Please visit again soon to read more sermons by Fr. Morse.
Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle (2)
I’ve got a pop quiz for you this morning. Prosthetic limbs, artificial body parts, have been around for thousands of years. Would you like to guess what is the oldest prosthetic body part that has ever been found? Do you have a guess? It’s a big toe.
Years ago, archeologists in Cairo, Egypt were excavating the tomb of an ancient Egyptian noblewoman who lived about 3,000 years ago. And they discovered that her body was fitted with a tiny, prosthetic toe made of wood with a leather strap that connected it to her foot. Historians refer to it as the Cairo Toe. (1) By the way, if you’re ever a contestant on Jeopardy and that’s the game-winning question, I do expect you to share your prize money with me. Or at least buy me a cup of coffee.
One of the most recent inventors of prosthetic limbs is a young man named Easton LaChappelle. His story gives me so much hope about today’s young people. Here is a description of Easton from a 2018 interview with CNBC: “LaChappelle has always loved to tinker with electronics. Growing up in rural Colorado, he taught himself the basics of robotics using YouTube and by Skyping experts around the world. At age 14, he built his first working robotic hand using LEGOs, fishing wire and electrical tubing.”
For his 16th birthday, Easton’s parents bought him a 3D printer and he set to work designing a robotic arm. While exhibiting the arm at the Colorado State Science Fair, Easton met a 7-year-old girl who had a prosthetic arm. Easton was appalled when he learned from the girl’s parents that her prosthetic arm cost $80,000, and she would need to replace it every few years as she grew. Easton became determined to produce a fully functional, personalized robotic arm at a drastically lower cost than the major medical manufacturers offered.
In 2014, he gave a TED Talk about his work. Tony Robbins, the best-selling author and business consultant, saw a video of Easton’s talk and decided to invest in his work. He also connected Easton with major software and electronics companies. With Robbins’ help, Easton founded his company, which he named Unlimited Tomorrow, in 2014.
By 2017, Easton manufactured his first robotic arm that was multifunctional, lightweight and inexpensive—in the $5,000 range. He gave it away to a 10-year-old girl named Momo. Easton and Robbins have created a crowdfunding campaign called 100 Tomorrows to raise money to build and give away 100 3D printed prosthetic limbs to people in need all over the world. (2)
Isn’t it outstanding that a young man would invest his intellect and energy in helping people regain the opportunity to fully function in society through inventing better, cheaper prosthetic limbs? What a mission!
So why am I talking about prosthetic limbs this morning? What does that have to do with Jesus? Our scripture lesson for today begins with these words: The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” That’s a big demand. Have you ever prayed that prayer? “Lord, please increase my faith”? I think most of us have prayed that more than once.
The word the apostles use for “increase” in the Greek as in “increase my faith” is “prostithemi.” Jason Buckwalter, a pastor from Fulton, MO, in writing about this word says, “The word the disciples use here is the same word from which we get the word prosthetic, as in prosthetic leg or arm. A prosthetic leg or arm is not a natural appendage. A prosthetic is a manufactured piece added to the body to replace the natural limb which was lost. (Essentially) the disciples are asking for a crutch.” (3)
In essence, Jesus’ followers are saying, “We can’t do this on our own. We don’t have enough faith. We need you to give us something more, something supernatural in its power, if we are going to live the way you’ve called us to live.”
We may be ashamed to admit it, but for many of us faith is a struggle. That’s one of the first insights we get from this Bible passage. Authentic faith is a struggle. That’s why most of us pray this prayer more than once in our lives. In Mark 9, a desperate father comes to Jesus and asks him to heal his son who suffers from seizures. Jesus replies, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
And Mark writes, “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (NKJV)
So if you’ve ever cried out through your tears, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief!” then you are not alone. For many of us, life is hard; faith is a struggle. I want to tell you a true story that I believe will startle you and which you will appreciate.
Not long after the end of World War I, a young woman named Maria Kutschera was roaming the streets of Vienna, Austria, on Sunday afternoons. She was searching for free concerts at the local cathedrals. You see, that was the only reason Maria would ever enter a cathedral.
Maria’s parents had died when she was young, and she was placed, first of all, in the care of a cousin, then an abusive uncle. She ran away from this uncle’s home when she was old enough and worked various jobs to support herself and put herself through college. But her tragic childhood and teen years had left her understandably angry with society and with God.
But this one Sunday she settled in at a cathedral for the purpose of attending a concert. Unfortunately, she was upset to discover that no concert was scheduled for that day. Instead, a young Jesuit priest preached a sermon. After the service, Maria approached the priest and demanded, “How can you believe all this?”
He only responded, “Meet me here Tuesday at 4:00.”
Maria showed up on Tuesday and began telling the priest of all the reasons why she didn’t believe in God, all the ways in which God had failed her. For more than two hours, she made accusations against God’s mercy, against God’s existence. Strangely, the priest received her angry rant as a form of confession. He said to her, “Take courage. I am going to pronounce the words, ‘thy sins are forgiven . . .’ God will forget them, and your soul will look like the soul of a newly baptized person.”
