Archive for July, 2013

Praying as a Friend of the Lord

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Gen 18: 20-32; Col 2: 12-14; Luke 11: 1-13

Dc. Larry Brockman

Prayer, today’s scriptures are all about prayer.  We heard the Our Father and how it is a blueprint to prayer to the Lord.  That is, it tells us how to pray and what to pray for.  But there is much more to learn from the scriptures today than that.  To begin with, prayer is when we join our minds and hearts with the Lord.

Well, let me pose this question about prayer-  How well do you know the Lord?  Do you know the Lord well enough to join your minds and hearts with Him?  It is pretty clear from both the Old Testament story about Abraham’s petition for Sodom and Gomorrah and the Gospel where the Apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray, that both Abraham and Jesus knew the Lord pretty well.  Abraham is “walking” with the Lord.  The conversation is casual and friendly.  And Jesus addresses the Father as “Abba”, which means “Daddy”.  So, the first thing we should notice about praying to God, is that those who are familiar with God are good at it.  Think of it this way, can you imagine having an intimate conversation with someone you don’t really know?  It doesn’t sound like it would be very comfortable for either party.

And then there is the matter of mutual trust.  That may seem like a no brainer- trusting God.  But do you really trust God?  Our trust should be the same as that exhibited by little children a kind of unlimited, comfortable trust like the kind that comes with the relationship between a young child and a familiar parent.  So being familiar with the Lord would really help when we pray.

How do we achieve that familiarity?  Well, knowing about the Lord would help.  That means, for example, reading the Bible and knowing what the Catechism says.  But it also means having frequent contact.  The more often we pray, the more likely we will be familiar with the Lord, just like the more often we come in contact with any other friend, the more familiar and comfortable we become with them.

And then there is the matter of persistence.  Abraham was certainly persistent, carefully talking the Lord down from finding 50 good people in Sodom to just 10.  Jesus uses a parable about waking a sleeping friend after midnight to ask for three loaves of bread as a way to address persistence.  Now I have asked myself, why is persistence so important?  After all, God knows what we want even before we ask for it.  Why not just ask once; why burden the Lord.  Well, I think it’s because we should take the Lord at His word.  He wants it that way.  Ironically, the persistence in the Gospel story implies that the friend will open his door and give the three loaves of bread to the requester because he is irritated and just wants to get rid of the problem.  But, as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah shows, God always listens no matter how many times we ask him.  He is receptive when we do pester Him, our persistence doesn’t put him off because it shows our commitment to Him; it shows our recognition of our limitations and need for God.

Now in the story about Sodom and Gomorrah, we see a loving Lord who is willing to accommodate Abraham’s petition, that is, his prayer.  Abraham has confidence in the Lord, and is well aware of His power and might.   So very respectfully, Abraham pushes the situation to the limit confident that the Lord will do what is best.  Now, we all know what happened.  Sodom and Gomorrah were totally destroyed by the Lord.  This happens right after the story we just heard.  So our loving, Lord, who was so willing to accommodate Abraham went ahead and destroyed Sodom because He couldn’t find even 10 good souls in Sodom.  Was Abraham’s prayer answered?  Yes, it was, because God kept his bargain.  However, it seems like a “no” because saving Sodom was Abraham’s objective and yet, that is not what was best.  And we can all identify with that.  Because we all can see that Sodom was a disaster.

Sometimes when we pray, we ask for something but the answer is “no” by the Lord, only we don’t see the other side of the story like Abraham did.  We don’t see what’s best for us.  In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that our heavenly Father knows what is best for us, and uses an example of a Father giving his son a fish rather than a snake.  As a parent, I can identify with that.  How many times do our children ask for snakes rather than fish?  And as a parent, we have to tell them, “no” rather than “yes”, or “not right now” for one of their requests  Those are God’s three answers too- yes, no, and not right now.  But we need to trust God and be confident that he has answered our prayer, even when it seems like the silence is deafening because He gives us the Holy Spirit always to work through the situation when the answer is no or not now.

In the clutter and humdrum of today’s world where both parties work in a marriage, sometimes 60-70 hours a week; with cell phones and radios and TVs blaring constantly; we all need a friend- a real friend.  Take some time to get to know the Lord.  Pray; pray often to your friend and confidant, the Lord.  Pray with confidence and persistence.

Letting Go of Control

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Thursday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time

Ex 3: 13-20; Mt 11: 28-30

Dc. Larry Brockman


“Come to me all who labor and are burdened…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.  We hear that so many times, but do we believe it?  It seems so hard, doesn’t it?

