19 Sunday C - Stand Ready - Faithfulness

Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration 

The gospel today reminds us that we must ‘stand ready’ for the return of the Lord. We must be people who are ‘dressed for action’ and have our ‘lamps lit’ and be those who are ‘found awake’. Let us reflect on how we are often not quite up to the mark or have ‘postponed till later’ the call to witness to Jesus.

Gospel Notes 

While this material is not found only in Luke, it is so transformed by him that it can be treated as if it were found only in his gospel. Verse 35 marks the beginning of a section on watchfulness and faithfulness so that the disciples are ready for the moment when ‘the Son of Man’ returns. However, the internal elements seem to concern those who are the servants and stewards of the community: if they do their task well and persevere in it, then they will be rewarded with a reversal of roles. Having been servants of the master’s table, then they will be given seats and waited upon by the master. Meanwhile, they must be careful in how they carry out their tasks for they do not know when he will return. 

We can read this gospel in two ways. First, it can be read as a general warning ‘to be alert’ for the Lord’s return — a theme found in many places in the gospels. Second, as a warning intended primarily for those with special positions in the churches where Luke preached that they be good servants of those churches.

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Michel de Verteuil
General Textual comments 

The gospel passage for this Sunday consists of sayings of Jesus, so it would be good to look first at some general principles that must be respected in interpreting sayings.

Remember, first, that in gospel meditation a passage must be read very slowly. I mention this because the sayings of Jesus are short, and often people tend to read them quickly. This happens especially in a passage like this, where we have several sayings on one general theme. It is, however, not a logically constructed teaching, but a collection of sayings, each one different and with its own way of putting across the theme. We must therefore take them separately, letting each one in turn rest in our hearts. Each one is like a special wine, and God invites us to be connoisseurs who take time to savour each one and discover its distinctive flavour.

 Secondly, the sayings of Jesus are usually metaphors, speaking to our imagination. This is another point that we are inclined to forget, because in the modern Western world teachers speak in the abstract and to the reason. We must make an effort to stir up our feelings, bringing back memories of our own deep experience, or the experience of people who have touched our lives. In this way we discover for ourselves the truth of the sayings, and within this process we experience God calling us to spiritual growth. This will take time, especially when – as we shall see in some of the sayings in this passage – the metaphor is complex and leads us in more than one direction.

Finally, the sayings of Jesus are universally true. Many people read them as true only of our relationship with God, and of spiritual growth. But they also apply to what happens to our Church communities, our village, our country, and the world. We must be open to discovering this universality, so that gradually (it always takes time) we enter into the many ways in which the saying is true. 

The Metaphor of Waiting 

 All the sayings in this passage are about waiting. This is a difficult metaphor for us today, because in our culture we experience waiting as something negative. “I am waiting” means that I am doing nothing and furthermore that I resent it: “How could you keep me waiting?” 

For the Bible, however – and this is good common sense – waiting is a creative moment, or at least can be if we enter freely into it. When I wait for others, I give them the space to be themselves, paying them the respect of letting them exercise their creativity, and I do it not with indifference or grudgingly, but with love, so that we can walk together in solidarity and mutual enrichment. 

It is in this perspective that we must understand the Bible expression ‘waiting for God’, which we find, for example, in Psalm 146:
“His delight is not in horses
nor his pleasure in warrior strength.
The Lord delights in those who revere him,
in those who wait for his love.” 

People sometimes imagine God sitting in heaven and looking down at his creatures. God in the Bible is not like this at all. “My Father goes on working,” St John quotes Jesus saying, “and so do I.” God is always at work in our lives, in the lives of others and in the world, and this work is always to break the rod of the G delightoppressor and to set captives free.

To wait for God is, then, to say to him that we know he is at work, and we are prepared to let him carry our his loving purpose when and how he pleases. At times, of course, we become impatient, and even panic and cry out, “How long, O Lord!” But at other times, we feel able to make our act of adoration and tell God that we are willing to wait for him. 

The moment is also creative for ourselves. When we wait, our latent tendencies to dominate and manipulate come to the surface, so that we are open to experiencing this as a moment of grace – we will go beyond these evil tendencies and enter that deep inner space where we are in trusting communion with God and with one another; free in ourselves and allowing others to be free. 

As you read this passage, then, and enter into the various sayings, remember waiting experiences that were moments of grace for you or for others. The times when you were able to wait for a child or a friend, and, at some unexpected moment, they opened up to you and you entered into a new and deeper relationship with them. Perhaps you struggled for years with drinking or drugs or an unhealthy relationship; you went through agony, unable to make up your mind about moving into a new life-style; and then one day the way became perfectly clear and easy; reading this passage today, you realize what it means to wait for God’s moment. Be with people you know who are tired of waiting; read the passage in solidarity with them, letting the message flow through you so that it touches them and renews their courage.

 Waiting is important in our relationship with a community too, a church community or any other. So often we try to manipulate a community rather than letting it grow organically according to its own dynamic. As you read this passage, remember great leaders you have known who have trusted the community, knew how to wait for it, according to the saying that everything happens in its own time; and so, when the moment came, the growth was solid, “the seed grew tall and strong,” as Jesus expressed it in the Parable of the Sower.

