The power of the Word: A homily for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

bibleI want to focus on two things today.  1) God’s word for us and 2) God’s purpose for us.

God’s word for us.  We know the power of a word.  When someone says a good word about me, if it’s really good, I think about it for days!  And conversely, when someone says something less than kind, sometimes such a thing might keep me awake a night. I suppose it is the same for all of us.  We know the power of a human word.

And yet God’s word is a thousand times more powerful. Our first reading tells us that God sends his words down for a purpose.  He speaks them for a purpose.  And his word is meant to change our lives!  Change the world!  I think about Millard Fuller, a man who founded Habitat for Humanity.  Do you know that over half a million houses have been built with Habitat?  I heard how he felt a calling to create Habitat because he was reading Matthew 25.  That’s about 2 million people whose lives have been bettered because one man read one chapter–maybe one verse–of Scripture and acted on it.  That’s pretty wild!

I know this.  I know that men are better husbands and fathers when the read God’s word.  And women better mothers and wives.  Kids are better kids.  We must make God’s word a DAILY part of our lives.  As Fr Larry Richards says, NO BIBLE NO BREAKFAST, NO BIBLE NO BED.  His word has real power.  He has a lot to say to us every day.

Sometimes it’s kind of small, but yet important.  You know I came here from Greenwood. I have to tell you that although I was so happy to be coming here, I was quite sad to leave and a bit…nervous….about the assignment here.  My last day thereat OLG, July 4, I discovered that I had an overdue library book from the school library.  It had been under my bed for a year and a half!  So I went over to the school to return it.  Walking those school hallways, a thousand memories flashed into my heart and sadness overtook me at the thought of leaving all those kids and memories behind.  I put the book down on the librarian’s desk and turned around.  There is a bulletin board there, and each of those recent 8th grade graduates had posted a scripture verse there.  I’d seen them before.  But my eyes immediately went to one of them….it was a God thing.  It was the scripture that Connor had chosen.  It was Josh 1:9: “Be strong and courageous, do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Peace came over me and I said, thank you God and crossed myself.

God always has something to say.  We better be listening.

2.  God’s purpose for us.  We hear in our Gospel, the purpose of the ear is to hear. The purpose of the eye is to see.  The purpose of a seed is to grow.  The purpose of God’s word is to do his will.  Everything has a purpose.  It is a good exercise, I think, every now and again to ask: What is my purpose today?  This week?  In my life??  God made us all for a reason, for a thousand reasons.  Ours is to discover why.  It also strikes me as a good idea to ask: what is the purpose of this parish?  Why do we exist?  What is it that we do?  What for?  More on all that later!

"God has made laughter for me"

Today is Wednesday of vocations week, and it’s interesting that my lectio (following this sheet) last evening happened to take me to Genesis 21, which recounts the birth of Isaac.

Sarah was 90 and Abraham was 100.

At Isaac’s birth, Sarah explains: “God has made laughter for me; every one who hears will laugh over me.”

A friend shared with me that Isaac, translated, means laughter.

Following one’s vocation, despite all the uncertainty and hindrances and seeming impossibilities, brings a contagious kind of laughter and joy.

Because God wants is all to be happy–here and hereafter.

One way to stand firm in one’s vocation was made clear in the psalm assigned for yesterday, Ps 15, which ends with this: “Those who do these things shall never be moved.”

What things?

1Lord, who may abide in your tent?
   Who may dwell on your holy hill?

2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
   and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
   and do no evil to their friends,
   nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
   but who honour those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest,
   and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved. 

And then the Gospel passage of the day yesterday on my sheet was the famous Matthew 9:37-38: “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

So let’s pray for that, that more folks will become joyful laborers in the Lord’s vineyard and stand firm in their callings, no matter how surprising they might be to them and to all, and in so doing infect the Church and the world with all that is good.

Building houses on rock

A really nice Gospel reading for today from Mt 7:21, 24-27 that includes these words from the Lord:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.

We have a tendency to build houses–that is, our lives and very selves–on what do and have done, titles we possess, what abilities we have, what things we have, what others think of us, how we look, even what we wear.

Those things all fade away with the rain and the floods and the winds, and they come together to form false selves that don’t last.

But when we build our houses the Rock that is God, we’re in a better position. Then, as the Gospel says, we can listen to God’s words, often announced to us in whispers, telling us who and what we are: his beloved sons and daughters.

That’s better than an A on a test, a fancy degree or title, or a nice new car.

This became clear to me yesterday. I was at the nursing home and delivering some Christmas cards to the residents I visit each week. I went to one man’s room at the end of the hallway. As I left his room, I walked by his neighbor’s room and heard the sound of two people crying out with moans that had the force of Job’s lamentations.

I walked by, reasoning that they were not “on my list” of people to visit each week.

But then I stopped in my tracks. I knew I had to go back and go in there.

So there I went, into that dark and smelly room, and knelt beside the first woman’s bed. This elderly and toothless lady, suffering from a serious case of Alzheimer’s, was simply yelling out indecipherable sounds–that is, until I somehow heard these words: “I need a prayer.”

The yelling stopped after I offered a prayer, but at that moment I was touched by this reality: everything this lady once was, everything that she had, and even everyone that she once had, is now gone with the wind.

That this lady found some solace in a prayer is a sign to me that her house is built on God.

"You have lost the love you had at first"

The first reading today, from the Book of Revelation, has something important to say to us.

The reading is kind of confusing. What is recorded John’s address, given to him by the Lord and about the Lord, to the seven churches in Asia.  John explains that he heard the Lord instruct him to write out to the “angel of Ephesus” the words of the “one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks in the midst of the seven gold lampstands” (Jesus).

Here is the best way to understand it with blockquotes:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him,
to show his servants what must happen soon.
He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
who gives witness to the word of God
and to the testimony of Jesus Christ by reporting what he saw.
Blessed is the one who reads aloud
and blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message
and heed what is written in it, for the appointed time is near.

John, to the seven churches in Asia:

grace to you and peace
from him who is and who was and who is to come,
and from the seven spirits before his throne.

I heard the Lord saying to me:

“To the angel of the Church in Ephesus, write this:

“‘The one who holds the seven stars in his right hand
and walks in the midst of the seven gold lampstands says this:

“I know your works, your labor, and your endurance,
and that you cannot tolerate the wicked;
you have tested those who call themselves Apostles but are not,
and discovered that they are impostors.
Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name,
and you have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you:
you have lost the love you had at first.
Realize how far you have fallen.
Repent, and do the works you did at first.
Otherwise, I will come to you
and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”‘”

In any event, I really like the last few lines.  Again, remember it’s Jesus, who holds the churches together and walks in the mist of them, who is speaking:

I know your works, your labor, and your endurance,and that you cannot tolerate the wicked;you have tested those who call themselves Apostles but are not,and discovered that they are impostors.Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name,and you have not grown weary.Yet I hold this against you:you have lost the love you had at first.Realize how far you have fallen.Repent, and do the works you did at first.Otherwise, I will come to youand remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

The Lord, who walks among us, knows what all we do.  He sees our works, our labors, our endurance.

He even sees that although we often fall, we dislike the wicked one.

We have even worked to stick up for what is right by holding “imposters” accountable.

We’ve suffered quite a bit for God’s name.

That all we have done, and plus, we kept on doing it, refusing to grow weary.

Why, that’s a lot!  Good job us!

Except the next few lines…

We have lost the love we had at first…We have fallen far…