Sunday, October 9, 2011

Our Kingdom or God's

Sheri and I are very happy to be back to visit and pray with you all again. This facility has been rightly claimed as a central hub and a meeting place for numerous diocesan programs, classes, and meetings. The church’s structure is classic, the grounds are sanctified and made holy by the countless gifts of the body of Christ, and the community is a reflection of what one wishes to see in a church that treats others as Christ asked us to. So when I’m offered the opportunity to return and participate in your celebrations, I make every effort to share in this experience. We had been looking for a wonderful retreat for the morning, the weather is precisely as we’d love for early October, and time was not an issue. But that was our plan and our little kingdom.
As it were, this is not quite as happy a reunion as we may have wished. God had other plans, ones that involved the loss of some dear friends and family. Other personal events precluded me from paying attention to what I’m supposed to be doing in managing my email, and just a tad forgetful about how some medications interrupt your previously planned agenda. Then, you see, here’s my hiking staff - not relevant to the OT reading dealing with Moses – who proudly carried his about reverently. What this staff represents is the closest thing I have to a cane after a bout with sciatica that put me in the Emergency Room last weekend. What matters most about it though, is that these events, incidents and happenings are all things as viewed by me in my life, in my kingdom. They are not one bit about what God has planned for you and me in His kingdom – in the here and now in what we call “real time.”
Here it’s pointed out in splendor in the Gospel reading of Matthew about the land owner who is preparing for a wedding feast. Everything he needs and wants is planned. All the meals are prepared. The wine is ready. The tables are set. The band is playing. And so he sends out his slaves to pass on the good news that a celebration is in order and all that is needed are people to come along and join in the celebration. Sounds like a plan to me! But not all agree with his plan. Everyone invited is too busy doing their own thing in their own world to be bothered with the good tidings of another. Some go back to their fields and finish farming. Some go back home to their families and businesses. Still others take on horrific acts of torture and murder against the king’s slaves. Who, then, in their right mind would expect the land owner to be anything other than enraged? But even to the point of being filled with enough hatred to send his armies out to kill the invited guests? Here again, this is happening not in God’s kingdom, but in our own created kingdom of self-absorbed and human-made priorities. None of it is about God and what He has created for us in this parallel reality. We see it as a playbill at the local theatre called “Our kingdom now versus the Kingdom of God here and now”. The play continues from ages past, scene after scene, act after act, play after play. The script – the loving mercy and grace of God - stays the same; only we hear the actor’s ad lib their lines to fit things conveniently into their lifestyle and away from the script which appears to be a burden of socializing and patronizing with others.
Now being the well-known man he appears to be, after killing off the original intended guests, he sends more servants out to invite everyone else to his celebration that he may somehow show some kindness. This is where novices such as myself come to a sharp “do I really have to go here?” when a man shows up without a wedding robe and has no answer for why he’s not properly dressed? Perhaps it’s the man’s inability to respond that gets him in the most trouble and hurled back out into the streets to be one with the wailing and gnashing of teeth! Today he might say, “Oh, getting a last minute invitation with my tux in the cleaners left me with only a sport coat and a tie that didn’t match, I’m so sorry, I’ll leave if you want me to! Please pass on my congratulations to the lovely couple!” But the fact of the matter is that the man just showed up and expected to be a participant without preparation of any sort to maybe see if he could get by. That’s all speculation, but trying to pinpoint God’s plan for salvation in extraordinary situations is something theologians have been working on exegesis of for over 2 thousand years. And it may be another thousand or so years that we remain rehashing these parables over and over again until we are able to get past the final notion that perhaps God’s plan and kingdom IS the here and now. And every single one of us IS called. Maybe it’s how we attempt to see His kingdom at work while ours goes on in our own little brain, hashing away why we need to go home instead of attending that one other gathering that is the place we should really be heading instead of into the little world of ours, that is a little cause, that is more important to us in our own kingdom.
Many are called. And few are chosen. Perhaps it is the ones who realize that God’s kingdom contains the good and the bad, the fast and the slow, those who have good intentions and those who are lazy, the giver and the thief, and all things in between. For it’s what we choose to do when we are called, that – according to the Gospel of Matthew – makes the difference whether we continue in our kingdom wailing and gnashing our teeth, or see God’s kingdom and reach out to lend a hand where one is needed.
Recently I’ve been following a few blogs on current events and only my back has prevented me from being present at the rallys and meetings. But my voice is being heard in phone calls to politicians and CEOs and others who need to know what it is the people are going through these days. I’m not urging you to join me in my efforts at that scale, but to continue to do what you see that needs to be done in God’s Kingdom here in this church and community. In the words of the late Bobby Kennedy, ”Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” I agree with Bobby. Our generation and time is to bring the Kingdom of God into our daily lives and continue doing what we can and must do best: Be the hands, eyes, ears, and voice of accepting to be chosen and allow Christ to act through us to create His Kingdom.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