 This teaching on waiting is tremendously important today, when influencing people has become a skill that can be acquired like any other; when people boast openly that given sufficient money, they can make the public buy anything, not excluding a President or Prime Minister at election time. In this cultural context, we Christians will be tempted to think that grace can also be manipulated in this way, and that if only we could buy more time on television, or if our religious magazines were more glossy, or if we could work more sensational miracles, people would be converted. These sayings remind us that the laws of spiritual growth are different, and we remember with gratitude that in this area earthly power achieves little, but there is real power in trust, care and compassion – all that is implied in waiting. 

Our age needs this teaching for another reason too. The Church communities of the New Testament time had little social or political influence. We tend to forget this, because the Roman Emperor became a Christian and, before long, Christianity became the official religion of the State. In the early years, however, there was no prospect whatsoever that this would ever happen. We can see why, in such a context, there was so much emphasis on a self-confident faith which would enable Christians to look calmly at the great Roman Empire and still believe that the values of Jesus Christ would triumph in the end. 

The metaphor of waiting expressed perfectly this kind of faith. Can we not say that this is precisely the faith we need today – a trust in the power of our values that takes away any great need for success or quick results? 

Remembering the importance of this teaching, let us now turn to the collection of sayings.

 Verse 35. A friend has told you that he will take you out for a pint, but it is now very late and he hasn’t turned up. Your parents, all your brothers and sisters have gone to bed, and you are still there, dressed to go out, and the lights in the house are still on. Your mother puts her head out of her room, “You still waiting? Why don’t you go to bed?” You shake your head stubbornly, “I know he will come.” Jesus is telling us that faith in him is like that; everybody else has sold out to the prevailing value system, they have fallen asleep, as it is often expressed in the New Testament, but you continue to believe that the values of Jesus will come good. We think with gratitude of Martin Luther King saying, as he received the Noble Peace Prize, “I still believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

Note that the saying is in the form of a command – “see that…” – which can be interpreted in two ways. It can be read as a warning – “better be careful or you will fall away like everyone else.” But it can also be a word of encouragement – “Don’t worry about all the negative signs you see all around you; I can promise you that I am coming soon.” Either way, we see here the role of the Church or of the individual Christian to be the voice of Jesus in the World today. 

Verse 36 points us in a new direction. We are waiting for a master who is away at a wedding feast. We Christians live in the real world with all its selfishness and its fragmentation; but we know that our master is celebrating a world of harmony and reconciliation, and the vision of that world gives direction and hope to our lives.

The verse also evokes for us the moment of grace always coming suddenly, as we saw above; and we waiting for God to respond immediately or not at all:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;
omitted, all the voyage of their life
is bound in shallows and miseries.”

Remember the times when God knocked, fresh from the celebration of harmony, and somehow or other you were able to open immediately; you were able to give up that bad habit, to forgive, to move into a new and deeper relationship. Pray for those you know who are struggling that they may continue to wait in trust, ready to open the door as soon as the Lord comes and knocks.

 Verse 37 focuses on the blessedness that comes over us when we have waited long and eventually experienced the moment of grace. It is as if a great and generous master whom we admire greatly, has put on an apron, has sat us down at table and is attending to our every need. We feel perfectly secure, all our anxieties have vanished, and we know that it has not been our achievement – he who is mighty has done great things to his servant. 

Verse 38 reminds us that waiting always seems long, just as the hours of the night seem longer than we had bargained for. You thought it would be for the first watch, but it isn’t; it must surely be the second then, but it isn’t; and you realize that it mightn’t be the third either. Is not the fulfillment of our deepest aspirations like that? Who was the Jesus that God sent into your life to encourage you to continue waiting?

 In verse 39 the metaphor shifts again. It is the moment when a person  recognizes humbly, “he fooled me again” – the boxer became careless and let his guard drop; defenders were over-confident and let the forwards come through to score. I thought I was beyond lust and jealousy; our community was acting as if ambition, racism or snobbishness were dead among us; now we look ruefully at the wall of our house in a shambles and we reflect that if we had known at what hour the burglar would come we would not have let anyone break through it. We should not read this verse with bitterness, nor should we understand it to say that we must spend our whole lives on guard. God is inviting us to laugh at ourselves, caught out once again, and we know that a humble and contrite heart is worth more than tens of thousands of fatted lambs offered in sacrifice. 

The “Son of Man” in verse 40 is a messianic term, the Saviour, the great leader whom God sends to rescue the oppressed. This verse is therefore a call to renewed hope. It is Isaiah and John the Baptist and all the prophets proclaiming to those who feel lost and abandoned not to lose heart because just at the moment when they feel most lost, the moment when they least expect it, God will intervene to save them. Remember when you experienced the truth of this saying, the times when you were just about to despair and against all the odds, the Son of Man came. Now say this to others: “You too must stand ready.”

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Sean Goan
Gospel Notes

The idea that the kingdom of God is both a gift and a challenge is very present in the extract from the gospel that is put before us today. The encouraging opening words inspire confidence in the hearers as Jesus reminds his ‘little flock’ that there is no need for fear because the kingdom has been given. So if the disciples are not to fear, what should they do? Jesus answers this question in a most challenging way by telling them to think differently about the world and their place in it. They should not be concerned about wealth or the exercise of power; rather they should busy themselves doing what the Lord asks of them as any good servant would do. Jesus puts it to his disciples very sternly — much has been given you, so much will be expected from you. This is not to inspire fear but to inspire reflection on how gifted we truly are.

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Homily Notes 

1. This is one of those Sundays when the readings are not really suitable for exposition in a homily of between five and ten minutes. That does no mean that there is not much that could be preached upon in them; rather it is a case that to give a homily that would offer something to an average congregation, while building directly on the readings, would probably need longer than is usually available. So one way around this is to link the gospel to another text which can be expounded in the space of five-ten minutes.

