By Fr.Matthew Brumleve
During the Jubilee year of 2000: Pope John Paul II designated this 2nd Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.
On this Sunday, and throughout the Easter season and in fact – throughout our lives — we are invited to take up the strength of grace that comes to us from the mercy of God – and show that mercy to others.
THAT is a direct command which always comes to us in the Gospel on the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Jesus says to the disciples [and to us]: “As the Father has sent me, so I also send you.”
After saying this, Jesus then entrusts them with a special task, telling them: “receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive — are forgiven.”
This is the meaning of mercy that is presented to us by Christ: forgiveness. Not carrying around the weight of the past – not to be held back by grudges, not seeking harm or retaliation of another — but forgiveness.
The first task the risen Christ gave to his followers is to forgive one another. . . This commission is to be a concrete and visible sign of Christ’s mercy.
Today, in Pope Francis – we have a Pope who never tires of talking about mercy. “Mercy,” the Pope says, “is the face of God.”
I can do no better today than to simply read some of Pope Francis’ quotes on mercy – pausing after each one to let it soak in a bit – and then we will end with an appropriate response to mercy – singing.
Pope Francis says:
“Jesus kept his wounds so that we would experience his mercy. This can strengthen us and give us hope.”
“Let us never forget that mercy is the keystone of the life of faith –and a concrete way with which we give visibility to the Resurrection of Christ.”
“We are all sinners but God heals us with an abundance of grace and mercy and tenderness. We are called to go and do likewise.”
“Mercy is a verb – not a noun: we have to show mercy in order to receive mercy. We cannot meditate on mercy without it turning into action.”
“Start by feeling compassion for the poor and the outcast – then surely you will come to realize that you, yourself, stand in need of mercy.”
“Mercy warms the heart and makes it sensitive to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Mercy commits everyone to being an instrument of justice, reconciliation and peace.”
“For it is by mercy that the Lord forgives our sins and gives us grace to practice acts of mercy in God’s name.”
“Mercy makes us understand that violence, resentment, and revenge have no place in the life of a Christian. The first victim is whoever lives these sentiments – because it deprives them of their own dignity.”
“The most important thing in the life of every man and woman is not that they should never fall along the way – the important thing is always to get back up – not staying on the ground and licking your wounds. God’s mercy helps us to do that – to get back up — and our mercy can help others do it.”
“If our hearts are closed – if our hearts are made of stone – the stones quickly find their way into our hands and we are ready to throw them. So open your heart to mercy – -and let go of the stones.”
“God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking God’s mercy,”
“Let the church always be a place of mercy and hope – where everyone is welcomed, loved, and forgiven.”
After meditating on mercy – how can we keep from singing? So I invite you to turn to #494 in the hymnals to learn a simple refrain. . .
Mighty Spirit of our Lord. . .
Give us faith to live your word.
You have loved us as your own. . .
Make us turn to you alone.
May we be a blessing true. . .
Christ as Lord of all we do.
Be the fountain of each soul. . .
Flow in us and make us whole.
Make us children of your light. . .
As your gospel shining bright.
God who lives beyond our death. . .
Love as near as every breath.
As the mystic St. Faustina taught us to pray:
For the sake of his sorrowful Passion – have mercy on us and on the whole world. AMEN!
By Father Matthew Brumleve
On behalf of myself and our deacons: Jim Koger and Mike Lewis,
Our Principal: Kaci Monaghan.
Early childhood director: Mary Ragan
Liturgist and financial coordinator: Robin Lamb
Religious Education Director: Jean Folken
Office Administrator: Lisa Angotti –
And anyone else I may be forgetting about –
I wish all of you a happy and holy Easter! We are glad you chose to spend part of your day with us here at St. Patrick – and hope you get to spend the rest of your day with family and friends:
Enjoying some good food, a little candy, perhaps an Easter egg hunt – but most especially just enjoying each other’s company.