When the priest prayed those words over Maria, something indeed happened in Maria’s heart. She felt like a burden had been lifted. It was the beginning of a journey to healing from her past and returning to the faith.
“And now,” as broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, “here is the rest of the story . . .” Maria’s return to faith in God has affected people all over the world. Maybe it has even touched and inspired your life. For Maria Kutschera after her marriage became Maria Von Trapp. Now think—who was Maria Von Trapp? Part of her life story is featured in the film and Broadway musical, The Sound of Music. (4) Millions of people around the world have been inspired by Maria’s faith and love as part of the singing Von Trapp family. What a change in one young woman’s life!
It’s comforting to me that even the apostles struggled with their faith. And Jesus could have given them exactly what they asked for. He could have asked his Father to fill the apostles with a power and boldness that turned them into miracle machines! But he didn’t do that. Not yet. And we have to wonder why.
Let’s look at Jesus’ response to the apostles. In verse 6, it says, (Jesus) replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
Wouldn’t that solve all our problems, if Jesus just filled us with a faith that erases all our questions and doubts and gives us superhero powers to do jaw-dropping miracles? But faith isn’t a personal power source that can be plugged in whenever we face a difficult challenge. Faith is an ongoing relationship of trust with the God whose Spirit lives in us. That’s the second insight we get from this passage.
Ephesians 2: 8-9 tells us that faith is a gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one can boast about it. And Galatians 5: 22-23 tells us that faith is one of the fruits of the Spirit, something that develops in our lives as the Holy Spirit renews our mind and changes us to be more like Jesus. And Romans 12:3 says to think of ourselves with humility and sound judgment because “God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” We can’t work up more faith with human effort; we can only increase our faith by drawing closer to God.
A client once asked his therapist, “How can I get God’s voice to be louder?”
The therapist replied, “His voice is as loud as it’s going to get. Some other places in the rest of your life have to become quieter if you’re going to hear God.” (5) Is that what we’re missing? Have other voices become so loud in our lives that they have drowned out God’s voice? We equate faith with healings and miracles and flashy evangelistic crusades where people shout and faint and speak in tongues. We want a loud, miraculous display of power to prove our faith. Instead, God plants His Spirit in our hearts and minds and grows us into a people who reflect God’s character.
Pastor Duke Kwon leads Grace Meridian Hill congregation in Washington, DC. He recently wrote a meaningful reflection on this subject. He wrote,
“We demand answers; God gives us wisdom.
We demand ease; God gives us endurance.
We demand certainty; God gives us faith.
We demand a crown; God gives us a cross.
We demand His gifts; God gives us Himself.” (6)
The apostles don’t understand it now, but after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he will send the Holy Spirit to live in them and guide them into all truth and comfort and faith. And yes, they will be able to do amazing miracles. But not yet. For now, Jesus doesn’t give them what they ask for. We may demand the gift of faith; Jesus wants to give us the gift of himself.
The final insight we get from this scripture lesson is that our faith is increased in our obedient service to God. After Jesus shares this exciting image of commanding trees to be uprooted and planted in the sea, he follows it with a completely opposite image: that of a slave serving his master. In the next few verses, he says, “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Here’s what Jesus is saying to the apostles and to us, “You want a superhuman faith, one that overcomes your weaknesses and erases your questions. But real faith looks like a servant doing the tough, necessary, daily work of obeying their master in whatever circumstances their master places them each day.” And Jesus wouldn’t ask us to walk in tough, necessary, daily faithfulness unless he was willing to do it himself.
In Philippians 2: 6-8, the apostle Paul wrote these words about Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
A miracle might be a great way to change someone’s mind. But obedience to God changes lives. And even though Jesus had every miraculous power available to him, he set them all aside in order to show us what faithful obedience to God looks like. Let me tell you what faithful obedience looks like.
A representative of the nonprofit group “Teach America” visited Duke University, a prestigious institution sometime back. She stood in front of the large group of Duke students and said to them, “I can tell by looking at you that I have probably come to the wrong place . . . Just looking at you, I can tell you are a success. Why would you be on this campus if you were not successful and heading for successful jobs?
“And yet here I stand, hoping to talk one of you into giving away your life in the toughest job you will ever have. I am looking for people to go into the hollows of West Virginia, into the ghettos of South Los Angeles and teach in some of the most difficult schools in the world. Last year, two of our teachers were killed on the job.
“I can tell, just by looking at you, that none of you are interested in that. So go on to law school, or whatever successful thing you are planning on doing.
“But if by chance, some of you just happen to be interested, I’ve got some brochures here. Meeting over.”
With that, the crowd of students rushed up the aisles and began snatching up the brochures. (7)
The next time you are tempted to pray that prayer, “Lord, increase my faith!” stop and consider what you’re really asking for. Because faith is a gift from God. It’s an ongoing relationship of trust with the God whose Spirit lives in us. And our faith is proved in our ongoing, obedient service to God. It is in the daily disciplines of submitting our will to God that God uses us to do God’s work, to achieve God’s purposes and to bring God’s kingdom to the world.
