God’s Word is Alive!

HOMILY

Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on January 23 and 24, 2016 on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) at the 4:00PM (Vigil), 8:00AM, and 10:30AM Masses

I found a nice leather bound edition of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table at Barnes and Noble, and after finally making it through the long line to the only open register in the store, the cashier informed me that the leather bound books were buy one, get one 50% off. “No, thanks,” I said. I have the book I want.” “Oh, no,” she said. “I don’t want you to miss out on the savings.” “That’s OK,” I replied. “The line is long and I don’t want to have to wait again,” “Go get another one,” she said. “These nice people will wait for you.” They may have been nice people, but by the looks on their faces they were not going to remain so for long. So I ran back, grabbed the first book I could find, and returned to the register. The woman looked at it as she rang it up. “Oh, how nice!” A beautiful children’s book!” Except that it really isn’t beautiful and really isn’t for children either.

You see I had picked up a copy of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales and they are indeed grim, as grim as the faces on the people in line that day. Many of the stories might not be appropriate for adults. I say that because most of us grew up on Disney fairy tales that have most of the horrible and gruesome details removed from them. The Grimm stories do have happy endings, if you can get past dark and scary parts, but reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales to a child is like reading Edgar Allen Poe or Stephen King to them.

In today’s first reading from the book of Nehemiah, the people of Jerusalem find the Word of God to be kind of grim as well. They are weeping as the priest Ezra reads the entire Law of Moses and interprets it for them. For some of the people I’m sure having to listen to someone read and preach to them all day made them sad, but if we look at the background to today’s reading, we can understand why everyone else were sad and weeping.

600 years before Christ, Jerusalem was conquered, the walls of the city and the temple destroyed, and the people taken as captives to Babylon, present day Baghdad, Iraq over 500 miles away. During the exile in Babylon the people felt alone, they felt that God had abandoned them. They remained captives in Babylon for about 60 years until King Cyrus of Persia, present day Iran, conquered Babylon and allowed the people of Jerusalem to return home, to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its temple. That is where we pick up the story in today’s first reading, the city of Jerusalem and the temple have been rebuilt and Ezra is reading the Word of God to the people, most of them hearing it for the first time.

The people realize during the reading that it was not God that had abandoned them, but they who had abandoned God. They realize that all that happened to them was because they went their own way and did not follow God and this made them sad and weep. They had exiled themselves from God, and not the other way around. They begin to realize that they needed to change, to follow God’s will and plan for their lives.

How often our world, our country, and even we ourselves are like the people of Jerusalem, going our own way and doing our own thing, instead of following God’s will and plan for us. We too exile ourselves from God. We want to write the story of our lives and we want the Disney version. But life is so often different than how we expect it or plan it, especially when we are with God and not exiled from him.

Friday was the March for Life and this year was the first time I participated in it. At the March and on the bus ride down and back, I could not help but think about a high school teenage girl many years ago who had something unplanned happen in her life, at least not that at that point in her life. It’s not how she would have written the story. But God had a plan for her, and for me. You see my teenage mom put her plans aside that I might be around to preach to you today. As a deacon I have some idea what it is like to follow God’s will in my own life, but until yesterday/Friday I had not considered what it took for my mom to follow God’s will in her life. It was never easy for her to be a teenage mom, certainly more Grimm that Disney for sure, although to be honest she never left me in the woods to starve to death or to be eaten by wolves as in the Grimm fairy tales, although again to be honest, at times she probably might have wanted to. It was certainly no fairy tale, it was very real. A young woman putting her faith and trust in God and his plan for her life, and I received the gift of life! That’s not how my mom would have written the story, but that’s how God wrote the story!

Today’s gospel shows us that God is not just writing the story, he is actively participating in it. When Jesus says in the gospel, “This Scripture passage is fulfilled,” he is saying, “This is not a 2,000 year old story. These are not just words. The Word is made flesh! God’s Word is living! God’s Word is alive!” He came to bring glad tidings to the poor, those of us who are poor in body, mind, and spirit. He came to proclaim liberty to captives, those of us who are captive by sin, addiction, and the pleasures and vices of the world. He came to give recovery of sight to the blind, those who of us cannot see with the eyes of faith and are filled with hopelessness and despair. He came to let the oppressed go free, those of us who are oppressed with fears, worry, and depression.

