Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on April 30, 2016 at 4:00PM and May 1, 2016 at 8:00am and 10:30am Masses
I was walking through the food court at the mall one day behind a mother and her four or five year old daughter. I had not yet decided what I was going to eat, but the mother and daughter had already decided. They couldn’t wait to have a chicken sandwich and waffle fries from Chick-fil-A. Now the way they were describing how delicious and tasty the food was going to be, I couldn’t wait to have some Chick-Fil-A myself. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and as you may know Chick-Fil-A is always closed on Sundays so that their employees can observe a day of rest and spend time with God and their families. The mother and daughter were clearly disappointed when they approached the locked and darkened Chick-Fil-A. “I’m sorry, honey,” the mother said. “They’re closed today.” The little girl got real serious, folded her arms, looked up at her mother, and said, “Mommy, you know it’s the work of the devil.”
You know I think that sometimes we can be like that little girl at the mall. We can feel that God is not with us when things are going wrong in our lives, like when the Chick-Fil-A is closed, or maybe when there are issues with the Pirates bullpen, although I’m pretty sure that the devil is indeed working through our relief pitchers this season for whatever reason.
But in all seriousness, I’m talking about trying and difficult situations like those on the Holy Sepulcher prayer chain. In the past week we have been praying for those who lost a job, are looking for a job, and those who have a job but are having a hard time. We have been praying for those who have been in accidents, those who have required very serious surgeries, those with serious illnesses, and those who are suffering through cancer, and of course, we always have those who are dying or have died, including a young man named Travis the altar server from my wife and I’s wedding who died of a heroin overdose and a mother from St. Richard Parish who lost her young son to suicide and a few days later lost her father. We might ask, like the little girl at the mall might ask, “Where is God?” I’m sure that mother is asking that question. Today’s gospel provides the answer.
First, I think each one of us most of the time believes that God is with us, but today’s gospel takes it one step further. Jesus says about those who follow him and his teaching, “My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” So often it is said that Jesus is our friend, someone we get with from time to time to hang out with, but Jesus tells us that He and the Heavenly Father dwell with us, live with us. Jesus lets us know we’re family, and families are much closer than friends.
On the Holy Sepulcher men’s retreat this past weekend, Deacon Bill Batz, one of the presenters, said that our God is infinite and beyond anything that we could ever imagine, and yet he is closer to us than our hand. By our baptism and confirmation, the same Holy Spirit that Jesus promises to send to the apostles in today’s gospel is dwelling within us right now. God is not just with us, God is so close to us that God is actually in us.
Next, in today’s gospel Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word,” and when we think about the word of Jesus, we often think of the commandments, the gospel, and the teachings of Jesus, loving God and our neighbor. Each of us I’m sure does our best to follow these very important words. We try to be good people. But Jesus is calling each one of us to be more than good people who live the gospel message. Jesus has a personal word for each one us, our calling, a unique and personal way that our Lord wants us to live out the gospel in our lives. We need to take some time in prayer, or maybe even retreat, to listen to our Lord so that we can properly answer that call and follow the path he wants us to take.
Today’s gospel is actually somewhat out of place. The words Jesus spoke in this reading were made not after the resurrection or Easter, but before, at the Last Supper or Holy Thursday, right before he would take up his cross. Jesus was preparing the disciples for all of the big things that were going to happen in the days ahead: the Passion, the cross, His death, resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost. When we spend a little time with the Lord each day, He prepares us for what lies ahead. He doesn’t just walk beside us to help us to bear our crosses, but he also walks far out in front of us, to guide us along the path he chosen for us.
No matter what is going on in our lives, we must realize that we have nothing to fear and nothing to be anxious about. Jesus says two very important things in today’s gospel for anyone who is going through difficulties and is struggling, and he said them the night before he would take up his own cross, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid,” and “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
Where is God? Our God is with us, our God is in us! Our Lord walks with us to help us carry our crosses, and walks far out in front of us to clear the way ahead! We are vessels for God! His presence and power are within us!
Rejoice and be glad!