Maybe it’s because all of us humans are wired a certain way.  We all want to be in control- to be in control of our lives; to be in control of our destinies.  And we want control personally.   Turning over everything to the Lord just doesn’t feel right.  We would lose control, wouldn’t we?  And so, people work all life-long providing for themselves and their families- the job, the house, the car- because the stability of our lives is so very important to us and our independence during our earthly lives is a measure of success.  As long as we have stability, we feel that we can control our lives and our destinies here.

But, we are deceiving ourselves because we are never really in control, are we?  All it takes is an accident, an illness, a death, a job loss, or a natural disaster to wipe out our stability and our sense of being in control.  It has happened already to most of us, and it will happen eventually to all of us.  And it is then we will come to realize that only God is in control.

In the Exodus story, the Hebrew people were in dire straits.  They were slaves, bogged down and beaten, and without hope.  And then one day a man called Moses tells them that God has talked to him and told him that He the one and only Almighty God, and that if they just listen to Him and do as He says, they will be delivered from their slavery and inherit a land flowing in milk and honey!  Just imagine how people would react in today’s world if someone said that to us.  But we know that the Exodus liberation was real.  The people listened to Moses, albeit after many trials and tribulations, and pulled up stake in Egypt to follow Moses and Aaron into Canaan.  That took a lot of trust.

Jesus’ message today is the New Testament version of the offer by God to Moses and the Hebrew People.  And while it may seem just as outlandish, it is the answer to our prayers in times of tribulation, just as the Exodus was the answer to the Hebrew People’s prayer.  Why?  Because the rest that Jesus offers, the land flowing with milk and honey is the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is offering us the “easy” path to the kingdom and no matter what our earthly burden may be- illness, death, job loss, whatever- these things are a light burden if we are focused on our ultimate destiny to the Kingdom of God.

Now, I am not trying to diminish the reality of the pain and suffering associated with the things of this world.  Rather, I am just trying to put them in context.  The path to the Kingdom of God, our ultimate destiny, can be made so much easier if we just let go and accept God’s will for us because every time we try to control that path, there are consequences.  And those consequences are what can cause us the most pain and suffering in this world.  If you are honest with yourself, you realize how true that is.  Think of the way some people treat their own bodies; how they have relationships with the wrong people; and how the wrong job or activity gets them in real trouble  We all make a host of choices as we go through life that  carry consequences which can be very painful.

You know, often times we suppress nudges from our consciences when we made some of those decisions.  Those are like the call from God to Moses at the burning bush or like Jesus’ message to us this morning.  Perhaps God’s way really would be easier in this life as well.  So, let’s give it a try.

Homing in on the One Thing

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Westminster Tower Ecumenical Service

From Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 10: 38-42

Dc. Larry Brockman


So, “There is need of only one thing”, eh!

That reminds me of the comedy movie, “City Slickers” in which a couple of city folk go out West In order to sort things out in their lives.  They try to get away from the humdrum of daily life and return to nature so they can focus on what’s really important in life.  They mount horses, ride out into the wild, and participate in a real Cattle drive.  Their hope is that they can figure out what life is all about.  Now all throughout the cattle drive, the trail boss keeps saying that just “one thing” is important in life.  And so, the city slickers keep asking themselves the question- “what is that “one thing?””  But the “one thing” keeps eluding them; it is like a mystery to them because they are immersed in a flood of competing distractions.  You see, these City folk are used to a comfortable and modern way of living; but they find themselves out in the middle of nowhere preoccupied with just trying to cope with multiple aspects of primitive camping in the wilderness.  Getting away from it all was supposed to help them reflect and come to grips with life.  But they were still so occupied with coping with the world that they didn’t know where to look for that “one thing”.

Now I think it is helpful to recognize at this point that our Gospel story today is part of a sequence of events.  Earlier in Luke Chapter 10, Jesus identifies the greatest Commandment:  to love God with all of one’s heart, being, strength, and mind; and to love one’s neighbor as himself.  Then, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to identify who one’s neighbor is.  A Priest and a Levite just pass by a poor victim on the highway; but a foreigner, an unbeliever, a hated Samaritan, moved with pity, stops and takes care of the poor guy.  Who acted as the neighbor?  Not the holy priest or Levite, but rather, the unbeliever, the Samaritan.

Then, after focusing on who our neighbor is, Luke moves on to the story we just read.  Now the story opens as Martha welcomes Jesus, and presumably a number of others, to her home.  You see, the crowds sought Jesus because He had something important to say about God and salvation.  We know from the Gospel of John that Martha and Mary were Lazarus’ sisters and that Jesus loved Lazarus.  So, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus must have had some sort of standing relationship with Jesus.  When the story of Lazarus being raised from the tomb is told in John’s Gospel, Martha and Mary acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah there.  So, it would seem that they knew Jesus as the Messiah and the source of salvation.

