Not a Homily… A Podcast

I apologize for using this platform for a bit of self promotion, but I wanted to let you know that Kristina and I have a podcast. It is called 3 Things Podcast, and the first episode posted today.

3 Things Podcast 3 is about 3 things; drinks, books (music, movies, art), & stories. We will be having conversations with friends about how these 3 things have inspired and encouraged them on their journey of faith. We will be posting 2 episodes per month and a bonus episode titled, 1 thing.

I will resume posting my homilies here and will not bother you about the podcast again. If you like what you hear and/or read please feel free to share with a friend.

Thank you & God bless you

Deacon Jason

Joy to the World

4th Sunday of Advent- Gospel of St. Luke 1:16-38

Driving home from church last week Kristina said to me, “I just want to go a Christmas party.  At a house full of people talking and having fun.”  She paused and then said quietly, “Stupid COVID.”

For the rest of the drive home, I thought about what she said.  I imagined what it would be like to in and amongst a crowd of people?  With people I knew and people I did not know very well, drinking spiked eggnog and sampling plates of sweets and deep-fried appetizers.  Rubbing elbows, stepping on toes, bumping into people, and every time you turn around somebody greets you with a hug, a kiss, a vigorous handshake, and not a single mask in sight.  Sure maybe, Uncle Joe has a lampshade on his head, and maybe Aunt Mary’s red lipstick can be found on just about every cheek in the room, but no one cares.  Criticism, harsh words, and disparaging looks are outside, left in the cold.  Warmth, sincerity, and merriment fill the room.

Wouldn’t that be fun?

Now… let me be clear!  I am not advocating for such a gathering.  I am not asking anyone to ignore the reality of the current health crisis in our community.  Christmas is not a justification to cast common sense and compassion for our fellow man out the window by organizing, let alone attending such an event.  Instead, I am asking you to take a minute and reflect upon that unique characteristic of humanity that we all share… our desire to be together.  To be a part of community.  Our human need for meaningful, authentic, well intentioned interaction.

What struck me so significantly about Kristina’s comment on our drive home was that the source or her “want” came from a place of intense longing and need.  A need essential to our humanity.  A need to be together in community.

God created us to be in community.  He created us to be in fellowship.  Our divinely designed human nature is such that we can only find true joy in fellowship with God and with one another.  Wealth, fame, possessions are a poor substitute for this relationship.

Charles Dickens exemplified this truth in the Christmas Carol when he personified the misery of human isolation in a man named Scrooge.  Dr. Suess, embodied the unhappiness of selfishness and the pain of loneliness in a green Grinch, with a heart that “was two sizes too small.”  In the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Potter, a miserly, frustrated, lonely old man whose greed and denial of human dignity, is one of the most notorious on-screen villains of all time.

These characters, though fictional, portray all the twisted and perverse aspects of our humanity.  Their self-imposed blindness to God and their fellow humankind stand in stark contrast to the beauty and divine love that we read in today’s Gospel.  From Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you”, too Mary’s fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”, we are presented with the glorious truth of our God, his unquenchable desire to be in relationship with us.

This 4th Sunday of Advent, as we dutiful prepare ourselves for the celebration of the coming of our Lord, let us take a moment and reflect upon what it is that, for which we are preparing.

We admire and are inspired by Mary’s response of faith yet let us not overlook the very meaning of the message brought forth by the angel Gabriel.  A message not only for her but for all humanity.  A message of salvation.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,

and you shall name him Jesus.

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,

and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,

and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,

and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

In this proclamation, we find the fantastic truth that God, through his infinite love, with his ultimate power, and in his unfathomable mercy, came to his creation, which he intended for salvation through his ultimate humiliation, and became fully man, so that we might be in relationship with him.

Therefore, our challenge today, as followers of Christ, in this time of loss and limitations, is to manifest this joy… this gift… this truth… with one another, and with the whole world.

As we desperately long for the “way things used to be”, we cannot abdicate our calling to be the voices shouting, “Joy to the World”.  We cannot stifle our happiness and hide the truth of the wonderous gift that God has given to all of humankind.  Yes, our celebrations must look different for sure.  For we cannot find excuse in the traditions of Christmas to model the misery of Scrooge, the selfishness of The Grinch, nor the lack of compassion for our neighbor, like that of Mr. Potter.

Though we may not gather in one place rubbing elbows, or hugging strangers, or kissing friends, we must double our efforts through cards and cookies left on doorsteps.  With phone calls, texts, and emails reminding others that though their physical presence is missed they are ever present in our thoughts.  We must not cease our acts of charity.  Rather endeavor in our service of love by shoveling our neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways, leaving generous tips at drive-thru’s, and rigorously look for opportunities to serve and help someone with their unique need.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this year’s Feast of the Nativity of our Lord will be unique in that our traditions may have to be altered.  Our usual ways of doing things may not be appropriate for the circumstances.  However, what it is not unique is our responsibility in celebrating and sharing the joy of the coming of the Savior of the world.

