Sermons

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Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)

 

I heard recently about a man who took great pride in being a former Navy Seal. And why not? This is an elite group. It takes a special sailor to qualify as a Navy Seal.

This man tells about sharing his military exploits with his grandson’s kindergarten class. This former Seal regaled the children with his war stories. After he finished, hands shot up into the air all over the classroom. The kids were eager to ask questions. “So,” asked one little girl, “can you balance a ball on the end of your nose?” Well, to be sure, a Navy Seal ought to be able to balance a ball on the end of his nose.

Life has a way of humbling us, doesn’t it? We think we are impressing people, and all they want is to see us balance a ball on the end of our nose. Our scriptures for today all have one thing in common: we see a man who was humbled.

Today’s reading present three men, Peter, Paul and Isaiah.  All called by God.  All appear to be unlikely choice to perform the mission they were given.  Each one, though, was the perfect choice.  

 

            Simon, was a fisherman.  He knew the sea.  He knew where to find fish, at least most of the time.  He was a big man, an ox of a man.  He was the leader of the group, but that was a small group of four fishermen consisting in himself, his brother, Andrew, and the two Zebedee kids, James and John.  He was probably illiterate.  Yes, the New Testament lists two letters attributed to him, but he could have dictated these to a Christian scribe.  Simon was just a good, hard, blue collar worker we would say, an everyday laborer.  He was the least likely to lead an international movement.  He had never been outside of Galilee and Judea. But this man, Simon, the Son of a man named Jonah, was called by the Lord to lead the Church, personally bringing the Gospel message all the way to Rome. He was the least likely to do this.  But Jesus called him.  He gave him a new name, Peter, the Rock.  And Peter was the perfect choice. God made him the perfect choice.

 

            Saul of Tarsus was brilliant.  He wasn’t just literate; he was scholarly. He was a student of Gamiliel, one of the most important rabbinical teachers of the ancient world. Saul knew the scripture and the Jewish practices better than most people of his time.  He was passionate for the Hebrew religious law.  He was more enthusiastic than most Pharisees.  He would hunt down the followers of Christ, convinced that their way of life was polluting the Holy Land of Israel.  Saul was certainly not someone you would choose to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  What is more, he is the last person you would expect who would argue that the gentiles did not have to first become Jewish before becoming Christian.  But Christ called Saul as he traveled on the road to Damascus.  He was given a new name, no longer Saul, now Paul.  Least likely?  No, Paul was the perfect choice.  He was the perfect choice to spread the Good News.  God made him the perfect choice.

 

            700 years before Peter and Paul, a man was chosen to be a prophet for Israel.  His name was Isaiah.  The main focus of his prophecy was on the holiness of God.  The “Holy Holy Holy” that we sing during Mass is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. But Isaiah was certainly not the person anyone would expect to proclaim God’s holiness.  He was a man with unclean lips.  What did that mean?  In our days when we  accuse someone of having a dirty mouth we mean that his language is vulgar, offensive and abusive.  Perhaps Isaiah was filthy that way.  Or perhaps he was a liar, a violator of the eighth commandment.  Or perhaps he was someone who was not thoroughly devoted to Yahweh and even ate food that the Jewish people were not allowed to eat, such as pork, shell fish and food sacrificed to pagan gods.  These are some of the ways that his lips might have been unclean.  Yet, those lips were chosen to proclaim the holiness of God.  Today’s first reading tells us that God purified these lips.   God made Isaiah the perfect choice.

 

            God does that.  He did that for Peter, Paul and Isaiah.  He does that for us.  He makes each of us the perfect choice.

 

            So the brand new Mom and Dad bring their baby home from the hospital.  Do you parents remember that day?   Everyone was excited.  Then they left.  And your baby was colicky.  Where were those people at 2 am in the morning?  Like the guy in the commercial, the Dad said to himself, “I’m a sports car kind of guy; not a van guy.”  As she rocked the baby all day, and all night, the Mom said to herself, “I don’t know if I’m ready for this.”  Both Mom and Dad said to themselves, not to each other, and certainly not to their own parents, “I can’t do this.”  But God called them, called you, to be parents.  He even gave you new names, “Mommy and Daddy.” There are no better parents for your child, your children, than you.  God made you the perfect choice.

