The Prodigal Son

4th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of St. Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well-known parables of Jesus, and not just in Christian circles. There are numerous cultural examples of this parable being re-told throughout history and in many different cultural mediums. Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, the popular movie Legends of the Fall, starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, and even the comic book heroes turned movie franchises, Iron Man and Bat Man, all capitalize on the theme of a rebellious child leaving home and reaping the consequences of the sins of pride and selfishness, then returning home in hopes of forgiveness and redemption. These are only a few examples of the continuous cultural relevance and meaning found in the themes presented in this parable.

As parents we read this parable seeking comfort and hope anticipating the return of our own prodigal children. As children, we find the constant and never wavering love of the Father to be a beacon calling us back home, trusting that we too will be forgiven and restored, in spite of our fall. As the faithful, we quietly examine ourselves in the example of the elder son hoping that we have not exchanged our relationship with the Father for orthodoxy and religiosity. And, as fellow pilgrims on this journey, we come together in solidarity knowing that we are not alone, nor are we unique, because we all have found ourselves playing the roles of rebellion and self-righteous indignation in this continuing story of total dependence upon the love and the inexhaustible mercy of God.

Today’s Gospel, the parable of the Prodigal Son, speaks to all of us regardless of our vocation, title, or position.

I confess to you today my sisters and brothers in Christ, that I am struggling. Struggling to resist the discouragement associated with disappointment. The disappointment that comes from failing expectations. Expectations, either rightly or wrongly, that influence my thoughts and govern my behavior. Thoughts and behaviors that neither reflect the man that I am seeking to be nor reflect my hope in others in becoming what I hope they should be.

Am I alone in my discouragement? I am not. And neither are you.

We must push on. We must never cease in becoming what God wishes us to be; his children in perfect and holy communion with him. Today’s Gospel is a parable of hope. Hope that regardless of how low we have fallen, or how far we have fled, or how cold our hearts have become that redemption and restoration are ever present and available to those who are willing to receive it.

May our disappointment be replaced with resolve. May our failures result in opportunity. May our expectations be rooted in love, and may our actions be expressed in mercy and kindness.  May our sin bring us to the cross of Jesus, and may our orthodoxy never replace our relationship.

This 4th Sunday of Lent, as we peer ahead to the joy and celebration of Easter, let us find encouragement in the words of the father in the parable, “we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

You can’t fly with eagles, if you run with turkeys!

Gospel of Luke 9:28-36

When I was a kid, around the age of 12, I had convinced myself that it was time to begin my journey towards financial freedom and I decided to get a paper route. I made a phone call, spoke with the people in charge, and agreed to begin the route the following week. It was only after all that when I decided to fill my parents in regarding my plans for financial success. At first, they were suspicious and reluctant, but they eventually agreed to let me take my first steps toward financial freedom and start my first official job.

In all fairness their suspicion and reluctance were not misplaced. They had good reason to question my commitment and my motivation. This job would require me to get up every morning at 5am, roll somewhere just north of 100 newspapers, and then ride my bicycle throughout the streets of our town delivering papers. A job, by the way, that needed to be completed by 630am every morning, every day, no matter the weather or circumstance.

In spite of their better judgement, they agreed, and I became an official paperboy for the Billings Gazette delivering papers every morning 7 days a week.

In order to learn how to do the job properly I was to spend my first week as a “ride along”– sort of a newspaper boy apprentice. The current paperboy, from whom I would be learning, would teach me the route and the art of rolling and throwing newspapers. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he was a senior in high school and he drove a 72 Chevy pickup truck that had a bumper sticker on the inside of the cab above the glove box, that read, “You can’t fly with eagles, if you run with turkeys!”

As I was preparing for this week’s homily, I found myself asking why the Holy Mother Church, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, has placed the Gospel account of the Transfiguration on the 2nd Sunday of Lent.

Seriously?

The Lenten season is about penitence, sacrifice, and self-denial. All of which are themes contradictory to the experience of the Apostles who witnessed the Transfiguration. Peter himself, in his exuberance and desire to prolong the mountain top experience, asked to build shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Compare that desire to extend time with your own Lenten experiences. I am pretty sure I can’t be the only person here who has already thought to themselves, “Man, is Lent almost over yet?”

