Sunday, February 28, 2016

So God Made a Farmer


“So God Made a Farmer” by Paul Harvey
I played the audio version of Paul Harvey’s message “God Made a Farmer’ this past Sunday because another storyteller celebrated the contribution of the farmer in the stories he told. While standing in the rows of a vineyard, sitting beside a freshly planted crop, or looking at fields ripe for harvest, Jesus never tired of using the farmer and the soil of his profession to illustrate spiritual truths.  In most of these stories, God is the farmer, exhibiting interest in His crops and enduring patience with what he has planted.  

That is certainly the case in the Gospel story about the fig tree. A vineyard owner wants a fig tree planted on his land and has his farmer put one in the soil.  He expects it to grow and plant figs, yet it does not for its first three years.  He concludes that it is worthless and orders it to be removed.  The farmer, though, has more patience and convinces the owner to give it one more year, during which he will give it special attention and fertilize it with manure. He believes it has a future.

Recently, we asked our parishioners to respond to a survey about the “spiritual health” of Holy Family. One comment stated that maybe we should only baptize people from the parish. In our last baptism, people in the pews felt uncomfortable because the manners of the family at the font did not meet their expectations. Some people felt annoyed and upset by what they witnessed. Our committee members had a lively exchange of opinions. Maybe we need guidelines about who and who can’t be baptized in the church? Others felt that the parish “mission” statement welcomes all with open arms. 

Kathleen Norris, in her book The Cloister Walk, provides insight on what happens when we don’t repent, Repentance is coming to our senses, seeing, suddenly, what we’ve done that we might not have done, or recognizing … that the problem is not in what we do but in what we become.

Our lack of repentance results in our becoming something far less than God intended when he planted us in this world. We may look healthy on the outside, but our lack of fruit is evidence that we are perishing. You and I are not here to enjoy the rich nutrients of the soil and keep them all to ourselves. We are not here to take up space and not produce any fruit.  We are not here to live without accountability and inspection.  We are not here to wonder about other people’s innocence or guilt or etiquette and not consider our own.

What we are here to do is to thrive in the vineyard of God and bear fruit for the people of our world.  The fruit of our branches is to provide nourishment, taste, health, and life in our community.  Is such fruit on our branches?  Are we that part in the crowd who can’t understand Jesus?

The agricultural tip for the people to bear fruit rather than perishing was in the manure. God could take the waste of life and bring beautiful and life-giving fruit from it.  This wouldn’t happen unless they were willing to use it as fertilizer.  There was still hope. Jesus, one skilled in bringing life from waste, could see the potential in the people who gathered around him that day.  He looked at their fruitless branches and saw fruit. He could bring it out of them if they would join in; if they would do their work of turning away from the things that were destroying their lives and take in the ingredients of life God had for them.

Let us pray and reflect: “But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things, and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.” (Wisdom 11:23).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that Lent becomes a time of crop inspection. Let this season be a time to see not so much what needs to be given up, but adding what is missing.  It is a time to allow God to redeem the waste of our unfruitfulness and bring the kind of harvest our world is missing.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Would You like to take a walk with Jesus?


A woman was sitting in her patio, having a morning cup of coffee. Suddenly she felt the presence of someone standing behind her. She felt a thrashing shock like a thousand volts shooting through her entire body. Standing there was Jesus! Was she hallucinating? No, it really was Jesus, just standing there, smiling the most magnetic smile she had ever seen. "'Would you like to go for a walk?' he asked me.

Yes, she would very much like to take a walk with Jesus? She asked, “Is it all right for me to call you by your first name? Or would you prefer Master?”
“Jesus is fine,” he continued to smile ever so graciously. “Come, let's walk.”

What a fabulous opportunity, walking with Jesus. She had so many questions. Now she could finally get answers. Right from Jesus himself.
As they walked along, she broke the silence. “Jesus, you know this doctrine about the Trinity, three Persons in one God.” “Shhh,” he whispered. “do you hear the joyous babbling of that brook over there?” I listened with some impatience, she must admit.

Then she asked, “Jesus, I've been having a lot of trouble with my prayer life.” “Shhh,” he interrupted again. “can you hear the squeals of the little children playing out there in the meadow?”  She hadn't heard. And she must admit she couldn't have cared less. Jesus was here and she wanted answers

They kept walking along. 'What about this final judgment, you know the sheep and the goats? There's nothing there about missing Mass or forgetting to abstain from meat during Lent.” “Shhh,” Jesus said. “Look up there at the birds in the sky. Did you ever see anything so beautiful.” Jesus turned and began to walk away. He hadn't answered one of her questions. And she had so many more. Then he turned and looked at her with that smile of his. She thought he was going to say goodbye. But then his face clouded over with affectionate sadness and he said, “Why do you try so hard?”

