Sunday, October 7, 2012

19 Pentecost

October 7, 2012

Mark 10.2-16

+ Most of us, of course, who gather here on Sunday mornings, don’t realize that we actually have a somewhat separate congregation on Wednesday nights, at our “Smells and Bells” Mass. There are some of our new members—as well as some of our so-called “proxy” members—who only going to that service And one of the things some of those people like are the fact that, on Wednesday, we always commemorate a saint. I always preach on Wednesday nights, about a different saint and I, in fact, use a couple of resources from the lives of the saints.

Now I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but usually those stories are very interesting. At least to most of the people on Wednesday nights. Poor Thom Marubbio might not share that opinion. The poor man! On more than one occasion, I’ve seen him quietly rolling his eyes at some of these strange saints we encounter on Wednesday nights. But I give him credit, he does keep coming to the service each week.

The saint we commemorated this past week was not, as you might think, St. Francis, who we will be honoring later today when we do the blessing of the Animals. The saint we commemorated this past week was a French saint—and a fairly contemporary one too—contemporary in this case being someone who lived just over a hundred years ago. She was a Carmelite nun who died on September 30, 1897 by the name of St. Therese of Liseux.

St. Therese led a very sheltered life by most our modern standards no doubt. She joined this very cloistered convent in Normandy in France when she was 14 years old and died of tuberculosis at the age of 24 years. She did not lead what we would consider an exciting, adventure-filled life by any sense of the word.

But, in her short life, she did do one thing that was pretty extraordinary. She developed a theology that is still very useful to all of us today. Her theology was a simple one. It was called “The Little Way.” And she used this “Little Way” to show that anyone, even in very ordinary, normal circumstances, could truly know God in a very intimate way.

The key to her “Little Way” was to truly become child-like in our relationship with God. For Therese, we needed to truly become like little children in our trust and appreciation of God. And this way of following Jesus is still reaping rewards in our own day.

Certainly, the basis for St. Therese’s “Little Way” was our Gospel reading for today. As people were bringing children to Jesus, he says,

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

So, what does Jesus mean when he talks about the Kingdom of heaven and children? Well, he is talking quite bluntly, I believe. He is making it clear that we need to simplify. We need to simplify our faith. We need to clear away all the muck, all the distractions, all those negative things we have accumulated over the years regarding our relationship with God.

Now, to be fair, the Church and Religion in general have piled many of this negative things on us. And that is unfortunate. Too often, as believers, we tend to complicate our faith life and our theology. We get caught up in things like Dogma and Canon laws and rules and Rubrics and following the letter of the law. We get so caught up in doing what we are told is the “right thing,” that we lose sight of this pure and holy relationship with God. We forget why we are doing the right thing.

For Jesus, he saw what happened when people got too caught up in doing the right thing. The scribes and Pharisees were very caught up in doing the right thing, in following the letter of the Law. But in doing so, they lost sight of God. They lost sight of the meaning behind the Law.

Jesus is telling them—and us—that we need to simplify. We need to refocus. We need to become like children in our faith-life. Now that isn’t demeaning. It isn’t sweet and sentimental. Becoming children means taking a good, honest look at what we believe.

As followers of Jesus, it does not have to be complicated. We just need to remind ourselves that, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, he will show us God. Following Jesus means knowing that God is a loving, accepting and always-present Parent. Our job as followers is to connect with this loving Parent, to worship and pray to God. Our job is to be an imitator, like Jesus, of this loving, all-accepting God in our relationship with others.

When we do that—when we become imitators of our loving God, when we love as God loves us—the Kingdom of God becomes present. But the fact is, the Kingdom of God is not for people who complicate it. The Kingdom is one of those things that is very elusive. If we quantify it and examine it too closely, it just sort of wiggles away from us. If we try to define what the Kingdom is, or try to explain it in any kind of detail, it loses meaning. It disappears and become mirage-like.

But if we simply do what we are called to do as followers of Jesus—if we simply follow Jesus, imitate our God and love one another—the Kingdom becomes real. It becomes a reality in our very midst. And whatever separations we imagine between ourselves and God and one another, simply disappear.

This is what I love about being a follower of Jesus. I love the fact that despite all the dogmas and structures and rules the Church might bring us, following Jesus is simply that—following Jesus. It is very simple.

But it can also be very difficult, especially when we still get caught up in all the rules and complications of organized religion. And we do get caught up in those things.

Because following Jesus can be so simple, we find ourselves often frustrated. We want order. We want rules. We want systematic ways of understanding God and religion.

Simplicity sometimes scares us. Becoming childlike means depending on God instead of ourselves. Becoming childlike means shedding our independence sometimes, and we don’t like doing that.

Sometimes complication means busywork. And sometimes it simply is easier to get caught up in busywork, then to actually go out there and follow Jesus and be imitators of God and love others. . Sometimes it is easier to sit and debate the fine points of religion, then it is to go out and actually live out our faith in our lives and to worship God.

But, as Jesus shows us, when we do such things, when we become cantankerous grown-ups, that’s when the system starts breaking down. That’s when we get distracted. That’s when we get led astray from following Jesus. That is when we “grow up” and become cranky, bitter grown-ups rather than loving, wonder-filled children.

It is good to be wonder-filled children. It is good to look around us at the world and see a place in which God still breaks through to us. It is good to see that God lives and works through others.

So, let us be wonder-filled children. Let us truly be awed and amazed at what it means to follow Jesus. Let God be a source of joy in our lives. And let us love each other simply, as children love. Let us love in that wonderfully child-like way, in which our hearts simply fill up to the brim with love. Let us burn with that love in a young and vibrant way.

Being a Christian—following Jesus—means staying young and child-like always. Following Jesus is our fountain of youth, so to speak.

So let us become children for the sake of the Kingdom. And when we do, that Kingdom will flower in us like eternal youth.

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