Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on September 9, 2017 at 6:00PM and September 10, 2017 at 8:00AM and 10:30AM Masses
There is a commercial that has been running on TV recently. A woman is looking carefully at a wall covered with dozens of different paint chip samples. She is trying to figure out what color would look best in her family room. As she is trying to make her decision her husband walks in the room and notices what she is doing, his face falls, and he quickly and quietly sneaks out of the room before she notices he is there. Obviously, he wants nothing to do with choosing a paint color.
Who can blame him! If you have ever tried to decide what color to paint a room, it can be difficult. There are thousands of colors to choose from and everyone has an opinion of what is the right color. It can be difficult to decide even if you agree on a color. When my wife and I moved into our house we agreed that the hallways needed repainted and we both agreed that they should be white. We are more than half way through our mortgage and the walls have still not been painted because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different shades of white. Choosing paint color is not a major decision in anyone’s life, choosing our spouse, career, home, and so many other decisions are much bigger, but as the man in the commercial realizes, deciding even very small things like paint can be very difficult.
Today’s gospel says, “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” If we come to an agreement about anything, pray about it, it’s as good as done. Wow! That’s amazing! One problem with that is that our Lord was talking in regards to reconciling with our neighbor. But the real hard part, of course, is that we must agree. If two people cannot agree on a simple paint color, how much harder it is for a family to agree about something? I have several friends who go on vacation to the same place every year and when I asked them why, they mentioned the same thing. It is easier than arguing about where to go next year.
It is very hard to agree and reconcile about really important things. How hard it is for the governor and legislature to agree on a budget and for the President and Congress to agree about the direction of the country? Agreement is also difficult because of our increasingly divisive “us vs. them” society: Democrat vs. Republican, rich vs. poor, citizen vs. immigrant, black vs. white, and this weekend in our area Pitt vs. Penn State and Steelers vs. Browns. But if we come together and reconcile, it is ours. But if we put aside our differences, it is ours.
Hurricanes Harvey has caused horrible destruction in Texas and Hurricane Irma will be causing destruction in Florida today. The number of lives lost and the property that has been destroyed is unbelievable. But there has been tremendous good that came out of the tragedy as well. Despite the death and destruction, watching the news for the first time in a very long time actually feels positive because people are working together to make things better. People rescuing others without asking whether they are a Republican or Democrat. People giving shelter to people without asking whether they are a citizen or an immigrant. For a brief time, the hatred and divisions that separate us have been swept away with the flooding. People have put aside their differences and come together.
The gospel today says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The Greek word translated as “in the midst” means in the middle, between, and in the center of. The Lord is always with us of course, but when we gather together in his name, he is not just a bystander in the corner. He is among us, front and center, working with us, between us, and for us. He is there to helps us recover from disasters, literal ones like hurricanes and floods, and figurative ones like when we are struggling with death, our health, employment, addictions, everything. You see the effects of not gathering in his name on the news on the nights they are not covering the hurricane: the lack of respect for life, the crime, the hate, and the division.
Today’s second reading says, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” That’s what people are doing in response to the problems caused by the hurricanes, loving one another. How can the President, Congress, the governor, state legislature, Democrats, Republicans, we as a Church and diocese, we as families, and we as people in the world come to agreement on any number divisive issues? How do we reconcile our differences? How do we decide what is the right thing to do? The answer is love.
The second reading says, “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor.” Our Lord is asking us to look outside ourselves and put ourselves in other people’s shoes. How do we decide about immigration? Think we are the immigrant. How do we make decisions about unemployment, healthcare, or poverty? Think we are the one in need. For any issue, we can ask ourselves, “Are we loving ourselves or are we loving our neighbor as ourselves?”
Love will even help you decide what paint color to choose. Seems a little crazy, I know, but love brings people together, or Love Will Keep Us Together, as Captain and Tenille said in 1975 with their #1 song of the year. Love makes it clear what needs to be done. When we love one another, love our neighbor as ourselves, there is no disagreement. Our decision is made. It is obvious what needs to be done.
We have gathered in his name and so the Lord and his love are in our midst, ready to be shared with our neighbor, to bring us to agreement and reconciliation, and to lead us to have whatever we ask for be granted by the heavenly Father.
Rejoice and be glad!