So why exactly did Martha welcome Jesus into her home?  Maybe Martha wanted others to hear about Jesus the Messiah.  Maybe she just wanted to be the one who had the privilege of welcoming this special person who she thought was the Messiah, into her home; or maybe she wanted to hear more of what he had to say.  Maybe it was all of those things.  In any event, having Jesus in her home was the perfect way to assure that God and his word would be available to her.  The environment was right, just like the “get away from it all” environment in City Slickers.

Now Martha is described as the very picture of a good neighbor to Jesus and his party.  In fact, the words in the Gospel emphasize the term “service”.  Martha is dedicated to serving her guests, as a hostess should.  So much so that she was “burdened” by this service.  We don’t know what that means exactly, whether it means overwhelmed, consumed, preoccupied, or what.  But it’s easy to speculate that she was preparing a meal for the whole group, and not just a simple meal either, but a big celebration- a feast.   And that meant that she was unable to take advantage of the whole reason Jesus was welcomed into her home.  And so, just like the city slickers in the movie, she was so preoccupied with the things of the world that she was not able to focus on Jesus or his message even though the environment was right

In contrast, we hear about Mary.  Mary is pictured as sitting at Jesus feet.  She is “down for the count” so to speak.  She is in position to take full advantage of what the guest has to say, and she clearly doesn’t plan to move.  Remember, she and her sister acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah- the Son of God.  Mary is giving full and undivided attention to Jesus as the guest and as the bearer of the Word of God.  She is taking full advantage of the opportunity.

Now in the Jewish culture of the time, when a guest came to your home, all the women were supposed to tend to the guest’s needs.  So, quite understandably, Martha is upset that Mary is not helping.  Martha basically interrupts Jesus and asks him to tell Mary to help him.  She is asking Jesus to take sides.

Now, let me pause here for a moment.  Recall that the Greatest Commandment is to Love God with your whole self, and then to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.  Clearly, the priority of this commandment is to love God first, and then our neighbor.  So, what was the priority of the two sisters in our story?  Isn’t Martha’s priority love of neighbor?  Martha is concerned with Jesus as a guest, yes; but also as a hostess to a larger group of which Jesus is just one member.  She is not so much focused on welcoming Jesus or hearing what he has to say as she is on throwing the party.  She is concerned with things of this life and on fulfilling the expectations for hospitality by the world’s standards.

On the other hand, Mary is concerned with welcoming Jesus personally, and being attentive to him.  In fact, she is hungry for the message that Jesus is bringing to the people.  Mary’s priority is on loving Jesus as God.

And so, one way of looking at this story is this:  Martha is focused on loving her neighbor first within the context of living in the world; whereas Mary is focused on loving God first and on life in the Kingdom of God.

The Bible scholars tell us that Jesus response to Martha is affectionate because he responds to her by name, and repeats her name.  So, even though he sides with Mary, he is attempting to do so lovingly.  Jesus says that there is need of only “one thing” rather than being burdened by the many things of the world.  He then says that Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.

Ah, yes- Mary has chosen to hear God and love God first, and to focus on the one thing that cannot be taken from her when she does hear and heed the Word of God- the Kingdom of God.

What does this mean for all of us today as we sit here and ponder this story?  It seems to me that we are all challenged to achieve a sense of balance between Loving God first, and also loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Sometimes we get in a rut as Christians.  We think we are on the right track.  In fact, we think we understand the message and are honestly trying to apply it.  But we can become “Marthas” in the process.  In our enthusiasm, we move out and do something.  We are committed to being an honest, loving, neighbor to all we meet.  We honestly try to be “engaged” as a committed Christian.  And being engaged means being involved.  Even though we may be encumbered and burdened by life’s cares- aches and pains, limitations of mind and body- we participate in this group; attend these services; do acts of kindness for this or that person.  And all of that is all well and good.  But the fact is, we may not be focused on “the one thing”, because of the many things that we are involved in deflect our focus.

Unlike the Jesus in the story of Martha and Mary, God is not sitting in our homes in real flesh and blood, so that we can talk to him directly and listen to his Word as Mary was able to do.  Rather, he is only available to us if we turn our direct attention to him in prayer; getting away, even for just a little bit, from the combination of our worldly aches and pains, our worldly interests; and our commitment to service.  But we need to constantly reflect on what God is saying to us.  We need to do that regularly, or we may become distracted and lose touch with His voice.   And yet, all the while, we still need to be engaged in the world with love and kindness.  It is a sense of balance that we need- a lot of Mary; and a healthy dose of Martha as well.

And so, let us all resolve to seek “the one thing” that really matters.  And that is to recognize God as the highest priority.  Then we will be grounded in the message of Jesus and the kingdom of God, the “better part”.  It involves quiet time and prayer- prayer in which we listen to God no matter how soft his voice in the clamor of our everyday life, in the intensity of the world’s distractions, and in even our efforts to be good, loving Christians.