Today being the 2nd Sunday of Lent it is quite possible that you may have already stumbled in your commitments. The caffeine headaches were too distracting, the diet restrictions too strict, and the earlier hour intended to be dedicated for prayer was just too early. Or, some of you may have simply forgot that it was Friday, and proceed to make your favorite ham & salami sandwich only too have one of your children turn to you, and exclaim, “Dad, what are you doing? It’s Friday! You’re a Deacon for crying out loud!”

Remember that this Lenten Season is not an opportunity for us to prove our righteousness. Rather, Lent is an opportunity for us to grow in righteousness. Our self-sacrifice and our service are not badges of honor to be put on display for our friends and family. We didn’t commit to prayer, fasting, and charitable works in an attempt to prove our worthiness. Instead, our prayer, fasting, and charitable works are the methods by which we move to a deeper, richer, and fuller relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Lent is a season of movement, not stagnation.

Today, the Church is reminding us that our commitments are not without purpose. The Apostle Paul reminds us of that in today’s 2nd reading and calls us to join him on that journey. The journey to be imitators of Christ. To leave behind and let go of our worldly ways and attachments and recognize that our citizenship is in heaven and not of this world.

In case you were wondering, I was not a very good paperboy. It did not take long before the realities of getting up every morning at 5am, regardless of the weather or circumstance, began to diminish the reward of the paycheck I received every 2 weeks. I soon discovered that the path to financial freedom was not as simple or as easy as I had believed. However, I have never forgotten the bumper sticker.

During this Lenten season you will encounter turkeys. People, circumstances, temptations, and events that will discourage you, dissuade you, and dishearten you from your commitments. God is calling you. He is asking you to let go of those things which bind you and hold you back. This day, this 2nd Sunday of Lent, I too remind you that you cannot “Fly with eagles, when you are running with turkeys.”

Come to this altar today and ask God to forgive your failings and to strengthen your resolve and to receive the mercy and power that he so abundantly gives to those who follow him.

How Has You’re our Lent Going?

Gospel LK 4:1-13 http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031019.cfm

How has your lent been going? Have you honored your commitments? Have your practices of prayer, fasting, and charity been successful?

Have you found that what started with commitment and determination is now feeling like exercise? What was initially a beautiful garment adorned in anticipatory joy now looks a little bit used, with frayed edges, and subtle stains of doubt and discouragement.

Or, maybe everything is going great! Your prayer life is flourishing, your fasting is rewarding, and your almsgiving is overflowing. Despite the somber Liturgical season, you are finding personal satisfaction through self-sacrifice and each day brings new challenges offering greater reward.

Whether in a state of discouragement or joy, the truth is you are exactly where God intends you to be. If you entered into Lent with both intent and purpose, no matter how grand or how moderate, then whatever your current condition you are exactly where God wants you to be.

The Gospel reads, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days.”

Jesus did not wander into the desert because he was lost. He did not accidently follow the wrong road because he was too full of pride to ask directions. No. Jesus “was led by the Spirit” and was exactly where he was supposed to be, doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing.

Recognizing that truth helps bring into focus our current reality. We too have been led to this Liturgical season. We did not get lost and accidently stumble upon Ash Wednesday. We did not blindly follow “Siri” and accidentally find ourselves grumpy because it’s been 5 days since our last piece of chocolate, cup of coffee, or glass of beer.

We are here at this place and at this time because this is exactly where God wants us to be.

The road we are traveling, which began on Ash Wednesday and will end on Easter day, is not an easy road. It is a road will not be traveled quickly. It has speed bumps, yield signs, and traffic lights that take forever to change, and we are all traveling this road together with differing degrees of success.

As recorded in today’s Gospel reading there are 3 specific temptations that Jesus had to overcome. Though these 3 temptations were not the only temptations Jesus faced, these 3 are recorded for our benefit because in these temptations we can discover what we must be on the lookout for as we progress through this Lenten season.

The first temptation is the love of pleasure.

According to Luke, Satan presented Jesus this temptation when he was hungry and alone. Jesus was lacking in physical pleasure and comfort and that is exactly where Satan chose to attack.

At some point, most likely in the early stages of our Lenten experience, we will be tempted to succumb to our physical discomforts and lack of variety. We will tire of eating, or not eating, the same foods. We will tire of doing, or not doing, the same things. We will get bored, uncomfortable, and will crave something new or different. We must be on the look out for those moments, because it is during those moments when the tempters voice will fill our ears and our thoughts. Be aware and resist.