Jesus Knocks2. The gospel says we have to be ready for the Son of Man to come again among us? So who are we who must stand ready, with our lamps lit? An answer is provided in Preface of Sundays in Ordinary Time I: 

We are the people freed from sin by Christ’s cross and resur­rection. We ‘stand ready’ every time we celebrate this paschal mystery, as we are doing now.

 We are the people who have been called to the life of glory, we are united with Christ Jesus in baptism. 

We have become a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart.

3. And if this is who we are, then standing ready means that we have certain tasks entrusted to us. Everywhere we must proclaim God’s mighty works. Why? Because we have been called out of darkness into the won­derful light of God.

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Homilies -1: ACP 

Promoting the Love of God

Today’s reading from Hebrews is like a roll-call of heroes of the faith, with its list of Old Testament patriarchs and others who fulfilled a special role in salvation history, such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, who were commended for their trust in God, down to King David, Samuel and the prophets who acted as God’s messengers to his people. These were people who took God at his word, for faith is trust in God, the acceptance of things unseen, truths that cannot be grasped with reason alone. Even for us who are members of the New Testament, it is only with the help of the Holy Spirit of God, and not by our reasoning powers, that we come to accept Jesus Christ. Intellectual giants, doctors of divinity, simple people, illiterates, we are all equally like children when trying to comprehend the mystery we call God.

To advance in the love of God is the greatest possible achievement of the human spirit. How wonderful is God’s love, in that he permits us to love him without having to compel or force us to do so by commandments. Of course the first commandment states that we should love the Lord, our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind. But here the initiative is always taken by God, who draws us to love him by his grace freely given, which we are free to accept or not. The greatest exponent of this doctrine was St Francis de Sales, who died in 1622, having served as bishop of Geneva for 20 years. He was renowned for his graciousness towards penitents, and is said to have brought back into the Church some 72,000 followers of Calvin. Often people came to him just to be reassured, to draw strength from his deep faith. For the ordinary soul slips in and out of faith a hundred times a day. Yet underneath the confusion, the doubts, the loneliness, the sense of being abandoned, God is always there.

Often it is when we reach zero-point that the deepest religious experiences occur, and we are transformed by God’s healing presence within us. Even at the most desperate moments, faith is ever possible, and the trusting soul will find God is close at hand. “Fear not little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32), to give you the strength to bear your burdens, the courage to shoulder your cross. At the end of World War II, in the dreaded German concentration camp at Ravensbruck, there was found on a piece of wrapping-paper, a prayer written by one the inmates there. It read: “Oh Lord, remember not only men and women of good will, but also those of ill-will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to this suffering, our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this, and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness.” There cannot be any doubt but that the writer of this most extraordinary plea for God’s mercy towards his/her persecutors, will be included in the roll-call of heroes of the faith, when the Son of God returns on judgment day.

Such forgiveness proves that no matter how terrible the trials some souls undergo, they often come through them with a deeper and stronger faith, so convinced are they of the abiding presence of God with them. For most of us, however, the greatest test of our faith may arise from the ordinary, humdrum, daily routines, the ups and downs of life as we go through it. And it is true that we can brood over these until they get us down, until our faith in divine providence turns sour, and we are left stranded in our misery. It is at such times that we should turn to prayer and renew our inner strength through reception of the sacraments. “No matter what happens, keep on praying,” St Paul told the first Christians who endured so much for their faith.

If we really try and respond to God’s grace as they did, then our faith also will grow strong and vigorous, like that of those great figures of the Old Testament who were commended for their trust in God’s word. We have all seen this take place in the lives of people we happen to know, how they often acquire great serenity in the face of acute and prolonged suffering. For although the final reward of faith in God will come hereafter in his promised kingdom, even here and now it is possible to acquire a foretaste of that eternal peace which this world cannot give.

Lives of Faith

There is fairly widespread evidence of a crisis in the life of faith of many Catholics, even in what once was too complacently called “Holy Ireland.” It can be sparked off by different things, like the past cruelties of an unjust system, a disastrous love-relationship, family tensions, the tragic injury or death of friends. Sometimes religious feeling can wither as financial prosperity grows, and our need for God is stifled by feelings of self-sufficiency. Or new friendships that we make with nice people who hold no religious beliefs can raise a suspicion that perhaps God really does not matter after all.

While leading school retreats I use to tell young people that going through a questioning phase does not mean they have lost their faith. Questioning can be a painful experience but may also be a growth point. A faith which is challenged or doubted can emerge as fuller and more genuine. It can mark the tension between the comfort of childhood practice and the need for new horizons, when the young adult is searching for a deeper experience.

Faith is neither a purely intellectual nor a purely emotional attitude. It has an intellectual side, professing what we judge to be true; and in part it is a matter of responding to feelings; but these are a gift of the Spirit which moves us to give ourselves over to One greater than ourselves. If we hand ourselves over to this sense of God and let go of the illusion of being only for ourselves, it can bring us inner, spiritual growth. Faith is a special intimate form of knowing, as when we know a friend. It touches something deep within us, an awareness of God’s presence guiding and helping us. It is the experience described about Abraham, Jesus and other great figures in the Bible.

