14th S. 2021: Celebrating Freedom

Today’s homily is for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 4, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The YouTube link is here.

A very happy 4th of July to all. On this day in 1776 the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, “declaring that the thirteen American colonies were no longer part of the British Empire but now the United States of America.” How exciting it must have been to throw off the yoke of oppression and tyranny under the British, and fight for independence…a fight that continues still today. Franklin Roosevelt, in 1941, outlined four freedoms that he said everyone ought to enjoy: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Those freedoms are worth celebrating in every generation. 

As Americans we celebrate our freedom from British tyranny on July 4th. The Jews continue to celebrate their liberation from Egypt every year, and 2000 years ago, Jesus, our Lord not only celebrated the Passover in Egypt with his people, but also became himself the sacrificial lamb whose blood brought forgiveness of sins, freedom from slavery to sin and death, and whose resurrection brings eternal life for all who believe. 

As Christians we are citizens of earth, and it is important that we celebrate our nation’s freedom, our fallen on Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day for all those who serve. And rightfully so. But we are first citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, whose baptism into Christ Jesus makes us sharers in eternal life. True freedom. Everlasting freedom. Not from the British or the Egyptians, but from Satan, from demons, from principalities and the rulers of this present darkness. 

Yesterday I celebrated a baptism in the 1st Church. Emery Rocha was immersed in the waters of baptism and brought to new life in Christ Jesus. She was liberated. She is free. Free from the stain of Original Sin and the consequences of sin. She has been given a new birth and a new hope, and that should inspire us. But in what way?

Just as July 4 reminds us of the good news of our independence, so do baptisms remind us of the Good News of our redemption. We must honor our troops and remember their sacrifice, but so too must we honor our savior and reflect upon his sacrifice. In the U.S. we have Veteran’s Day and in the Church we have All Saints and All Souls Day. In the U.S. we have Memorial Day, and in the Church we have Sunday where we do this in memory of Him. And in the U.S. we have the 4th of July, and in the Church we have Easter, and Sundays, and Baptisms. 

Roosevelt spoke of four freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, and from fear, but today it appears our freedom, once gained, has created some complacency. With the freedom of speech we have not spoke out against injustice and violence, but have instead slandered, used hurtful words, and post anything about anyone without thought to the hurt we cause. With our freedom to worship we have refused to worship, do not honor the Sabbath, and instead worship at the throne of work, play, leisure, convenience, and pleasure. With the freedom from want we have become gluttonous–taking for ourselves not only what is ours but what is also our neighbors without thought to the harmful effects on others, the environment, animal life, and human dignity. Far from want, we are sick with greed. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid,” and we have become slaves to it. When we are afraid of the future, afraid for our children, afraid for our country, and when every excuse for every action starts with, “I’m afraid that…” or “I was just afraid so…” then we are not yet free. 

In Galatians 5 St. Paul says, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery…For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.” When we, as a nation, embrace Christ with faith, invite him into our homes and into our schools; when we take no offense at him, we will continue to be free and he will do great miracles in our life and in our country. But we must have faith and want Jesus more than comfort, pleasure, and security.

Margaret Thatcher said of the Athenians, and I think it should stand as a warning for us today, “In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”I did not fight in the revolutionary war, but I am an American who celebrates this great freedom. And I was not there at Calvary, but I am a Christian who celebrates the freedom our Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed and died for. As Christian-Americans we honor those who have sacrificed on earth and we honor our Lord. And we must fight, live right, honor God, honor our country and creation, forego some comfort, and remain free. Happy 4th of July. Be safe.

13th S. 2021: Courage to Approach

Today’s homily is for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 27, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here

Today’s Gospel juxtaposes the disciples’ lack of faith last week during the storm with two people who are commended for their great faith–the woman with the hemorrhage, and the man whose daughter was sick. As was said in the Aleluia, “Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.” 

From the book of Wisdom we heard a foundational truth, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living…God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.” This is God’s plan: unity, love, wholeness, and life! Brokenness, sin, sickness, sadness, and death are not of God, but are of the evil one; of Satan and of those who follow him. But life and light, and love and truth, are of God and are the distinguishing characteristics of his disciples. 

Both the woman with the hemorrhage, and Jarius’ daughter were at the very edge of existence. Not in the center lane living in the fullness of life, but on the edge–like those who tragically, live along the train tracks, the freeways, under bridges, and along the margins we still see today, no doubt both by their own doing, but also due to a variety of circumstances beyond their control; they live along the edge. 

For twelve years the woman had been suffering, and bleeding, and had spent all she had. Pitifully, she dragged herself along the ground just to touch the tassel of our Lord. She had hit rock bottom. No money. No family. And her hemorrhaging made her ritually unclean, unfit for the community. What faith, to know that when everyone and everything else had failed–our Lord would not. That’s beautiful. 

It’s no coincidence that Jarius’ daughter was also twelve years old, alive only for as long as the woman had suffered. Certainly she had means–her father being a synagogue official–yet both of their futures were bound up in Jesus. The little girl was in her room and near death as well. Both of these lives were separated from family, friends, and the community, but our Lord brings them back…because of their faith. That’s what he does.