St Peter's Confession

I spent the last school year attending extended CPE: Clinical Pastoral Education. My plate was full after adding the remaining two classes to finish my School of Christian Studies requirements. Those two classes along with the CPE completed all of the Diocese’s requirements of a postulant as well. And as I was writing this sermon on Friday, I received notification from Bishop Baxter inviting me to meet the Ordination Commission on September 28th, to be interviewed for Candidacy as a Deacon. I owe a great deal of thanks for the support of Father Mark, the vestry, and to all of you for making this possible. I’m truly grateful for making it this far.
During my CPE I did an internship as a chaplain at Gettysburg Hospital. There are so many stories of how God creates the space in the midst of a Chaplain and the patient or patient’s family and friends; I hope to have the opportunity to tell you about some of them in the future. I was able to pray with many different people and many different styles from a Quaker woman who asked me just to sit with her in silence to a Four Square Pentecostal Minister who was whipping up the Holy Spirit with huge gyrations of his arms and loudly praising Jesus and asking Him for His healing power! Some stared off in to space while others quietly wept. I in turn worked on my listening skills and learned how to pray without a book. This produced some very tender moments where I left the room in tears on more than several occasions. As the year progressed, entering a room became easier. The situations didn’t. You see, at the beginning of the course there was so much confusion in my mind as what I was to do or what to expect when making visits. Hospitals were not my favorite place to be; especially with my wife having spent so much time in them the past couple of years. After a time I was going along with the flow, so to speak, paying attention, listening, talking things over with my peers and colleagues to grasp an understanding of what was expected of me. Then one day I was called on an emergency and before you know it I was reacting and not thinking because I’d let go of my safety net and was relying – unknowingly - on Holy Spirit to guide my actions.
This sounds similar to what many of us do on our paths as we try to understand what we are called to do or why we are called to do it. We have a gut feeling or something catches our attention and we start to seek out and learn what we can. We may have a revelation or an epiphany. And the reality of it is – with the exception of having Jesus physically present – is that these episodes in our lives aren’t very different from what the apostles experienced as they travelled with Jesus on his journeys of healing and preaching. They are the experiences that are described in what we just read in the Gospels. They listened to his call as he chose each of them; they dropped their current interests and began to follow him. They were normal workers, tradesmen, and professionals who worked at their jobs for the family income. They watched, they listened, and they talked with each other about what Jesus taught them. Their journey was more ardent then yours or mine, no doubt, and if any of them were like me and perhaps a few of you, a lot of knowledge and education came their way through osmosis. If we hear something and do something enough times - one day we find ourselves hearing the Holy Spirit speak to us as we receive the answers we need. After Jesus’ journey that included feeding the 5,000 then the 4,000 with numerous miracles thrown in here and there for good measure, it came time for Him to see who had been paying attention. After crossing the sea and landing on the banks of Caesarea, Jesus asks the question that brings their journey to a turning point. A turning point toward a destination they were not expecting: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Ask yourself that question. Who do you believe to be the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Christ? The apostles answer to the question showed the diversity of opinions the people had, who held the likes of John the Baptist, Elijah, and the prophets in high esteem. None of them; however, had mentioned Jesus.
Now the title Son of Man is most often referred to as meaning the Messiah. It dates back to the Old Testament and appears in several books of the prophets, most notably in the apocryphal text of Daniel, but Ezekiel holds the claim for being called Son of Man the most times with over ninety references, just slightly higher than any reference to Jesus in all of the Gospels combined. So after Jesus hears the replies he asks another question. Up to this point, he was considered a great teacher, healer, and performer of miracles who knew many things, but there were many others out in the streets at this time in history who were claiming to be the Christ. What throws the whole Messiah image upside down is that Jesus’ image is not of the Warrior King savior that Israel had been looking for to set them free and lead them to the Promised Land. The Son of Man was about to become completely ridiculed, tortured, and murdered in order to bring about a different kind of redemption. Redemption not of land, material possessions, or physical freedom; but redemption for the loss of Eden, broken trusts, and reconciliation of the soul with God. A redemption that would be secured through the resurrection.
Recently I heard this next question in a different way. Even as the question was read as I’ve heard every time before with the emphasis “Who do YOU say that I am?” with the emphasis on the “You”, I heard “who do you say that “I AM?” And I immediately recalled: I AM THAT I AM. Who knows if this was what Peter heard, too, for he burst out, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God!” Yes, it was at this point where Peter was open and listening to the Holy Spirit revealing to him the answer that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of Man, and the Son - not just of a god, but the Son of the one living God. If we think about the reactions of the others as they sat hearing this, each of us may have our own thoughts. Some will imagine them sitting quietly soaking it all in, feeling the Holy Spirit move through them in a calming peace. Others may feel an exhilaration and want to jump up and down swinging their arms around because they can’t contain the emotions that are welling up inside. Still others may weep happily, laugh with joy, or even stare up into the heavens and ask themselves over and over, “What just happened here?”
For Peter, what happened next was the presentation of authority and responsibility for the knowledge he had just received. It is said that with knowledge comes responsibility. Ignorance may be bliss in some places but for me, nothing is as exhilarating as the knowledge that Jesus is the Son of Man. I hope to continue with the help of God to be responsible by supporting this claim through my actions. As each of us receives the message and realizes what it entails, may we carry out that responsibility and continue the work of Christ in whatever gifts we have been given. Whether it be providing food for several dozen people at lunch, sending cards or making phone calls to the sick and homebound, or using the power of prayer to connect with the Holy Spirit and bring about peace; whatever your gift, when used the grace received in return from the Son of Man is truly amazing. Amen.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Crocuses