The resurrection of Jesus calls us to NEW LIFE – and so may you find the strength and grace you need in this liturgy and in this Easter season – to be a witness to the resurrected Christ in your home, your place of work, here in the parish – and in your schools and neighborhoods. And to this we say: ALLEULUIA!
It was Art Linkletter who first told us years ago – that kids say the darndest things. And if we need proof of this – here are a few examples:
** An exasperated mother, whose son was always getting into mischief, finally asked him: “Carl, how do you ever expect to get into heaven?”
The boy thought it over for a moment and finally said: “Well, I’ll just run in an out //and in and out// and in and out – and keep slamming the door – until St. Peter finally says, ‘For heaven’s sake, Carl, either come in or stay out,’ —and then I’ll just stay in!”
**After listening restlessly to a long and tedious homily, a six year old boy asked his father what the priest did the rest of the week. “Oh, he stays pretty busy,” his father replied.
“He takes care of Church business, visits the sick, helps the poor. . . and then he has to rest up. You know — Speaking in public isn’t an easy job.”
The boy thought about that, and then said, “well let me tell you – listening in public— ain’t an easy job either!”
** A Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan, in which the man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road.
She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would be drawn into the drama.
Then she asked the class, “If you saw a person lying on the roadside all wounded and bleeding – what would YOU do?
A thoughtful girl broke the hushed silence by saying, “I think I would throw up!”
And finally, for any friends we may have from Minnesota – and I think we have a few — A little girl from the twin cities came home from Sunday school with a frown on her face and a real attitude. . .
“I am NEVER going back there anymore,” she declared. “I don’t like the Bible they keep teaching us from.”
A little worried, the girl’s mother asked: “Why not?”
“Because,” said the little girl, “the Bible THEY use is always saying St. Paul this – St. Paul that. You would think that every once in a while –they could say SOMETHING about Minneapolis!!!”
There is a reason for telling such things on Easter Sunday – because I think above all else – Easter is a day for LAUGHING. . .
LAUGHING at the folly of the scribes and Pharisees and Roman officials — who thought they could silence the message Jesus was proclaiming – by silencing the messenger. . .
LAUGHING at the naiveté of the Pilate and the guards – who thought a stone – even a very big one – could contain the risen Lord.
LAUGHING at either the fear of the lack of faith on the part of the disciples that kept them hidden away – while women went to the tomb as the first day of the week was dawning.
LAUGHING perhaps even at ourselves who continue to think all of this is just too good to be true.
Yes, on Easter – we can laugh at darkness, laugh at sin, laugh at death, laugh at the power of evil: BECAUSE JESUS HAS BEEN RISEN FROM THE DEAD!
LAUGH because the TOMB IS EMPTY – the long reign of sin and death have ended!
LAUGH because our salvation has been won FOR US – we don’t have to do anything to earn it!
LAUGH for life is now perfected in Jesus the son!
AND OUR RESPONSE TO THIS CAN’T HELP BUT BE:
Alleluia, alleluia. Alleluia! Happy Easter!
By Fr. Matthew Brumleve
First of all, I want to say congratulations to Sarah – who will be Baptized tonight,
And Jennifer – who will be making a profession of faith. And hopefully you realize what we do tonight just marks the beginning of your journey in our Catholic faith – not the end – because our journey with the Lord is life-long — and ends when we gaze face to face at Christ in heaven.
I welcome all those who have come to be with you both this evening – and with the faith community of St. Patrick as we celebrate this solemn vigil tonight. And, of course, I wish all of you a happy Easter.
In however God led you here tonight – I am glad you are with us — and hope you experience something in this liturgy which re-ignites the flame of faith in your heart so you can run from this place and boldly proclaim by your words and actions – the good news of Easter.
At the foot of my parent’s bed all throughout my life – there was a cedar chest – given to my mother years ago by her parents — as a hope chest.
So it was once filled with sheets and linens and I suppose pots and pans — all the things she would eventually need to set up her own household.
All those things were taken out – when her hope was fulfilled when she married my father in 1953.
