our daily grind and the ups and downs of our faith it can be hard to keep the goal in the forefront of our minds. The transfiguration is a glimpse into the goal that has been and will be accomplished – our resurrection. 

LIVE IT: Here are 5 Tips and Tricks for a more fulfilling faith journey. No seriously, check out this new initiative called the Synod at Home from my Archdiocese. It is a plan for families, individuals, couples, whoever, to make a faith plan for their household. It is simple in it’s idea, but seemingly effective. It’s full of Tips and Tricks. 

Sunday Readings for February 28th, 2021.

When the Desert is Good.

I was shocked to recently learn that the largest desert in the world is the Antarctic Desert. Yes, like the south pole and all that. The 2nd largest is the Arctic Desert (aka where Santa lives). They qualify as a deserts because they get less than 10 inches of precipitation each year. Usually when I think of a desert I think of sand, cactus, and tumble weeds. But the largest deserts in the world are full of ice, wind swept rocks (no sand), and are cold. 

Whether the frigid polar deserts or the sand dunes of the Sahara, deserts are not comfortable places. Typically people who are caught in a desert want to get out as soon as possible. In movies when someone is caught in a desert, they are shown trying to walk out as soon as possible. We even use the metaphor of the desert to describe unhappy or uncomfortable times in our lives and in our faith. 

So it is a bit shocking in the gospel this Sunday when we read that, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert…” Capital “S” Spirit. It is the very Spirit of God that drives Jesus into the desert. In the desert Jesus will be tempted and tried by the devil. Jesus will suffer and sacrifice for 40 days while in the desert. Yet this is all part of God’s plan. God chose for Jesus to be put into a deserted place and to be subjected to temptations from Satan. 

The thing is Jesus doesn’t run from the desert. Jesus could have walked out in 40 days. Jesus didn’t flee from God’s will even when it was uncomfortable and challenging. Jesus even allowed himself to be challenged by his enemy in that place.

I think this teaches us something about the role of desert in our life and how we should respond to it. First we shouldn’t flee. When we encounter hardship and dry times in our life, we may be tempted to flee from them. This may lead us to seek comfort in the world. Instead, I think the answer is to be still. Rather than run, we should quiet our hearts and minds and be still right where we are. This will allow God to find us. This puts us in the place to experience what God wills for us in the desert. It also demonstrates that we trust God. If God wills a desert time, then show we trust God by leaning into it instead of running from it. 

Secondly, when we encounter a desert period in our life, we should be bold. When Jesus does leave the desert following the arrest of John the baptist, he begins to boldly proclaim his role and mission in the world. Jesus comes to call us to repent, join the movement of the Kingdom of God, and boldly believe in the good news that Jesus is here to save us from death. Whatever reason the Spirit of God has for driving us into the desert, we are being formed to go and boldly proclaim the good news that Jesus is Lord. 

If the desert is ultimately a gift from God to form us into courageous sons and daughter in faith, then when we experience it, we must be still and when we exit, be bold. 

Live It: Take out our phone, open whatever calendar app you use, and schedule a 30 minute meeting with you a God for sometime this week. During that time, sit in silence, be still, and wait for God to speak to you. Make some intentional desert time this week. (If you haven’t figured out what you are doing for Lent this year, maybe commit to this once a week or 15-20 mins a day?)

Sunday Readings for February 21st, 2021.

Hyper Critical to Well Pleased

When was the last time you were a jerk? Maybe your answer is never because you are good and pure. For me, it was probably right before I wrote this sentence. My primary mode for jerkiness is being hyper critical. On the one hand, if one isn’t critical at all they may lead a pretty mediocre life. If all is good and fine, then it seems that noting is excellent. On the other hand, being hyper critical can lead to radical dissatisfaction and a fore mentioned jerkiness. 

While being hyper critical can weed out the hidden broken and soiled aspects of anything, being hyper critical also tends to find something wrong with everything. 

I think many modern folks tend towards being hyper critical. It seems to show sophistication to disapprove and disparage everything. To be critical is one of the ways modern people seem to show care, as in, “I care enough about this thing to criticize it.” Food critics hate most food it seems. Movie Critics hate most movies. Sports Talk radio is mostly ripping the local squad. It’s almost as if the only way we know how to engage with something is to criticize it. 