- “The Perfect 3,000-Year-Old Toe: A Brief History of Prosthetic Limbs” by Megan Garber, The Atlantic, November 21, 2013. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/11/the-perfect-3-000-year-old-toe-a-brief-history-of-prosthetic-limbs/281653/.
- “Meet the 23-year-old inventor Tony Robbins calls ‘the next Elon Musk’” by Kathleen Elkins, CNBC.com, December 5, 2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/05/tony-robbins-23-year-old-easton-lachappelle-is-the-next-elon-musk.html.
- “Luke 17:1-10” by Jason Buckwalter, September 30, 2019. http://www.aplainaccount.org/luke-171-10/.
- Eric Snyder, for Paul S. Williams in Greg Allen, Rick Rusaw, Dan Stuecher, Paul S. Williams, Editor, When I’m Seeking God’s Will Devotional Journal(Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 2004).
- Dr. Vance L. Shepperson and Dr. Bethyl Joy Shepperson, Tracks in the Sand(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), p. 3.
6, Duke Kwon @dukekwondcn, Twitter, January 2, 2022.
- Roger Haugen.
ChristianGlobe Network, Inc., Dynamic Preaching Third Issue Sermons, by King Duncan
Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle (1)
Today’s first reading has a particular impact. “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord,” the prophet Habakkuk cries. He didn’t even have CNN & Fox. There are times that we feel overwhelmed by the negatives of our life. Terrorism, unrest among our people, the attacks of the pornography industry on our children, and the continual droning of network news organizations giving breaking alerts of as many horrible stories they can drum up, these and many other negative situations of our lives can lead us to join the prophet in questioning God’s presence and control. To Habakkuk and us God says:
“The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”
And in the Gospel the Lord says:
“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.”
We have to have faith that God will set our world straight and that His justice will prevail.
It is in this light that we should view the theme for this Sunday: Respect Life. We do everything we can to promote life, but ultimately we have to have faith that God’s way will prevail.
He is winning. Look at the area of Respect Life which is the Right to Life: the area of opposing abortion. It is difficult to get to exact numbers, but there appears to be a continual decrease in abortions since 2012. Still, the latest statistics, from 2015, shows the number of abortions in the US to be 638, 169, a 2 % drop from the previous year. This is still a horrible number of abortions, one being one abortion too many, but at least the number appears to be going in the right direction, down. What has caused the drop? Certainly it is prayer. Regarding other factors, well, we really can’t pinpoint them. Perhaps it is the easier availability of birth control. Hopefully, it is the determination of many of the young to live moral lives, and, even more hopefully, much of the drop may be due to a change of heart. As much as we need to work to change the laws in our country, our primary effort should be to change the hearts of people. We have to have faith that God is winning this battle for the babies.
God’s victory in Respect Life is also seen in the determination of more and more states to eliminate capital punishment. All life must be respected, including those lives lived in hideous ways. Murderers should not be released into society, but their deaths should not be caused by society either. The Christian cannot be motivated by vengeance.
God’s victory in Respect Life is particularly evident in the care we have for those who cannot care for themselves. People who are physically and mentally challenged are cared for by people who recognize the presence of Christ in those who need our help. We have much more work to do, particularly in solving the problem of the mentally ill forced out onto the streets, but we are making strides to respect their lives.
Another area where life is being respected is the area of care for the elderly. God is winning the victory over those who treat the elderly as a burden to society. When we look in on the ailing senior citizen down the street from us, we are respecting life.
An area of Respect Life where we appear to be losing ground in the United States is the area of euthanasia, or assisted suicide. But we have faith that God will also win this battle.
The first word of Respect Life is Respect. Those who exhibit limited respect or no respect for others demonstrate that they have limited or no respect for life. People who continually mock, insult, belittle and even attack those who are different than what they think is the mainstream of society, cannot respect life because they refuse to respect others. Those who are vitriolic in their attacks on others cannot claim to be people of God.
Jesus Christ came to transform the world with love. He did not come to foster hatred. When we fight hatred, we are loving as the Lord loves. When we are determined to fight the battle for life the Lord’s way, with love, we are truly respecting life. Respect life begins with respect. We have to remind ourselves that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. Every person has dignity. Every person has a right to be respected, even those people who do not respect us.
This is difficult. We have to work against forces outside of us which do not respect others. We have to work hard against forces within us that reduce individuals to members of a group. At the beginning of theBook of Revelations we come upon the Letters to the Seven Churches. The first letter is written to the people of the Church of Ephesus. They are commended for their fight for the Lord, but they are also chastised. Listen to what the Spirit said to these people inRevelations 2:4-5:
“Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
Jesus’ love must radiate in all that we do if we really desire to respect life.
For the committed Catholic, respecting life is expected. We are like that servant in the Gospel reading. We put on our aprons and serve our master recognizing that we are simply doing that which we are obligated to
- We are obligated to lead others to respect life by respecting their lives.