|The beginning of our first lesson today
is from the prophet Hosea. He urges us to strive know God and says, “Let
us strive to know God; try with everything we have to know who God is,
how God connects with us, relates with us, and how we are to respond to
God -- let us try to know God.”
In each of today’s, which are actually quite
short, we discover a great deal about God and about how God hopes for us
The first thing we discover is spoken immediately
by Hosea himself: “God’s coming is as certain as the dawn.”
Hosea is saying to us that God’s presence is as certain as the dawn. Our
God isn’t a god who is remote, a god who is unreachable, or a god who is
far beyond us. No, but rather, our God is as sure as the dawn.
Did any of us go to bed last night wondering
if there would be a sunrise today, if the sun would come up? No,
this has gone on for billions of years. We trust and believe that
the sun will rise.
Well Hosea is saying that our God is very close
to us and that you can be as sure of that as you can be sure that the sun
will rise today, tomorrow, the next day and so on. God is right there.
So often, people will say to me, “How do you
pray?” All you have to do is stop for a moment and let yourself be
aware that God is here. God is right here in our midst. All
we have to do is stop, become aware, and we begin to pray. We begin
to relate to the God who is always present to us. We can do that
anywhere, at anytime, and at any moment.
I think it’s especially helpful to do it when
we come together as we do in church on a Sunday morning. We pick
up the presence of God from one another. Sure we could always go
off alone and pray in some remote place. God would be there, there’s
no question about it. But when we come to church, others who are
aware of God’s presence are with us. It’s like the energy of God
moves within our community and we become more strengthened in our awareness
that God is here. We begin to feel it and to know that our God is
a God who is very close to us, always ready to respond to us.
Our only need is for us to stop, become aware,
and speak to God.
It’s really that easy, no big secret how to
pray. Simply be aware of God with you at every moment, especially,
in a community of believing people.
But then, as we strive to know God, the person
of Jesus, in whom God is most fully revealed, shows us something else that
is so important for us. You don’t have to be a saint to come into
the presence of God. In fact, it’s pretty clear from the gospel that
Jesus was a lot closer to those who knew their sinfulness, who in fact
were identified publicly as sinners; the tax collectors, people who were
despised because they had a public role that put them outside the community
of the chosen people. They cooperated with the Roman Empire and with
the Roman authorities. They collected taxes for Rome. This
made them excluded from God’s people. In fact, anyone similar to
Jesus, who went and had a meal with them, would become unclean, unworthy
to go into the temple.
But did that stop Jesus? No, he reached
out to those who were looked down upon and who sometimes, perhaps, even
thought poorly of themselves. Jesus reached out to them and wanted
to let them know their worth, their deep goodness that God had placed within
them. So our God is a God of mercy and of love; a God who reaches
out to sinners, a God who forgives, and a God who heals.
It’s unusual in a way that Jesus in this passage
calls himself a physician, a doctor, one who heals. He never does
that when he’s doing physical healing. In fact, he tried to discourage
people from always coming to him wanting miracles, wanting wonderful things
to happen, making him out to be just a wonder worker. No, Jesus was
interested in what was deeper. He wanted to heal us in our spirit
and in our inner life. He wanted to make us know that we are loved
The Pharisees objected: “Why does he eat with
tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus says, “Because I love them and
because they are aware of their sinfulness, I am ready to help them to
be healed and to grow and to be enriched with God’s life.”
Our God is a God of mercy and love. It
cannot be made any clearer than Jesus makes it in today’s gospel.
And so, each one of us, if we take the time
to know God, as Hosea urges us today, will come to realize how constant
is God’s love and goodness and presence for everyone of us. We will
also come to realize that God, in Jesus, reaches out to heal us, to lift
us up, to make us whole.
But as we reflect upon these lessons and strive
to know God, I think it’s important not only to do this in the context
of our own personal life, which is what I’ve been speaking about to this
point; how each of us can come to relate to God, to be aware that we are
loved by God.
Because of what is happening in our church,
I think we must also reflect upon these lessons in the light of the bishops
meeting this week.
I don’t suppose any of us can be unaware that
the Catholic bishops are going to meet in Dallas this week and try to confront
what many people say is one of the worst crises the church has every faced;
certainly in it’s history in the United States, but probably in it’s whole
We have to wonder, how will we come through
The gospel lesson, I think, gives us pause
and makes us wonder how well we’re going to be able as a whole church to
resolve the crisis of credibility in the bishops as leaders in the church
and resolve the crisis of the abuse of young people within the church.
When we think about the gospel in this context
isn’t it almost automatic that we would think of the bishops, the leaders,
as being like the Pharisees in today’s gospel? They’re the leaders
and yet, as Jesus shows so clearly, they’re not really prepared for that
leadership. It’s to them that Jesus says, “I’ve come to call sinners,
not the righteous.” They were criticizing the sinners and thought
themselves above and in a higher place. And Jesus says, “I came for
those who are not self-righteous.”
