Sunday, February 21, 2010

Throw down your stones

HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, February 21, 2010:

John Smith was the only Protestant to move into a large Catholic neighborhood. On the first Friday of Lent, John was outside cooking a big juicy steak on his grill. This drove all of his Catholic neighbors crazy as they ate their cold tuna fish for supper. This went on each Friday of Lent. On the last Friday of Lent, the neighborhood men got together and decided that something had to be done about John. They simply couldn’t take his temptations anymore. So, they decided to try and convert John to become a Catholic. They went over and talked to him and were so happy when he decided to join all of his neighbors and become a Catholic. They took him to Church, and the Priest sprinkled some water over him, and said, “You were born a Baptist, you were raised a Baptist, and now you are Catholic.” Everyone was so relieved, now their biggest Lenten temptation was resolved.

A year later, Lent rolled around once again. The first Friday of Lent came, and just at supper time, when the neighborhood was setting down to their tuna fish casserole, came the wafting smell of steak cooking on a grill. The neighborhood men could not believe their noses! WHAT WAS GOING ON? They called each other up and decided to meet over in John's yard to see if he had forgotten it was the first Friday of Lent. The group arrived just in time to see John standing over his grill with a small pitcher of water. He was sprinkling some water over his steak on the grill, saying, “You were born a cow, you were raised a cow, and now you are a fish.”

The Devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” One of Aesop’s Fables is about an argument between the wind and the sun. The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his coat shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his coat round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone gently; getting warmer and warmer upon the traveler, who soon found it too warm to walk with his coat on and took it off.

I was thinking of this fable today because it reminded me in a way of what we hear taking place with Jesus in the desert. In our passage from Luke’s Gospel, the Devil is like the wind trying to prove that he is stronger than God. He tempts Jesus in every way he can imagine – with wealth, with power, with fame. But, as in our fable, the Son (this time, S-O-N) is stronger. It wasn’t the might of these worldly temptations that won over Jesus, but the gentle persuasion of prayer and fasting and devotion to God that won the day.

While Jesus went out to the desert to face His temptations, ours usually have a way of finding us. The Devil’s first temptation gives us a helpful image for understanding our own temptations. The Devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” Think about this for a moment. Instead of the joy and love and perfection of following God, the Devil invites Jesus to turn to a stone. A hunk of rock is where he encourages Jesus to find His fulfillment. This is what the Devil wants Jesus to turn to in order to find happiness in life - a stone.

My brothers and sisters, that stone is dead.The Devil has got it all wrong. He wants Jesus to turn to a dead stone – something that is completely lifeless, completely unable to help Him, completely inadequate in making Him or anyone truly happy – in order to find satisfaction. The great insight of Jesus in this moment is that He knows only God can give Him true life; and true happiness. The Devil wants Jesus to command the dead stone to become life and happiness and glory for Him. It sounds completely ridiculous when you realize that, doesn’t it?

But isn’t this an apropos image for what we do in our own lives? We all have stones in our own lives that we stare at commanding them to give us life; commanding them to make us happy; commanding them to make us popular or successful or wealthy or powerful. But, just like the stone in our Gospel, these things will never give us life – they simply do not have the ability to do so.

Perhaps your stone is pride, a need to be right all the time even to the harm of relationships with family and friends. Perhaps it is a stone of jealousy, failing to be thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed in our lives and instead only coveting what we don’t have. Perhaps we seek life from a stone of materialism, that shop-till-you-drop mentality that causes people to simply want and seek more things, all the while blinding ourselves to the needs of the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the neglected that are all around us. Maybe we look to a stone of food; instead of eating to survive, we turn to food to cover our feelings or feed our guilt. Perhaps it is drugs or alcohol; using these stones to numb ourselves so that we don’t have to feel. Maybe it is the pervasive lust, pornography and degrading views of sexuality that our media thrusts upon us constantly. Maybe it’s television or video games or the Internet – do we spend more time staring at the box than we do spending time with our families or just as importantly in prayer with our God?

All of us have stones that we look at; we stare at; that we command to give us life and happiness. But, my brothers and sisters, these rocks are dead. They will never – ever – give you life. Perhaps you’ve come to this recognition in your life – that the stones you have turned to in life are not providing what they promised? Perhaps you are seeking something truly life giving; something with real meaning; that gives true and lasting happiness?

As always, Jesus has the answer; Jesus IS the answer. My friends, as we begin our Lenten journey, right here, right now, today in this church, Jesus is inviting us to do something radical – He is inviting us to put our stones down. And, isn’t that a welcomed invitation? Haven’t these stones of sin and temptation become far too heavy in our lives? Jesus wants us to let go of those things that we falsely think will give us happiness, life and peace. All that these stones are ever good at doing is binding us, holding us down, stealing our freedom, making us slaves – slaves to sin, and so slaves to death. Jesus wants us instead to put those stones down and journey with Him to a place of true freedom; true happiness; true peace – the fullness of the life He promised us.

Let us pledge today to pray for one another during these weeks of Lent and beyond. Let us pledge today to throw down our stones. Let us pledge today to turn away from a life of sin and slavery and choose the life of freedom and holiness that Jesus offers to us. Let us pledge to replace our stones with the fasting, prayer and works of mercy that our Lenten season calls us to. Let us learn, or learn again, as Jesus knew in the desert that God alone is the source of holiness, happiness, peace, joy and love. Let us pray in the words of our opening prayer, Loving Father, “bring us back to you and to the life your son won for us by his death on the cross.” My friends, let us throw down our stones.

May God give you peace.

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