Bless this Mess. (I can’t see.)

The other day my wife said, “I think I sleep better when our bedroom is picked up. You know, nice and tidy and clean.” 

This mystified me. I honestly can’t understand this at all. When I am laying down with the lights out and my eyes closed, I don’t see the mess at all. Even if I open my eyes, I have to lean over the side of the bed to see the pile of clothes or books or whatever. 

Having said that, I totally believe her. I have no doubt she does sleep better when things are picked up. My wife has always been able to see things I can’t. Whether it is a mess, dust, or the winter hat that no one else can find, my wife has super vision for certain things. 

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus explains that at the end those who help the least and most vulnerable will be saved. Those who don’t help, will not. The funny thing is that neither those who helped and were saved, nor those who didn’t help and were damned saw Jesus in the poorest of the poor. They both lacked vision. 

When I sat down to reflect on this scripture, I thought I was going to write about how we must be able to see Jesus in the poor and marginalized. We have to be able to see Jesus in unexpected places in the same way my wife sees messes. We have to have super powered vision. 

But that isn’t what this gospel says. No, instead of super vision, we just have to have super willingness. We don’t have to perfectly see Jesus in every homeless person we meet. No, we just have to be willing to help. We don’t have to see Jesus in the hardened criminal in prison, we just have to be willing to visit him. We don’t have to see Jesus in the lonely dementia patient, we just have to be willing to call them. We don’t have to see Jesus in any of the people who have been pushed to the side and how are impoverished, we just have to be willing to love them. 

You don’t have to have super powers to love Jesus well. You don’t have to have super vision to see Jesus in unexpected people. You just have to do it. 

Loving Jesus isn’t a matter of ability. It all comes down to willingness. Are you willing to love the poor and vulnerable? Are you willing to love even when it is difficult? Are willing to love people who don’t deserve it? No matter what your answer is, talk to Jesus about it. 

LIVE IT: Are you willing, but don’t know how? Find a food shelf and bring an extra bag of groceries to them. I guarantee it will help someone. At HNOJ you can support IOCP (and find out more about IOCP) by clicking here.

Readings for Sunday November 22nd, 2020.

Simple.

In a popular TV comedy one female character is remarking about the male character that she is romantically entangled with by saying, “(He) is the most complicated man that I’ve ever met. I mean, who says exactly what they’re thinking? What kind of game is that?” We live in a world so used to misdirection and filtered conversation that to encounter someone who actually says what they are thinking can be startling.

In the gospel this weekend, a scholar of the law asks Jesus a simple question, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?” He isn’t trying to trick Jesus, but is testing to see if Jesus knows the answer.

Jesus responds by reciting the Shema, a Jewish law found in Deuteronomy. Then he adds the law of love for others. What is the greatest law? Love God. Love others. Love well. 

Jesus doesn’t mince words or talk about how this may be interpreted. No, the law of God is straightforward and simple. Love. 

We struggle with this in three ways. First, we often get the word love wrong. In English we use the word love to mean a number of different emotions, behaviors, and attitudes. In the last week I’ve said I love pizza and I love my wife. I do not love them in the same way. I think it’s helpful to understand the Greek word for love that is used by Jesus here. 

Agape is a self sacrificial love. It is a self giving love. This is love that wills the good of the other. It isn’t affection, friendship, or romantic love (though they can and should have forms of Agape within their practice). What kind of love should we have for God? One that put’s God’s will above our own. What kind of love should we have for others? The kind of love that wants what is best for them even if it is difficult for us.

Second, we tend to complicate things when they seem simple. It’s as if we say, “Well, that can’t be all there is. It must be more complicated than that.” And then we go and muddy the waters of the commandment. We rationalize and theorize the kind of behavior we would prefer rather than what Jesus prescribes.

Third, the command is simple, but follow through on it is challenging. Even if we know, we fail to do it. It’s hard to make a gift of self to someone else. Love is costly. To love someone else costs us greatly and to love God costs us everything.

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not we are going to seek to follow Jesus’s simple command to love God and love others? Once we make that decision, now comes the work of loving well. 

LIVE IT: Double challenge this week. You can do this for a person or for God.  First, tell someone you love them. Stop them, look them in the eye and tell them. Second, show them that you love them. 

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.

Judgemental

I made fajitas the other night and they were delicious. Marinated, grilled skirt steak. Cast iron peppers and onions. Tortillas warmed on the grill. Fresh Pico de Gallo and Guacamole to top things off. Shared on a warm night with a slight breeze on a table set up in the shade of a tree in our beautiful backyard. It was nearly perfect. 