The crocuses are lying just below the snow this time of year. I know that. They are not visible but they are there from my planting them some 15 years ago. It’s normal for me to think of them during early January when my exposed skin bears the brunt of the wind that pushes the temperatures downward. I gaze into the barren field across the road, searching the stripped branches for signs of this year’s buds that will obey their creator and open when they are called. We have just entered into the season after Epiphany, yet I seem to be yearning for Easter. Am I impatient? Bored? Confused? Apparently there is some disconnect between my senses and my soul. Or perhaps I am just present in a place I may not have been before.
There are many Januarys tucked into my life. Most of them have been forgotten in a mundane silence of cold or the blur of a holiday hangover. One is particularly well deserving of my life’s landmark in time from the freshness and excitement of a new found love, my wife. Although it is a characteristically mundane new year in appearance, my world seems unsettled. I can tell you that my intentions of being present to the purpose of Advent were honorable, even with the death of my beloved Dad in the midst of it. Death is as obvious as birth at this time of year. We die to our old selves to be born again in Christ. Advent is a time of exploring and waiting. Christmas is a time of celebrating. Epiphany is a time of discovery and turning the corner to a new world of life and thought. Living and thinking anew are not compatible with most secular mind sets. We are told it is not acceptable to keep your decorations up into the next year. Christmas began (for some) after Halloween, while a vast number started the celebration while engaged in the activities of Thanksgiving Day. While I have no objection to preparing for holidays in advance, my personal preference is to remain active during the entirety of this holy season. So when my friends comment on my continued and seemingly excessive salutations for a Merry Christmas past New Year’s day, I am not puzzled by their curiosity.
As much as I’d like to commend myself for previous years where I thought a corner had been turned in my journey, there was merely a hint of change – barely a glimmer of hope. While honoring myself with pats on the back, there was a retreat of sorts back to a secular world where I found comfort in being with the norm. Today I am uncomfortable. And we are well past Christmas. We are just past Epiphany. I begin to contemplate the words of T. S. Elliot in his poem “The Journey of the Magi”:
“…But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching their Gods. I should be glad of another death.”
Yes, it has been told time and again from those whose formation makes a turn to another reality where the world seems to be looked at through different lenses. Once we become the Magi, where we make the discovery that there is a different world when discovering Christ, when our attention is not ruled by a date on the calendar dictating when and what hangs on our door, decorates our walls, or lights up our lawns, that is where we meet Christ in the world. I do not know if my present situation is because of an uneasiness with the world as I refrain from being drawn back to my old dispensation. It could just as well be a continued process of grief. Or a head cold. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, I do know that the crocuses are lying just below the snow this time of year.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

For Dad, In Loving Memory.