In the gospel we hear about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. The heavens open, a dove descends upon Jesus, and the voice of God himself says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 

Well pleased. 

When was the last time you were well pleased? Maybe the answer is all the time because your life is perfect, but I’m guessing not. God is well pleased, I think, for two reasons. First of all, God is talking about Jesus. Jesus is perfect. Jesus is holy. Jesus is about to embark on the rescue mission of preaching, healing, and saving. God is well please because Jesus is obedient and submitting for the work he was brought into this world to do. 

Secondly, God says this because he is God. God isn’t hyper critical. God is hyper forgiving. God is hyper healing. God is hyper patient. God is hyper loving. Yes, of course, we can be critical of things we love, but the way I think most of us are critical is not done with the kind of love that God has for us. No, God is well pleased with Jesus because God is God. 

While none of us are Jesus and don’t deserve the praise Jesus received in the gospel, the God who was well please with Jesus is the same God who loves you and me. God was well please with you at your baptism as well. God loves you and can’t wait for every moment he gets to pour love and grace upon you. God wants to be well pleased with you and I every single day we take breath. By our Baptisms, may we be saved and may we hear God say to us, “This is my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.” 

Sunday Readings for January 10th. 2021.

9 ways to be Happy

A quick glance at the magazine covers at the grocery store or a couple minutes scrolling through social media and you will see a lot of people who promise to make you happy. Whether it is by eating the right food, working out in the right way, having the best sex, doing the best hobby, believing the right things, or even just by buying the right magazine, the headlines or clickbait all promise happiness. 

Whether we want to admit it or not most of our human behavior is guided by a desire to be happy. Why do we cut our hair this way or that way? Because we think it will make us happy. Why do we get married to the person we marry? We think it will make us happy. Small things or big things, we often choose them because of our innate desire for happiness. 

This isn’t necessarily bad. God made us to desire happiness. The thing is that we can’t and won’t find true, lasting, real happiness here on earth. C. S. Lewis said it this way, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” 

When Jesus preaches on the mountain top, he does the same thing that the supermarket magazines do, “If you want to me happy….” (What? The Savior of mankind can’t be good at marketing?)

Yes the beatitudes we read about this Sunday are a list of “if you want to be happy…” statements. The word translated as “Blessed” is Beatiudo, which is where we get name beatitudes. Ultimately, Jesus are saying, those who are __________ are happy, fortunate, or content.

What’s puzzling about Jesus’ preaching is that the things he promises will make us happy don’t seem very attractive. If you asked one of your kids how they were doing and they said, “Well I’m feeling pretty poor in spirit, sad, and meek. I wish the world was better than it is. I want to be merciful and have a clean heart and to be a peacemaker. I’m being bullied at school because I want to do the right thing and you should hear the things people say about me.” We wouldn’t instantly think that our kids are happy. Right?

Understanding what Jesus means by “happy” can help put together this puzzle. The original word in Greek that Jesus uses here is makarios which means good fortunate, happy, blessed. Jesus didn’t use eftihismenon which means blissful, feeling good. Jesus doesn’t promise pleasant feelings, but promises goodness. The things that will make us good and put us in a fortunate situation might not bring us blissful feelings. 

Another way to answer the seeming dissonance between happiness and suffering is that God’s goal for us often isn’t the same goal we seek when we want to be happy. If we seek happiness we will likely be left unsatisfied because we are bad at knowing what will make us happy and often follow the path of least resistance instead of the path to happiness. 

Jesus’ promise of happiness is actually a promise of goodness, beauty, and truth. In other words, if you are close to God, you will be happy. If you know God and God knows you, you will be happy. Happy is the one who has an intimate, lived relationship with Jesus Christ. 

LIVE IT: Make 2 lists. List 1 is all the things that make you momentarily, emotionally happy. List 2 are all the things that are good, beautiful, and true in your life. When you pray, pull out each list and thank God for each thing on each list one by one.

It’s Not Fair.