The second temptation for which we must be on guard is the love of possessions.

Satan offered Jesus all the world and all that it contained. A lie indeed, 1) because creation is not Satan’s to dispose of, and 2) Satan is a liar. However, the temptation to possess is a very real and tricky temptation.

We like to possess things because we want to control things. The more we possess the more we control, and the more we control the more significant we feel. During our Lenten journey we will be tempted to abandon our commitments for the illusion of control. Be aware and resist.

The Third the temptation is the love of glory.

Jesus was tempted by Satan to throw himself from the parapet of the temple trusting that God would not let him come to harm. This temptation, simply stated, is the temptation to manipulate God and to receive the glory that would bring.

During this Lenten season we will find ourselves tempted to manipulate God. We will add up the costs of our sacrifices and then present them as a bill, expecting full payment. What glory that would be, would it not? What glory to finally get physical, tangible, demonstratable evidence of God’s approval of our sacrifice. Of course I am speaking sarcastically, yet, I argue, that we all recognize that temptation all too well. Be aware and Resist.

Lent, as a liturgical season, can be a season of encouragement or a season of disappointment. Which, if we are honest, is exactly like any other time of the year. However, Lent is designed by Holy Mother Church, through the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, to bring us into a deeper, more refined, and holy relationship with God and with one another.

Wherever you are at this day, in whatever emotional state, rest assured that you are in the very hands of God. Where you are now is not where God wants you to be 6 weeks from now. I encourage you my sisters and brothers to be aware and to resist.

Supreme Authority of All Things Driving

Gospel Lk 6:39-45Gospel of Luke 6:39-45

I have recently discovered that at some point in my past, a moment in time I am unable to recall, I must have been anointed, or appointed, or bequeathed, or elected as the supreme authority of all things driving. I believe this to be true, because, since I have been commuting approximately 90 miles every day to and from work for the last 2 months, I cannot help myself from commenting, criticizing, critiquing, or complaining about other people’s driving.

I make a concerted effort everyday I commute to work to do so in a spirit of prayer and reflection. I say prayers, listen to the daily readings (when I can get them to download on my phone), and refuse to listen to the radio all in an attempt to utilize my 45-minute commute as an opportunity to quietly and thoughtfully reflect on my relationship with Jesus.

I am somewhat successful, I would like to believe, until… Until a driver with a Utah plate, Montana plate, Arizona plate, Texas plate, or heaven save us all, a California plate fly by me in a construction zone, or a 65-mph zone, or any zone for that matter. Or, drivers claiming to be professional drivers drive like anything but a professional. Or, drivers talking or texting on their cell phones apparently oblivious to the fact that there are people using the same roadway.

Now, some might say, “Deacon, you should not be so judgmental of others.” Or, remind me of the words of Pope Francis, “Who are you to judge.” And I would absolutely agree with them. I should not be so judgmental of others and I am in no position to judge others. However, I am not judging.

When I am driving the speed limit and someone passes me at a much higher rate of speed, can I not observe that they are indeed speeding? When someone is driving in the left-hand passing lane at a much slower speed, can I not observe that they are indeed in violation of traffic law? When someone is texting or talking on their cellphone without a “hands free device” are they not, as studies have proven, just as dangerous as a drunk driver?

Absolutely, I can. In fact, we all can. We all have the ability to observe the behavior of others and determine if that behavior is right or wrong. That is not called being judgmental. That is called being in community.

Today’s scripture in Luke is not about judgement. It is about how to live with one another. Jesus is not instructing his followers to ignore each other’s behavior, nor is he telling them to stop from helping remove the “splinter” from their brothers’ eye, rather he is asking them to remove the beam of ignorance and self-righteousness first from their own eyes, then assist others.

The context of today’s Gospel is clearly stated in the beginning,

“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.”

Today’s Gospel is not about judgement. It is about relationship. It is about recognizing the fact that none of us…no not one…are considered righteous through our own efforts or works. It is about recognizing that we are all sinners, who also need help traveling this pilgrim’s journey. It is about recognizing that we all have a responsibility to our brothers and/or sisters when they are struggling and then respond in love, and with charity, and in the full understanding that we too have, are, and will continue to struggle living as disciples of Christ.

When I travel to work and observe wrong, illegal, and dangerous behavior I am committing no sin through the observation and recognition of that behavior. The sin I commit is when I call them names, insult their character, and dismiss their God given human dignity. Instead, I should lovingly, in charity, and with the full awareness that I too, at times, engaged in the very same behaviors, help them to do what is good, right, and safe.