For Dad
Spring and late fall have always been my favorite seasons. Early in the year the late winter thaw swells the streams with crystal clear water. Other signs of life come out of the warming earth. Skunk cabbage and daffodils join the blossoms on the dogwoods and redbuds. Robins return from their hiding. As the spring-time days get longer my thoughts turn to fishing and early mornings spent wading in icy cold water, as I take in all that God has to offer in His gift of nature. Half a year later, the cooling of the air as rains change to snow flurries bring about a similar, although conflicting comfort as the world around me changes into a hibernating community of rest. The outdoors is just as significant at this time of year. But the shift is away from the frigid streams returning to their icy form. We look upward from the valleys into the higher fields and hills as other wildlife attract our interest and attention.
My dad and I shared many moments filled with both excitement and disappointment while being outdoors. From the proud grin on his face when I tagged my first buck, to the equally wide grin on my face as I returned the favor and offered him the first shot on another; from the fear and concern in my heart from losing his favorite rod and reel to a large fish at Ocean City, to the surprise on his face of getting his Christmas present that year; we found many bonding moments. These moments, regardless of the varying emotions involved, were always grounded in one aspect of life that each of us acknowledged: the awe and wonder of God’s creation. Our hearts connected through this intimacy, this undeniable thread of unspoken conversation, even during times we disagreed. That was his nature. He spoke his mind and offered his opinions, but loved us and cherished the times we had together no matter how brief.
Yes, he loved and still loves. Dad loved his family, it was obvious. He loved his country; evident in all the work he did years after serving in Korea, helping the American Legion and their push for educating students in the schools about citizenship. Above all he loved God and his church and he was not afraid to show it, not by any “in your face” nature, but through his daily actions and his faith. His faith in the rhythm of the church seasons became the rhythm of this life. Connect this with his love for nature and creation, and there is sense for God choosing this time of year to bring him home. Just as Advent takes us into the darkness in preparation for the birth of the Light of Christ, so too, Dad seemed to be preparing for this day. Not that he spent his life in darkness, but he understood that darkness is as much a part of this life as light, and you need one to understand the other. He embraced Advent and Christmas and their association with the first day of winter, always happily declaring the fact that the days would now be getting longer. He knew we were approaching a new light. He knew that light would be brighter than any darkness could overcome: The light that John refers to in his gospel that “… shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
And so now, during Advent, we say goodbye to Dad in this life while the nights are the longest and the grey sky makes the daytime dim. It may take time, but eventually we will get through any darkness that seems to surround us. That is okay, because all things happen in God’s time and not ours. And we know that in time, we will soon celebrate the birth of Jesus the true light, the light of Christ. At some point, possibly when it seems he’s been gone forever, we will recognize that Dad has been with us all along. We will look up into the clear, icy, night-time sky of winter thinking, "soon the days will be getting longer once again.” And a new shining light will catch our eye, we will be reminded of Dad, and we will know he is shining his light for God now. God bless you, Dad. You are and will be missed! I love you!
In loving memory of Peter E. Gdula, 3/3/31 – 12/10/10

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Need or Greed?

