Sunday, September 11, 2016

God's Mercy is shockingly generous, but... (Sunday homily)

The readings are all about God’s mercy. Let me make three points.

First: God’s mercy is shockingly generous.
Second: God’s mercy requires a response.
Third: That response is both hard – and easy.

In the Gospel, we heard three parables, each about something lost: 
a lost sheep, a lost coin, and most precious, a lost son. 
Scripture scholar Brant Pitre points out something 
about the parables of Jesus that we may not realize: 
that they often contain a twist or a surprise that we may miss, 
because they are so familiar. So let’s take a look.

In the first parable, Jesus says, 
“what man…would not leave the ninety-nine…
and go after the lost one until he finds it?” 
And the answer is, no one would do that! 
If you leave 99 sheep unguarded, what is likely to happen? 
You’ll lose a lot more. 

It’s the same in the second parable. Who would throw a party 
to celebrate finding a penny? Has anyone here ever done that?

Now we come to the third parable. The son’s sinfulness is extreme. 
He wants his father dead; 
he cruelly leaves and completely separates himself from his family. 

But the twist is in the response of the Father. 
He sees the son coming from “a long way off.” 
In other words, he was watching intently for him, day and night. 
Second, the Father runs—runs!—to his son. 
And, above all, the Father is extremely generous. 
Had he said, I’m glad you’re home, we’ll clean you up, 
but you have to prove yourself, wouldn’t that have been generous? 

When God gives, he always gives super-abundantly. 
Manna in the desert. Wine at Cana. Dying on the Cross. 
And so it is here.

So listen up: if you find yourself doubting God’s mercy, 
if you wonder if God can or will forgive you, 
or whether he has forgiven you, stop it! 
I realize sometimes we have feelings we can’t control, 
but be clear on this: if we ask for God’s mercy, he will give it. 

One drop of Jesus’ blood can wash away all sin, 
and when you receive absolution in confession, 
you are bathed in God’s mercy. 
It’s not because we deserve it, or work for it, 
or are in any way worthy of it. 

The psalm we prayed was written by King David, 
after he committed rape, and adultery, and murder,
and betrayal of a loyal servant, and lies to cover it all up. 
And God forgave him.

God’s mercy is so generous that it’s shocking.

Now, second: God’s mercy requires a response. 
This is where so many misunderstand what mercy is. 
Some people have a fantasy image of Jesus, 
that he doesn’t care about rules, he just talked about love. 

Actually, he talked about hell a lot, 
and if you want to boil his teaching down to one commandment, 
it was, take up your cross. Die to ego, die to money, 
die to family attachment, die to sex, die to ambition, die to self. 
The younger son had to die to all his dreams and ego, come home. 
Or else, he’d have died in his sins.

Part of our response is to pray mercy for others. 
This is really what the first reading is about. 
The point here is not that Moses has changed God’s mind, 
but rather, God is helping Moses himself to grow in mercy. 
God wanted Moses himself to say, oh no, God, please have mercy! 

A lot of us can see ourselves in the younger son – 
we’ve done things of which we are deeply ashamed, 
and it can be hard to believe God loves us. 

On the other hand, many of us are more like the older son. 
We’ve been faithful and we’re shocked by the evil things 
others have done. Your job is to intercede, as Moses was called to do. 
The older son said he was devoted; 
but had he prayed, every day, for the return of his lost brother? 

Finally, the response that mercy demands is both hard and easy. 
The sins we have in our lives: what keeps us from leaving them behind?
If we’re out drinking too much, 
or visiting the dark places on the Internet, 
or inflicting anger on others around us, 
or making a god of money or work, 
why don’t we give these things up? 
Some say, it’s impossible, I just can’t. And that’s true for some. 
That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous exists for example. 
If you feel powerless, come and see me, and I’ll help you all I can.

But for most of us, we just don’t want to give them up. 

The son didn’t come home until he became desperate. 
Sometimes the change we need to make is costly; 
sometimes it’s frightening or humiliating. 
But mercy requires a response.

It may seem hard in one sense, 
but in another it’s the easiest thing in the world. 
Go to the Father! Go to confession! 

Confession can be hard in some ways, 
and yet, it’s the easiest thing in the world. 
The priest will walk you through it, 
and no matter what else the priest might say – 
he might talk too long – still, if you tell your sins and are sorry, 
he has to give you absolution! Every single time!

God is ready to forgive. He waits for your response.

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