15 September 2013

Lost, then found. . .

NB.  This is your basic Come To Jesus homily. No frills. . .

24th Sunday OT 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

Lost then found. Israel—not so soon out of the desert—is depraved; they turn away from God, inviting His wrath by worshiping an idol. Paul, a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant, ignorant unbeliever hunts down and arrests those Jews who dare to follow Christ. And the younger son of a rich man who takes his inheritance, parties it all away, and then returns to his father destitute and starving. Israel, Paul, the Younger Son—all lost, now found. When the Pharisees and scribes chastise Jesus for eating with sinners, he tells them a series of parables in which we hear the characters of the stories say: “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep. Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin. Rejoice with me because my son was dead; once he was lost, and now he is found.” A nation, an apostle, a younger son. Or a mother, a daughter, a widow, a child, a city, or even the whole world. Doesn't matter who or what. No one will stay lost if they want to be found by God. Though we are free to walk away from God, He will never walk away from us. We can't be lost to Him b/c He is with us always. 

Israel, the people of Moses—freshly rescued from slavery in Egypt by God and miraculously delivered closer and closer to the Promised Land—take it upon themselves to craft a golden idol of God and offer it their worship. The Lord orders Moses, “Go down at once to your people. . .for they have become depraved.” God threatens to punish His people and relents only after Moses intervenes on their behalf. Though convicted of idolatry, God shows His people mercy. Paul, a zealous persecutor of the early Church, confesses his sins to Timothy, admitting that he acted against Christ's followers out of ignorance b/c of his unbelief. Yet, he makes his confession as an apostle, as one who has been “mercifully treated” and is “grateful to [Christ] who has strengthened” him. The Younger Son, having squandered his inheritance drinking, gambling, and carousing, finds himself during a famine working as a day laborer for a pig farmer. But like Israel and Paul, he too receives mercy when he returns to his father and asks for forgiveness. There is nothing we can do so terrible we cannot be found by God if we but ask. Of course, God never loses us; we, however, all too often lose God. 

Our readings this evening focus our attention on the joys of being found, the relief we feel at knowing—at last—that we are no longer lost. However, we're supposed to be scandalized as well, slightly shocked by the behavior of those who are lost. Scandalized by Israel's national idolatry. Scandalized by Paul's bloody persecution. Scandalized by the Younger Son's life of dissipation. But these seem like minor offenses when set beside the horrors we see everyday on CNN or read about in the NYT. It's one thing to read about Paul's conversion, or hear read the Younger Son's welcome home party. It's quite another to believe that those responsible for using chemical weapons against Syrian civilians can be shown mercy. It's quite another to believe that those who are butchering Coptic Christians in Egypt can be shown mercy. Or the greed and corruption that collapsed the economy in 2008; or, the darkened hearts that abort 1.7 million American children every year. Can these lost souls be found? You and I may find it difficult to accept, but, yes, they can be found. God has never left them. They turned from Him. 

If serial killers, genocidal maniacs, war-mongers, gang rapists, terrorists, mass murderers, and slavers can still turn to God for mercy and receive it, what worries should you and I have about being lost and found? I mean, what's the worst we do? Tell a few lies. Miss Sunday Mass. Watch an inappropriate movie. Our sins can't compare with some of what's going on out there. And that would be an important point to remember. . .if my holiness were somehow comparable to yours. Or if our holiness were comparable to terrorists or abortionists or rapists. Unfortunately, for me, my sins aren't made less damaging to me by the gravity of my neighbors' sins. Your sins aren't made less damaging to you by the gravity of my sins. Though it is absolutely true that our sins don't even come close to comparing to the truly evil things done in this world, our sins are ours. And our sins take us away from God. We are probably more like the Younger Son than we are like mass murdering terrorists, but the Younger Son ended up nearly starving to death while working for a pig farmer. Why didn't he starve? He remembered his father's loving care, swallowed his pride, returned home, and asked for forgiveness. And b/c he did all these things, his father gave him a new set of clothes, new shoes, a gold ring, and a big party. Though he'd forgotten his father while sinning his life away in a foreign country, his father never forgot him. 

Running through all of the readings this evening is the clarion call for us to return to God's ways and receive His mercy. What's keeping you lost, apart from God? Is it pride, anger, envy? Maybe lust? Is it a sexual sin: masturbation, adultery, porn? Is it hatred, vengeance, a stubborn refusal to be joyful? Have you stolen something? Gossiped, lied, cheated? Whatever it is that's keeping you from being with God, keeping you lost, apart from God, know this: His mercy is boundless. You can come home. You can stop wandering alone. You can put those sins aside by confessing them, and then rejoice that you have been found. Or, rather, rejoice b/c you have found God again. Moses' people, Paul, the Younger Son, they all believed in their sin that they were doing the right thing at the time. It took a prophet to shake Israel to its senses. Divine intervention on the road to Damascus to close then open Paul's eyes. And nearly dying from hunger set the Younger Son back toward home. We have their example to follow, so there's no good reason that any of us should require anything more than a simple reminder: God's mercy is infinite. And He wants us back where we belong. With Him, with Him always. 

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  1. I really wish I could hear this homily, because for me it didn't read well. I found it choppy, especially at the beginning. And it felt . . . rushed? I can typically settle into reading one of your homilies - but not this one.

    I did very much appreciate the point that we shouldn't be comparing our sin to someone else's. And the reminder of God's infinite mercy. The third and fourth paragraphs were my favorite parts.

    1. This one preached well. . .to my surprise. You have to hear the Baptist twang that goes with it. I was really pushing this one out. . .not preaching on a daily basis is bad for me.

  2. Gregg the Obscure6:31 AM

    I take exception to "it is absolutely true that our sins don't even come close to comparing to the truly evil things done in this world". The list in the next paragraph is quite comparable: things people do that hurt others, particularly others for whom we have special responsibility - things that hurt others repeatedly. But the last paragraph is dynamite!

    1. Gregg, lying and murder are both sinful; however, murder isn't comparable to lying in terms of temporal damage done.

      Thanks for the feedback!