Need or Greed? Sermon for Proper 21, year C Pete Gdula
It is a blessing to return here on such a beautiful morning. A friend and classmate of mine made the trip here last Saturday in anticipation of taking a class only to find out we did not need either of the courses. Some made mention of how mad we must have been to make the trip and spend the time and gas without anything to show for it. How wrong they were. The drive brought back memories of my homily rehearsals as I drove through the snow covered branches in January. I paused to shout hello to the pony and wave to the horses; to point out the short cut through New Bloomfield and question the renovation of a consignment shop into a tattoo parlor. But above all, it showed me the grace I had received in exploring and sharing my new ministry with all of you. I have walked through hallowed halls of marble and gold through Europe, set foot in board rooms turned chapels, and saw heaven touch the earth on an early morning fishing trip as I stood in the middle of a stream. All of these are etched in my mind for their own reasons. What I’ve found is that none of those would mean a thing if it weren’t for the people who fill the rooms, or recognize the presence of the Holy and each other in these places and moments.
It is not the walls that make a church but the people that occupy it. It is not the people that make the community - but the love and effort of care- giving in regards to their neighbor. In today’s Epistle, Paul calls it “…godliness combined with contentment;” All each of us needs is food and clothing. When we miss the mark on this one, should we examine our relationship with our social status and monetary wealth? If we are already too far gone in the direction of loving our material belongings and our money, would we even notice where our attention is? Would we know that we are already like the rich man who is SO far removed from society, he thinks he deserves special treatment even after being condemned?
I remember a homily that I presented to you back in May where I suggested how the season of Pentecost was meant to bring our faith and education into the real world. I stressed how Pentecost is a time of acting out our lessons, putting feet on our prayers and ideas, and taking on the words of the Gospel by becoming living Christians in the truest sense of the word. Here we are, gathered again approximately three months later. We are at the half way point toward Advent, and today’s readings provide a good time to take a litmus test and find out how we are doing. Most of the summer we’ve listened to Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching in parables. Parables that are “smack-you-in-the-face” wake up and let the dogs outside obvious. Its times like these I’m happy to be part of a faith that has a definitive liturgical cycle. We are given the framework for our house of faith during Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter. We now decide what color combinations to use in the dining room. We take the hours spent in home improvement centers looking at samples of carpeting, siding, roofing, and appliances and work on the finished product. We order the living room sofa and HD, cable ready TV, the beds, curtains and throw pillows, and make sure the driveway and sidewalk are clean and swept. It is a time for living.
But while many will be happy and step back here, soaking in the pride of what they have made, there are those who see that a neighbor may need some help with a chore. There are those who notice an acquaintance is walking to work while his car sits in his drive way in need of repairs. There are those who notice that even people who seem to be happy and well off need a shoulder to lean on or a hand to hold in prayer. These are the people who are “content with godliness”. They have what they need – and in most instances a great deal more – but they have not stopped noticing others who are not at the point of having their basic needs fulfilled yet.
When the rich man asks to have Lazarus sent to warn his brothers about the direction they are headed, Abraham refuses with a stern and somber answer. If you don’t heed the warnings now, from those who have been with you and wrote the laws, who would believe you when you say that you would now believe a resurrected body? Jesus makes this distinction clear and simple. His followers did not know at the time, it was He who would come back resurrected to confirm his identity so we might believe. Now the parable is turned on us. We not only have Moses and the prophets, we also have THE resurrected One who showed us the way.
Many treasures are stored up on earth. Many treasures are accumulated by both honest workers and those with greedy hands. Can the comparison stop there? Should we be concerned that perhaps this is where it will be decided who lives in eternal life being comforted and who ends up across the chasm, waiting for someone to send them a cooling drop of water that apparently won’t come? None of us can answer that. Fortunately – we have a foundation and the framework to begin finishing our works. We have our shell and roof and decorations. We have some pretty good written instructions and examples in our scripture. And we are filled with the grace from having those who show us in their actions every day. The ones who have built their treasures in heaven – and are sharing those treasures without bias or question. Amen