My brothers and sisters, we too need to call upon the name of the Lord, and in our brokenness and sinfulness, reach out in faith to touch his tassel in the sacrament of reconciliation. But we also need to call upon the angels and saints, and ask for their prayers that we might be strengthened and experience the fullness of life for which God has destined us. 

I think it’s important to point out that the woman was healed because of her faith, and Jarius’ daughter was healed because of his faith. This Gospel is a wonderful example of what protestant Christians teach about the importance of knowing Jesus and personally calling upon him for mercy and healing. They are right and it’s powerful. But it’s also a wonderful example of the power of intercessory prayer! On the strength of Jarius’ faith, and on his intercession for his daughter’s sake, she is healed. Both women return to life, return to family, return to the community, and share in the goodness of the Kingdom of God revealed in Jesus. 

And finally, we need to be intercessors for others as well. The saints of the Church did not start caring about bodies and souls only when they entered heaven, but were concerned about them, and, like our Lord, reached out to them along the highways and byways during their lifetime–and so should we. We are called to share our Lord’s concern for the homeless and the helpless, the addicted, and those who have hit rock bottom. First and foremost, we must pray for others, our sons and daughters, and the helpless, hungry, and homeless. Pray for their healing and their conversion. But also look into ways that organizations are supporting them in their temporal needs. Organizations like Food for the Poor, Unbound, The Wheel Chair Foundation, The Men’s Shelter, the Gospel Mission, and many others, who are in the trenches of bringing life, dignity and hope, to the broken, the addicted, and those on the margins of society. Join me in prayer for these organizations and their good work, but also in supporting their economic needs. St. Paul’s letter to Corinth is for us, “your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, As it is written: Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less.” What do you have yet still to offer to others in need?

Today’s Gospel challenges us and all to be the woman who reaches out to our Lord, but to also be Jarius, and go to Jesus so that others might find life, find joy, and return to the table of dignity, of hope, and resurrection.

12th S. 2021: Wild Ride

Today’s homily is for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 20, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here

A very happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there reading this blog! What a wonderful gift and responsibility. 

How old do you think a child should be before taking him or her on the Giant Dipper roller coaster, at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk? My wife’s family has gone to Santa Cruz for a weekend trip every year since before she was born, and the tradition continues to the very day. We are looking forward to the trip next month. I went first as a boyfriend, then as a husband, and now as a father. It’s a wonderful trip, and we enjoy the beach, the games, the rides, and being with one another…oh, and Pizza My Heart. My sons enjoyed the pizza, and the beach, and the games…but at what age do they get to enjoy the rides…not the kiddie rides, but the roller coaster? I remember when Luke was just tall enough to go on the Giant Dipper, California’s oldest roller coaster. 2024 marks its 100th anniversary!

As we made our ascent, Luke was screaming, “We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die!” He was hysterical, but it made my wife and I laugh out loud. He was so afraid, but we were perfectly calm. We’d been on it a hundred times. We knew the track. We knew the end. We were not afraid. In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples were filled with fear! They were terrified! And while they were stressed out and afraid, our Lord was at the stern of the boat sleeping soundly. Waves were crashing, the disciples were afraid, and Jesus was sleeping like a baby. Why? 

As the 1st reading taught us, God made the land, and made the sea. He had not only been on it a hundred times, he was its very creator! The Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said, “Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!” 

God made the sea, and the wind, and even the storm. “We’re in the midst of a storm?” Jesus says, “You think I’m worried? Please.” Jesus isn’t worried because he knows how it goes. He knows the ride. He’s like my wife and I on the Big Dipper! We weren’t worried. But so many times in our life we are like the disciples, and like my son, Luke, on the Big Dipper. We get stressed out. We’re on a wild ride. We see only what is right in front of our face and we are terrified. But our Lord is calm in the midst of our storm, waiting only for us to call upon us–even with little faith. 

I think the important lesson for us in today’s Gospel is to first recognize that with or without Jesus, we should expect storms in our life. Some of us are going through them even now–a bad health report, the death of a loved one, loss of a job, difficulties with our family, or a number of other storms that come up in this life. The Lord is with us, but just because we think it’s a huge issue, does not necessarily mean it is! In fact, I can’t count the number of times I thought it was the end of the world, but it wasn’t…not yet.

All the same, when we find ourselves in a storm, like the disciples, we should go to our Lord, wake him up and scream in his face! That’s called prayer–specifically it’s called lament. Let Him know how we feel. Let him know we’re afraid. And ask him how in the world he could be asleep when we are going through so much!! 

He will probably chastise us for our lack of faith, that’s true, but he will also calm the storm. Going to our Lord will always bring us to a place of greater peace. Being a person of prayer who leans on and cries out to the Lord will not only strengthen our relationship with Him, but also open our eyes to see how He works in our life and in the world. Jesus cares about our struggles, our pain, and our suffering, but he also knows that it’s just a storm, and if we cling to him, we will spend eternity with him forever, no matter where the ride takes us. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for the Lord is at my side.