Faith is an on-going process, growing as we grow, changing as we change, maturing and we mature. The faith of our childhood cannot sustain us in adult crises, though it can develope into one that stays with us through life. Experiences of faith will be sporadic, and cannot be precisely programmed. We must be grateful if, at priveleged moments we feel God’s special presence, but at other times life will be confusing, full of darkness and doubt, with God silent and seemingly absent. And yet, even in times of confusion and loneliness, God really is there. This world is God’s and God really does know what is going on in it; other people are God’s people and when we dig deep enough, we can find God in them. 

Obedient Faith

Today’s Scripture proposes that faith in God and trust in his promises give our life serenity, security and deep joy. The Hebrew patriarchs had such trust in God’s promise that they left all their worries into his care. We are told how Abraham in particular responded with faith when God asked him to leave the past behind and launch out into an unknown future.

The Gospel reaffirms that a person who belongs to Jesus need have no fear. One who makes God his principal treasure, and commits in faith to Christ as guide to living, can, like Abraham, see life as a journey that leads to our true home where a loving Father is there to welcome us. If we keep our eyes fixed on the vision that God has revealed and keep our ears attuned to the voice of God whether in the scriptures, or in the ordinary events of daily life, we can live with unfailing confidence in his presence.

But the same Scriptures also show that the God who grants such favours to his chosen ones is also a demanding God. If the saints of the Scriptures had many proofs of God’s love, they also experienced much suffering both as individuals and as a race. Often their faith was seriously put to the test, like that of Abraham and his wife Sarah, when it seemed that the promise of children could never be realized. Later, Abraham, in great anguish of mind, was put to the test by the command to slay his son; his response showed the depths of his obedient faith, the light that guided his whole life.

The spirituality of Abraham ruggedly trying out to follow God’s call in the obscurity of faith remains a template for Christian faith. We don’t know in advance how God’s demanding love may make demands will clash with our selfish plans. We cannot know when personal illness, bereavement or some other trying experience will put us to the test. But we do know that our life will be a success if we set our hearts on values that go beyond all the transitory goods of this world. Our faith, like Abraham’s, is leading us onward, always pointing to something still to come, and at the end of our pilgrimage, like his, all God’s promises will be fulfilled.

Are you ready?

Jesus speaks plainly about taking our responsibilities seriously. We have been entrusted with a special task. “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away.” He can come at any time and demand an account of our stewardship. Like sentries or night-watch men, we must always be on duty.

I remember giving an assignment to a class one time, asking them to work on it for a while, as I had to go down to the principal’s office to consult about something. I had just gone down the corridor when I remembered that I had forgotten a folder. I returned to the classroom, and, as the door was open, there was no advance warning of my arrival. Imagine my amazement to find myself standing right behind a pupil, who was standing out in front, facing the class, and doing a good impersonation of me! I put my finger to my lips to signal to the other pupils to remain silent, as the parody continued. I thank my God that I had the ability to laugh at what was something really funny, even at my expense.

Life is a gift that is given us for others. The first time I was carried into a church I was not consulted. The next time I’ll be carried into a church I will not be consulted either. To try to run the show in the meantime is crazy. I own nothing. Everything is given to me on loan, and can be taken back from me whenever God decides. God is not a tyrannical God, but he does impose certain expectations. My role is simple, but it is real, and must be taken seriously.

Jesus tells us to “watch and pray.” There is a certain way in which we must remain alert. Any one of us would be amazed if we could really discover just how much of ourselves is dormant and inactive. The Advent liturgies calls onus to “arise from your slumber,” to waken up, the Lord is coming, and, like the shepherds, we should be on duty when he comes. We all know only too well that we will die one day, but, because it won’t happen today, there is no sense of urgency. We also know people who didn’t believe it was going to happen that day, and it did. It came “like a thief in the night.”

We will have to give an account of our stewardship. “To whom much is given, of him much will be expected.” I cannot accept the privilege without accepting the responsibility. I will be held responsible for howl invested the gifts and talents- that God has entrusted to me. Whether it is one talent, three, or five, the return will have to be commensurate with the treasure entrusted to me.

Imagine this scenario: I enter a second-level college and go into one of the senior classes. In my hand I have a bunch of envelopes, one for each pupil in the class. I hand out the envelopes, asking them to do two things: “Don’t open the envelope until you get home; and don’t tell anyone else what is in the envelope.” So far, so good. Whether or not they waited until they got home before opening the envelopes, when they did so they found I had given them every question that was going to be on their final exams at the end of the year. We would have friends for life!

Do you imagine that each kept the secret? I feel certain that a country cousin would get a phone call that night! Imagine what would happen for the rest of the year. Some poor English teacher is trying to enthuse them about the extraordinary literary treasure that is “Tintern Abbey,” but, because it is not on the exam paper, all attempts fail to evoke the slightest interest. The same would happen with- every other subject, when the subject is irrelevant to the questions on the exam paper. Unless it is on that paper it is seen to have no importance. When the exams come along, there is one thing the pupils must agree about. If they don’t do well, they just have themselves to blame!

But we know exactly what we will be examined on, in the Final Judgment!

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Homilies-2: Connections 

THE WORD: 

Three short parables about the treasures of the reign of God are the central images of today’s Gospel:

Death comes to us like a “thief” in the night, Jesus tells his listeners; therefore, we must always be ready to meet the Lord and enter his “kingdom” with “belts tightened” and through works of charity.  The first generations of Christians read this parable as an indication that Christ would return in their lifetimes, in the middle of the great Paschal night. 