To name the food and atmosphere and company as enjoyable and good is to make a judgement. I made a judgement as to whether the food was delicious or not. I judged the weather and the shade and the table we ate on. I judged the company. I made judgements about the pleasurable aspects of my evening and judged it to be good. 

We live in a time when being judgmental has been seen as negative. I have worked on trying to be less judgmental. But the gospel this Sunday challenged this negative view of judgement. I am convinced that judging things is actually a good and necessary thing. We should be judgmental. Let me explain. 

Judging things keeps us safe. In the gospel, Jesus tells a parable of the farmer who plants good wheat, but an enemy sows weeds in the same field and they both grow up together. The weed that Jesus is describing is called darnel. When it is young, it looks just like wheat. It is difficult to distinguish the two. As it grows it wraps its roots around other plants. To pull up darnel would be to pull up other crops.

Also, it’s deadly poisonous. The farmer and his servants have to judge the difference between darnel and wheat if they don’t want to be poisoned. If we want to live, we have to make judgements between what is harmful to us and what is good for us. 

Only when we judge do we appreciate. We aren’t grateful for the wheat, the good things, in our lives if we don’t judge them as good. How do we know that Fajitas are good or bad? We judge them. We don’t know that something is Beautiful, Good, or True unless we make an assessment. 

While the gospel may give us good reason to judge, it also comes with clear warning about judgement. We can judge behaviors, material goods, or beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we should judge people. In the gospel, the harvester and the farmer judge the weeds from the wheat, but the farmer tells the slaves not to pull the weeds until harvest time.

To that end, it’s not our job to judge people. It isn’t the right time. God waits to judge people until their deaths and the end of time because he wants to give each of us every single opportunity to change. I don’t know about you, but I appreciate the time. I need it. 

Whenever we judge people we do it on way too little information. We are poor judges of the human heart because we just can’t know all the information we would need to make a sound judgement.

Also, we shouldn’t judge people because we often base that judgement off of the wrong or incomplete information. It is like judging whether the fajitas are good based on the shape of the pasture where the cow who became our meal grazed in. Not enough and wrong information to make a judgement. 

We should be judgmental. We judge to avoid evil and to choose good. How?

The judge of judgement should always be love. 

If we judge with anything other than love as our guiding principle, we will fail to judge well. God’s judgement and God’s love aren’t opposing forces, but in fact they work for the same end – our intimate and ultimate union with God forever. 

Live It: Next time you encounter someone, whether you know them well or not, use your power of judgement to ask this question, “What can I do to love this person well right now?”

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.

Enough Ice Cream

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Have you ever been to Nelson’s ice cream? I went to the St. Paul location a couple years ago. A friend of mine, Kory, and I went together. It was my first time, but not his. Kory and I both enjoy our ice cream and have been known to put away our fair share. So I was shocked when on our way in he asked, “Do you want to share a child’s size?”
What? First of all, I don’t want to share at all and much less the “child’s size.” I couldn’t believe he asked. That was until we walked inside and saw what Nelson’s calls the child’s size. If you don’t know, a child size at Nelson’s is like 10 heaping scoops of delicious, rich ice cream. I couldn’t believe it. I half expected Kory to look at me and ask, “Is that enough ice cream?” I finished mine and enjoyed every bite, but didn’t feel good about the decision later.
The word “enough” is a funny description. Enough seems to be predicated on our personal preference. What my wife and I think is enough ice cream is very very different. When I tell my 2 year old that he has banged his fork on the table enough times, he rarely agrees.
In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus is preaching to his disciples and assuring them that he will be going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house. All they must do is follow his way. Thomas questions whether they know the way and Jesus emphatically tells them that Jesus himself is the way. Then Philip puts out a condition, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus admonishes him. Jesus says you already know the Father because you know him. Jesus and Father are one and the same.
The issue here, beyond Philip and the other disciples seemingly lack of understanding, is  that they are putting one more condition on Jesus. It’s akin to saying if you just do one more thing, then we will believe. Even in the context of the story, it seems rude. Jesus has preached with authority like no other man. Jesus has multiplied the loaves. Jesus has healed the lame and leper. Jesus has forgiven sins. By all accounts, Jesus has done enough. Yet, the disciples still ask.
One question this reading asks of us is, “has Jesus done enough for you and I to believe?” Are His miracles, preaching teaching, and promises enough for us to lay our lives down before Him forever? How about His resurrection? What would be enough?
Yet maybe this isn’t the right question. We aren’t asking about a business transaction – Jesus proves himself and we assent to His divinity. We are talking about love relationship. Jesus is inviting us into a deeply loving relationship that could last the rest of our existence. When it comes to love, the word “enough” doesn’t enter into the equation. We love by choice and by action. After all, Jesus loves us when we aren’t enough.
LIVE IT: Journal for 5 minutes even if it is just bullet points. Answer the following questions, 1) Has Jesus done enough to earn me? 2) Do I love Jesus?

