Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Road and Forgiveness

On March 16th, I was ordained a deacon, so now I have the privilege and the responsibility of preaching at Mass. Here is the very first homily I delivered for real (ie: not a practice homily in class). The readings are for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year C, and this homily was delivered at St. Joan of Arc in Arvada, CO, where I have been blessed to be working for almost two years. Friends at the parish were kind enough to record a video of the homily, but I'm not clever enough to know how to upload it, so the text will have to suffice. Enjoy!
Walking; our life is a journey and when we stop, there is something wrong. Walking always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness, which God asks of Abraham, in his promise. 
With these words, our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, addressed the cardinals in his first mass as pope, and so it seems like an appropriate way for me to begin my humble ministry as a deacon. The Christian life is often envisioned as a journey or a path, we see these images throughout the bible. In the first days of the Church, Christianity was known as “The Way.” As we move along this “Way,” God has shown us his goodness once again in giving us a man after his own heart, humble and loving, to lead his church. Pope Francis’s motto when he was a bishop in Argentina was “lowly, and yet chosen.” By now maybe you’ve heard the stories of how he rode the bus with the cardinals back to their house, and how he stopped off to pay his own bill at a hotel. The Pope of the whole church, the Vicar of Christ on earth, stopped to pay his bill! I’m sure he’s causing headaches for his security detail, but he is showing us true humility in his actions as well as his words. With a new pope in Rome, and a new deacon here at this ambo, this is a time to reflect on how God’s love for us, while it is ancient, is still always new, and to look ahead at God’s love going forward. When you’re on a journey, when you’re on “The Way”, you don’t look backwards, you look forward, you look ahead.
We see this in the first reading, where Isaiah says: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” This message from God is hopeful under any circumstances, but look at the title and description of God here, that really helps us magnify these words. The reading opens with: “the Lord, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army, till they lie prostrate together, never to rise, snuffed out and quenched like a wick.” This, of course, is referring to the crossing of the Red Sea, where God split the water and allowed the Israelites to pass through on dry land. After recounting all that, God says through Isaiah “remember it not, consider it not.” He is saying “Yes, I did all that, but now something new is happening, don’t even think about that old stuff.” Now, I don’t know about you, but if I ever manage to split even a puddle in two, I never want you to forget it because that’s the top of my game. Nothing better is coming. But God can split a sea and say “That’s nothing, something better is coming, look ahead.” Look ahead. 
Now, I’m not saying to ignore the blessings in your past, but don’t long for them at the expense of the blessings God wants to give you now. Rather, use them, use the memory of them, to propel you forward even further into God’s goodness. That’s what the Israelites weren’t doing: they were in difficult times, and so rather than trusting in God they were longing for the good ol’ days. They memory of God’s previous deeds should have given them confidence, but instead they were despairing. They were looking backwards, not looking ahead.
The Jewish people were being told to look ahead, but they were struggling. When we consider our past, present and future, what are we looking ahead to? Looking on the horizon, we see that the Easter Triduum is almost upon us, where we will celebrate the forgiveness Christ won for us on his cross. While these events happened 2000 years ago, in the mystery of our Catholic liturgy they are made present again. In every celebration of the Eucharist, and especially in the celebration of Easter, the events of Christ’s death and resurrection are made present again. Not just remembered, but made present again. It is in these events that we find our forgiveness and mercy, in the person of Jesus, and it was exactly that forgiveness and mercy that the woman in our gospel today found when she found Jesus.
Try to imagine the shame this woman felt. This woman was caught “in the very act of adultery,” as the Pharisees said. This poor woman was dragged mercilessly into the temple (their church) before Jesus and all the people in order to be used as a pawn in a legal debate that the scribes and Pharisees wanted to engage in. It’s clear they don’t care about justice, because we never hear about her husband or the other man involved here. Also, notice that throughout the whole story, the Pharisees never speak to her, they only speak about her. They only want to use her to try to snare Jesus in a legal trap. So they present him with this situation they think will trap him, they think they've finally got him. If he pardons her, then he is clearly flouting the Law of Moses, and this is everything to the Jews, and then they could arrest him outright, despite the crowds. But if he condemns her, then his lack of mercy would make him unpopular with the crowds, so arresting him would finally be easier. Jesus sees right through their game, and he refuses to play it. Here’s where we have this strange detail of him writing in the dust. Scholars don't know what to make of him writing in the dirt, they have a few ideas, but we can’t know for sure what he was doing there. We don't know what he wrote or drew, but whatever else it means, the action seems to express disdain for the whole affair. He would rather play in the dirt than have this discussion with them. He refuses to enter into this meaningless debate where the love of his Father had no place.
Lets be honest, this woman was in the midst of a very serious sin. She was clearly lost. She needed help, love, and mercy. She didn't need condemnation. The Pharisees wanted to use her, but God, in his incredible mercy, worked through them to bring her to the one person she needed to see: mercy incarnate, Jesus Christ. Mercy and forgiveness come only through Jesus Christ, and God used the Pharisees to bring her from her sin and brokenness straight to him. Very often, we can see the love of God breaking the sad circumstance of our life. Just like with this woman, God will work through strange means, from the unpleasant to the tragic, to accomplish his will for us too. Sometimes they can be obnoxious, whether it’s a traffic jam, an unpleasant coworker calling you to greater patience, or even a bad homily. God can be working through the major tragedies of life, too. In the loss of a job, a major illness, or even the death of a loved one, God is inviting you to a deeper relationship and a greater faith. It hurts, oh it hurts. It hurt for this woman to be publicly exposed to the sneers of the Pharisees and the crowds, but in this pain we find Jesus. Even in the midst of our sin and our brokenness, God finds us, and he says "Go, and sin no more."
This happens especially in the beautiful sacrament of reconciliation. Here especially God meets us right where he met this woman: in our brokenness and the pain it causes. Sometimes, waiting in line for confession feels like waiting in line at the grocery store: you're there with your cart of sins and you say "I've got four taking the Lord's name in vain, eight impure thoughts, and seven lies." And Father says "Well, that adds up to three Hail Mary's and an Our Father." Great, have a nice day. No, going to confession is more like a battle or a courtroom drama, or like the gospel story today. Waiting in line for confession, all the powers of hell stand ready to accuse you and condemn you before God, to spout how unworthy you are, but one by one, like the Pharisees in the story, they fall away, unable to condemn you, until it's just you and Jesus, present in the person of the priest, and Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” Whatever twisted road she was on that led her to that sin, Jesus took off of it and pointed her forward. He met her right in the midst of her brokenness and brought her out of it. This is hopeful for us. Jesus will meet you, wherever you’re at, and set you back on the road to him. But be warned, the road to Jesus inevitably leads to the Cross, but it doesn’t end there. It goes through the cross to the Resurrection. This morning at our ordination the archbishop told us, quite blatantly, that he doesn’t care what we think, he only wants to hear the gospel. And so like St. Paul, I preach Christ, and him crucified. So look ahead, look ahead at the Cross, but don’t stop there, look ahead at the Resurrection, when every tear will be wiped away, and always know that Jesus walks this way with you.

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