Jesus frequently speaks of the coming reign of his Father as a wedding feast to which all of the faithful are invited.  Luke includes the image in his Gospel, as well, with an interesting twist:  Those who have embraced the spirit of servanthood taught by Jesus the Master will be served by the Master himself at his table in heaven.  Jesus targets the parable to the leaders of the Jewish establishment who have used their positions to advance their own prestige and wealth at the expense of the people they were appointed to serve.  While God casts out the exploiters from his kingdom, the faithful leader-servants will be served by the Messiah himself at God’s great banquet.

The third parable is Luke’s version of Jesus’ story of the watchful steward who faithfully conducts the responsibilities entrusted to him by his master.   This life on earth is a time that has been entrusted to us by God be about the business of preparing for the life of the world to come. 

HOMILY POINTS: 

While we pay little or no attention to the reality that one day we will die and carry on as if we will live forever, the fact is that life is fragile and fleeting.  If we have truly embraced the spirit of the Gospel, we are always conscious of the brevity of this life and live our days in joyful anticipation of the next. 

God has entrusted to each one of us with our own gifts, talents and blessings not for our own uses and aims but to selflessly and lovingly use them for the benefit of others, without counting the cost or demanding a return.  The faithful disciple will lovingly use whatever he or she possesses to bring God's reign of hope, justice and compassion to reality in this time and place of ours.

Leadership is not a matter of exerting power to intimidate or enrich one's own situation; leadership is the ability to inspire and enable others to do what is right, just and good.  Christ-like leadership is, first and foremost, is centered in an attitude of service to those we lead.
 

ILLUSTRATIONS: 

From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.     Be watchful servants:  

Steven Anthony "Steve" Ballmer (born March 24, 1956) has been the chief executive officer of Microsoft Corporation since January 2000. As of 2010, he is one of the richest people in the world with a personal wealth estimated at US$14.5 billion in 2010. He's Bill Gates' hand-picked successor. In 2004 he was seen crawling on the floor of the General Motors' executive conference room, trying to fix a connection that would enable him to make a pitch to GM engineers. The image of the Microsoft CEO on his hands and knees to please some customers made such an impression on the author Steve Hamm that he wrote a whole article based on this one incident. (Steve Hamm, "Why High Tech Has to Stay Humble," Business Week, 19 January 2004, pp76-77.) Corporate executives will get on their hands and knees to show customers how much they care. In today’s gospel Jesus warns his followers to be ever prepared by doing the will of God always in their lives, as the time of their death is uncertain.
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2.     Privilege carries responsibility:  

Three years ago, in a game against the Washington Nationals in San Francisco, Barry Bonds whacked his 756th homer, breaking the 33-year-old mark held by legendary player Hank Aaron. This was the 756th home run of Bonds' career, breaking a record that had stood for 33 years. None of the legendary players of the game like Yogi Berra, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays or the previous record holder Hank Aaron could accomplish it. But in spite of Bond’s miraculous achievement being tarnished by allegations of steroid use, another baseball player still lives in people’s hearts. It is Cal Ripken, the former baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles. He was a sports hero of two decades simply because he always showed up and gave his best and was ready for action at any time. He got ten national awards in ten years including 1996 Male Athlete of the Year and 2001 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player. He learned the principle that faithfulness demands consistency, commitment, and hard work. He never missed a single game in sixteen years of playing baseball! He earned the nickname "Iron Man" by playing in a record 2632 consecutive major league games. The string of successive games ran from May 30, 1982 to September 19, 1998. Perhaps, Ripken's determination, and Barry Bonds’ failure, to live an allegation-free career by avoiding steroids, remind us of today’s gospel which tells us that the joy and privilege of being a son or daughter of God carries with it the more awesome responsibility of being faithful to God in our stewardship. The gospel passage also reminds us that we should avoid the temptation to put off for tomorrow what Jesus expects of us today.
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3.     Look Busy, Be Busy:  

Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of the old story of the apparition on the corner of Main and Market in a busy city. It was Saturday morning when Fr. Pascucci heard a knock on the rectory door and an extremely excited lady said, "The Lord has appeared on the corner of Main and Market." Father was in the process of trying to decide if she was suffering from stress or whatever, when a second person came running, "Father, Father, the Lord has appeared on the corner of Main and Market." "When?" Fr. Pascucci asked. "He’s there right now," they both answered. So Fr. Pascucci went down the block where a large crowed had formed, and sure enough, he saw Jesus. After a while the Lord left. Fr. Pascucci didn’t know what to do, so he called a monsignor friend of his. His friend told him to call the bishop. So Father Pascucci called the bishop and told him the news, "The Lord has appeared on the corner of Main and Market. What should I do if he comes back?" The bishop thought for a while and then told Fr. Pascucci he’d get back to him. The bishop then called Rome, and, being an important bishop, he got the pope. "Holy Father," he said, "One of my priests, Fr. Pascucci, reports that the Lord has appeared on the corner of Main and Market in his parish. He wants to know what he should do in case the Lord comes back." After a few moments the pope replied, "Tell Fr. Pascucci to look busy." Good advice for us all. The Lord is coming back. How should we prepare? Not just by looking busy, but by being busy, doing good to others by humble service. (Fr. Pellegrino)
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4.     “I have sent you many messengers.”  