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Vanity or Futility

First I want to tell you how good it is to be back. My time at Newport passed quickly, which attests to the amount of energy and activity that flows through that particular group of people into their community – not unlike all of you here at St. Luke’s. While Sheri kept me aware of how the Holy Spirit was moving through this community, I was blessed to be in a similar situation. My internship was a remarkable, growing experience, full of lessons taught and learned, discernment continued and my path keeps evolving. Through this I can affirm that the Holy Spirit is alive and well at The Church of The Nativity, just as it lives and breathes in this community.
Next I would like to take the opportunity to pass on Sheri’s and my sincere thanks for all of your prayers and wishes during her time in and out of the hospital. I’m sure it was confusing for most people to be hearing one day that she was home and all was well from an operation, and a day or two later receiving word of her being back in the hospital. I can tell you that nothing or nobody was or were more confused than our two dogs. Each time I pulled into the driveway it appeared that they sat in futility on the back of the couch, staring out of the window, anxiously awaiting the return of the queen of their pack. Their anxiety at times seemed to be full of complete helplessness…that same helplessness we often feel overcome with in times of uncertainty and unknowing. One of the common threads that weave in and out of our lives is so often the thread of fearing what we don’t know – looking for known comforts to hold onto – and creating ways to avoid facing the future.
That is one of the facts of life that the writer of today’s Old Testament story tries to convey to us. Our interpretation of Ecclesiastes uses the word “Vanity” and instills visions of an ego riddled culture full of materialism and grasping at every whim under the sun. So much grasping for “stuff” that even the wind is not safe from trying to be controlled. And as we read the Gospel with “vanity” freshly planted in our minds, it further grabs us and forces us to conceive of a world full of greed and want and laziness. That is what the parable seems to be saying. A man was blessed with many things. Those things multiplied. He wanted to save and horde them all for himself. He built a bigger warehouse for storage so he’d never have to work again and sit back and live the “good life”. Some might say, well, yes, he earned it; it’s all his, he can do what he wants with it. Others might say, well yes, but if he’s as good natured and as happy as it appears in the story, why doesn’t he want to share any of it? (Note that we don’t know if he did share or not). Jesus gives us an answer and a moral to go with the story; however, I’m still left back in Ecclesiastes wondering how someone gets to a place where their ego is so big they want to chase the wind.
Enter another interpretation of the Old Testament. Our own definitions of words today and the age we live in are very important players when reading the bible, so I turned to the Jewish Study Bible to view how a Rabi would read the text from the original translation. Where we read “Vanities of Vanity” Says the teacher, “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity” … I see this: “Utter futility! – Said Koheleth – Utter futility! All is futile! Suddenly my views changed and the entire direction of my study changed all because of one word! Vanity to me is ego. Futility to me is something that is worthless. While ego may be worthless, there is a big difference between deeming an act wrong for the sake of greed and want, then from the standpoint of having no value at all.
Ecclesiastes is from the Jewish cannoned texts in the Kethuvim, or Wisdom books, along with Job, Proverbs and a few other texts. Koheleth is the name used to reference King Solomon, to whom the writing is credited. Throughout Ecclesiastes we have a theme of how nothing we humans do in life is deemed to be worthwhile. Life is beyond our comprehension to see the hand of God in the mundane acts of life. Solomon says no matter what we do, all is hard work under the sun. We are born, we live, we suffer and toil, and then we die. And without even a slight notion of an understanding of where God fits into our lives, it can be nothing but futility. It is as crazy as trying to catch the wind!
This would be the perfect place where one of the many preachers of the Gospel of prosperity and success would jump in and say “Wait! That’s your problem! You’re thinking wrong! God WANTS us to be successful and rich and happy and have everything we want, He says so and Jesus says so! I have the Secret! For a nominal price I’ll tell you what it is!” (My own thoughts there, not the church’s) But there IS a silver lining to the dark cloud of despair and futility, and Koheleth gives us the answer as we continue reading Ecclesiastes. He declares that all IS toil and the only thing that IS certain of our humanness IS death. There IS no clear cut line between what type of person the rain falls on or who wins the Powerball. BUT we don’t have to be laborious in our work and toil. What DOES matter is how we treat each other in the process of living out the events in our lives. What does matter is how we react to the unfolding of events as they happen. What does matter is that we place God front and center in our lives and allow our work to become Holy. In that context, nothing will be futile or vane.
I had an experience the day I helped out with lunch at St Barnabas School. All of the food was set out on the table and the counselors were determining who could go and pick up their plates. Two little girls, presumably sisters, tried to hide behind each other as they approached the table, very timid and unsure about what they were allowed to have. I could not help but wonder if their hesitation was from being shy or from being deprived. Watching their eyes open wide as I told them it was okay to have watermelon, and watching their hands hold it as if it were the most precious thing in the world, made me shiver as I saw what true appreciation and excitement was. There was nothing futile about the work involved in that small act of giving that so many people contributed to. There in that moment was something as simple as providing someone a treat, that will endure for as long as I can remember, and hopefully for the two little girls, also.
Both Jesus’ parable in the Gospel and Solomon’s words of wisdom in Ecclesiastes give this same principle. The purpose of our lives is to do our work for God and all else will be taken care of. There is a higher purpose and higher place for us to be in both now and in the future, so stowing away our riches for that rainy day when we’d like to be lazy – while it won’t hurt as long as we’re using it for God’s work – sure won’t help if we don’t use any of it now, today, for others that do need it, now, today.
Amen! 8/1/2010, Peter M. Gdula