God is writing the story of our lives and is actively participating in it, and like the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, our lives will have some dark and scary parts, but the story always has a happy ending when we trust in his plan for us. Captivity and exile is followed by a return to God. The Cross is followed by the Resurrection. Death on earth is followed by new life in heaven.

This Year of Mercy is the perfect time to turn to the Lord and let him rewrite the story of our lives. No matter how much or how often we have exiled ourselves from God, no matter how badly we’ve written the story ourselves to this point, our Lord is ready to write an amazing ending to the story. It will not be sad. As Ezra tells the people in today’s first reading, “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”

Thanks mom and thank you God for writing my story the way you did!

God’s Word is living! God’s Word is alive! Rejoice and be glad!

Categories: Homilies, Word | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “God’s Word is Alive!

  1. Deacon, your homily was so beautiful and heartwarming! It followed God’s word in the Gospel but also in real life. God has a plan for everyone, that is why they say God knew every hair on your head before you were even born. Thanking God for you and for all of my family. I just know your mom must have loved you very much. We are all here for a reason, but mostly just to show our love for God and Our Spiritual Mother Mary and our earthly mother who gave us life!

  2. Janet Konig

    Great sermon – sorry to have missed the “live” version!!

  3. Mary P Hoerner

    I, too, wish I had been able to hear that homily “live”. Many, many times, the sincerity and gravity of the words shows on the face of the storyteller, and that, too, becomes part of the story. I can imagine the sound of your voice, and I believe I can even imagine the cadence of your words as you present your homily; I have heard you a few times! And, besides that, God works in mysterious ways!
    I have always been very passionate about stories, and that isn’t just because I come from a long line of long-winded Irishmen! I have always learned best when there was a story attached to the facts. That was especially true when I was at Duquesne and one of the African priests would offer to present one of their native stories when someone was having trouble understanding a scripture story. Always, ever single time, they were able to bring the meaning into closeness with the listener through their stories. I used stories with my classes of young students of many ages in faith formation classes, most especially Confirmation. I used them also with parent groups that I would speak to in the diocese. We need stories as much as the next person, as Fr. Bob proved today. It really has been a necessary ingredient in our longevity as the people of God.
    When our oldest son was 12-13, we share a night of Christmas prayer and celebration with friends. We asked the older children to write a modern day version of Joseph and Mary’s story, and we sent them off for a while. When they came back and began to read, we were somewhat impressed. But what made us cry was the story our son had written. His attention to detail and the correlation of old with new was so accurate. (He had been listening to those old Irish story-tellers!) But, most of all, the compassion of his words as he described the treatment of Joseph and Mary at the hands of the townspeople, at the wonder and understanding of the poor car mechanics, and the generosity and welcome of the couple at the end of the block who had eight kids of their own to house and feed, took our words and breath away. And we cried.
    I cried every year for the four years running that our organist/choir director at St. Kieran/St. Matthew in Lawrenceville sang the Amy Grant song, “Breath of Heaven”, at Christmas time. The words so touched my heart and said all that I had imagined about Mary’s difficulty and embarrassment, her doubts and fear. I could hear her speaking to me, to everyone, about the grave beauty of these moments of pregnancy and giving birth. And, boy!, did I cry!
    I cried, too, as I read your homily. We lost a child (who would have been #4) at 6 months into our pregnancy. And practically no one outside our little home noticed. If they did, they said either, “Oh, you’ll have another one”, not knowing how difficult that one had been to conceive, or they said, “You’ll feel better in a week or two.” Well, it’s 32 years later, and it still hurts, and we still remember every day, every Aug. 13.
    Life is so precious and we need to take every opportunity we can to make people take notice of that. We need to tell our stories. We need to drown out the apathy of the world and the terrible noise it makes, and the result it leaves behind. So, thank you so much for sharing this, for saying it out loud, for being the story-teller. Maybe I didn’t get to hear you personally, but maybe the person who most needed to was there and heard.
    God bless you!

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