Tuesday, May 21, 2019

God Cheats for Us

While watching the PGA Tour on TV one week I saw an ad with Bill Murray, comedian of Saturday Night Life fame and renowned, passionate golfer. He was recounting his score on the hole he had just completed. “In the water for one; in the woods, two; green-side bunker, three; on the green, three puts, hmmm, I’ll take a four,” he said.

It reminded me of another video I saw somewhere that said God cheats for us. God keeps score of our lives like Bill Murray keeps score in golf. No matter how many times we hit the ball into the water, no matter how many times we are in the bunker, no matter how many putts we take to get the ball in the hole, God will still give us a par.

As we go through our mistake riddled lives, we fail many more times than we succeed. We are beautifully made yet flawed individuals struggling to earn a par, knowing that we do not deserve such a lofty score. But God’s mercy covers a myriad of sins, failed dreams, and missed putts. God’s love for us causes God to mark our score card with the par we don’t deserve.

Father Mark +

Sunday, May 12, 2019

“How you see the world depends on where you look.”

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

You may know that after 15 years of every Sunday preaching in the church, I am not a huge fan of the sheep and good shepherd metaphors that John likes to use in his Gospel. But since today is affectionately dubbed “Good Shepherd Sunday” I am somehow forced to use that theme in my message.

Let me start by saying that John not only wants us to think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who leads his sheep to green pastures, John also wants us to think of the followers of Jesus as sheep who know the voice of the shepherd--who hear the shepherd’s call and follow him.

There is another character we should consider, and that is the devil, represented by the wolves who are able to snatch sheep from Jesus and the Father’s hand.

What a dark and ominous world this picture paints. Knowing the shepherd and following his voice, we still could be snatched away and devoured by wolves—right from the hand of Jesus.

Doesn’t that sound scary? That all our good intentions and the good intentions of Jesus could be wiped out simply and quickly by the actions of the wolves around us?

I thought that once we were firmly in the grasp of Jesus, we were safe! Once we recognized his voice and learned to follow him, we could relax and enjoy the green pastures to which he had led us.

Honestly, I guess not. How does this happen? How can we lose our way so easily when we are guided by the Good Shepherd? How do we fall off the pathway—the Camino—the way, when we are so positively guided by Jesus?

I sort of pride myself on the variety of sources I sample when I get my news. I know that many people only listen to Fox or CNN or MSNBC. Some read the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal. Or have their opening pages on their internet browsers  set to MoveOn.org or the Huffingham Post.

I read and listen to a little bit of everything, and one of my favorite sources is the “One A” hosted by Joshua Johnson. It is produced by American University in Washington DC and carried by NPR.

In one of his recent programs, Joshua Johnson made the comment, “How you see the world depends on where you look.”

The comment struck me and has stuck. I’ve thought about that a lot over the last few days.

It is very true—and where you look also means with whom you associate, who you listen to and who you ignore, what draws your attention, how you like to spend your time and money, where you were raised and where you live.

All these things influence your world view. How you see the world depends to a large degree on where you look and what you find and what you expect to find.

Look in the sewer you see garbage and rot.
Of course, that is what you expect to find in a sewer, but when we have problems with our septic system and it backs up into the yard or the parish hall, I get very upset. “Why do people flush junk down the drain and stop up the system?” I wonder.

Or when people drive by our dumpster on Lone Star and throw their trash over the fence, I’m often out there picking the mess up, I get upset. “Why don’t people put their trash in their own garbage bins?”

If you keep looking in the sewer and looking in the dumpster, your view of the world starts to change. You begin to see things not as beautiful and pristine, but full of trash and debris and in need of a good cleaning.
Look in the courtroom and you see litigation.
Of course, that is what happens in a courtroom. Justice is served and the unfairly accused receive fairness and impartiality.

But when we see people in chains and cuffs—people crying over their lost loved-ones or suing over unjust treatment or dishonesty I get upset. “Can’t we all just get along and treat each other rightly?”

Look into the darkness and you face the unknown.
I know you can get lost in the daylight, but it is so much easier to get lost at night—to become confused and disorientated. Especially if you are in an unfamiliar spot.

Where you look does effect how you see the world. 
How you see other people and how you interpret what goes on around you and how susceptible you are to the forces and pressures of the wolves that try to devour and destroy us.

But, look in the garden you find new growth.
We sometimes need to look past the bugs that eat our tomatoes before they ripen and the weeds that encroach upon the good soil, but we can easily see that something miraculous happens when water and dirt and seeds come together. And new life begins.

And, if you look into your brain, you find ideas.
Old ideas that maybe you’ve forgotten and left behind and new ideas that you have never tried. And you might find ways of beating back the wolves and new ways of understanding the world around you.

Look in scripture and you hear the truth. 
Other voices around us try to beat back the truth of God as it has been taught to us. Other voices try to beat back the Church—the body of Christ as a place full of hypocrites and sinner, instead of a place of healing.

But if we stay focused on the truth, we know that it is only wolves that try to sway our understanding and get us to look only at the ugly and obscene.

Look to Jesus and what do you find?
Do you find the Good Shepherd who leads you into the ways of justice and fairness and peace; away from dangers and wolves. Do you find the source of our Hope? Do you hear the plea to Fear Not? Do not be afraid?

“How you see the world does depend on where you look.”

If you want to stay in this world, to be afraid of your life and live in fear that when we die this is all there is and ignore the truth of God’s word and Jesus’ direction, just keep looking at worldly things.

Or, look to your Heavenly Father . . . the source of all good things. The source of Everlasting Life.

Father Mark+