14 October 2012

You are lacking one thing

NB.  Our deacons are preaching this weekend. . .so, here's a repost for this Sunday from 2006.

28th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

Here’s what I know to be true about everyone in this church, everyone who can hear my voice right now, here’s what’s true about you: you desire to know God, you long to be touched by His spirit, you want more than gold, silver, or cold hard cash to be in His presence and to know his healing grace. How do I know this? There is no other reason for you to be here. No other incentive or reward to come to this place this evening than to encounter the living God. If you are here—and you are—then you are here b/c the Holy Spirit has thumped your ear, kicked you in the rear, or maybe even two-by-foured you upside the head. You are here b/c you know that you will not be filled, will not be settled, will not be gentled or graced or rested with anything or anyone less than the One Who made you. No gold, no silver, no cash, no love, no job, no amount or kind of power will slake your dry thirst, feed your yawning hunger, or tame your wild longing for our Father’s love. He is our beginning and our end, our source and our finish. And nothing shortens His love for us or diminishes His mercy to us. He knows what we need more than air to breathe and water to drink and He is here to give us all that we need. And this is why we are here.

So let me ask you: what riches do you put between you and our Father’s love for you? What possesses you and holds you back? If Jesus looked into your eyes and said to you: “You are lacking one thing for eternal life.” What is that one thing?

The rich young man asks Jesus how he might inherit eternal life. Jesus patiently recites the commandments given to Moses. The young man tells Jesus that he has observed the Law all his life. And then in an moment that deserves its own gospel, Jesus looks into the young man’s heart, loves him, and with this love sees the gaping hole in the young man’s soul—the lack, the longing that defines him. Jesus sees the young man’s enslavement to things. What the young man lacks but desires is poverty. Freedom from stuff. Freedom from ownership. He has many possessions. He is possessed by many things.

So, knowing that the young man seeks eternal life and knowing that he desires to be free of these things, why doesn’t Jesus free him from his possessions? Why not cast out the demons of avarice and liberate the young man from his bondage? Jesus does exactly that. Jesus tells him as precisely as he can: go, sell your stuff, give to the money to the poor, and follow me. His exorcism is complete. But you see, an exorcism is effective only on those willing to be freed from their demons. The young man desires to be free. But he doesn’t will it; he doesn’t act. And so he remains a slave to his possessions. Jesus offers him control over his greed, control over his stuff, and instead, at the words of exorcism, the young man’s face falls and he goes away sad to be sad all his days.

Here’s what you must understand about desire. Desire is at once longing and lacking, hungering and not having. To desire love is to long for it and to admit that you don’t have it. Jesus looks into the heart of the young man and sees his brightest desire, his strongest lack, and he loves him for it. But we cannot be a slave to two masters. We cannot give our hearts to two loves. We must be poor in spirit so that we can be rich in God’s gifts. We must be poor in spirit so that there is room for Christ, room for him to sit at our center and rule from the core of our being. This is what it means for us to prefer wisdom to scepter and throne; to prefer wisdom to health and beauty; to account silver and gold as sludge. In wisdom all good things come together in her company.

This is the point in the homily when I am supposed to exhort you to give up your earthly attachments. Exhort you to surrender your chains: your inordinate love of cars and money and gadgets and sex and drugs and rock and roll…But you know all that, don’t you? You know as well as I do that none of that is permanent. None of that can substitute for the love of God and the grace of his mercy. None of that will bring you happiness. It is ash and smoke and shadow and will never—despite the promises of luxury and attention—will never make you happy. You know this. I don’t need to tell you that nothing created can do what only the Creator can—give you a permanent love and life everlasting.

But let me ask you again: what riches do you put between yourself and our Father’s love for you? What possesses you and holds you back? If Jesus looked into your eyes and said to you: “You are lacking one thing for eternal life.” What is that one thing? Knowing UD students as I do, my guess is that not many of you are held back by expensive possessions. Not many are held back by lands and jewels and gold reserves! Not many of you are suffering under the weighty burden of Gucci, Prada, Christian Dior and Yves St. Laurent!

Let me ask a different set of questions. Let’s see how many hit home. Are you rich in a fear that God doesn’t love you enough? Are you unlovable? Are you so rich in sin that a righteous God couldn’t possibly forgive you? Are you so rich in self-sufficiency, self-reliance that you don’t need other people? So rich in a personal knowledge of God that you don’t need others to reveal the Father to you? Are you so rich in divine gifts that you don’t need the gifts of others to make it day to day? Or maybe you’ve stored up your wealth in good works and can survive without grace for a while? Maybe you don’t need Jesus to look you in the eye and love you because your grasp of the theological and moral constructs of the human experience of the Divine are sufficient to elicit an affirmative response from the ground of your Being to the invitation of the Ground of Being Itself to become more Grounded in Being. Are you burning through your life on the fuel of self-righteous certainty—the false assurance that you’ve got it right all on your own (objectively and absolutely) and that there is nothing else for you to learn and no one competent to teach you? Are you so wise? Are you angry that no one else notices your wisdom? Does your desire for piety and purity bring you closer to your brothers and sisters in Christ, or is this desire an excuse to keep them at a safe distance? Is your public holiness also a private holiness, or is it a pretense that hides a furious lack of charity?

Let me ask the hardest question: what do you fear? More often than not we are slaves to our fears not our loves and we can dodge public responsibility for our fears. We cannot dodge Christ: no creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

I’m not worried. Not even a little. Here’s what I know: we desire to know God, we long to be touched by His spirit, we want more than gold, silver, or cold hard cash to be in His presence and to know his healing grace. We are here b/c He loved us here and we got off the couch, off the computer, off the cell phone, and we made it here for this reason and no other: we cannot be happy w/o Him and there is no better or messier or more graceful place to find Him than among His mongrel children at prayer.

Bring your lack to Him and do what needs to be done to follow Him.

Here's Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP homily for today's readings (H/T: Matheus)

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  1. Anonymous2:33 PM

    Hmmm...this was another one that hit home with me, particularly the 8th and 9th paragraphs...then I checked out Fr. Lawrence Lew's homily (whose blog is linked elsewhere on this one) and it seemed a great companion piece to this one.

    1. Just to be clear: this homily was first posted in 2006. . .so, Fr. Lew probably stole my ideas!! ;-)

    2. I liked your "6-yr old" homily quite a bit, agreeing with Matheus that the 8th & 9th paragraphs were the ones that hit home...but then I read Fr Lew's homily (I read his homilies fairly regularly, and he writes some kickin' homilies, too!) from today, and I must say, it hit home even more and even answered a question I needed answering. Soooo....maybe you should start stealing from him? ;-)

    3. Nope. Too proud to steal. Did you leave a comment for him on his blog?

    4. Yes sir, Father, sir.