If you are a parent, then it is likely that you’ve heard someone complain that something isn’t fair. If you are parent like me, you’ve heard this phrase yelled at you while one child gestures wildly at another child. I don’t need to explain to you that comparing ourselves to others is a death sentence to loving them well and being happy. If you want to lose your joy, then start comparing yourself to others.

When I would yell at my parents about the fairness of their parenting my younger sister and I, most often their response was, “Fair doesn’t mean equal.” I never liked that answer. I used to think that equal portions, the same rules, etc absolutely means equal, but then I started to say it to my kids and it started to make sense.

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus tells a parable about a man with a vineyard who hires workers throughout the day and at sundown pays them all the same wage. Whether someone worked twelve hours or one hour, they all got a full day’s wage. The workers who worked a full day complain that they didn’t get what they deserved. The vineyard owner explains that they were paid what was promised, which is true. Then he explains that it is his choice if he also decides to pay the partial workers the same amount.

As the person who holds strict rules about standing in line and always returns the shopping cart to the cart corral (yes that is their technical name), I still struggle with this answer. I want to shout at Jesus, “BUT THIS STILL ISN’T FAIR!”And maybe I’m right. Maybe it isn’t fair, but it is love.

God isn’t fair, he is love. He is extraordinary love.

God is wild generosity and total self-gift especially when someone doesn’t deserve it. Who doesn’t deserve a full portion of God’s love? Me. You. All of us. Few of us started working at dawn in the vineyard and none of us have worked perfectly all day long. We don’t deserve the wage God wants to pay us. So who are we in the story? We are the workers who come at midday and the end of the day, and yet because of God’s generosity, we still get a full portion.

What is the wage we are paid? Paul says that the wages of sin is death. So what is our wage for working in the vineyard? Life. The reward at the end of the day of working is a life of eternal bliss with God Almighty! There is no half measure of Heaven. If Heaven is infinite joy and perfect communion with God, then those who receive it won’t have more or less than someone else. There is no comparison in Heaven because everyone there is perfectly satisfied. More and less no longer matter in a state of perfect communion with God. 

Finally, this gospel teaches us that it is never too late to receive that full day’s wage. If you are reading this, but have never committed your life to Jesus Christ, if you are reading this and aren’t in full communion with God, now is the time to reach out and take the job. Say a prayer that puts yourself at God’s mercy and God’s will. No matter how far away you feel. No matter how long you’ve been gone, God will welcome you back with extraordinary love. 

LIVE IT: Tell God you want to work in his vineyard. Actively seek to commit yourself to God. Use whatever words come from you heart. 

Sunday Readings for September 20th, 2020.

Worth it

What is precious to you? We all have something that is precious to us. Something of great value to us. Whatever it is, you probably don’t like when other people touch it or handle it. Maybe you are willing to pay a great deal of money to get or repair it. Maybe it has intrinsic value or maybe it just holds sentimental value to you. 

The word precious comes form the Latin root word pretium. Pretium means price. In other words, whatever is precious to you comes with a great price.

You or I would be willing to pay a great price for that precious item. In the first two parables in this Sunday’s gospel Jesus talks about a treasure buried in a field and a pearl of great price. Both are precious. Jesus describes these hidden things which have incredible worth. The characters the parables sell everything to gain the treasure and the pearl pay a great price. How much is the hidden treasure worth? Everything.

Often we interpret these parables to mean that faith in Jesus, the gospel, is the hidden treasure and we need to sell everything in order to receive the gift. While that is true, I don’t think that is the only way to read these parables. 

The other way to read them is that you and I are the pearl, the treasure. You and I are the thing of immense value. What are we worth to Jesus Christ? Everything.

God is willing to trade it all to gain us. Jesus sold everything he had including his life in order to win us heaven. Jesus sacrificed everything his life, his dignity to bring us home. God values you and me, not because we deserve it, but because we belong to him.

We are hidden treasure. For some of us, the treasure is very hidden. But God knows what and who we really are. We are His. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are baptized sons and daughters of God. We are worth it.