That one-time hope chest then became a secure place for storing such things as photo albums, cast off baby blankets, war medals awarded to my uncles – and many other family treasures and heirlooms.
For well over 30 years — whenever I would go home, I would spend some time – exploring our family’s history by exploring the contents of that cedar chest. All of those precious items allowed me to connect to those who had gone before me – and gave me a sense of belonging.
As Christians – we spent some time tonight – a lot of time, really – exploring our family’s history by opening up our cedar chest – the Bible: both the Old and New Testaments. . .
We have listened attentively to the Word of God – in order to connect to those who have gone before us –so that we can have a sense of belonging.
We have read and sung more from the Scriptures tonight – 9 different readings plus the singing of Psalms – then we normally read in almost a month of Sundays!
And when we read from Scriptures – we always hear a consistent message: God loves us!
Tonight our cedar chest of readings from Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, Romans, and Luke – spans roughly 2,000 years of time.
Near the bottom of the cedar chest – is the second reading from Genesis telling us of Abraham’s test from God which occurred some 75 years or so AFTER Abraham was first called by God: placed historically by scripture scholars around the year 1,800 BC.
And the top layer of the cedar chest — contains St. Paul’s letter to the Romans written around 57 AD – right before he is taken in chains to the great capital city of the Empire. And the Gospel of Luke, probably reaching its final written form around 85 AD.
The point I wish to make is not the exact span of time covered by the readings – which leads some to estimate the age of the world – but my point is the consistency of the story line within this broad range of readings…. The story that has repeated itself well over 2,000 years and will continue to repeat itself in our brief life span — and repeats itself in the very fabric of our individual faith lives.
That story line is:
In love, God reaches out to his people.
People respond to God’s love.
People get distracted by other things and stray from God.
God doesn’t give up and reaches out a 2nd, 3rd, and a 4th time – in love. God never gives up on us!
The question that comes to my mind is: I wonder if God ever gets tired?
Tired of you, tired of me, tired of all his created beings – who just can’t seem to stay focused or committed to him for very long. . . and stray off on their own – leaving home with their bags packed, always in search of greener pastures – but often times ending up in the slop of the pig sty. . .
And that is an easy question to be answered based on 2,000 years of Scripture: NO:
God never tires of extending his love, his mercy, his forgiveness, his grace – because God desires nothing more than to spend ALL eternity with each and every one of us. And so God wants to connect with us – to claim our hearts as his own – and so reaches out again, and again, and again.
THIS IS GOOD NEWS!!
We follow a very strange God – a God who lavishes —-lavishes—such extravagant love on each one of us. A get down on your knees God who does anything he needs to — so as to gain our attention AND capture our hearts: A God who does not even withhold his OWN SON from us – allowing him to be crucified for our sake.
The one who embraced the cross – rather than run from it.
The one who willing laid his hands upon the wood of the cross – instead of fighting it.
The one who willingly handed over his spirit – so that we might have that same spirit PULSING within us.
Jesus’ very spirit – who gives us life. Gives us courage. Gives us strength and confidence.
And the best news of all – is that not even a tomb with a huge stone at the door —could hold back God’s love for us!!!
NO – as the women who go to the tomb at daybreak on the first day of the week find out — the stone is rolled away from the tomb so that we could get in – and see that DEATH HAS BEEN ROBBED OF ITS POWER!!
The stone is rolled away – so that we could get in — and see that a new world order has begun – so that we could see the truth of Jesus words: “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up!”
The stone is rolled away – so that we could get in — to see, and hear, and experience that by his cross and resurrection, Jesus has set us free. Free from sin. Free from death. Free from our old ways of doing and being.
Free from all those things that may hold us back and distract us from following Jesus with all our minds and all our hearts – and keep us from loving our neighbor as ourselves.
The stone is rolled way — freeing us from all those things that keep us locked up in fear – than reaching out in mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness.
YES – the greatest news of all — is that the TOMB IS EMPTY.