 

            Your wife, your husband, has been severely ill.  Worse, one of your children is chronically ill.  You are continually going back and forth to the hospital, back and forth to the doctor. You are exhausted, physically and emotionally.  “I can’t do this,” you say.  “I’ve always hated hospitals.  I get squeamish just at the site of blood.” But God has called you to be a care giver.  He’ll give you the strength to get through it all.  

 

            You might just be a teenager, but you have so much pressure.  School work can be tough.  It can be boring.  Some subjects are fun and come easy.  But then there are those that drive you up a wall.  You can’t seem to get it right.  You are on a team or in a club, and there are high expectations placed on your back.  And then there is the constant drama with your friends. Who is not talking to who and why?   On top of all this put peer pressure. Others tell you that you are the only one who doesn’t drink, doesn’t take drugs, doesn’t have sex.  They are lying, or at least they don’t know everyone else, but still they put pressure on you to join them in their self-destructive behavior.  You have all this pressure and you say, “I can’t do this.  I can’t be a committed Catholic.”  You are correct, alone you can’t, but with God you can.  He has called you to bring the message of his Kingdom to those who have rejected him.  He has called you to develop into the man or woman who will lead his people.  He even gave you a new name at your baptism. He calls you His Child, His Son, His Daughter.  Think about this, God doesn’t just call you Liz; He calls you His Daughter Liz.  He doesn’t just call you Bill.  He calls you His Son Bill.  

 

Note, first of all, how they were made aware of their sinfulness and their dependence on God. 

Having worked with drug addicts and alcoholics we always say that they have to hit rock bottom before they can be lifted up.  They same is true for people who are addicted to their sin.  If you keep confessing the same sin over and over again, you are addicted to it.  You have a choice f stopping it now or let it grow and fester until it brings you down. Either way you can’t do it on your own. You need help.  AA gives you a sponsor but they also say you need a higher power.  Hopefully for us sitting here that higher power is God.

 

Seeing ourselves as we really are, experiencing God’s grace to make a new start in life—lead to the call to a purposeful life. For everyone that call is to bring others to Christ.  So parents for your children You Can Do it.  For students in school You Can Do it.  For those in the military You Can Do it.

The Lord asks, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” And Isaiah cries out, “Here am I, send me.” Jesus says to the frightened Simon Peter, “I will make you a fisher of men” and immediately he follows after the Master. And St. Paul acknowledges that because he persecuted the Christians, he was the least of the Apostles, but, he adds, that by God’s grace, he worked harder than any of them. That’s what happens when we have an encounter with the living God. And it is the most important encounter we will ever have–giving our lives completely to Christ.

 

 

 

            You can do this, and I can do this.  We can be Christians thoroughly committed to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We can do this because the One who has called us gives us the power to complete his mission.

 

             All of us have times that we are convinced we are the least likely to perform a role that God has set for us, perhaps as a parent, perhaps as a care giver, certainly as a committed Christian.  We all might think that we are the least likely to serve God.  But we are wrong.  

 

            Like Peter, Paul and Isaiah, we might think we are the least likely, but God has called us.  In His mind, with His help, with His Divine Mercy, we are each the perfect choice. 

 

 

If I told you that God would send His son to this earth, that He would only live about 33 years and only the last three of those years would be how His life would be measured, what do you think He would do with those three years? Let’s make it personal. Suppose from the day you were born you knew you would only live 33 years and that your life would be measured by only the last three. What would you do with your life?

It is indisputable that Jesus did more and accomplished more in the last three years of His life than any other human being has in a full life. In fact, He accomplished more than any other nation or kingdom in history. H. G. Wells, the famous author, one of the top historians of the 20th century said this about Jesus:

“More than 1,900 years later a historian like myself who doesn’t even call himself a Christian, finds the picture entering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant man….the historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is, ‘What did he leave to grow?’ Did he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test, Jesus stands first among all who have ever lived.”[1]

Someone has said, “You can gauge the size of a ship that has passed out of sight by the huge wake it leaves behind.” By any measure, Jesus left the world’s largest wake behind Him.