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trinity Sunday/Memorial Day Homily

Trinity Sunday/Memorial Day Pete Gdula
Some things are given to us because we’ve asked for them; other things come to us for no apparent reason – even when we feel they weren’t rightly (or wrongly) justified. The grace of God and the Holy Spirit are such gifts. We have God’s grace as something given at the very place we stand. We have Holy Spirit as our guide and advocate in one aspect because we don’t have Christ in human form at this point in time. This is how things emerged and formed this week’s homily. My question was: how DOES one forge together Trinity Sunday with Memorial Day? I found myself asking this question to myself more times than I spent reading the lessons and listening to the hymns. Nothing was coming through. But by Friday Holy Spirit spoke to me in the form of an idea. When your thoughts seem to be scattered and the threads of time appear to be unraveled; when it seems your fall-back plan has fallen through; what does any good disciple of Jesus named Peter do at a time like this? He goes fishing. And so I did. While this didn’t translate into any major “ah-ha moments” for my talk, listening to Holy Spirit’s guidance of doing something which for me are meditative and prayerful was to prepare me for other things.

In the church calendar we are now in what we call ordinary time. The longest of seasons, Pentecost stretches out through summer, fall, and the beginning of winter. We take what we’ve learned from Advent through Easter and now put that knowledge to work as we become the hands and feet of God, taking the Gospel of Jesus into our daily lives, allowing our lives to be built on the firm foundation and framework we’ve constructed in the last 6 months. But when I grasp for something I think should be solid, when what is promised for me seems so far in the future, or when I mistake an intention for something other than what it truly is, IF none of these perceptions are happening all I need to do is listen and look and the original intention will be in front of me.

Yesterday was a prime example of Holy Spirit giving me lessons. I was in the hospital with my wife, who had been admitted to find the source of a severe pain she was having. As I was looking over the lessons again, there in big letters right before me, Romans 5:1-5, were the words on how suffering builds endurance, endurance builds character, etc, and I thought “what a wonderful thing to say to someone in her pain.” So I read the verses to her, commenting about the pain …. And MY first real lesson in pastoral care followed that I’ll remember the rest of my life. That passage is definitely the wrong thing to read to someone when THEY are suffering. They don’t want to hear what suffering brings about, they just want it to be stopped! And YOU may be the bearer of suffering for even trying to read it! We do suffer in our humanity, and it does build character and endurance and hope. But it may not be our position to think of what the suffering and pain will bring about as we live through it. I doubt any of these veterans whose graves we just prayed over thought about the hope they would provide for us today, suffering while in the midst of their duties serving our country. But here we are, almost two centuries in the future from some of them, and we live with the freedoms they defended and sometimes suffered for. Generations have endured, our character is on display and it has left us with hope. All promised by the words of Jesus, how he would send us His advocate while he was away.

Now on this Memorial Day, as we honor those who have died, who stood their ground for us in service to our country, we thank God for them. It is said that funeral and remembrance services are in actuality for the living to help relieve their suffering. We can only understand through hope – the things that come about from another person's commitment and THEIR suffering. It reminds me of a song by one of my favorite composers, Edwin McCain, entitled “Prayer to Saint Peter”. I’d like to close with a portion of it:

“Let them in Peter, for they are very tired. Give them couches where the angels sleep, and light those fires. Let them wake up whole again, to brand new dawns, fired by the sun, not war-time’s bloody guns. May their peace be deep, remember where their broken bodies lie. God know how young they were to have to die. Let them love, Peter, for they’ve had no time. They should have birds, songs, and trees, and hills to climb. Tell them how they are missed. But say not to fear. It’s gonna be alright, with us, down here.”