And there is only one way of responding to such good news: alleluia – alleluia — alleluia!!
A life without pain seems like a good idea. No one in their right mind likes going through pain — it’s annoying and debilitating. That’s why we prefer things that don’t cause us discomfort.
But is a pain-free existence all it’s made out to be? I’m not quite sure when you consider a list of things to keep away from if you want a pain free life. To avoid pain:
*Don’t fall in love or commit yourself to someone.
*Don’t become a leader of any kind.
*Don’t give your opinion on anything important.
*Don’t set high standards for yourself or aspire to be the best at anything.
To avoid pain:
*Don’t try to help people, especially those most in need.
*Don’t take risks that may involve making mistakes that others may notice.
*Don’t listen to all the reasons to try something, but take heed of all the reasons not to.
*Don’t have kids, especially ones that grow up to be teenagers.
*And certainly to avoid pain, one should not try to make the world a better place. . .
We all began Lent in the quiet and desolation of the Desert. Lents ultimate end will be in a garden – where we will discover the tomb is empty.
Between now and then – during this Holy Week, there is a lot of pain. . . but the pain, cannot be avoided.
Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, once said: “We will all suffer one of two things, either the pain of discipline, or the pain of regret or disappointment.”
The word discipline comes from the word disciple – which is Latin for pupil – one who follows after.
Let’s come to our senses – and make the commitment to follow after Jesus – to be his faithful disciples – to endure the pain of discipline — rather than the pain of regret or disappointment. Because whether we like it or not: there is no pain-free way to the garden of resurrection and new life.
Maybe it’s best for us this week to remember these words of Winston Churchill: “When you are going through hell, just keep going.” That’s certainly what Jesus did — as he set all the captives free.
Don’t miss our remaining Lenten Fish Fries
Friday April 5th – 5-7:00pm Parish Hall
Friday April 12th – 5-7:00pm Parish Hall
When a child is learning to ride a bike, training wheels are a good idea.
They make the bike safer and more stable.
They give the child a greater sense of security and encourages them to ride without the risk of falling.
But you can’t keep them on forever.
You can’t ride to high school with training wheels. Or complete a triathlon. Or compete in the Tour de France.
There comes a time when they have to come off.
What about you? Do you still have training wheel on. . . . . Are you still playing it safe?
Have you become dependent upon removing all possible risk of falling or failing?
Are you living your life at half-pace with the training wheels still on?
Or – are you flying – with the wind in your hair and the exhilaration that comes from going as fast as you can despite the risk of falling or failing?
“While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced and kissed him.”
I hope by this point in Lent – you have taken some time to look at the various pictures depicting people in this story of the Prodigal Son – placed at the Baptismal fount. My favorite is this one of the father —
With the wind in his hair and the exhilaration that comes from going as fast as he can despite the risk of falling or failing – the father RAN to his youngest son, embraced and kissed him.
The Greek word for RAN used in this parable – is trexo: which means “running wide-open” it conveys intense desire to get to the goal as quickly as possible.
It means to run like an athlete competing in the ancient Greek games – moving forward with full effort and directed purpose.
Trexo is used 17 times in the whole New Testament – only 3 times in the Gospel of Luke – once here – as the father has intense desire to get to his son as quickly as possible to forgive him.
Another time— when Peter runs from the empty tomb of Jesus to spread the good news of the resurrection.
And once more — when the two disciples on the road to Emmaus run back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard – Jesus, who made himself known in the breaking of the bread.
Let’s let that sink in for a minute — the father ran to his son — with the same reckless abandonment – definitely no training wheels on his bike — as those who were running to spread the news that Christ had been raised from the dead!
The father ran to his son — with the same reckless abandonment — as those who were running to spread the news that Christ was risen!
What does all of this have to do with us?
That connection is found in St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians where we read: “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given to us the ministry of reconciliation. >>
God, not counting anyone’s trespasses against them has entrust to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ.”
