Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on March 28, 2018 at 8:00am and 10:30am Masses
A family had two little boys that were always stealing things. They stole from their classmates at school, took things from the neighbors’ yards, and shoplifted things when they were at the mall with their mom. The parents tried everything they could to change their boys’ bad behavior, but nothing worked. As a last resort they decided to ask their pastor what to do. (*only in a joke is a priest considered a last resort.*) The pastor agreed to talk to each boy individually about stealing.
The youngest boy was sent to meet with the priest first. The priest wanted the boy to realize that God sees everything, so he began by asking him, “Where is God?”
The boy just stared back at the priest and made no response. The priest repeated the question, “Where is God?”
The boy looked away and made no answer. The priest moved in closer to the boy and said, “Come on, I know you know. Where is God?”
At that, the boy ran from the priest as fast as he could and did not stop until he got home. He ran to his room, slammed the door, and hid in the closet. His older brother came, knocked on the closet, and asked, “What happened?”
The young boy replied, “Boy, we are in really big trouble this time. God is missing, and they think we did it!”
Where is God? That is an important question for us to consider during our Lenten journey. Among all the prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and all the other things we are doing during Lent, where is God in all this? I have been fasting throughout Lent and some people have asked me if I am OK. I’m losing weight, but if I am not drawing closer to God, I am simply in a weird diet plan. The purpose of Lent is to draw closer to God. Have we done that this Lent? Now that the cross, statues, and baptismal font have been draped in purple, it signals to us that we have just two weeks left of Lent to draw closer to God. There are precious few days left.
Have we checked in with God and said, “Hey, what’s up?” as much as we had planned at the start of Lent? We often have big plans for spending time with God, but as the days of Lent go by, our lives and all the things in the world start to happen and we begin to slide back to where we were before Lent with God. We plan to set aside a bunch of time (time we really don’t have we are so busy!), with peace and quiet (that’s almost impossible in today’s 24-hour media driven world!), to get away to a Church or other place with no distractions (which usually doesn’t happen until Sunday Mass!).
I’m reading a book called Year of Living Biblically and it was written by a man who is agnostic, or does not really believe in God, but he decides to live all the rules of the Bible for an entire year. He wears a white tunic, carries a staff, wears a long beard, and plays a ten-string lyre. It has been made into a CBS sitcom. Like the show, some parts of the book are very “laugh out loud” funny. For example, he starts a fight in Central Park when he begins throwing stones at a man he sees committing sin. On the serious side, he also spends a few minutes a day in prayer at a scheduled time each day no matter what he is doing, even though he doesn’t even believe in God. Over time his few minutes of prayer each day changes from being uncomfortable, to natural, and eventually they become one of the parts of his day that he most looks forward to.
That’s all we need to do in Lent. Take a few minutes of time whatever we are doing and wherever we are in our day and take some time to be with God. We can’t wait until we have the time, peace and quiet, and the perfect location. That might not happen too often, if at all, in our busy lives. In a short time, like the author, we are going to find those times with God to be the best times of our day. We need to be like the Greeks in today’s gospel who said, “We would like to see Jesus.”
Sometimes we feel like that little boy. We think that God is missing or that we somehow lost him. Maybe we feel that way this Lent. But our Lord is right there, wherever “there” is for us: at home, in traffic, at school or work, when we’ve lost a job, even we get terrible news from the doctor, or learn of the death of a loved one. God doesn’t mind being brought into the middle of our day and life, among all the mess. If anything, the gospels show us that our Lord does his best work in the most troubling and chaotic times, and that is where we most need him. He wants to be there. In fact, he has been there himself. In today’s gospel, which occurs just as his Passion begins, Jesus says, “I am troubled.” He knows what it feels like to have a very bad day.
In today’s gospel, Jesus takes time to meet with the Greeks who seek him out. But you will notice that he begins by explaining all that is required of those who seek him out, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” He was speaking of his Passion and death. Being a follower of Jesus involves death. We are to be a grain of wheat that dies. We must die to self. We must be willing to give up our lives, for God and for others. One of my favorite lines that I read when I lead Stations of the Cross is, “We all die little deaths each day.” How true that is. But each time that we do, we become more like Christ. Each disappointment, struggle, fear, and pain that we experience transforms us. That is what Lent is all about – transformation, becoming more like our Lord and becoming more the person we are meant to be. It’s not easy, but our Lord is with us, and he has been there himself.
We don’t need the perfect time or place to be with our Lord, he’s always there. We don’t need peace and quiet, he thrives in the chaos. Our Lord is right there with us in all the stuff going on in our life. He has so been there himself. When we turn to him he will manifest himself to us, just as he did for the Greeks in today’s gospel.
But he does ask something from us in return. We can’t remain where we are. We must follow him. We cannot remain who we are. We must be transformed. That is what the season of Lent is all about, transformation. We journey from where we are and who we are now, to where and who we need to be.
Our Lord says in today’s gospel, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” During Lent we journey from death to life!
Rejoice and be glad!