According to an old fable, a man made an unusual agreement with Death. He told the Grim Reaper that he would willingly accompany him when it came time to die, but only on one condition – that Death would send a messenger well in advance to warn him. Weeks turned into months, and months into years. Then one bitter winter evening, as the man sat thinking about all his possessions, Death suddenly entered the room and tapped him on the shoulder. Startled, the man cried out, "You're here so soon and without warning! I thought we had an agreement." Death replied, "I've more than kept my part. I've sent you many messengers. Look in the mirror and you'll see some of them." As the man complied, Death whispered, "Notice your hair! Once it was full and golden, now it is thin and white. Look at the way you tilt your head to listen to me because you can't hear very well. Observe how close to the mirror you must stand to see yourself clearly. Yes, I've sent many messengers through the years. I'm sorry you're not ready, but the time has come for you to leave."
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5.     Get ready for the heavenly trip.  

During his sermon, an evangelist asked all who wanted to go to heaven to raise their hands. Everyone in the audience did so--except for one elderly man sitting near the front of the auditorium. The preacher pointed his finger at him and said, "Sir, do you mean to tell us that you don't want to go to heaven?" "Sure I do," the old man answered, "but the way you put the question, I figured you were getting up a busload for tonight!'
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6.     Grandpa ready to meet his Lord.  

God created the mule, and told him, "You will be mule, working constantly from dusk to dawn, carrying heavy loads on your back. You will eat grass and lack intelligence. You will live for fifty years." The mule answered, "To live like this for fifty years is too much. Please, give me only twenty years." And it was so. Then God created the dog, and told him, "You will hold vigilance over the dwellings of Man, to whom you will be his greatest companion. You will eat his table scraps and live for twenty-five years." And the dog responded, "Lord, to live twenty-five years as a dog is too much. Please, make it ten years." And it was so. God then created the monkey, and told him, "You are monkey. You shall swing from tree to tree, acting like an idiot. You will be funny, and you shall live for twenty years." And the monkey responded, "Lord, to live twenty years as a clown is too much. Please, Lord, make it ten years." And it was so. Finally, God created Man and told him, "You are Man, the only rational being that walks the earth. You will use your intelligence to have mastery over the creatures of the world. You will dominate the earth and live for twenty years." And the man responded, "Lord, to be Man for only twenty years is too little. Please give me the thirty years the mule refused, the fifteen years the dog refused, and the ten years the monkey rejected." And it was so.

And so God made him to live 20 years as a man, then marry and live thirty years as a mule--working and carrying heavy loads on his back--then, have children and live fifteen years as a dog – guarding the house and eating leftovers; then, in his old age, to live ten years as a monkey, acting like an idiot to amuse his grandchildren and waiting for the Lord’s final call during the sleepless nights.
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7.     Faith and believing:  

There has long been the tale of the Loch Ness monster in the highlands of Scotland. Some people claim that they have seen its dark form on the surface of the murky waters; others claim the tale is just a hoax. Well it seems an atheist was spending quiet day fishing on the lake when suddenly his boat was rocked by the monster. The beast threw him and his boat high into the air. Then it opened its mouth to swallow them both. As the atheist fell to certain death, he cried out, "Please, good God, help me!" At once the terrifying scene froze in place, with the man suspended in midair, held by some mysterious force above the gaping jaws of the monster. A booming voice was heard from the clouds, "I thought you didn’t believe in Me!" The man pleaded, "Oh come on God, give me a break! I didn’t believe in the Loch Ness monster either!"
 
1.     Truckee Dads 

In a far North Territory, there is a city where at one time, ten percent of working fathers were truck drivers. Those working parents spent a lot of their time on the road, sometimes weeks at a time. At home, the most common question that cried out of the mouth of the young children was, "When is dad coming home?" To reduce the pain of the little ones, the mothers would reassure them that their fathers would soon be home. They would tell the little ones to believe and have patience, to just wait and see! (Connections)
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2.     Once upon a time a family was driving home from their summer vacation.

It had been a good vacation and everyone was happy about it, including the Daddy, who had a reputation of being something of an impatient man. However, the vacation was now over and it was time to get back to the real world. To this with the greatest amount of efficiency - the Daddy always prized efficiency - the family had to leave their vacation house at noon on Sunday to beat the late afternoon traffic. WELL, I hardly need tell you that, mommies and kids being what they are, they had not even begun to load the SUV at noon. Nor at 1:00. Nor even at 1:30. Finally, they hit the highway at 1:45, right on the cusp of Sunday traffic. With a little bit of luck, they would miss the worst of it, though there would be delays at the toll gates. They had driven about a half mile down the road when they saw one of those little cars that parents give their kids for graduation (an Izuzu Trooper actually) pulled over at the side of the road with a flat tire.  Melissa has a flat tire one of the kids shouted. Melissa was a teenager who had babysat for the family. We should stop and help her, the mommy said. Mommies are always saying things like that. We haven't got time, the Daddy said as he drove on. We have to beat the traffic. Someone else will stop to help her. The car was very silent the rest of the way home. (Andrew Greeley)
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3.     At the height of the Civil Rights struggle Curtis Mayfield,

The lead singer of The Impressions, wrote his most memorable lyrics. Listen to the Chorus:

People get ready
There's a train, a comin'
You don't need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket,
You just thank the Lord

In that turbulent decade Curtis Mayfield was calling people to a higher purpose. The chaos of the 60's left this nation in much confusion--from the Six-Day War to Viet Nam, from the assassination of JFK to Martin Luther King, Jr. There were many reasons to be afraid during those ten years. But Mayfield, like many others, understood that something great was on the horizon. He could hear it like the distant hummin' of a diesel engine. You don't need no baggage; all you need is faith; don't need no ticket; you just get on board.