The father in the story is God. And God is just waiting for us to “come to our senses” and return to him from our sins. And God will run to us with intense desire to get to us as quickly as possible to wrap his arms around us in welcome. . . God’s running is as enthusiastic as God’s loving — it is done full throttle – with no misgivings or regrets – with no fear of failing or falling. . . .
AND THE FUNNY THING IS, THAT JUST LIKE THE GARDENER IN LAST SUNDAY’S GOSPEL — GOD EXPECTS US TO BE LIKE HIM —
for God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. God has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation – God has made us ambassadors, that is representatives, of Christ!!
Now I don’t know about you, but I do know about me – and I usually don’t go running toward someone as if I am an athlete competing in the ancient Greek games — advancing speedily with full effort and directed purpose – to throw my arms around someone to forgive them.
NO, if I go at all – which I am ashamed to admit — I usually go kicking and screaming, cautiously moving for fear of falling or failing – as I move toward someone to reconcile with them. But that’s NOT the way God wishes me to be. . .
Let’s come to our senses. Let’s come to know that God wants us to be reconciled with one another rather than carrying around the weight of grudges – for the weight of those grudges will keep us from trexo:
an intense desire to get to the goal as quickly as possible – running with as much abandon to forgive — as God wants us to run spreading the good news of the resurrection.
Isn’t it time we took our training wheels off when it comes to reconciliation?? Not worry about failing or falling — not even worrying about what we are going to say —- but just go do it! And the funny thing is — God is just waiting to help us. . .
Merciful God, help us to “come to our senses” and to admit we are not always the people you call us to be.
We fail at so much – and yet you still love us!
Like the father in the Gospel today – you are watching and waiting for us to turn from our sinful ways back to you – so you can wrap your arms around us and welcome us home.
We the help of your grace, may we be a little less critical and judgmental — and more forgiving and merciful to those who don’t always live up to our expectations. Help us to be ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors of Christ.
Sing #480: Refrain – Verse #2 — Refrain
You may remember me saying several weeks ago – that God has a long track record of picking the most unlikely of people and allowing them to do great things:
Abraham, as we heard last week, was old.
The prophet Elijah was suicidal.
Joseph was abused by his brothers.
Job went bankrupt.
Moses had been given away at birth by his mother. Raised in Pharaoh’s house. And was now on the lame for killing an Egyptian.
Moses, when given his call by God to release the Israelites from bondage — will object because he was slow of speech and tongue – and yet God was sending him to speak to one of the most powerful men in the world at the time. “Send someone else” was Moses’ final objection and yet God sent Moses — because God picks the most unlikely of people allowing them to do great things.
Gideon was afraid.
Jeremiah was young.
Jacob was a cheater.
Jonah ran from God.
Rahab was a prostitute.
Why does God pick such unlikely people? Because God never gives up on anyone – no matter what they do or how far they stray.
The gardener in today’s Parable — is like God — when everyone else is ready to cut someone down by their biting words of criticism or doubt – God will say – NO—let me cultivate and fertilize – let me love and nurture. Instead of cutting down or throwing away – God wants to uplift and use —– and the funny thing is – God expects us to be like him. . . God expects us to uplift others by our words of encouragement – rather than cutting them down by our criticism. . .
We should learn and practice this lesson Howard Hendricks learned:
By fifth grade, I was bearing all the fruit of a kid who feels insecure, unloved, and pretty angry at life. However, my teach Miss Simon apparently thought I was blind to all of these problems, because she often reminded me: “Howard, you are the worst behaved child in this school.”
So tell me something I don’t already know! I thought to myself, as I proceeded to live up to (or down to) her opinion of me. . .
Needless to say, the 5th grade was probably the worst year of my life. Finally, I moved on to 6th grade. But I left with Miss Simon’s words ringing in my ears: “Howard, you are the worst behaved child in this school!”