Let us pray and reflect: “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they focus more attention on things that matter to Jesus. More smiles, more “I love you” to those dear to us, and more confidence that Jesus came to save us from our fears, doubts and worries. Besides giving up “sweets” for Lent, notice the beauty around you and thank God for his magnificent creation.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Jesus was tempted in the desert and maybe we have become a little nonchalant and not that he passed the test, but what about our effort for Lent. I shared a story on Sunday about a college senior who not necessarily opposed to hard work, she was only doing what she had to do to graduate.
She had taken as easy elective, but the professor had given her a “B” on her first assignment along with the request for a conversation after class.

The professor said, "Janet, this is A work. However, I am giving you a B because you can do better." Today a student in a similar situation would likely file a complaint. However, this professor told her student she had gotten lazy, that she had been coasting for a while now, that she had quit reaching. Then she told her that if she had any aspirations for graduate school whatsoever, she was going to have to step it up a notch.

Maybe it’s time for us to step it up a notch for Lent. Perhaps Jesus' forty days were meant to 'test him' to get him ready for what would follow. It was a time of honing, sharpening, and perfecting in much the same way our college senior was being tested. For it was not really about the grade she would receive after twelve weeks of reading and analyzing and learning and writing. It was about learning skills she could later put to use. Yes, in this case it was about developing 'character' and learning to work hard and to deepen her drive towards goal and love of learning --- all attributes that she would need throughout my life.

Lent comes to us as a time set apart to help us become more and more who God intends. What this means for each of us may well be different:
  • For some we may continue in the ancient practice of giving something up as a way of somehow identifying with Christ's sacrifice in our behalf. 
  • For others it may be a time of adding something: as in spending more time in worship and prayer. Or in experimenting with another kind of prayer which is less familiar to us.
As I place ashes on one forehead, the lady promised Jesus that she would write a letter to someone in prison, another shared that they would start reading the bible daily. How will you allow the spirit to transform you this Lent?

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that they will take it up a notch and spend their forty days inspired to be more grateful, generous, compassionate and forgiving. To get your mind off the minus 22 below zero this morning, let me share an image that will help you relax and be a cure for the winter blues.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

You Gotta Go Deeper

On retreat last week, I discovered that the secret of making bread is using live yeast. To my surprise and delight, I have found a new mentor in baking. Bob graduated 40 years ago from the Culinary Institute of America and he offered to teach me his secrets. I told him that my bread comes out like a brick. He laughed and shared that yeast is a live bacteria and you have to be careful not to kill the yeast. When I explained how I was using the yeast, he quickly shared that it might just be bad yeast or that I had killed the yeast in the preparation. My mentor advised that you add the sugar and whip till frothy. Then you knead the flour and yeast either by hand or with a machine. Once the consistency is right, you place it in a draft free area and cover with a towel. Either the plastic wrap killed my yeast, or, I didn’t wait long enough for the yeast to do its job. My first lesson is to be more patient and wait.

So the secret for great tasting bread is the right ingredients, patience and technique. There’s a gospel story about the disciples having a bad fishing day. All nightlong and they caught nothing. So the advice from Jesus their mentor was to go out into the water again but go deeper.

When you want to pursue a goal, make an improvement in yourself or enhance the quality of some group you belong too, you gotta make an extra effort. That is true in academics, sports, farming, or bread baking and also our faith. To be closer to God, you gotta go deeper.

Simon was reluctant to go deeper at first because he was tired from working all day. He was exhausted from his labor. Just about everyone I know is tired after working all day. It’s not easy to come home and face the domestic chores of running a household or attending to the needs of children after a hard day’s work. It’s not easy to take a class a night or attend a meeting. We have to reach deep within ourselves to find that energy to go the extra mile.

Where do we find the energy to complete those tasks that are necessary for us to realize our goals? What did Simon do? First, he moved his boat into deeper waters. He had to go into territory he had never been. Secondly, he put his freshly cleaned nets back into the water. And third, he believed in Jesus’ words. “If you say so, I will let down my nets.” Since Jesus said it was what he needed to do, Simon did it. He whined a little at first, complaining of his hard day’s work, but in the end he trusted Jesus’ words.

Everyone complains now and then about the demands of life. I believe God hears our complaints. Jesus knew Simon had worked hard “all night long” but he also knew he could do more. Within all of us there is unrealized potential and God wants us to be fulfilled.

Sometimes we do leave our comfort zones and try new things, but do we really believe that amazing things can happen? Simon acted sincerely but deep down he was skeptical. But Jesus responded in love. Instead of saying, “I told you so” or “Why don’t you believe me,” he encouraged him and told him that in the future he would be catching people. He gave Simon encouragement and hope. Once again we hear those comforting words, “Do not be afraid.” When we go deep, God is with us. Even when we have doubts, God is with us.

The Lord watches over us as we pray: “Anyone who tills the land will have plenty of bread, but one who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.” Psalm 28:19

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends as we prepare for the Lenten Season. Inspire us with your wisdom to go deeper and trust in your words to find our purpose in this life. Note, I had to throw out another batch of flour because it did not rise. Back to the breadboard and keep on kneading.