Each and every one of us

Sunday's Old Testament reading is one of the many (483,923.41 to be exact) passages in the Bible with sheep-related imagery.  Which makes sense, because in Old Testament times, everybody either had sheep or knew somebody who did.

But by Jesus' time, shepherding was done on the margins of society, by people who were often seen as little better than criminals. 

Leading to conversations in the guidance counselor's office at Jerusalem High School like this one:

Counselor: "Thanks for coming in, we've got the results from your son's career aptitude test.  Based on his scores, it looks like he’s well-suited for a career in piracy or grave-robbing, or as a shepherd."

Mom and Dad: "Wait, what?"

Counselor: "On the plus side, you won't have to worry about paying for college..."

When you hear all of the shepherd stuff on Sunday, think of a business or trade on the margins of society. About the image of God doing that work. And what that tells us about the God who is isn't afraid to get His hands dirty rescuing each and every one of us. 

More on this tomorrow.

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"I don't get anything out of Mass"

“I don't get anything out of Mass” is something that you hear said by people who have quit going to Mass, people who go randomly, and people who still go fairly regularly. 

Imagine that the church is in a tall building, and you and I are together in the elevator on the way to Mass. 

We’ve got about 30 seconds together before the doors open.  What could I say to you in that time that would help you find what you're looking for, that would help you get something out of Mass?  “Moments Before Mass” is the answer.

A Moment Before Mass is not the homily in 30 seconds – but it will help you get more out of the homily.  It’s not a quick version of the readings – but it will help you get more out of the readings.

You want the homily?  You know where to go.  You want to get more out of the homily? Welcome to “Moments Before Mass.”

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No take backs.

No take backs.

When I was a kid, there were some rules that we all followed. They weren’t written down anywhere, but they might as well have been the law.

One of the big ones was “no take backs.”

If you gave somebody something, you didn’t ask for it back. If you said you would do something, you didn’t go back on your word.

No take backs.

But that’s not just how kids work. Today’s reading from Romans shows that there’s someone else who believes in no take backs.

God.

No matter what you’ve done. No matter how much you’ve rejected God in the past. No matter how bad you think it is.

God’s invitation still stands. God’s mercy is ready and waiting. For you.

And He’s called “no take backs.” On Himself.

 

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Just a sign

The last couple of trips that I’ve taken, there have been some really beautiful views. The kind of views where there are scenic overlooks. Places to pull over…that are actually worth pulling over for.

I was going through pictures of those views on my phone, and I noticed that something was missing. Even though I paid attention to the “scenic overlook” signs - I stopped because of those signs, I took pictures because of those signs - I didn’t have any pictures of the signs that said “scenic overlook.” 

And that’s fine.  Because the whole point of a sign is to let you know you about something, to point something out. But the sign itself?  It’s not the important part.  It’s just a sign. 

Which is what today’s Gospel is all about. The signs are all around us. We don’t need more signs. What we need is the One that those signs are pointing to.

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He's got you.

Have you ever seen a little kid thrown up in the air by her father?

The laughter and sheer joy of that child, it’s almost like she’s glowing. And you can’t help but smile, when you see her smile.

She has complete joy in the moment, because she trusts her dad. She knows that he is going to catch her. She knows that she has nothing to worry about.

He’s got her.

That’s the faith of a child that Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel.

It's not about being childish or immature. And it’s not about avoiding the hard questions, thinking that nothing bad will ever happen to you. Or checking your brain at the door.

It’s about having complete joy in the moment. Even the tough ones. Because you trust God. Because you know that no matter how high you fly or how fast you fall, God is going to catch you.

So where’s your smile?

He’s got you.

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How you listen matters.

How you listen matters.  A lot.

People have all kinds of ideas about the Bible. Some people think of it as just a bunch of “No’s” and “Thou-shalt-not’s.” For them, there’s really not much the Bible has to say.

Some people think of it as a bunch of myths, little more than a child’s book of “Once-upon-a-time” stories. The Bible doesn’t really speak to them either.

But there are others who listen to the Bible with open hearts, because they know Whose voice they will hear if they do. They are the ones who already have, and to them more will be given.

But the choice is left to each of us. To listen with open hearts, and be given more and more by the One who loves us more than we can imagine.

Or to do something else. And lose what little we have.

“Take care, then, how you hear.” Because how you listen matters. A lot.

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Without words.

Again and again, the Bible messes up the whole stereotype of Jesus as gentle, meek, and mild.  With a Gospel like today’s, you have to wonder where the image of Jesus as weak even comes from. 

Jesus unloads on the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders.  And it’s pretty brutal.

But none of us are scribes or Pharisees.  So what’s the point of reading this stuff? 

Because, like it or not, each of us is a religious leader.

Not like the Pope or the pastor of a mega church. 

Mega Church.png

But for the people around us, we’re part of their image of what it means to be a Christian.  Even if we don’t want to be. 

