Justice for All (as long as it’s not me).

Justice is sweet. When I am driving down the highway and someone cuts me off or blows past me driving erratically with no concern for their speed or safety, it is pretty awesome when, a couple miles down the road, I see them pulled over by law enforcement. We all love justice when it is happening to someone else. We want people to get what they deserve. 

When it is us, well, we love mercy. We desire leniency. We want to scoot by and maybe even get a free pass. 

In the gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” Where I work and the community I live in is a place of wealth. Our neighborhoods our comfortable, our schools are excellent, and we have an abundance of natural beauty. Targets and coffee shops on every corner – you get the idea.

When Jesus says it is difficult for those with wealth to go to heaven, he is talking about us. 

This statement is radical and, in the first century, was subversive. Jesus was saying those who have wealth aren’t blessed but, in fact, will have trouble being close to God. That is the exact opposite of the first century notion of blessedness. In the first century mind, those with financial, physical, familial health are the blessed. Those who are poor, sick, and broken are cursed. Whether we want to believe it or not, we certainly behave the same way today. The “haves” are blessed, the “have nots” are cursed. 

Jesus contradicts this conventional thought. The disciples were shocked and go on to ask if even the most well off struggle to get into heaven, who can make it? This is when Jesus drops truth that is both hard to hear and hopeful. No one can earn heaven. No one is good enough. No one can make it on their own. BUT for God nothing is impossible. 

This is what takes this message about justice and makes it a message about mercy. While no one is worthy of salvation, God can overcome the impossible and bring us to heaven with him forever. Wow, this is awesome and radical. You aren’t good enough and God still wants you. You can’t earn heaven, but Jesus would die to get you there.

LIVE IT: While we can’t earn heaven, when we try to get close to Jesus by sacrificing things of this world, Jesus tells us we will be rewarded. Make a small sacrifice this week (one cold shower, no phone use one day, no shopping on Sunday, whatever you want), and ofter that sacrifice up to God. 

Sunday Readings for October 10, 2021.

We forgot how to Feast.

A friend of mine married into a wealthy family. His wedding day was 100% a feast. After Mass there was a garden party with served hors d’oeuvres and toasts of champaign. A cocktail hour followed with a buffet of appetizers which flowed into a seven course dinner with poured soup and perfect medium rare file mignon. Then we indulged in an incredibly moist and rich chocolate wedding cake. Just as I started to get hungry at 11 pm, huge trays of hamburgers and milk shakes were made available. We experienced a full on wedding banquet feast. 

I think we mostly don’t know what it is like to feast. Maybe that is because we don’t fast very well. There aren’t many days when I don’t get to eat something I enjoy much less a day I don’t get to eat enough. I don’t experience physical hunger very often. So something really has to be over the top for it to be considered a feast. 

To that end, partially because we don’t feast well, I don’t think we celebrate very well. We have few examples in our lives of true festival. While we might still celebrate holidays when they serve the consumer culture, we don’t throw festivals like we used to. We rarely gather with the larger community for true festival celebration.

Not knowing how to feast and not being good at fully engaging in festivals hurts our ability to look forward to and desire heaven. Heaven is a feast. Heaven is a festival. Heaven is a party that we never get tired of. Like any party, we receive an invitation to heaven and are expected to respond in some way.

How do you respond to an invitation to attend a feast, a festival? Sometimes we’re excited to go, but more often we kind of hem and haw as to whether we will attend. Imagine some getting the invitation to heaven but saying, “I’d like to go, but you know it is just going to be so busy. I don’t really know what the food is going to be like. I’m not sure I’m going to know anyone there. I mean, it sounds good, but I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll make an appearance and then get out quick. Then again, I’d have to get ready all over again. I’m not sure it’s worth the effort and I’m already in my comfy clothes. Maybe I’ll just stay home.” Sound familiar? 

While we should respond to any invitation with a yes or no, sometimes we don’t respond at all. Turns out, no response is a response.

In the gospel Jesus tells the story of a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son. The people originally invited all bail on the feast for practical reasons. So the king sent his servants out onto the road ways and invites whomever hey can find to come to the banquet.

The question this parable asks of each of us is whether we have accepted God’s invitation to dine with him. In other words, do you want to go to heaven? 

Will you accept Christ the King’s invitation to the greatest, grandest, most fulfilling of banquets. If the answer is yes, what do you have to do to get ready to attend? At the end of the parable Jesus explains that the king comes across a guest who isn’t wearing the formal wedding attire. In other words that guest wasn’t ready to feast! What do you need to get ready in your life in order to attend the banquet? What do you need to do to prepare for the feast?

LIVE IT: Take out a piece of paper, any scratch paper will do. Write out the words, “I accept.” Now post this paper somewhere you will see it everyday. Every time you see it simply prayer, “God I accept your invitation to a heavenly feast.” Pray it until it becomes 2nd nature. 

Sunday Readings for Oct. 11th, 2020.

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.

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. 

Better than cake. The Good Word for Oct. 11

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For the complete Sunday readings click here.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too!” As a kid, I never understood that bit of wisdom. I was always like, “Isn’t ‘having’ cake, just eating cake?” When I got a little older I heard people say, “Well, isn’t that just too pretty to eat.” I didn’t understand that either. No food is so pretty that I don’t want to eat it. It’s food. I guess I’m weird that way.

What both of those sentiments is getting at is that sometimes in life we can’t have things both ways. We can’t hold on to and admire a well-decorated cake and cut it too. It’s like when the Cake Boss yells, “Let’s eat some cake!” and then cuts into this momentous creation that he spent 150 hours decorating. At some point you have to decide if the thing is visual art or particularly beautiful food.

I heard a priest once preach that before about 100 years ago the plural form of the word, “priority,” rarely, if ever appeared in print. The reason being that the very definition of the word priority is “one thing before all else.” A priority refers to the thing that we but before everything else in our lives. In this way, saying that we have priorities doesn’t actually make much sense.

In our gospel today Jesus reminds the man in the story, and all of us, that if we want to be happy and holy and healthy we can have just one priority – an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. No rules will save us. No amount of money can redeem us. Nothing other than following Jesus Christ should be our #1.

Our current culture says that we can have multiple priorities – many first things. We are told we can be young and rich and beautiful and old and have a family and uber educated and powerful and good and selfish and relaxed and stressed and 1000 other things. We can have our cake and eat it and everything else too. The gospel reminds we that every day we make a decision what our #1 priority is. The rich young man goes away sad because he decided his wealth was his priority.

The thing is, every day we choose, whether we do it on purpose or not, what our priority is going to be. Wherever we spend our life, whatever gets our attention and focus, and what we spend our money on demonstrates what our priority is. This is hard to think about because it shows that most of us either have chosen poorly our priority or aren’t very good at living our what we wish our priority was. Even the disciples are discouraged by Jesus’ teaching priorities and heaven and then spend all their time following Jesus around.

The good news comes at the end of the reading. Jesus reminds us that though we will have to give up everything else in our life in order to make Jesus Christ our priority, the reward is no less than 100 times our investment. No matter what we sacrifice to follow Jesus, it will be worth it. God is never outdone in his generosity and will multiply any gift we give him.

Live It:
Take a peak at your bank statement. Based on where you spent your money, what is your priority? What is important to you and your family? Do you intentionally live with a priority in mind? Explain.