You can imagine what my expectations were upon entering 6th grade. The first day of class, my new teacher, Miss Noe, went down the class list, and it wasn’t long before she came to my name. “Howard Hendricks,” she called out, glancing from her list to where I was sitting with my arms folded. She looked me over for a moment, and then said, “I’ve heard a lot about you.” Then she smiled and said: “But I don’t believe a word of it.”
I tell you, that moment was a fundamental turning point, not only in my education, but in my life. Suddenly, unexpectedly – someone believed in me. For the first time in my life – someone saw potential in me. Miss Noe put me on special assignments. She gave me little jobs to do. >>
She invited me to stay after school to work on my reading and math. She challenged me to higher standards.
I had a hard time letting her down. In fact, one time I got so involved in one of her homework assignments that I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning working on it! Eventually my father came down the hall and said, “What’s the matter son? Are you sick or something?”
“No, I’m doing homework,” I replied.
He kind of blinked and rubbed his eyes, not quite sure whether he was awake or dreaming. Because he’d never heard me say anything like that before. . .
What made the difference between 5th and 6th grade? The fact that someone was willing to give me a chance. Someone was willing to believe in me while challenging me with higher expectations. That was risky, because there was no guarantee that I would honor Miss Noe’s trust.
Everyone likes the end product of nurturing and mentoring – especially when it yields a peak performer – the star athlete, the successful businessperson, the brilliant lawyer, the impressive communicator. But how many of us want to deal with the person at the front end of the process??
The owner said: “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down.”
But the gardener said: “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.”
God never gives us up – no matter what we do or how far we stray. When everyone else is ready to cut someone down by their biting words or criticism or doubt – God will say – NO – let me cultivate and fertilize – let me love and nurture. Instead of cutting down or throwing away – God wants to uplift and use – and the funny thing is — God expects us to be like him. . . >
God expects us to uplift others by our words of encouragement – rather than cutting them down by our criticism. . .
Let’s “come to our senses” and realize we do affect others by our words and actions – the only questions is – is this going to be in a positive or negative way????
Loving and merciful God – this week we find ourselves in the orchard – – surrounded by trees that are either producing fruit, or that are barren.
Help us “come to our senses” and realize that our words and actions do have the power to help change people. May we be a little more like God: when other people are ready to cut someone down by their biting words of judgment or criticism – help us be those who respond with words of encouragement and mercy – lifting others up, rather than tearing them down.
Awe and Wonder are holy and forceful things.
The Prophet Isaiah, from whose writings we get the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, recently given to 25 members of our faith community in Confirmation – calls this “fear of the Lord” – but this is not the scary kind of fear – it is the “awe and wonder” type of fear we have before our marvelously, creative God. .
According to journalist Bill Moyers, awe and wonder even have the power to profoundly change people.
In his book, A World of Ideas, Moyers tells of watching the long ago launch of the Apollo 17 rocket in 1975.
He describes the rocket rising off the launch pad amid brilliant flames and deafening thunder. He tells how a sense of wonder fills everyone as they watch the mighty rocket going up and up and up.
The crowd gazes in amazement as the first stage ignites a beautiful blue flame.
Writes Moyers, the rocket “becomes like a star, but your realize there are humans on it.” As the rocket soars out of sight, a hush falls over the crowd.
Later, as the people begin to leave, Moyers describes the effect the launch has had on them: “People just get up quietly, helping each other up. They’re kind. They open doors. They look at one another, speaking quietly and interestedly.>>
This group of people were suddenly different – because they were caught up in the sense of wonder – the experience of something greater than themselves.
[Story found in Everyday Epiphanies by Melannie Svododa.]
The sense of awe and wonder are holy and forceful things – they even have the power to profoundly change people: just ask Abraham. . .
Abraham was an old man – and his wife, Sarah, was no spring chicken. When God first told Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation – he did not believe it—because he and Sarah had no children – and it was a little late in life to begin a family.
God knew that Abraham might be a bit skeptical – and that’s when God took him outside and said, “look up at the sky and try to count the stars if you can.” The implication was that if I, God, can create all of this – don’t you think I can keep my promise of making you a father???