Of course, I am limited by the nature of our relationship, am I not? I in my car, they in theirs. I have no opportunity to engage them in any meaningful ways. However, that is not the case here in church…is it?

My concern is… that as a community, a body of believers, we have quit caring about one another in fear of being called judgmental, biases, racist, or bigoted. Out of fear we have gone silent. Instead, of encouraging and helping one another, we sit quietly, close our eyes, and turn our heads. We intentionally ignore one another, build our silos and our echo chambers, and hope that somehow, and that someone else, will fix the damage done to our church by bishops, priests, deacons, and the laity who have abandoned the mission of Christ for the world. We exist in our own little worlds, and in our own little cliques, with these massive wooden beams in our eyes– wooden beams of denial, self-righteous ignorance, and cowardice. We hope that things will somehow get better, and yet refuse to take personal responsibility for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters.

Come to this altar today and ask God for forgiveness and receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ asking that our eyes may be open, and that our hands may be strong, and that our correction may be gentle and precise, and that we lift one another out of the pit, and that we may resume our pilgrim’s journey with our vision clear.

A difficult calling indeed

Gospel of Luke 6:27-38

In today’s Gospel we are being called to examine ourselves, our behaviors, and our attitudes. We are being called to love those who don’t love us. We are being called to do good for those who consider us unworthy, to bless those who withhold their blessing from us, and to pray for those who disrespect us and intentionally cause us harm.

A difficult calling indeed, is it not? Yes, a difficult calling for sure, but a calling that most of us have been made aware of from an early age. A calling that is so familiar it has been converted into an instruction and even given a name; it is called the Golden rule.

I am sure that most of us could share stories about how our mothers taught us to respond to the unkindness of this world and the subsequent mistreatment with gentleness and respect. When the grade school bully pushed us down or stole our lunch money, our mothers may have encouraged us to stifle our natural response to fight and kick and curse and instead encouraged us to respond with kindness and generosity.

As we grew older, we discovered that the adult world, in spite of its complexities, is still very much like our childhood school yards. As adults the bullies have additional titles such as boss, or neighbor, or fellow parishioner. With our mother’s voice echoing in our ears, “be kind, don’t fight, don’t kick, and definitely don’t curse” we struggle to show Christian love and charity to individuals who intentionally cause us harm and disrupt the peaceful flow of our lives.

Now, I admit and in fact admonish that it is essential to establish healthy and appropriate boundaries with individuals whose intent is to only cause harm. The Golden Rule comes with a caveat, does it not? It comes with an expectation. An expectation of how we should expect others to treat us. As clearly stated in today’s Gospel, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The Golden Rule is not asking us to live without locks on our doors, or to willingly submit ourselves to the abuse of others, or to ignore the obvious warning signs of grave danger. The Golden Rule is not a license for others who wish to only take advantage and hurt. No, the Golden Rule is, for those of us who aspire to follow Christ, a challenge.

Today’s Gospel is not a defense for why we should only associate with Christians who share our same personal devotional practices, social leanings, or political opinions. Today’s Gospel is indeed quite the opposite. It is calling us to step outside of our echo chambers, to move beyond our comfortable and practiced acts of charity, and to expand our social circles to include those who look, speak, and think differently than us.

Today’s Gospel is calling us to step out beyond our safe and sacred spaces, to intentionally associate with those who exist outside of these walls. Christ did not call us to be a people who shelter and retreat and hide ourselves from the darkness, suffering, and pain of this world. Rather he expected us to be in the midst of it. To exist in the uncomfortable, with those who don’t cherish or honor or respect our faith.

Today’s Gospel is a challenge to evangelize. To set aside our criticisms and fault-finding and embrace the sinner and gently guide him or her into the loving embrace of Jesus and the forgiveness of God. Jesus reminds us that to be obedient to him we must be willing to take risks. Risks that make us vulnerable and it is in and through that vulnerability that we bring others to salvation.

Today’s Gospel must not be ignored. It must not be passed over with the false belief that today’s hard teaching regarding self-sacrificing charity is no longer applicable. To ignore the man on the street corner or the family struggling to meet their needs with the rationalization that the charity we give will only be spent on alcohol or cell phones, is to ignore the clear instruction that what we have to give was never ours to possess.

