Sunday, January 31, 2016

Homily - What's Your Story 5

Part 5 of the What's Your Story message series. We are all called by God to be a prophet like Jeremiah. Having received the word of God we must share it; sharing makes for a better story.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Homily - What's Your Story 4

If I would have been home...

If Masses would not have been canceled because of the snow storm...

Here's the text for the fourth installment from the What's Your Story message series:

Today we want to continue that part of the discussion by looking at a part of our story  that we don’t like to think about or talk about, but it is essential to living a better story to embrace it and run towards it instead of running away from it.

We are going to look at this passage from the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is a book of the Bible found in the Old Testament. It is a great story in and of itself, really one of my favorite books in the Bible. Let me fill you in a bit on the story of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is a Jew, but he lives in Persia, because at this point in the story the Jewish people were in exile from their homeland. They had messed up in a major way in their relationship with God, and made themselves vulnerable before their enemies. As a result, Judah was overrun, Jerusalem destroyed and many of the people exiled.

Nehemiah however, was in a pretty good position. He served as cupbearer to the king of Persia, when Persia was the most powerful nation in the world. As cupbearer, Nehemiah had a privileged position. He would have been one of the king’s inside advisors. 

Nehemiah is living in the artificial world of palace luxury when one day he learns the real story about his native land.  Jerusalem has fallen into disrepair, her walls are ruined. They had been destroyed years earlier but have never been rebuilt. For us, it doesn’t mean much, but it was a great disgrace to a city that it effectively had no city walls. Walls were needed for protection and a city was sort of “naked” and vulnerable without them. Nehemiah hears about the situation and it really bothers him. It kind of throws him into a depression, so much so that the king noticed the change in personality.

So one day, he takes a great risk and asks the king if he can have a leave of absence to lead a rebuilding effort and, additionally, if the king will give him the supplies and military to get the job done.

Unexpectedly, the king says yes, appointing Nehemiah governor of Judah. Eventually Nehemiah rallies the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, and despite all kinds of obstacles and adverse conditions and critics and the threat of conflict, they get the job done in less than two-months time. 

At the end of the project, the people gathered for a celebration, which begins with a worship service. They begin with Scripture:

Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly,
which was made up of men, women, 
and all who were old enough to understand.
Nehemiah 8.3

So the priest is reading from the Bible, specifically the first five books of the Bible which are called the Law of Moses. The people had probably never heard the word of God before because it had been forgotten and neglected, like the city walls.
The Bible goes on to say, 

Ezra opened the book.  All the people could see him 
because he was standing above them; 
and as he opened it, the people all stood up.  
Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; 
and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord
Nehemiah 8.5-6
Nehemiah tells us:

The people had been weeping 
as they listened to the words of the Law
Nehemiah 8.9
Here’s what happened:
As the law was read and people heard the law of God, they realized in their ignorance they had broken so much of it. They began to recognize this huge gap between their lives and God’s standard. That essentially they had abandoned their faith and walked away from God. And this recognition fills them with regret.

The beauty and truth of God’s word just seeps into their hearts and changes their hearts. They come to see how God had wanted them to live and the beauty of his commands.  They simply did not know the good news of the great life God wanted for the people of Israel. And they’re genuinely sorry for that. But, that is not the end of the story.

Then Nehemiah said, 
“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, 
and send some to those who have nothing prepared.  
Nehemiah 8.10

In other words, lets have a party. What’s the occasion? Nehemiah tells them…

This day is sacred to our Lord. 
Do not be sad and do not weep 
for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

Nehemiah 8.9

Don’t dwell in your regret, he urges them, move beyond it to celebrate what God is doing in your life now.

All our stories include regret, which is a consciousness of something negative, a sadness and sorrow for something wrong. 
If you don’t have anything you regret you don’t know you’re story very well or you’re not being very honest about it. No one gets it right all the time; inevitably we get something, somehow, somewhere wrong and that is regrettable, and ought to lead us to regret.

You may look at your time in high school or college that way. You didn’t study, and had way too much fun.
Maybe your regret is about a friendship that was lost. You had a close friend and you allowed that friendship to fall apart and you regret you didn’t work harder at it, and give more to it. 
Maybe it’s a marriage that fell apart. You regret you didn’t fight for it. Or you regret that you were unfaithful in the marriage and you allowed your heart to drift or your eyes to wonder.  
Maybe you regret choices you made as a parent. Your adult children have problems and you feel this twinge of regret that maybe it was something you did as a parent. 
Your regret might be at work. At one point, you felt like you should take a stand, you knew without question that what was happening was wrong, but instead of saying anything, you quietly took the path of least resistance. 
Or maybe there was someone you could have helped and you didn’t, and as a result, things went badly for them. 

There was this semester, or season, a Spring Break, or rash comment or dumb decision; there was this bad deal, there was this little tiny lie….the result: regret.

Here’s a regret I have… (fill in your own story)

When we come to the places of regret in our story, here’s the temptation. We want to pretend like they never happened. And that’s understandable, but it’s also not helpful.

For one thing, those regrets are part of your story, they are what make you human and real. Denying them and just trying forget them is mixing up your story

But there’s another reason too. Here is the deal about our regrets. 

It is the very things we regret that God wants to redeem. Our failures and mistakes that we regret are exactly where we come to know God as our Savior, as our redeemer. Your relationship with God will grow immeasurably if you face those regrets and bring them back to him. And then you will grow immeasurably too. 

God will give you a chance, he will give you an opportunity to redeem those regrets and use them for good. 

Maybe God can take your regret about bad choices in finances to rebuild your financial situation.
Maybe the bad choices were with unfaithfulness in your marriage. If you face that regret and invite God into that regret, God can use it to help you rebuild your marriage.
Maybe you have regrets about decisions you’ve made with your kids, you see now your mistakes and the consequences that followed.  God can use that regret to rebuild your relationships with them.
Maybe you have regret about your faith, you regret your shallow commitment and half-hearted approach. God can rebuild your relationship with him. 
God can take any of our regrets and rebuild , just like Nehemiah built the city walls from the ruins of the past mistakes of the people. 

God can take any regret and rebuild. He can use them for greater purposes, but we have to face them first. We have to recognize them as part of our story and offer them back to him and say, 

God, I’m sorry. I apologize for that part of my story.
And I thank you for redeeming my regrets.

Better yet, go to confession and say it there.
The people we meet in Nehemiah feel regret. But notice what Nehemiah says. 

Do not be sad
for the joy of your Lord is your strength.
Nehemiah 8.10

Nehemiah is saying, OK, you’ve acknowledged your regret and you’ve apologized.
Now, focus on God, find your  strength in God and find your joy in that strength.

Don’t live in the sadness of your regrets,
Live in the joy of God’s strength.

Whoever you are, whatever station or state of life you’re in, whatever you story has been, you can write a different story, better story. With God’s strength, you can write a better story.

Homily - What's Your Story 3

Here's the third message in the What's Your Story series from two weeks ago.  I tried to post it while I was away but was unable to.  So better late then never, here it is for you to listen to as a preview/reminder for this week's message.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Homily - What's Your Story? 2

On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord we reflect on the beginning of your story. This week's homework: how did your story begin? What happened to you? Answer these questions in the form of a conversation with God and begin to look for God forming your story.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Homily - What's Your Story 1

We are starting a new message series this week: What's Your Story? We will be reflection on your life's story and how God plays a role in it.  Homework this week: spend 15-20 mins. reflecting on your life; write a timeline of your life and share the events of your life with a friend or neighbor. Your life is important and interesting!