Sermons

November 13: Thirty-Third Sunday

“It will lead to your testimony…for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking.” Luke 21:5-19.

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With the presidential election now behind us, and Thanksgiving holiday soon here, we too are shortly leaving behind this 2016 Jubilee Year of Mercy, where Pope Francis has asked us to seek tenderness, mercy and forgiveness.

During this liturgical year, we have been on a spiritual journey with Jesus from his teaching of the Beatitudes in Luke 6 to the threshold of Jerusalem where this particular passage comes in Luke 21.

It’s in this passage, just before the Last Supper, that Jesus speaks about testimony and how his people will be challenged, even with their lives, and how they will need the words and wisdom to carry out his mission.

Let’s consider two themes today, that of testimony and wisdom.

Several years ago, when I was at Saint Monica’s here in Moraga, and I received in the mail a plain white business letter with no forwarding address; so I did not know the exact sender of the letter. Inside there was a reprint of an article about public speaking and how those who took a particular course would improve on their speaking skills.

More than just a reprint, on the piece of paper, there was a post-it note, with the handwritten comment: “Mike, try it! L.S.”

Um. “Mike, try it?” What could this cryptic correspondence mean? Who is “L.S?” Was someone in the parish or St. Mary’s College be telling me something about my need for a public speaking course?

Ok, people complain, they can’t hear me, and please speak louder! Others have written telling me that I have an underlying political message. Really?

“Mike, try it! L.S.” Or it could be that it has something to do with my college teaching? Believe me, a cloud of self-doubt descended on me for days. How a little item like this could set me off track? So I placed the letter on my desk, hoping that the mysterious “L.S.” would come forward.

Months later, in reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, I discovered the source of the mysterious message. In fact, the correspondence from “L.S.” was the advertisement, from a highly sophisticated nation-wide marketing campaign at get to professionals, and maybe preachers, to buy into a Dale Carnegie type-speaking program. God knows we need it!

And yes, the post-it with the name and slogan “Try it! L.S.” had been individualized for each of the thousand upon thousand of recipients who were sent the exact same advertisement.

Psychologists tells us that it almost normal to have a fear of flying, or the fear of surgery, or the fear of speaking in public. But this episode got me to thinking about speaking in the face of potential criticism.

This is the kind of public speaking where you speak up for justice — that can get you into trouble. For the disciples and followers of Jesus, it’s the fear of speaking up that is on their minds in today’s gospel. It’s the truth and consequences of their deeply held belief in Christ. In the early Church, testimony meant martyrdom.

In the moments before Jesus’s passion and death, he told them they would speak, but they would be given wisdom especially when speaking up for the poor, for the oppressed, for justice, and those in need.

In his own day, Jesus was a Jew speaking from within his own tradition with moral precepts that respect the sanctity of everyday life, the repair of a broken world, with benevolence and charity, with love of neighbor, and honor for God’s awe and holiness.

The underlying resonance of these troubled and apocalyptic writings, including Luke’s gospel authored some 70 years after the time of Christ, was the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the so-called “Roman War against the Jews.” Every Jew felt this peril, and thousands upon thousands of Jews died.

In effect, the newly formed band of Christians would be those Jews who saw in Jesus, the “new temple” whose death and life would not pass away, rather his “invisible kingdom of the heart” was found not in a building or place, rather in the moral lives of people of faith and promise everywhere.

Today, Jesus is saying – in so many words “Mike, try it!” Speak up for these precious moral values that need a voice in our present day.

“Wisdom knows, God in ourselves and ourselves in God,” the words of Thomas Merton, the American monk. It’s in that spirit that we find inspiration and imagination to give voice to our own testimony of faith.

popesweden

Most recently, on All Saint’s Day, Pope Francis was in Malmo, Sweden, marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and where the pope celebrated Mass, as part of his efforts to heal and restore unity among the Christian churches.

In his homily, he reflected on the teaching wisdom of Jesus, by taking the unusual step to confront the troubles of our own age with a mediation that provided his own additions to the Beatitudes. Pope Francis writes:

  • Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from the heart.
  • Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.
  • Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him.
  • Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.
  • Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.
  • Blessed are those who work for full communion among Christians.

These words, these very wise words of Pope Francis, help each of us to forge greater bonds of friendship and to give testimony even in a much troubled time, where we too are encouraged:
“Mike, try it!”

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A Final Tribute — Leonard Cohan (1934-2016)

Canadian poet, musician, song writer Leonard Cohan died in Los Angeles this week. He was a practicing Jew and sometime Buddhist monk who said of Jesus: “The figure of the man has touch me….He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of the earth. Any guy who says ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity, insight and madness…a man who declares himself to stand among the thieves, the prostitutes and the homeless. His position cannot be comprehended. It is an inhuman generosity. A generosity that would overthrow the world if it was embraced because nothing would weather that compassion.”

Cohan’s “Hallelujah,” here sung by Jeff Buckley, is a haunting masterpiece of simplicity and devotion.

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