People get ready. This is the very message that Jesus is giving to his disciples. They are to be ready. They are not to be afraid; they are to sell their possessions-don't need no baggage. They are to be dressed for service and ready to open the door when the master returns.

The train is coming. One day Jesus will return and we must be ready...

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4.     The beauty business is big business.  

Adorning ourselves, perfecting every perceived imperfection, curling what is straight, straightening what is curly, bleaching this/highlighting that, products that promise to make youngsters look older and oldsters look younger never lose their appeal. "Stuff" made out of low-tech squished fruit or high-tech spliced genes all promise to adorn and ultimately to transform our faces, save our skin, and sanctify our souls.

If only we will buy just this ONE product.

An Arizona based cosmetics firm calling itself "Philosophy" sells a moisturizer it calls "Hope in a Jar." The label on this jar of "hope" declares" "Where there is hope there can be faith. Where there is faith, miracles can occur." Here the cosmetics company provides (for a hefty price) the "hope in a jar." But the consumer must supply their own "faith" if they expect a "miracle" to occur.

We all KNOW that nothing we smear on our face, or rub through our hair, or massage into our "love handles" or cheese thighs is really going to defy the space-time continuum and strip away everything wrinkled, grey, or saggy. We all KNOW that if that super-secret skin serum being hawked on that late-night infomercial could really do what it claims, its manufacturers wouldn't have to be advertising it on a late-night infomercial.

But.

And every cosmetic manufacturer in the world loves, depends, exists on this "but." BUT we do have "hope." The problem with this "hope" is that too often it is rooted in "hype." Unlikely. Unproveable. Unrepeatable. Unreliable.

Hope based on hype leads nowhere at best, hell at worst.

The passionate preacher of the "Letter to the Hebrews" didn't give his spiritually exhausted congregation a message of "hope" based on hype. He didn't weave them a yarn about a perfect life that was just around the corner. Instead, he spoke about FAITH...
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5.     Affluenza 

Someone recently invented a wonderful word that graphically portrays the sickness that so often comes from material abundance - affluenza. We have all heard of influenza, but have you heard of affluenza? The definitions of "affluenza" include these:

1. The bloated, sluggish and unfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the dogged pursuit of the American Dream.
3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.

We usually try to water down Jesus' radical commands about money. We prefer Matthew's version of the Beatitudes which says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," to Luke's version which says, "Blessed are the poor." We typically assert that not everyone needs to "sell all and give to the poor" as Jesus advised the rich ruler. Only when acquisitiveness becomes an all-consuming compulsion does it have to be completely abandoned.

Mickey Anders, High Fidelity
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6.     Back to School Good Behavior 

Even though it certainly still feels like summer across the country, many schools are back in session in the next few weeks. Here is a story for all of the teachers, students, and school personnel who are getting ready for another academic year. Lutheran pastor Larry Henning tells a humorous story about when he was in the fourth grade. He writes:

Our teacher, Mrs. Cannon, would periodically leave the room and say, I'll be back in a few minutes. Just work quietly at your desks on your math worksheets. Now, my friends and I tried hard to figure out just when Mrs. Cannon was coming back. We would take turns going to the door to see if she was indeed making her return. Why this obsession about the exact timing of her return? Because in her absence, we were throwing chalkboard erasers around the room and didn't want to get caught by her sudden and unexpected reappearance. Mrs. Cannon was a good teacher who was nice most of the time, but her wrath in response to willful disobedience was an awesome thing to behold. ... Meanwhile, our classmate Elaine never worried about just when Mrs. Cannon might reappear. Why? Because Elaine would be at her desk the whole time faithfully doing her math -- faithfully doing what Mrs. Cannon asked her to do. Whenever Mrs. Cannon would return, she would find Elaine faithfully at work. Elaine was so good! (I wonder whatever happened to Elaine.)

The purpose of sharing this story -- a story that some of us may have variations on -- is to suggest an analogy to the gospel reading. In the story, Elaine is doing the work her teacher has set before her. So whenever her teacher returns, she is busily engaged in her work. She has no need to fear the return of her teacher, unlike the boys in the story. In our lives, the Rabbi - the Teacher -- from Nazareth has given us work to do as well. We are to live as those who belong to God. We are to love as those who belong to God. If we are faithfully engaged in such work for the sake of God's realm, then we need not fear those times when Jesus enters our lives, when Jesus returns in the stranger, or alien, or outcast. We will be ready, for our hearts are turned toward God, and we have been faithfully doing the work of love that we are given.

Larry Henning, adapted by Mark Richardson, Ready to Risk
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7.     If I Should Die Before I Wake 

Many of you are familiar with the childhood prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep, " but I was little surprised to learn that it is a shortened version of an Old English prayer, which goes like this: 

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
bless the bed that I lie on.
Before I lay me down to sleep,
I give my soul to Christ to keep.

Four corners to my bed,
four angels there aspread,
two to foot, and two to head,
and two to carry me when I'm dead.

I go by sea, I go by land,
the Lord made me by his right hand.
If any danger comes to me,
Sweet Jesus Christ, deliver me.

He's the branch, and I'm the flower,
pray God send me a happy hour.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray that Christ my soul will take.