Sunday Readings for May 10th 2020.

Why?

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In times of great suffering it is common to wonder, “Why is this happening to us?” It’s a question that at its core is asking, “Why do I have to suffer?” I have been asking this question a lot in these days. Rather than settling on a perfect or definitive answer, I’ve been left holding the question in my hands. 

The good news is that the scriptures we read or hear at Mass this Sunday give us a little help with the answer. We’ll find some meaning in these scriptures because the reason we suffer is intimately tied to the answer to the question, “Why did Jesus have to suffer?”

In the gospel this weekend, we hear the familiar story of the road to Emmaus. Two characters are leaving Jerusalem to return home after Jesus’ death. When they meet a stranger along the road, who asks the travelers what they are talking about, they say, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.” Jesus then calls them fools and explains the events.

For me the phrase that gets me is when the two travelers say “The things that happened to Jesus…” Certainly Jesus suffered and was killed and those events happened to him, but the way it is phrased, clearly missed the point that Jesus choose his path. Jesus wasn’t a helpless victim, but glorious sacrificial victim. He suffered and died because that was the way to accomplish his mission to save humanity from death and sin. 

This gospel is from Luke, but in John’s gospel, Jesus always seems to be in control. The things that happen to him happen because he ultimately wants to accomplish his mission of love. Certainly Jesus asked for the cup to pass, and then he submitted to God’s will. Maybe he didn’t desire the cross, but he absolutely embraced it. Jesus’ desire was for love and a suffering sacrifice was the only way to love enough.

None of us would choose suffering for ourselves or our loved ones. Love requires sacrifice which often means suffering. We see it in small ways like doing the dishes when it is our spouse’s turn. And we see it big ways when someone sacrifices their life to save another. 

The suffering that we are experiencing doesn’t make sense unless we unite it with the suffering of Jesus Christ. Unless we offer it up to him and embrace it so that others might be loved, we might just think it is all meaningless. 

So what do we do in the face of great suffering? Love. I know that seems overly simplistic and trite, but it is the right answer. It has always been the right answer from the beginning of time and no one teaches us that more than Jesus Christ. 

When correcting the two travelers Jesus says, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Our salvation was dependent upon it. Now we can follow in Jesus’ example, and sacrifice, maybe even suffer, so that others might know love. 

LIVE IT: When it comes to loving the first battle ground is our own heart. This doesn’t mean just be nice to yourself, but instead it means sacrificing something so that you get what you really need – Jesus. While the world is upside down, find 10-15 minutes extra each day when you can give up what you would normally be doing in order to listen to Jesus. Speak his name and sit in silence. BONUS: Show your family you love them this week. If they are the only people you see, they are the people you are being called to love well. 

Absolutely Perfect.

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Two kinds of people inhabit this big blue marble we call home – those who love the Olympics and those who don’t. I for one love the olympics. The grandeur and spectacle of the opening ceremonies. The triumph on the faces of the athlete replete with medals. The agony of the defeat of those who get edged out into 4th place. The celebration of the unlikeliest athletes from the unlikeliest countries just competing at all. It all is exciting to me. 

I much prefer the timed competitions, but there is something exciting about the judged sports like figure skating, gymnastics or diving. That moment when the culmination of years of work has just completed and the athlete is awaiting their scores – wow, high drama. It doesn’t happen often, but when the judges deem that performance to be perfect – exhilaration. 

While perfection is something we think we know and experience in this life, it is quite rare. The perfect morning, the perfect cup of coffee, the perfect kiss – we may say these things, but how do we judge something is perfect. Is it perfect until something better comes along? By perfect do we mean that it couldn’t be improved? How do we know?

That is why this gospel is so difficult to get our arms around. Jesus preaches about our need as his followers to no longer seek to fulfill the bare minimum of the law, but to seek the law’s radical and greatest expression. In the end Jesus says, “So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Does this seem impossible? I feel totally ill equipped to be perfect. Nothing in my life feels perfect. How am I supposed to be perfect?

In praying with this scripture I found some direction in the second half of the directive, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How is God perfect? Of course we could say he is perfect in every way. But I think Jesus is trying to say something specific. 

God is perfect in his LOVE. Each person of our triune God loves the others perfectly. That love spills out into creation and God loves his creation perfectly. God loves us so much that he sacrificed his only son to save us from death. God loves us perfectly. 

If we are trying to be perfect as God is perfect. We must try to love perfectly. The kind of love we are talking about is the love that we choose. It is self-gift. It is the kind of love that is self sacrifice. This is the love that Jesus had for us when he died on the cross. This love is divine love. Since you and I are made in the image and likeness of God, we were made to love in this way. It is the love that God can perfect in us. How should we be perfect? We must seek to love perfectly. 

