22 January 2006

An urgent faith...

3rd Sunday OT: Jon 3.1-5, 10; 1 Cor 7.29-31; Mark 1.14-20
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital, Dallas and Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

I first came to Jesus as a child living in Slidell, LA way back in the 1970’s. A Baptist friend of mine drew me into his faith by telling me about the Last Days. I was fascinated by the idea that no one would be able to kill himself during the Tribulations and that the world would be covered with blood as high as a horse’s bridle and that army after army would march against The Beast and his doomed troops. It was too much for my ten-year old imagination, but I took it in and it all came together with images of helicopters, tanks, artillery, and the frantic push to defeat an Enemy, the panicked drive to win against the devil’s agent and vindicate the Biblical prophecy: watching Satan and his minions be thrown into the pit by the Lord’s terrible angels. I asked for that story over and over again. And found myself hypnotized again and again by the chaos of a righteous war against Evil, the Final Battle where Jesus thumps Satan for the last time. And those of us who knew Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior would be feasted endlessly in Heaven, victorious soldiers for holiness and purity.

It was too much. But it got me here. I hadn’t read Lord of the Rings or Narnia. Nor had I thought much about the longer job of holiness. What grabbed me then was the exhilaration, the urgency of history crashing to its end in this apocalyptic battle, the near-panic I felt to be on the right side, to be among the winners and to feel a part of something much, much bigger than my ten-year old life in Slidell. It was vital that I be involved, that I had a side, that I fought for a cause and that that cause was Right. I believed! And my conviction was electric.

Is there an urgency to your faith? Is there something vitally compelling about your trust in God that pushes you, drives you along? Maybe a better way to ask the question is this: what gets you up every morning, in the shower, dressed, and on the road? This isn’t a question about loyalty or priory? It is a question about how you understand and live out your promise to God to be His today, all day, and tomorrow, forever. Does your faith juice you up? Hurry you to holiness? Speed you to prayer, to service in His name? Is there an urgency to your faith?

Paul says there needs to be: “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out […] For the world in its present form is passing away.” If you’re weeping, he says, stop. There’s no time. If you are married, no time! If you are rejoicing, no time! Living in the world like there’s no tomorrow? Well, there isn’t! Everything is passing away, cinders and fumes, dust and wind, everything is going and there is an urgency to making your life right, getting the house of your faith in order. Of course, Paul and his readers are expecting Christ to come again at any moment. Just any day soon. But urgency is urgency when we’re talking about the quality of our trust, the strength of our faith.

John the Baptist has been arrested and in Galilee Jesus preaches: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Several centuries earlier the people of Nineveh heard the same exhortation and they believed God; they took Him at His word, repented, called a fast, and put on sackcloth to show their humility. Jesus’ declaration of the time of fulfillment is the declaration of his advent in the world, his coming into human history to open the way for the Kingdom of God, to clear our way to that Kingdom, and to give us the Good News of his salvation. If this world is passing away and now is the time of fulfillment and the Kingdom of God is at hand, then I ask you again: is there an urgency to your faith? Are you pushed, driven into the world daily by your trust in God?

If not, what pushes you, what drives you? One of the usual things, I would guess: career, school, success, money, personal loyalty, an imaginative story, an ideology, a political agenda, a need for recognition…none of these are bad, of course, but they will pass away. Cinders and fumes, dust and wind. Gone. And soon enough. And what’s left for you? What’s left for any of us when the things we so eagerly invest in—the projects, the ideas, the people—what do we do when everything we pour ourselves into do what all impermanent things do: die and fade away? We mourn, of course. But our lives can’t be about mourning loss.

The very heart of the gospel is that we are saved, healed, made whole on the cross by the love Jesus has for us. The urgency of our faith is the urgency of the cross, the imperative love of Christ’s sacrifice, the vitality of his hope for us—that we will welcome the Holy Spirit among us, dwell lovingly with each one another in his Spirit, grow steadily in his Truth, hand on the faith to family to community to state to empire, and, finally, come back to him, to his beauty, his glory, and be with him without end. This is not a gospel of loss, of grief and mourning, of dust and fumes, or apocalypse and righteous battle. This is a gospel of lasting goodness and everlasting life, permanent mercy and all-pervading grace; a gospel of ceaseless vitality and living strength. And it is our gospel! Our story! Our work in the world and our dare, our charge—to be with Christ in here and to be Christ out there.

Is there an urgency to your faith? If not, maybe this will help: we are nothing without God. Literally, nothing. We are given life, given being by the Father. Without Him, we are nothing; we are no-thing. We are made to be creatures of praise and thanksgiving, rational animals made to grow and flourish knowing that we will return to Him. Give Him thanks for your creation. Offer him as a gift the gift He has given you: your life. Simply say, “Thank you, Lord, for my life and I give it back to you.” With conviction and longing to live with Him forever, your gratitude will produce humility and your humility will make prayer easier and easier, and you will see, with time and commitment, that being thankful to God adds an urgency to your trust in Him, a hurry to speak His Word to others, a holy panic (if you will!) to follow Him and collect others with you. You will leak out joy, seep out the good news, and scatter the tiny seeds of a holy trust on every kind of soil.

Is there an urgency to your faith? Forty days to destruction. Time is running out. The present world is passing. This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe! “Come after me,” Jesus says, “I will make you fishers of men.”

I will make you preachers of my Good News!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:50 PM

    I can't believe no one is commenting on this. I think it is a very good homily. "Exhilaration," a wonderful word to use, describes the feel here. You have made a homily on urgency itself urgent.

    You also ask good questions about how this faith which should be all-important drives our every day actions. The urgency of the gospel isn't a "sky is falling" urgency, or something that only applies if you believe the End Times are fast approaching. It is an urgency to do every action for Christ, an urgency to live *be Christ now*.

    I find a strange contradiction in my life. The long-term motivation in my life is all about Christ--I can't see myself doing a random secular job, only things like teaching, evangelizing, mothering, things that specifically work for Christ. Yet day to day I made lots of rotten decisions--not expressly contrary to that path, but certainly not expressing an urgency to live every instant to Christ, or be my best for Him now.

    Thanks for the urgent reminder.