Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on March 24, 2015 at 7:00PM Penance Service
I was at the gas station one day and a man came up to me and gave me a one million dollar bill. It’s not real of course, but it looks real. It even has serial numbers and Grover Cleveland on it. I framed it not only because it looks so real, but so that I can always remember my encounter with the man who gave it to me.
You see he handed me this one million dollar bill to ask me what he called “the million dollar question” – Are you saved? Because this can mean any number of things to different people, I asked him what he meant by saved. He replied, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” “Well I am a deacon of the Catholic Church,” I answered. “Well then you’re definitely not saved!” he replied. Then he began to explain to me why I was not going to heaven. “But do not worry,” he assured me, if I would right then and there recite with him the “Sinner’s Prayer”, I would accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, all of my sins would be forgiven, and I would be guaranteed to go to heaven. Seeing an opportunity for a lively discussion I asked, “But what if I sin next week or this afternoon, or if totally reject Christ in some other way before I die, what then?” I asked him. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Christ died for all your sins: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. No matter what you do in the future, if you recite this prayer with me now, you will certainly go to heaven.” Wow! For not being in scripture anywhere, that was certainly some prayer he had there!
I will spare you most of the details of the theological discussion that happened at the gas station that day, but in summary this man had it wrong. Jesus in his mind was distant and impersonal, judging whether you had recited a specific prayer or not. But Jesus is the shepherd that seeks out the lost sheep and puts it on his shoulders with great joy when he finds it. Jesus lights lamps and sweeps the house to find even one lost coin. We are not worthless million dollar bills to him. Jesus cares for us, he is close to us, and his relationship with us is very real and personal.
Of course every relationship has it problems, difficulties, and brokenness. In the sacrament of reconciliation we come to heal and restore our broken relationship with Christ, whether we have rejected him directly by not loving him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, or whether we have rejected him indirectly by not loving our neighbors as ourselves. But not to worry, Christ died for this very moment, to forgive us our sins. Tonight we will experience the love, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ in a very real and personal way. Today we come to receive a gift worth far more than a million dollars, a priceless gift – the healing and restoration of our relationship with Christ, a relationship not just for yesterday, today, and tomorrow, but for all of eternity. In today’s gospel Jesus says, “There will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Yes, tonight is certainly a time to rejoice and be glad!