Abraham, caught up in the wonder of the night sky – soon became a believer. He had experienced the holy and forceful power of getting caught up in something greater than himself — and he was changed.
The sense of awe and wonder are holy and forceful things – they even have the power to profoundly change people: just ask Peter, James and John.
By this point in Luke’s Gospel — they have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But they have also heard Jesus say that he has to suffer and die –and then be raised up. And the thought of a Messiah, a God, suffering and dying made us much sense to them as a 90 year old man becoming a father. It just did not make sense to them – and so they were a bit skeptical.
And that’s when Jesus took this questioning trio up the mountain – and there he was changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white and Moses and Elijah stopped by for a chat.
Peter, James, and John – were caught up in the wonder of the Transfigured Christ. They had experienced the holy and forceful power of getting caught up in something greater than themselves – and they were changed – they came down the mountain better people than when they went up the mountain. . .
Now this will sound like a 60s folk group – but Abraham, Peter, James and John – were each offered glimpses of wonderful things – the very presence of God in their midst.
Their experience of awe and wonder – their brush with the divine – changed them – and made them more faithful to carrying out the will of God in their lives.
How about us – when was the last time we had a brush with the divine – a sense of awe and wonder – a mountaintop experience, an unexpected “aha” moment—— that changed us in some way,
When was the last time we actually tried to live out one of the prayers of the faithful we prayed last week: for the grace to be aware: that we may slow down, detach ourselves from the busyness of daily life and find a quiet place to listen to God?
Or is this not a golf ball we choose to put into our jar of life?
When was the last time we looked up at the starry night and been overwhelmed by awe and wonder at the creator of such a spectacle. . .
Hopefully, now that perhaps winter is over and spring is upon us – it’s time for us to get out and listen to the birds, watch for the first daffodil, feel the sun on our checks and the wind at our back>>
and be struck with a sense of wonder as to how all of these seasonal changes take place year after year.
One author I read this week said that to develop a sense of awe and wonder – one should just take a deep breath and hold it as long as you can – and then marvel at the fact that when you do need to breathe again – you can! And we do that – breathe in and out, thousands of times a day without even thinking about it – pretty amazing! We are wonderfully and gloriously made!
One research study I read showed that when it comes to our emotional health – awe is a natural stress-reliever.
It expands our sense of time, and makes us less prone to impatience. Research has also shown that people who experience awe on a regular basis are more inclined to be generous as awe fills us with a feeling of connection to other people.
For some of us – entering into this time and place — perhaps is the only mountaintop experience we get all week – our best chance to have a brush with the divine — when Christ, as once he did for the disciples, so now for us, opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread.
This sense of awe and wonder of being in the presence of Christ is to be a holy and forceful thing in our lives – a power that can profoundly change us –
if we but “come to our senses” and open ourselves to the great gift the God gives us week after week.
Which is why we should do our best to preserve a sense of the sacred in this place – by leaving our louder conversations – and the mention of buying and selling of things – in the gathering space – in order to enhance the sense of the sacred in here – and within ourselves – as we have this brush with the divine!
Then hopefully the experience we have here – just as Abraham looking up at the stars—- and Peter, James, and John gazing upon the Transfigured Christ — may change us ————–
so that we are little better when we leave this place – than when we arrived! —— May we ask the almighty God, as did the late Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel once did: “Do not give me success, Lord – give me wonder.” The sense of awe and wonder that can profoundly change us.
And then we can say like Dr. Martin Luther King once said in Memphis, Tennessee: “I have been to the mountaintop!”
Long ago I read this story in Stephen Covey’s Book: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and have liked using it ever since.
A professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.
He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agree that it was.
The professor than picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.
He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course the sand filled up everything else.
He asked once more if the jar was full. The student responded with a unanimous YES!
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand.
The students laughed.