If we are who we say we are, and Whose we say we are, then these warnings are for us too.  Which means that we need to think about the sermons we preach every day. 

Especially the ones without words.

Today's Readings

What do you love?

What do you love? 

what do you love

If you were taking a survey and asked me that question, I’d tell you stuff like God, family, friends.  And pets.  The kind of stuff you'd expect to hear from a deacon. 

What do I really love?  If I’m honest, it’s me.  At least that’s what it looks like from how I live my life. 

And I’m not alone in that.  Most of us have the same answer.  If we’re honest.   

Which is why today’s Gospel is really jarring.  If we stop to think at all about what Jesus is calling us to do, it’s a challenge to that honest answer.   

It’s a call to follow the One who loved us first.  And by follow, that’s follow the example of the One who loved us first.  By loving the way that He did. 

Not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s needed.    

Not just what’s left over, but whatever’s needed.   

Not just me, but God working through me.    

But the only way that happens is if we change the answer to the question.    

So what do you love?

Today's Readings

All they have is "no."

We’ve all got that someone in our life who is all about “no.”   

It doesn’t matter what it is.  They can tell you what’s wrong with it. Why it won’t work. And why you can’t do it.  

But don’t ask them for help to make it work.  Because all they have is “no.”  Which is why we try to avoid them whenever possible.  

negative people

Too often, you and I are that someone – for God.

Whether it comes from our past, or from fear, or pride, you and I are completely capable of turning into the people in today’s first reading.  All it takes is one small, unthinking change.  Instead of focusing on God, focus on “no.”  Why it won’t work.  Why we can’t do it. 

When we do, “no” quickly becomes automatic.  Our unthinking response.  To everything and everyone.  Including God.   

Without really meaning to, we close ourselves off from each other.  And from God.  And become the very people we try to avoid. 

To keep that from happening, it all hangs on one thing.  Who we focus on.  

Readings for Today

With you.

Think about the people you really know.

I’m mean really know.  To the point that when something happens, you don’t just know how they’ll react.  You know what they think about it.  And how it feels to them.   

Because you get them.

For most of us, there are only a few people we really get.  Because it takes time - and vulnerability - for them to show us who they really are.

But when it happens, it’s because they trust you.  And they want to have that kind of relationship, that kind of closeness.  With you. 

Which is why Sunday’s Gospel (the Transfiguration) has that odd feeling of stumbling in on someone else’s private moment. 

sunlight through trees

Because it is.  It’s that moment of vulnerability for Jesus.  Where the three people closest to Jesus get to see who Jesus really is.    

So why are you looking at someone else’s private moment?  Because it’s not just their moment, it’s yours too.   

Jesus wants to have that kind of relationship, that kind of closeness.  With you. 

Readings for Sunday

Stay close.

One of my earliest memories is walking in the woods with my grandfather.  He wanted to take me down to the creek, to show me how to skip stones. 

I really wanted to go.  Only there was no path, and I didn’t know how to get there.  And there were a lot of trees and brush in the way. 

Woods

But I knew that if I stayed close I would make it there just fine. 

Because I was going with him. 

It’s kind of like that in today’s first reading.  They didn’t know how to get where they were going.  So they stayed close to God.  When God moved, they moved.  When God didn’t move, they didn’t move.  And through it all, they stayed close. 

And that’s the way that God wants it to be between you and Him.  God knows where you need to go.  Even when you can’t see it.  So stay close, and you’ll make it there just fine. 

Because you’re going with Him. 

Readings for Today

"Christianity and ___."

I have a friend who (rightly) sees a lot of things as attempts to remake God in our own image.  By taking the faith and adding on to it whatever we’re into right now.  Until it becomes something else entirely, but still with enough Christian trappings to confuse people. 

What C.S. Lewis calls “Christianity and ___.” 

My friend’s response?  To expose it, to call it out, to shout it down.  With something that is fast becoming its own “Christianity and ___.”  Something like “Christianity and bitterness.”  Or maybe “Christianity and anger.” 

Today’s Gospel tells us how to deal with “Christianity and ___.”  It’s not our job to sort out the weeds and the wheat. 

wheat and weeds

Our job?  To be the wheat.  With such joy that they’ll question why they ever added all of that “and ___” stuff. 

I say this with much love, and the hope that you’ll call me back if I start sliding into “Christianity and ___.”  Thursday’s Holy Hour is for you. 

Readings for Today

It's that pathetic.

On a scale of 1 to no never, rate the saddest, most pathetic craft project or build you can think of. 

craft fail

No matter what you choose, there’s at least one Instructable on it.  But whatever it is, the project in today’s first reading has it beat. 

There are no golden calf Instructables.  The whole golden calf thing is that pathetic. 

Because it’s that pathetic, it’s easy to miss the point.  Most of us are a lot less blatant when we worship things that aren’t God.  Sometimes we’re so subtle, we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

It’s almost like we’ll do anything to distract ourselves.  To avoid dealing with the reality of the One who loves us best.  The One who loves us all the way to Good Friday.