This Christmas we joyfully proclaim, Jesus came!  Jesus is in fact here!  Jesus is coming again!  AMEN!!!

Friends, I Have Done You No Injustice

25th Sunday Ordinary Time, Gospel of St. Matthew 20:1-16

Within today’s readings there are a couple familiar phrases.  The first, found in Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord,” and the second, from the Gospel of Matthew “The last will be first and the first will be last” have, to some degree, become platitudes, or clichés in today’s Christian culture.  These phrases, and those like them, are statements found in or extrapolated from the word of God and are often used in the wrong context and no longer accurately represent the truths which they contain.  Phrases such as these are often a conversation ender, a vocalized exclamation point, signaling that it is time to talk about something else.

In case you need a bit more context, here are a few more examples of these Christian clichés or platitudes.

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”  A statement often used to explain away the frustration and disappointment when something does not go our way.

Or “Let go and let God.”  Again, a statement intended to encourage one not to be anxious.

“Be not afraid!”  A phrase popularized by St. John Paul II, that is now used so often it has become a meme on social media.

Please understand, I am in no way diminishing the truths contained in each of these statements.  Nor am I attempting to lessen the importance of their meaning.  I am simply pointing out that as followers of Christ we have a habit of misusing statement about the nature and promises of God that their significance and meaning are lost and inconsequential.  We have turned them into ornaments, as if they are the finishing touches on a Christmas tree, instead of profound and meaningful insights into the nature of God.

Today’s Gospel could be easily categorized as a cliché or platitude.  We could… just categorize today’s Gospel as a simple reminder that salvation is intended for all.  Or… as a lesson that late comers to the faith are as welcome as those who have been baptized while yet in the cradle.  Though these truths of God are evident, clear, and relevant there are additional, even dare I say, grander truths of God and his nature that are presented to us in today’s Gospel reading.

We are told, “a landowner… went out to hire laborers for his vineyard.”  What is notable here is that the task of hiring laborers was typically reserved for a foreman or steward, individuals who were trusted to oversee the work and the laborers.  Yet, in this parable Jesus emphasizes that the landowner himself went out, multiple times in the day, to the public spaces seeking laborers.

The landowner, as an image of God, is constantly and consistently seeking and calling all of humanity to himself.  He is not satisfied with just a few, rather, he seeks to fulfill his desire for the salvation of all humankind.  God is so in love with all of humanity, that he came to earth, revealed himself, manifesting his desire for the salvation of all.  As the landowner who spends his day going to the marketplaces, so too God is actively seeking each and every one of us.

Another truth about God revealed to us in this Gospel is revealed as the landowner assures those whom he has called that he is just.

God is not a cheater.  He does not deal with humankind unfairly.  He keeps his promises, he honors his word, he shows no preference, and holds none in greater esteem.  Our choice in responding to his call for salvation is not weighed, measured, or balanced on scales.  Instead, our response to God‘s call is rewarded in full as we are granted full membership into the family of God with all privileges and honors due as his chosen people.

Finally, we are presented with another truth of God as portrayed through the landowner, and that is God’s justice is manifested in his mercy.  As those who answered God’s call in the eleventh hour of the day so too were those who responded earlier in the day all beneficiaries of the mercy of God.  God as the creator and sustainer of all things is free to administer his generosity as he determines, and as we have already established, he is a just God, his generosity, and therefore his mercy, is also his justice.

So often we separate these to truths of God.  We separate his justice from his mercy and deem them to be in opposition, when in fact they are the same.  Both working in concert to bring all of humanity to salvation.

We must ask ourselves; do we view the promotions at work, the negative medical tests, the removal of obstacles, or the miraculous healings as evidence of God’s mercy?  Do we interpret rejections, failures, difficulties, and illness as evidence of God’s judgement?

Or, rather, should we consider all that this life offers; reward, consequence, obstacle, or tragedy as evidence of the landowner, our just and merciful God, calling us to deeper love with both him and our neighbor?

Our challenge this day is to move our faith beyond platitudes and clichés.  To grow deeper in our understanding of God and the truths he has revealed to us.  We must refuse to confuse faith formation with meaningless ornamental clichés and platitudes.

My brothers and sisters, bluntly speaking, God is calling us beyond the false ideal that temporal reward and/or suffering are evidence of God’s love and concern or disdain for his people.  He has called us to labor in his vineyard.  Though may it be through the heat of day, or through trial and discomfort, his promise remains steadfast and true, when he states, “Friend, I have done you no injustice.”

