Those who follow my blog know that my written homily and my spoken homily are not an exact match. I hope you are blessed by it either way but, homilies are meant to be heard rather than read so I hope you will listen to it first. You can see the scriptures for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle A here.
I will follow him, follow him wherever he may go
There isn’t an ocean too deep
A mountain so high it can keep me away
I bet you didn’t expect to hear the Deacon singing a Little Peggy March tune from the pulpit at mass did you?
Well I am not the only one who has ever sung to begin a homily. I was reminded of that when I went to my friend Deacon Bill Boneberg’s funeral on Thursday and heard that he started the last homily he ever gave by singing a bit from a contemporary song. In his case it was “I Wanna Hold You Hand”. He was preaching the Gospel of Matthew from Chapter 14 and how when Jesus called to him, Peter got out of the boat to walk with Jesus on the water. Of course Peter became frightened and would have drowned if Jesus had not held his hand. But the main point of Bill’s homily was that Peter got out of the boat.
Bill then talked about how we are called to get out of the boat.
When the government continues to legalize and expand abortion, we have to get out of the boat.
When the mentally ill or the elderly, are forgotten, we have to get out of the boat.
When prisoners, immigrants, and the poor are considered to be of little value, we have to get out of the boat.
Bill tried to live that message. You may have heard how last Saturday morning he was electrocuted in Westfield while responding to a call about downed power lines. But the news media didn’t have all the information. It wasn’t until the OSHA investigative report came out, that we found out the rest of the story.
Bill was a professional. He had retired after a career with the electric company and then Westfield hired him to be their electrical supervisor. He knew what he was doing. When he arrived at the scene on Saturday he was the first one there. Normally, for safety reason he would have waited for his backup to arrive before addressing the situation but he didn’t on Saturday. He didn’t wait because there was a little 4 year old boy and his grandmother on the porch whose lives were in danger.
Jesus called and Bill got out of the boat….
He followed all of the safety protocols for handling downed wires, the long pole, the heavy duty rubber gloves… But, just as he was working to save the little boy and his grandmother, more of the wire came down and it wrapped around his leg. He was killed instantly.
Bill was preaching about Matthew chapter 14 not only with his singing and his words but with his life on that day. But, I think could also have been preaching about the Gospel of John chapter 15 which starts by with Jesus telling us he is the Vine and we the branches and ends by saying that we will have the Holy Spirit to help us to testify to the truth. In the middle of the chapter, in its core it says:
11“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
12 This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
This isn’t really a surprise to me because the whole of the scriptures has an integrity to it. It is the very word of God that was in the beginning with God and that was God. The integrity of that truth rubs off on those who pick up their cross daily and follow Jesus.
Bill was preaching about Matthew chapter 14 for that last homily but I couldn’t help but wonder how Bill would have preached about the Gospel we heard today from Matthew 16. He might have started out singing as I did. He might have talked about Peter again and said how this week he gets it wrong and is called an obstacle after just last week he got it so right and was told he was the rock on which the church would be built.
He might have talked about how Peter didn’t and we don’t always get it right but, we still have to get out of the boat. But I think he would have talked about being a disciple of Christ.
Today we hear Jesus say to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
He says we have to do 3 things:
1) we must deny ourselves
2) we must pick up our cross
3) we must follow him.
Are you like me?
Because I look at that and that first one, that self-denial thing I want to say to God,
“that is a bit tough, I think I want to warm up to that one God.
I’ll just save that for later..
Can I just set that aside for now and tackle number 2 God?
That’s okay with you God isn’t it?
Wait a minute.. Pick up my cross?
Hmmm… I am not sure I am ready for that one either.
Maybe I can start at the end and work backward.
You don’t mind do you God?
Yeah, that’s the ticket… It’ll be a last shall be first kind of thing.
I like that idea don’t you God?
After all it’s sort of almost scriptural in a way.
I know just how I’ll follow Jesus too.
He prayed, he prayed a lot, so I’ll pray.
That’s what I’ll do God I’ll pray, just like Jesus taught me.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, MY WILL BE DONE….
Wait that isn’t right is it.
But, it is frequently how it plays out when I pray. I tell god what I want.
I tell God I want is to be saved, preferably by a savior who doesn’t demand anything of me.
I tell God all the things I want, for myself.
I tell God all the things I want, for others.
I tell God all the things I want, for the world.
Not that any of that is a bad thing, we need to tell God those things but following the model of prayer
Jesus actually gave us, not what we wished he gave us…
Thy kingdom come, THY WILL BE DONE….
Jesus tells us, and shows us how that looks during his passion when he prays,
“My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”
We also heard in the 2nd reading what that looks like. We are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.
That means we live our lives only for God, not for ourselves.
That means we spend our time the way God wants us to, not the way we want.
That mean we use our abilities and talents the way God wants…
That means we spend our money on what God wants us to…
So it isn’t about us and what we want.
It is about surrendering our will and asking what God wants,
and then rather than conforming ourselves to worldly logic and morality,
we are transformed by the renewal of our minds,
and seek to discern what is the will of God.
We seek hear God’s call and how we are to deny ourselves, carry the cross, and follow Him:
By reading and reflecting on the holy scriptures to learn what God has already revealed to us.
By praying and about how God is calling us live every day.
By getting out of the boat when we know we should.
By frequent reception of the sacraments.
It isn’t easy to deny ourselves, carry the cross, and follow Him.
Sometimes picking up the cross means pain and suffering.
Sometimes it means that, for reasons that we cannot understand we have illnesses or even death.
Can God miraculously heal? Can God send angels to protect us from physical harm? Yes!
But sometimes he chooses not to.
Like last Saturday when in my thoughts Deacon Bill died much too soon.
But it was God’s will to call him home.
Sue told me that. Sue is Bill’s wife, and she told me that we have to remember the Word of God spoken by the prophet Isaiah (55:8-9) For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways—(oracle of the LORD). For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Sometimes denying myself, carrying the cross, and following Him is hard.
But it is worth it.
Sometimes we don’t want to get out of the boat. But if we do, we won’t be sorry.
“For … whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” and
“the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory…and
repay all according to their (his) conduct.”
I must follow him, ever since he touched my hand I knew
That near him I always must be
And nothing can keep him from me
He is my destiny