Today’s Gospel is an invitation to live in the freedom of Christ Jesus. A freedom that can only be found in the willingness to serve Jesus as we serve one another.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today as you come before this altar, I encourage you to commit to living this Gospel…the Gospel… in all facets of your life. In your homes, at your work, on your playgrounds, and most especially in those uncomfortable places with unfriendly people. Live there, and serve Jesus there, because that is exactly where we are called to be.

Have you ever stopped to think about the things that you know?

Gospel of Luke 5:1-11

Have you ever stopped to think about the things that you know? For example, you may know a person, or a thing, or a job. You can know someone by name, or where they come from, or even know where they stand. You can know something like the back of your hand or like the palm of your hand, whichever one you know better. You can know your job backwards and forwards or forwards and backwards. You can know where you have been, where you are at, and where you are going. You can know the ropes, know the score, and it is sometimes very helpful to know your place.

However, have you ever stopped to consider the things that you don’t know. For example, you may not know someone from Adam. Or, you may not know enough to come out of the rain. Or, you may not even know if you are coming or going. You may not know where to look, or how to begin, and there are times when you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. There are moments when we must admit that we know that heaven only knows and that there are times when we are just better off not knowing at all.

I would dare say that for most of us what we don’t know far exceeds what we do know.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges us on both accounts. He challenges us on what we know and invites us to learn what we don’t.

In Luke’s Gospel, after having finished speaking to the crowd, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “”Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” To Peter, an experienced fisherman, who had just spent the entire previous night fishing with no success, responds to Jesus’s request with a warning. He states, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.” Peter, who knew how to fish, may have been trying to tell Jesus, who, in Peter’s estimation, wasn’t an experienced and accomplished fisherman, that the likelihood of success was not very good. He may have been trying to spare Jesus the embarrassment of failure.

Peter knew how to fish. He knew when to fish and where to fish. Peter and his business partners, James and John, may not have known the first thing about carpentry, but they knew a lot about fishing.

We too, like Peter, know things. We know ourselves, our lives, our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Our knowledge determines how we interact with one another and causes us to behave in prescribed and predictable ways. However, there are times, just like Peter, when Jesus asks us to go beyond the limitations of our knowledge, take risks, and follow him.

Sometimes what we know prevents us from following Christ. For example, we know that if we give the disheveled looking person standing at the entrance of Wal-Mart $5, they will just spend it on alcohol, so we don’t practice Christian charity. We know that the person sitting in church who speaks a different language, or comes from a different place, or has different political, religious, or social opinions will be difficult to get along with, so we refuse to join them in Christian solidarity. We resist in showing kindness or friendship to the person who goes to a different church or doesn’t even go to church, and ignore Jesus’s command to be a servant to all. There are countless different ways in which our knowledge gets in the way of our obedience.

Though Peter knew better than to go fishing at a time and in a place that had he knew to be barren and fruitless, he responds to Jesus in faith and states, “At your command I will lower the nets.”

As they hauled in the nets, overflowing with fish, Peter was forced to confront his personal biases, self-created beliefs, and acknowledge his sinfulness. Up until that moment Peter had seen Jesus as a miracle worker, a faith healer, an itinerant preacher. He knew Jesus as an individual who spoke with authority and performed mighty deeds but had not known him as his Lord. When Peter’s self-constructed ideals were vanquished, he was able to see Jesus as for who he truly was. What Jesus provided Peter that day was not just a plentiful harvest of material blessings, but he gave Peter something, and more importantly someone, to believe in and to follow. Peter and his fishing partners James and John left everything and followed Jesus.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, Peter is our example. We too are called to “put out into the deep.” We too are called to “lower our nets” and place our faith in our Lord and Savior when everything we know tells us otherwise. Jesus called Peter, James, and John to be “fishers of men.” Men who follow him for the sake of others. That call was not unique nor exclusive in its purpose. We too have been called to be fishers of men and we too have the same purpose.

Our challenge today is to place our knowledge, and our talents, and our skills into the loving hands of Jesus. Peter was not asked to abandon his knowledge and skill, he still had to row the boat, drop the nets, and haul them back in. Rather he was called to put his knowledge and skill to use for the kingdom of God. We too have been called for that same purpose.

My friends, it is not what you know, nor is it what you don’t know; rather it is who you know and YOU, who know Jesus, are called to be “fishers of men.”