Blogging and Exercise are Hard

It is has been over 1 year since I last published a homily. I apologize to those who have missed my weekly expositions, however, I mostly apologize to myself. I too have missed this weekly practice as it provided a degree of accountability and the subsequent reward associated with discipline. Much like I both despise and appreciate my exercise bicycle, I cannot deny the benefits of the effort and the consistency of preparing and writing homilies.

May God bless you all and may you find some encouragement in your pilgrimage on this earth through my exercise.

The Good Samaritan

15th Sunday Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Luke 10:25-37

We all understand the concept of the Good Samaritan, right? In fact, I am pretty sure that we all have a Good Samaritan story. A moment in our lives when we were in desperate need of help. A moment when we found ourselves in a predicament that required assistance and there, in our worst moment, somebody came to our aid.

I myself have had a few Good Samaritan moments. One of the more memorable occurred many years ago, while I was in college. It was December, the week between Christmas and New Years, and I was traveling across the great state of South Dakota. It was getting late in the afternoon, I was traveling West on I-90 and was about 10 miles from the next exit when I ran out of gas.

It was cold, snowing, getting dark, and there I was stranded on the interstate. So, I put on my winter gear, grabbed the empty gas can in my trunk (because I ran out of gas a lot when I was younger), and started walking. As you assume, within about 10 minutes a Good Samaritan pulled over and offered me a ride to the nearest gas station. Then, after I fillled up my gas can, a second Good Samaritan appeared and drove me back to my stranded car.

I have shared this story before and typically someone will ask, “did they buy your gas?” Or, “did they offer you a meal?” Or, “Why didn’t the first guy give you a ride back to your car?” These questions imply that the aid these two individuals provided was lacking. As if they were not indeed true Good Samaritans because they could of done more.

My response to these questions, is simply, “all I needed was a ride.” I had a gas can. I had money to purchase gas. I had food a plenty in the car. (I was returning to Wyoming after having spent Christmas with my grandmother in Minnesota. I had enough turkey sandwiches to last a week if necessary. )

A Good Samaritan is not measured by the amount or the quality of the assistance given, but rather by mercy shown.

Today’s Gospel is very clear about this.

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a question. A Jewish law scholar asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, as he typically did in these type of situations, responds to a question with a question. And the scholar, in the words of the Law, gave the right answer; “You shall love your God, with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” An excellent legal response.

However, the scholar was not content with just the right words, he wanted to be proven as being righteous, of having the right intent, and so he asks Jesus to define “neighbor.” In other words, he was asking Jesus to approve of him. He believed, as a result of his knowledge of the law, that he was righteous and he wanted Jesus to affirm his self-righteousness.

However, that is not what Jesus did.

When the scholar was asked to identify the righteous individual in the parable, he replied, “The one who treated (the victim) with mercy.”
The righteous person was not the “priest”. It was not the one who adhered to the religious rules, guidelines, and rituals… only. It was not the one who attended church when they were supposed to. It was not the one who said all the prayers, wore the right medal, or observed the sacred days, feasts, and traditions… only. The righteous person is the one who responds to others with mercy.

The righteous person was not the “Levite”. A Levite was an individual “set apart” for the care of and the service in the temple. They were also the teachers of the Jewish Law. They were not the priests who were consecrated for the sacrifice at the altar, rather they were individuals set aside for the instruction and the service of the people… possibly, dare I say, the deacons.

Yet, even the person who was responsible for understanding and teaching the law to others. The one person whose responsibility it was to help others live out their faith in real and tangible ways, was not considered righteous. Why? Because the Levite lacked mercy.

My brothers and sisters in Christ. We here, this day, have been called to be righteous men and women of God. We, the baptized, are dependent upon the mercy of God for our righteousness, for without his mercy none of us will inherit eternal life. However, if we fail to respond to the needs of others, regardless of their race, color, culture, or customs in mercy, and with mercy, we are living in disobedience to God.

If we put conditions on our mercy. If we deem that those who are of different faiths, different beliefs, different opinions, or of different sexual orientations as not deserving of mercy, than we are living in disobedience to God

Jesus’s instruction to the self-righteous scholar of the law some 2000 odd years ago is also our instruction today. We must go and do likewise. We must treat others with kindness, compassion, and forbearance. Our mercy is our charitable actions as we attempt to meet the spiritual and bodily needs of those whom we have been given an opportunity to do so. Just as those 2 men, many years ago, came to my aid, in a time of legitimate need, so too should we strive to be merciful to all, especially those who are in the greatest need.