The prayer has an important refrain, that Christ is the keeper, the caretaker of our soul. And, when we slip into the unconsciousness of the night I suppose, on a daily bases, we are never nearer death. It was out of this fear of sleep that this prayer was written. At night, when we are vulnerable, we want someone watching over us. So, we prepare ourselves with a prayer: If I should die before I wake... Our text this morning asks us to be prepared, to be dressed ready for service. We are to keep our lamps burning for we do not know when our Lord returns. 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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8.     Historical Surprises 

Who would have thought that relatively powerless persons could bring shifts in history? Gandhi, an unsuccessful lawyer, adapted the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and the writings of Tolstoy and became the key to bringing independence to India, because he was ready.

Rosa Parks, in refusing to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, sparked the beginning of the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s. She was a rather inauspicious person to take such a critical action, but she was ready.

Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. He was released to bring a shift in the politics of South Africa at a critical juncture when many thought either that change would never come or if it did, it would be accompanied by a vast bloodbath. The transition to a more just society came relatively peacefully under his leadership after he was unexpectedly released from prison. Prison had prepared him, made him ready.

Mother Teresa, a rather unpretentious nun, is being considered for sainthood for her simple act of trying to rescue people from the streets who might otherwise die. She was ready!

William E. Keeney, Preaching the Parables, CSS Publishing
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9.     Readiness - Watchfulness 

A U.S. Army officer told of the contrast in his pupils during two different eras of teaching at the artillery training school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma (Home of the Field Artillery). In 1958-60 the attitude was so lax that the instructors had a problem getting the men to stay awake to hear the lectures. During the 1965-67 classes, however, the men, hearing the same basic lectures, were alert and took copious notes. What made the difference in the class of 65? They knew that in less than six weeks they would be facing the enemy in Vietnam.
Unknown
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10.  Christ Return - Watchfulness 

There is a woman who is buried under a 150-year-old live oak trees in the cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. In accordance with this woman's instructions, only one word is carved on the tombstone: "Waiting." 

Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 275.
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11.  Do Not Let Him Find You Found Sleeping 

Augustine, a man in the 5th century who became Bishop of the church and a saint in history, originally lead a life of sin giving himself over to whatever pleasures presented themselves. His mother had earnestly prayed for him his entire life that he would give his life to the service of Christ, but Augustine persisted in his sins until one day he sat with a friend on a bench weeping over the state of his life. It was at this moment that he heard a boy or girl--he says he does not know which it was--singing a song. The sound was coming from a neighboring house. The child was chanting over and over: "Pick it up, read it; pick it up; read it." Here is what happened next in Augustine's own words:

Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for their I had put down the apostles book. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lust thereof." I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away."

Had Christ returned before that fateful day, Augustine would have been caught unprepared. He would have been found asleep. From that moment on, however, Augustine was prepared. He was on the alert! He had awaken from his sins.

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com. Quote is from Augustine's Confessions.
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12.  The Proper Use of Abundance 

In Luke, I don't think that a person could be a faithful follower of Jesus and have lots of possessions. The proper use of one's abundance is to give them away or share them (or the money received from selling them) for the common good. We also know that this communal structure did not last very long in the early church. Yet, a few years ago, I heard a pastor talk about his congregation living by the dictum: "There will be no needy among us." They have a fund from which members in need can use. The only way such a fund could exist is if the wealthier members give from their excess.

At another congregation, the pastor wondered if the money given for flowers that are thrown away might be better used. They established a "Good Samaritan Fund" to which people could donate "in honor of" or "in memory of" someone with it noted in the bulletin. Money from this fund is used to help the needy among them. They do not have flowers on the altar. When they asked the staffs about donating flowers to nursing homes and hospitals, the staffs did not want the left over altar flowers. It meant more work for them as they had to rearrange the flowers.

Note also that in the first century, it was believed that there was a fixed and limited amount of wealth. If someone gained wealth, someone else had to lose it. They didn't believe that everyone becoming wealthier. Malina and Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) state: "Acquisition was always considered stealing" (p. 359 emphasis in original). So, if the poor were to escape their poverty, it would have to come from the wealthy sharing their possessions. In essence, the wealthy would have to become poorer if the poor were to gain some wealth.

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes
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13.  Offering Ourselves to Serve 

In 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. According to Leon Jaroff in Time, the satellite's primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and its moons, and beam data to earth about Jupiter's magnetic field, radiation belts, and atmosphere. Scientists regarded this as a bold plan, for at that time no earth satellite had ever gone beyond Mars, and they feared the asteroid belt would destroy the satellite before it could reach its target. But Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and much, much more. Swinging past the giant planet in November 1973, Jupiter's immense gravity hurled Pioneer 10 at a higher rate of speed toward the edge of the solar system. At one billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 passed Saturn. At some two billion miles, it hurtled past Uranus; Neptune at nearly three billion miles; Pluto at almost four billion miles. By 1997, twenty-five years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than six billion miles from the sun.

And despite that immense distance, Pioneer 10 continued to beam back radio signals to scientists on Earth.  

"Perhaps most remarkable," writes Jaroff, "those signals emanate from an 8-watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night light, and takes more than nine hours to reach Earth.'" The Little Satellite That Could was not qualified to do what it did. Engineers designed Pioneer 10 with a useful life of just three years. But it kept going and going. By simple longevity, its tiny 8-watt transmitter radio accomplished more than anyone thought possible.

So it is when we offer ourselves to serve the Lord. God can work even through someone with 8-watt abilities. God cannot work, however, through someone who quits.  

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