“Now”, said the professor as the laughter subsided,
“I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things: family, children, health, friends, faith, and your favorite passions — things that if everything else was lost and only they remained – your life would still be full.
The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, house, car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff.
If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all you time and energy on the small stuff – you will never have room for the things that are important to you.”
“Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
Lent is a time given to us every year to “come to our senses” — to re-prioritize our lives, to reorganize and re-focus on what is important – the values of the kingdom of God – rather than focusing our time, energy, and attention on what is NOT important: the values of the world.
And what better place to begin this process – than we do every year on the first Sunday of Lent: going into the desert with Jesus — where one quickly determines what is essential – and what is not.
Before Jesus began his public ministry by declaring his mission statement in the synagogue at Nazareth: “I have been anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to let the oppressed go free.” — he was first Baptized by John in the Jordan River – and a voice heard by everyone, including Jesus proclaimed: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus was then immediately led into the desert by the Holy Spirit where he faced three temptations offered by the devil in order to pull him out of or away from his status of God’s beloved Son. . . The devil was trying to get Jesus to forget who he was called to be. . .
Jesus was tempted — to use his time and energy and attention to take care of his own well-being (command this stone to become bread)
He was tempted to seek out power and glory (all this will be yours if you but worship me)
And Jesus was tempted to place his faith and trust in someone besides his Father — the all-powerful God (throw yourself down from the temple – and the angels will support you).
Jesus overcame all of these temptations with the power and knowledge of Scripture, and by remembering that he was God’s beloved Son.
Throughout our lives – and most times on a daily basis – we are faced with temptations in order to pull us out of– or away from — our status as beloved sons and daughter of God which we received at the time of our Baptism. We will be tempted to forget who we are, and the values we stand for – by forgetting to put the golf balls, the important things, into our lives first – and concentrating instead on the pebbles and the sand. . .
The late first lady, Barbara Bush, once told soon to be graduates of Wellesley College in their commencement address:
“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, a partner.” — and I will add: regret not having spent more time with a merciful God remembering that we are God’s beloved – and will regret time not spent within the loving embrace of a faith community.
What do we value—– what do we expend our time, talent, and treasure in order to achieve –— what are the golf balls we put into our jar of life – first? Lent is a good time to figure all of this out – and the desert is a good place to start.
One more story – about a man who had his priorities right in life – which led to giving us a little quirk in history – and a minor claim to fame of a man from Missouri.
President James Polk spent his last day as President of the United States on March 3, 1849, and at midnight Polk was out of office. But his successor, General Zachary Taylor, a staunch church goer, refused to be sworn in on March 4, 1849 — because it was a Sunday.
By his actions — Taylor was saying quite loudly: “Going to Church is a higher priority for me than becoming President of the United States.”
He postponed his inauguration until Monday, March 5. So for one day, U.S. Senator David Atchison of Missouri (buried just up the road in Greenlawn cemetery in Plattsburg) was president of the United States.
Can you think of anything more important than becoming the President of the United States? Zachary Taylor could – it was going to Church.
What do we value – what do we expend our time, talent, and treasure in order to achieve – what are the golf balls we put into our jar of life – first?
Lent is a good time to figure all of this out – and going in to the desert with Jesus is a good place to start: a place to “come to our senses”
and remember that we are God’s beloved – and it is in remembering this – that we will get our priorities, our golf balls, right – and not be tempted by the pebbles and the sand. . .
Merciful God, we start every Lent by going into the desert with your son. In the desert, we quickly learn what is essential and what is not – what we need to take with us, and what we need to leave behind.
As we enter into this season of Lent – a season to re-prioritize, to re-organize, to refocus on what is important and what is not – help us to “come to our senses” and know that you alone fulfill all our needs and desires.
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, almighty and merciful God.
Just as the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, so, too, you give us this season of Lent every year – so that we can be driven to discern what is of value and what is worth pursuing by our very lives.
Touch us with your grace so we can come to our senses and return to you with all our hearts and minds.
And so with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the hosts and powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim.