Homily for August 18

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass

This is the third week of our message series on How To Vacation.
We've looked at vacations from a variety of angles:
- vacation as a kind of reward that we've earned
- vacation as something that's owed us
- vacation as a gift -from God
- to be shared and used, wisely and well
- vacation as a time to grow rich in what really brings us peace,
what truly satisfies us,
vacation as a time to grow rich in the things that really matter,
in the things that really matter to God.

We spend a lot of time getting ready for vacation, planning and packing,
and we invest a lot of hope, expectation and anticipation
in our vacation time
AND… as we all know, those hopes, those expectations
are often more real in theory than in our experience.
Sometimes a vacation doesn't deliver what it promised
and we find ourselves going back to work
wishing we could have a do-over vacation -
or a vacation to rest up from our vacation!

Last week we looked at vacation as an opportunity
to open ourselves to experiences, to gifts, to a kind of treasure
that's in-exhaustible.

Sometimes we need a vacation from all the
]draining, exhausting realities in our lives.
We spent some time last week asking, probing, trying to discover
just what are the things we really treasure -
we did that in response to Jesus who said:
"Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart…"

Those are strong words from Jesus -
he's asking us to do some deep soul searching
but its two main words are "treasure" and "heart"
and those are beautiful words to consider.

But how about this week?  Talk about upping the ante!
Today, Jesus says to his disciples and so, to us:
"I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing! 
…Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? 
No, I tell you, not peace but rather - division."

Is this the same Jesus who just last week spoke to us
of hearts and treasure?
Yup! The very same Jesus!
Jesus who says he came for -- division…    
What can he possibly mean by that?

He means that if we take him at his word,
if we try to take seriously the inexhaustible treasure his word,
if we take his word to heart and try to live by it -
if we try to do all of that
there will be some people who misunderstand us 
who don’t get what we’re about,
even some who will reject us and our way of life,
who’ll want no part of what we're all about
because we follow the word of Jesus.

And if you think I’m being overly dramatic here,
just consider how often you and I are, well… “quiet” about our faith,
how often we don't speak about our relationship with Jesus,
how often we don't bring our beliefs - and why we believe as we do -
into conversations.
Are we sometimes "quiet" for fear of being misunderstood,
for fear of being ridiculed or rejected?

Jesus’ words about coming for division are strong.
But they were even stronger in his day
when one's personal safety, welfare and place in society
were all intimately bound up with one's family
- and being connected, being part of that clan.
In Jesus' time, apart from your family - you were lost -
you were nothing - you were no one!

We can relate to that in our own experience as well, can’t we?
Who among us doesn’t know how strong - and how fragile -
can be our family relationships and how much rides
on their strength or fragility.
And how those very relationships can provide us
with the greatest and deepest joy
or be the source of the deepest sadness in our lives?

Strong family and friendship ties are to die for!
Weak and wounded relationships break our hearts.

What Jesus is saying here is that if we follow him
we may jeopardize the ties that bind,
the ties that ensure our safety and security,
our connectedness with others,
our acceptance by others.

So, here's the important distinction for us to make:
Division isn't Jesus' purpose or mission
but it is an inevitable side effect, a consequence
for those who take his word, his mission to heart.

This shouldn’t surprise us too much.
We all know how voicing our strong beliefs about serious matters
will join us to those who share our convictions
but distance or even separates us, from those who don’t. 

Who among us hasn't experienced precisely this dynamic?
in the contemporary political climate?
Jesus says:   
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three…
I think we know what he means!

Consider how careful we’ve become
in our families and among friends, around the holidays
at Thanksgiving Day dinner or at Christmas time
- or at cookouts on a summer vacation -
how careful we’ve become about what we say,
what topics we bring up, what conversations we begin -
precisely because we know that certain names or words or topics
might easily divide a household or a gathering of people
who would be otherwise sharing a good time together.

To be clear, when Jesus calls us to join him,
he isn’t instructing us to be controversial jerks at the dinner table.
Jesus is, at heart, a man of peace and reconciliation.
But Jesus is reminding us that division is a consequence of his mission
and though the path he walks and invites us to walk with him
is not an easy path - it's worth the hardship.
Yes, it’s gonna be hard, he says.
There are gonna be obstacles and pain and conflict and more,
but the mission is worth it.  Following him is worth it.

Now, Jesus isn’t suggesting that we go out cause division!
But it might be helpful for each of us to ask ourselves:
 “How and when has my faith and my expression of it
been strong enough and clear enough
that I’ve bumped up against this "consequence of division"
precisely because of what I believe?”

Or even more basically,
 “Do my family members and friends, do the people I work with,
know what I believe,
do they know what moves my heart,
what shapes my deeds and conduct?

Or do I keep my beliefs under wraps, avoiding any conflict.
Do I try to keep peace at all costs,
even at the cost of being true to what I believe?
Do I settle for artificial harmony)
(little more than the absence of overt conflict)
- and call that "peace?”

I realize that I'm speaking here about a terrain littered with land mines!
In a culture like ours that prizes both tolerance and political correctness,
it often seems that all views are to be respected and accepted -
except for those views that everyone is expected to know
are un-acceptable.

It's a tough playing field where Jesus leads us.
And as on any team, each of us is going to have different
roles, responsibilities and assignments.
Our first task is to know the game and how it's played.
Then we need to know what position each of us is playing.
Then we need to practice - to hone the skills we need
to contribute to the team's effort.
And finally, we need to take to the field and get in the game.
Any effort less than this will leave us on the sidelines -
or even outside the stadium.

Perhaps the task before us is this,
At home, at work, at school, on vacation, the task is:
to be peaceful - not angry, vengeful or arrogant;
to be peaceful in the ways we're faithful
to Jesus and his mission,
to live with any division that comes - NOT by walking away -
but by bearing the burdens faith may lay on us;
not by "growing weary, not by losing heart,
but rather by persevering
in running the race that lies before us,
keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus"
and on the inexhaustible gift of his word.

Vacation might be just the time to reflect on these things,
to see what we need to do, you and I, each of us,
to grow in those things that really matter, that really count,
those things that bring us real peace,
-- even if that peace is served up in the midst of division;
time to grow in those things that truly satisfy us,
time to grow in the things that matter
and especially to grow, to become rich, in what matters to God...

One of the greatest benefits of any vacation
is the gift of time, time we don't usually have available to us,
time for doing some of the things we most want to do.
Pray with me today at the Lord’s Table
that each of us might find time this summer
to ponder how our faith brings us peace,
how it makes us one with so many
even as it may distance, separate and divide us from some others.

The most important, beautiful and worthwhile elements of our lives
come at a price, at a cost, at a premium.
Let's not hold back from giving what we need to give
to be faithful to the Lord who offers us more
than any other person or thing can promise or deliver.

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