Now I’m not suggesting that every bishop is
self-righteous. You can’t make judgments about others. Yet,
isn’t it true that in our church we have this hierarchy where we do have
bishops who separate themselves, in a sense, from the ordinary community
of the life of the church.
One very extraordinary example, it seems to
me, is something I found out about just yesterday. For a number of
weeks now, the victims of this abuse within the church have been negotiating
with the bishops to be able to come to the meeting and speak forth their
pain and their hurt. Doesn’t that seem strange that in a community
of people who are supposed to be fully equal in dignity in the church that
people have to negotiate as though you’re in some kind of extreme sort
of litigation -- that you have to negotiate just to come and speak.
It seems to me that the Jesus who is revealed
in the Gospel wouldn’t wait a moment to say, “Come.” He would go
to them. He wouldn’t make them negotiate.
And then, as I found out yesterday, they received
a letter saying, “No, we’re not going to allow you to speak at our meeting.”
That seems so cruel and so wrong. It’s not the Jesus who’s revealed
in the gospel today, who reaches out to anyone who is victimized, who reaches
out to those who are hurt and to those who are the humble ones.
Our bishops say, “No, we’re going to meet among
ourselves.” We’ll listen to some people, but we’re not going to enter
into conversation and have genuine interaction and real deep relationships
with one another.
To me, that’s a terrible failure.
And it’s also reflected in what Jesus says
to the Pharisees. He’s actually quoting Hosea from the first lesson
today. “Look, don’t you know I want mercy. I want love rather
than sacrifice.” Now he doesn’t mean by that that he’s rejecting
the idea of personal sacrifice. You know how Jesus said, “There’s
no greater love than this; to give yourself for another; give your life
for another, sacrifice yourself for another.”
No, it’s not that.
It’s the holocaust, the ritual sacrifice that
Jesus is talking about. “I want love and mercy, not that ritual that
can be so empty.” And here, too, I see how, as a church or the leadership
within the church, so often we’re more concerned about the ritual, the
form, and the formality.
Look at some of the regulations that just came
from Rome a short time ago about our ritual. You know it seems so
absurd, but they have rules like: ‘The priest at the altar should not leave
the sanctuary area during the time of the greeting of peace.’ We’d
be doing major mistakes every week if we abided by that. But that’s
the sort of thing our leaders are concerned about -- how carefully you
follow the rules.
That’s why the sinners were being rejected
by the Pharisees. They weren’t following the whole torah -- the rule
of God -- in all of its extreme complexities. And so they were being
rejected by the Pharisees.
I almost have the sense that that’s what our
bishops are like. They’re interested in the torah, the rule, and
all the legalities. And their interaction with these victims is all
on the basis of legalities and not mercy.
Jesus says, “I want mercy and love, not simply
rules for there own sake; not ritual for its own sake. If it’s that
way, it’s empty.” There’s nothing more important than love and mercy.
And if the quality of your relationships is very poor and you think that
because you celebrate a ritual that that makes you OK with God, Jesus is
saying you’re wrong.
I’m afraid that in our church we’ve gotten
to this point where our leaders too often are concerned with ritual, with
torah, with law; and not with mercy and not with love.
And so as we move toward this meeting in Dallas
this week, obviously, it’s very important for all of us to pray, to pray
for our bishops, to pray for the leadership of our church, that there can
be some sort of conversion, some change, and that we won’t simply try to
deal with all of these questions and all of these cases of abuse in a simple
legal way, but that we’ll do it with mercy and love and compassion. What
a difference that could make in our church.
It would take, I think, a great conversion
for this meeting truly to have a fruitful outcome. We must pray and we
must try to pray with real faith.
Abraham gave us an extraordinary example of
what it means to trust and to believe. He had no sense of how God
could fulfill the promise that God had made to Abraham and Sarah, but he
never stopped believing that God could do it and would do what God promised.
And this week, as we pray for our bishops,
I’m not asking us to have trust in them, necessarily, in their leadership,
our leadership, but rather to put all of our trust in God. This is a hard
time for our church. It is a real crisis and it will come to a resolution
where we can be a better church and a spiritually richer church, a church
more filled with the spirit of love and compassion and mercy. But
it will not be because of our human efforts alone, it will because of God.
Your trust and my trust can be in the God in
whom Abraham believed; the God who is always faithful and will always fulfill
what this God promises. And our God, in Jesus, promised to be with
us always. So even, if at first, it seems that there’s not a good
outcome to our meeting this week, continue to trust that God is with us
and with the church and that God will bring us to a richer, fuller awareness
of who we are as a community of disciples of Jesus; that our church will
be healed through that power, that goodness and the love of God.
Again, Hosea tells us, “Strive to know God.”
And so I urge all of us today to try to know God, to know this God who
is love and who is mercy and compassion and forgiveness; to be aware that
this God is always present to us and to trust that this God will heal every
one of us and also bring healing to our church.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.