LIVE IT: Take a little reflection time – figure out how much you are worth (like financially). Even if the bank still owns a big portion of your house or car or whatever, add it all up. Would you pay that amount of money to know Jesus? What is God worth to you? Pray in thanksgiving that Jesus gave up infinitely more than that just to win your heart. Thanks be to God!

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.

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.

Paradise

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I distinctly remember watching an 80’s sitcom (though I can’t remember which one) in which a young female character was being wooed by an older man. He kept saying that he had two tickets to paradise if she would trust him. The whole show comes to a head when the female character goes back to this man’s dingy one room apartment where she finds “two tickets to paradise” to be an unnamed pill and vague promises of intimate pleasure. Needless to say, she flees, the man is confronted later, and the whole seen is lesson for us impressionable children of the 80s. 

Yet, I think the lesson is a true one. Again and again we try to find a shortcut to paradise. Maybe it is the obvious substance use, pleasure seeking route. Maybe it is more hidden like avoidance of any pain or suffering. Maybe we think if we are rich or successful or comfortable enough we will make ourselves a heaven on earth. 

The gospel this Sunday is a clear reminder that the one and only way to paradise is Jesus Christ. The only door on the way to heaven is Jesus himself. In some ways, this is bad news for all who try to gain entry to a heavenly experience in some other way. Yet it is very best news for all. It means we know the way to heaven. We know who can open the way and bring us to eternal paradise – Jesus. 

Jesus isn’t only the way to heaven when we die, but is the only way to peace and joy now. Jesus can heal our hurts in a way that no other method or practice can. If another way of healing works it doesn’t work outside of Jesus’ power, but, ultimately, through it. 

How do we enter into the sheep fold? First we have to stop trying to jump over the wall. We must actively and purposefully chose Jesus over what we think is a shortcut. The next step is to trust fully in Jesus as our gate to heaven. Pray and rest in him. Let Jesus heal your brokenness. Make a statement of faith in him. Jesus is the gate. 

Live It: Make a statement of faith. How? It could be as simple as prayerfully repeating a short phrase. Options: “Jesus I trust in you.” “Jesus you are my Lord and my God.” “Jesus I believe, help my unbelief.” Or you could recite the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed. You could also just speak to God from your heart like, “Jesus I give you my life. I trust totally in you. I want to be yours and follow you all the days of my life.” 

Sunday Readings for May 3, 2020. 

Empty Tombs.

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If I close my eyes, I can clearly see the mausoleum where my mom is buried. No matter what time of year it is, I always see it as summer. Her tomb is on the outside of the building facing a large open field and a small wood and creek beyond. The face of her tomb is a beautiful marble or some other stone. 

My dad always does a good job keeping a small floral arrangement that matches the season in the flower vase that sits on the front of her tomb. Of course when I imagine it, it is always the same floral arrangement. In my mind’s eye, it is the one we placed on her tomb the day we placed her remains inside. I would say that I will always see those same flowers on my mothers tomb, but I don’t believe that. 

What I do believe is that there will come a time when those flowers will no longer be necessary. There will come a time when the nameplate on the front of the tomb will be inaccurate. There will come a time when my mom no longer lays in that tomb. I believe Jesus Christ will raise my mom from the dead. I believe at sometime in the future her tomb will be empty just like Jesus’ tomb. 

We are getting ready to celebrate Easter this Sunday when we stand and proclaim that death is not the end. On Easter we ardently proclaim from the rooftops that Jesus has risen from the dead and death is conquered. Mary of Magdala and the Disciples found an empty tomb, and in short order they are going to find a resurrected Lord. Alleluia! 

But the good news doesn’t end there. Yes, Jesus’ tomb was and is empty. Jesus is raised from the dead. Scripture tells us that he is just the first of those who will be raised. Jesus’ death and resurrection means that when we die, we too will be raised. Praise be to God!

St. Paul says it like this in 1 Corinthians, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ…”

Yes I when I close my eyes, I can see how my mom’s tomb is today. When Jesus comes again, her tomb will be empty just as all of ours will be by the grace of God. 

Live It: On Easter Sunday go outside and say out loud (shout, if you dare), “Alleluia! The tomb is empty! Jesus is risen! Alleluia!” 

Sunday Readings for April 12th, 2020.