Readings for Today

That moment.

I like going to yard sales and second-hand stores.  Sometimes I find cool old things for not much.   And I always get ideas for crafts and projects. 

I know it’s silly, but part of me hopes for that once-in-a-lifetime find in all the clutter.  A letter signed by Lincoln, tucked away in an old book.  An unknown Van Gogh for next to nothing. 

I would love to have that moment.  The thrill of discovering the difference between what something seems to be and what it really is.  And still being able to get it, without having to pay what it’s really worth. 

Which is the point of Sunday’s Gospel. 

It’s all about that moment.  Except the difference between what it seems to be and what it really is?  It’s more than we can imagine. 

Readings for Sunday

It's all about me.

The Ten Commandments.  We’ve heard and seen them so many times that we barely even think about what they really say.  Much less ask questions about them. 

Like the most important one - why the First Commandment is first.  So why is it first? 

Me.  I know it sounds vain, but it really is all about me. 

And you too. 

Because whether we say it like St. Augustine did (“Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you”) or call it a God-shaped hole, each of us has basic needs that can only be met by God.   

And even though I know better, I’ll still try to fill that hole with something other than God.  But all it really gets me is yet another lesson in why the First Commandment is first. 

You’d think I would have gotten the lesson by now. 

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Read the instructions?

The other day, I had this conversation with a frustrated IT guy:

     …this is pretty basic stuff.  Did you even read the instructions? 

          Umm, maybe… 

     Well, they didn’t stick did they? 

          No, not really… 

That’s the problem with instructions.  Whether they’re incomprehensible, or they’re so generic they could apply to a printer or a bookcase, they don’t stick.  We forget them almost as soon as we read them.

houss instructions

In today’s Gospel, someone asks why Jesus speaks in parables.  And Jesus’ answer?  Not instructions, but something, well, different. 

Something to make us think.  Something that has more to show us when we read it again. 

Kind of like a parable. 

Readings for Today

What'll it be?

What’ll it be?  What’ll you have?  However you ask it, the answer to the bartender’s eternal question has consequences.  It marks the designated driver, and it separates a night you’ll want to remember from one you’ll always regret.  

Today’s Gospel is the parable of the sower.  We hear this one a lot.  But whether it’s today’s short version, or the long version we heard a couple of Sundays back, there’s something missing from it.  Bystanders.  

The truth of the parable of the sower is that there are no bystanders.  No matter how much we’d rather not get involved, we already are.  We’re stuck.  We have a choice to make. 

And just like the bartender’s eternal question, our answer has consequences.  So what’ll it be?

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The Plate

I like to bake.  Sometimes I bake in competitions.  Whether I win or not, I’m always interested in what the judges have to say about what I made.  Some of my favorite things have gotten better because of their feedback. 

But whether it’s breakfast, dessert, bread, or pizza, there’s one thing they’ve never mentioned.  The plate.  

Because that’s not the point.  Like the earthen vessels in today’s first reading, the plate serves a purpose.  But it’s not the focus.  It’s what’s on it that matters. 

People at my new parish have been asking about me and what I do.  I’m the new kid, and they (rightly) want to know what they’re getting.  The short answer? 

I’m the plate.  It’s Who’s on it that matters.  Readings for Today

Resentful

Without really thinking about it, you and I develop expectations.  Without even trying, you and I get ideas about how things ought to be, how they should happen.

And while we may not be as overdramatic about it as the Israelites in the first reading, too often you and I get just as upset when things don’t happen the way we think they should.

Resentment

And when we do, we close our hearts to God’s “even better.”  Because it didn’t happen the way we thought it should. 

Even though what happened was actually better, it wasn’t our way.  And instead of being thankful for getting more than we imagined, we’re resentful that it was different from what we expected. 

Which is exactly what gets called out in today’s readings. 

God provides.  If we really trust God, then we have to trust Him to provide.  Enough to let go of how we think it ought to be.  Enough to take the gift given on His terms, not ours. 

When we do, if we’re honest we’ll find it’s everything we need.  And more than we could ever imagine.

Readings for today.

The Convincer

So the seat belt lecture in driver’s ed was all about fines and suspensions.  The usual.  But no gross-out video this time.  Instead, we got a sketchy-looking, car-seat-on-rails thing.  Called “The Convincer.”

It shoots forward, and then stops suddenly.  You find out what a 5-10 mph accident feels like.  And the “why” of seatbelts becomes perfectly clear.

In last Sunday’s Gospel (Luke), Jesus asks who people say that He is.  And Peter calls Jesus the Messiah.  The prince of getting it wrong finally gets it right.  So Jesus tells him to shut up.

Which makes no sense.

Without this Sunday’s readings.  With them, the “why” of Jesus telling Peter to shut up becomes perfectly clear.

More on this tomorrow. 

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