LIVE IT: Take out your phone and set a reminder for right after your alarm goes off in the morning – ask God to help you love perfectly that day and to give you opportunities to love someone else. Then prepare yourself to love and be giving the chance to love. 

Sunday Reading for February 23rd, 2020.

BONUS: Apathy is death

nadine-shaabana-s0uqGHl2DTg-unsplash.jpgSunday Readings for Dec 1st, 2019 –

BONUS because I didn’t get this written or published last week. So here she is, out of order, short, and doubled up. 

What’s the opposite of love? Some people would say that hate is the opposite of love. However if you truly hold hot-burning hate for something it is likely because of your love for something else. Some say the opposite of love is selfishness and that might be a little closer to the answer. You could say selfishness is inappropriate or poorly executed love of self.

For me the opposite of love is apathy. If love moves us to act, to sacrifice for someone else, apathy is the not caring enough to move.

In the gospel from Dec 1st, 2019, Jesus explains to his disciples that most people are apathetic towards the coming of a Messiah. People will go about their daily business without a thought to the end of things for their end in particular. 

Love for God isn’t just a feeling or an openness to God. Love for God is an active movement towards doing God’s will and preparing for his coming. 

Our love for God can be measured in what we are willing to do, change, prepare, sacrifice, or offer to and for him. Love is an action. If want to love God, we won’t be apathetic to his return, but instead actively seeking to prepare our lives and our hearts for his coming. 

The other option is death. God, love is life. Apathy is death.

Live It: Throw something away that keeps you from God. Make a decision and get rid of it. Doesn’t matter what it is as long as removing it will help you get closer to God. 

 

Anxiety Kills Joy.

May 6th Sunday Readings.

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep? When this Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.17.00 PMhappens to me, it is because I am anxious. Sometimes I am anxious about some mistake, misstep, or sin I can’t do anything about but haven’t really forgiven myself for. I think back to the moment of my miscue and shutter with disappointment.

More often my anxiety is about something that is coming up. It’s as if I know I should be doing something about the upcoming event or tough decision or difficult conversation, but instead of doing something constructive, I worry. 

I know that neither of these are logical or healthy, but sometimes it feels like I can’t help it. When I’m anxious, I don’t make good decisions. When I am anxious, I don’t eat well or take care of myself. When I am anxious, prayer seems nearly impossible. 

I think that anxiety is the enemy of joy. Some may say that sadness is the opposite of joy, but that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve been joyful and grateful and weeping for sadness all that the same time. No, it is anxiety that steals my joy. 

In the gospel, Jesus invites us not just to be joyful, but to have joy that is complete! What an amazing promise that if we remain in God’s love, we will have complete joy. If anxiety is keeping us from having complete joy, we need an antidote for anxiety. 

In the gospel, we are given the antidote to anxiety – Jesus himself. Okay, I know, that seems pretty obvious, but Jesus outlines three specific ways to have complete joy.

  1. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…” First, Jesus says if we keep his commandments, then we remain in his love. How do we avoid anxiety? Remain in Jesus’ love. How do we remain in his love? Keep his commandments. St. Paul says the wages of sin is death. Anxiety is death to joy. How do you give life to joy? Keep his commandments. Do what Jesus says and we will find joy. 
  2. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” We remain in Jesus love when we love others the way that Jesus loves us – by laying down our lives for others. Joy is given birth through selfless love. When we pour ourselves out for others, then we will find joy. Selfishness will lead to anxiety and death. However if we love someone by sacrificing for them, we will find authentic joy.
  3. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” Remember God has chosen us. We can be confident that God has called us to love self sacrificially and that we are called to cultivate that love until it bears fruit. Authentic discernment is a good thing, but often we get caught in a cycle of uncertainty and self doubt robbing us of our calling and leading us to anxiety. When we don’t act with the confidence of someone chosen by God (which we have been), we can’t be joyful. We can be humble and confident, because we have been chosen by God. 

Don’t let anxiety steal your joy! Remain in God’s love by keeping the commandments. Love others self sacrificially to love like Jesus. Remember that God has chosen you to bear fruit in the world. Be joyful!

Live It:
Smile. Chosen a day in the next week to smile at people without cause. See what happens. Thank God for joy!

* * *

PS – One last thing here. The kind of anxiety that I am writing about is regular run of the mill worries and everyday frets. If someone is struggling with more significant anxiety and maybe even feeling anxious to the point of changes in eating or sleeping, loosing interest in work or hobbies, or major shifts in relationships, then a conversation with a professional may be something worth looking into.