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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Full Version of 14th Sunday of OT homily

Do you ever find yourself limited by others’ expectations for you? -especially the people whom you like and you know best? Do you stop striving to do what you really feel called to do? We see that dynamic happening in our three readings today. Ezekiel is sent into the rebellious Israelite community that God calls “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” Paul is wounded by those who ought to be on his side – members of his own faith who fight for a certain type of conservative, hard-line, Torah-driven, Judeo-Christianity. Jesus is weakened by the lack of faith of his own hometown people who do not want him to get ahead. They think, “Who the hell does he think he is? What an audacious man who thinks he is better than us. We will show him that he is just like us and nothing more.” All too often we pay attention to these horrible voices that stop us from becoming the one who our Creator wants us to be. All too often we believe the deadening words of others and turn away from words that feed our dreams. What a tragedy. What a terrible tragedy. Life is difficult enough without this type of wisdom and advice to stamp the life out of us. No. We have to hold onto the dreams that our God has for us. What are the dreams that Our Lord has for you?

I often invite retreatants to think back on the books they read or the hobbies they delighted in as a youth – just so they could reclaim a bit of their childhood – and so they can remember the first, raw dreams that ignited their passions. I ask them to let those good desires enter into their consciousness once again. We have to remember our stories and we have to tell it whenever we can. We tell a different insight each time. Everyone loves to hear a good story and in a world that beats us down because sin and death is all around, we have to hear our voice claim ‘who we are’ over and over again. We must cherish our stories – even if it contains great pain, tremendous debilitating shame, sorrowful loss, or damaged hope. These may be our thorns in our flesh as St. Paul wrote about, and we are to value them as our source of grace.
As storytelling is part of our culture, I’m going to share a few stories of recent movies that reveal something essential about the core of a character who wrestles with his or her thorn only to see it become a new grace.

Let’s start with The Wrestler – about an aging, broken-down, once-popular man who displays remarkable humility about his fallen fate, but still comes alive when he performing to others expectations. His boss, girlfriend and daughter want a more relationally-engaged and meaningful life for him, but he realizes that his particular gift is in being an entertaining hero to others. Or Frost/Nixon – As audience members, we are character that is transformed as compassion and sympathy are called out of us for a defeated man, when Richard Nixon was interviewed by the British, TV host, David Frost. Humanity looks straight on into the face of such tragic loneliness and is moved to help another step out of his self-torment. In The Reader – we watch a woman choose ignoble, dire consequences to hide the shame of being illiterate and we watch her move toward freedom in prison and overcome that which debilitates her. What shame and areas of our life keep us paralyzed that we hide from others? Then there is Revolutionary Road where we check our dreams and ambitions and hopes and joys at the suburban door to take up a melancholy life devoid of the fullest extent of personal meaning as we deceive ourselves into complacency and satisfaction of quiet desperation. No. We react vehemently against that. Life has more meaning than that. What about Gran Torino - where the redemptive power of encountering another person or culture transforms a life of suppressed anger and long-standing unhappiness into one of genuine affection that causes one to defend a foreign brother or sister? Rachel Getting Married? ­–a remarkable tale of a woman who won’t let her addiction and dependencies and self-hatred shut her out of the family that means everything to her. And then there’s Doubt, where a sister confronts the overwhelming system of dysfunction and chooses to consider her intense anger, not as a sin, but as a useful mechanism to restore right relations to a boy and his God. Who among us isn’t perplexed by our deep-seated anger? May we learn how to trust that our anger is good. Or Milk - the exuberant triumph of activist Harvey Milk as he legislates that bigoted prejudice, deeply imbedded in the human heart, has to be stopped – even at the heaviest price possible. And who can forget the searing images of the vast wastelands of Slumdog Millionaire where the unfortunate experiences of one’s life become the fragile keys to a life destined for a reversal of one’s fortunes. The slums will always remain in this new millionaire’s humanity. Powerful images. Powerful stories that grip our humanity and resonate deep within our emotional experiences. Wow! This is the reason stories are told. This is the reason stories are remembered and passed on to the next generation. Their humanity meets our humanity. These are the stories of Christ’s liberating love that calls us to be essentially the one he created us to be. Only when we accept our weaknesses can we allow Christ to transform them into a grace for his greater glory. It allows us to flourish and allows our dreams to take flight once again – to the end for which we were created.

With every movie I mentioned, the story of shame and the need for healing is central to one of the characters. We too keep hidden aspects of our lives that we think others don’t see. When we pay attention to Jesus in each of the curing narratives, we often see him forgiving sins, but he always does more – he heals the wounded one of that which most debilitates them. Healing takes away the shame we experience – of not measuring up, of low self-esteem, of self-hatred, of being unloved, of being born to the wrong family or socio-cultural condition, of not being in control of our fate in life. These are our areas to be transformed and this is where Christ’s story embraces ours. He wants you to know his love for you – by being with you – especially in your pain and chaos, listening to you, accepting every aspect of who you are, and calling forth the person that he knows you can be – beautiful in every way, lovable in all your meaningful thoughts, caring in all your actions, joyful in the core of your being, and grateful to the God who wants you to know that he wants to embrace you tightly and not let go. I believe that for sure – each and every one of you. Only love – a greater, deeper affection – can bring about such miraculous events. Such an action can free us and cause us to see the world in a new way.

Let’s linger for a moment on Paul’s paradoxical words once again, “That I may not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me. I begged the Lord that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

My friends, as I look out into this congregation, I see the strength of Christ in abundance. Embrace your stories. Hold onto your precious life – even the chaos that holds us powerless. Be weak enough to let the power of Christ radiate out from you. He will call you to be much more than you could ever expect.

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