Stone By Stone, a Homily

Homily, Nov 12-13, 2016: Cycle C, 33rd Sunday of Ord Time (Stone Upon Stone)

In our Gospel, today, we are given a picture of the Jewish temple before and after its destruction. In the process, we learn that even those things that symbolize stability can fall. Change is inevitable.

We may not like it – we may resist it, but the reality is, things change. “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill. While those are very wise words, they don’t offer much in the way of consolation when we are waist deep in the alligators of change.

Sometimes changes are welcome. But, there are days when change brings loss or the fear of loss. There are days when our life is forever changed, the world is different, and nothing is like it used to be.

You and I know those days. We could each tell stories about those days. They are stories about the death of a loved one, they are stories of the health diagnosis that pointed to the end, they are stories about the divorce, the business that failed, the job that was lost, the day Hurricane Matthew blew over the Island’s trees and not just the dead wood, but huge healthy trees as well.

In the language of our Gospel today, the things we look to for stability can be referred to as our temples. Sometimes our temples are people, places, values and beliefs, institutions.

In that sense, Temples are the things that we think give structure and order to our lives, give meaning and identity, provide security. At least we think they do, until they don’t, anymore.

For many people the Catholic Church is not the church we remember. It is not like it used to be when we were growing up.

Things have changed. As a country, the temple of our economic system has changed. We can no longer count on investments that will grow predictably every year.

Globally, we read of wars, plagues, famines. Nations have risen against nation. Security, peace, and diplomacy have given way to fear, violence, and terrorism. Temples are falling everywhere.

In today’s gospel, some were speaking about the Jewish temple, its beautiful stones, and gifts dedicated to God hanging on its inside walls. It was a massive structure, able to seat thousands. It is what structured their community. It gave identity and meaning. It was the center of Jewish life.

Yet, Jesus looks at it and says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Construction had taken over 50 years, but it was destroyed in 70 AD after a Jewish rebellion against the Romans.

So, what do we do on the day our temple falls?

Change has a way of pushing us into the future. If we are not careful we will soon be living in a future we do not yet have. We will be living in a future created in our minds. That is not Jesus’ response. He is calling us to be faithful in the present.

Sometimes, after our temple falls, we look for a scapegoat, someone to blame or even demonize. We look for someone or a group who does not think, act, or believe like we do. That is not Jesus’ response.

Or, maybe we will simply give up and walk away in despair. We can see nothing left. Everything is lost and the situation is hopeless. That is not Jesus’ response.

Some will become angry, resentful, and fight back. Others will say this is God’s will or maybe even worse, this is God’s punishment. And, we are referring to a group that behaves in a way that offends us and we think, God as well.

Jesus’ response is just the opposite. Be still, He says; be quiet, He says; do not be led astray. Do not allow your life to be controlled or defined by fear. Do not listen to the many voices that would cause you to run and follow after them. Endure he says. Be faithful, steadfast, persevere here and now.

Jesus is calling us to be present and faithful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. If we cannot find God here, in our present circumstances, especially in the midst of our temple ruins, we will likely not find God, anywhere, because He tells us in Psalm 34 that He is closest to us when we are crushed in spirit.

The place of fallen temples is the place in which God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, declares: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” We have a God who creates.

Those promises are fulfilled through our perseverance. By perseverance we gain our lives – the last words of today’s Gospel.

Jesus is calling us to the virtue of stability. We are to remain fully present and faithful, no matter how uncomfortable life may be. In so doing we discover that God has always been with us – in the changes and chaos of life; in the pain, loss, and disappointment; in the destruction of our temples.

Endurance, perseverance, stability are the ways in which we offer God the fallen stones of our temples. Stone by stone He rebuilds our life.

Stone by stone God restores the original beauty of our life and world. Stone by stone a new temple arises from the rubble.

And, we become the temple of God. That is the story that needs to be told. That is our opportunity to testify to the Good News of God’s love for all of us, warts and all.

We can all tell the story of the day our temple was destroyed. Too often, however, we believe and live as if that is the end of the story. It is not. Oh, it will be, if we run away, scapegoat, respond with anger, or try to put it back together like it used to be.

But it does not have to be the end of the story. Indeed, the greater story is how we discovered God next to us in the temple ruins and how, stone by stone, He rebuilt what we could not.

It is the ongoing story of God recreating life out of loss and ruin, a story of God rejoicing and delighting in his people.

This story is the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘according to you’. It is not just Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. It is according to you. It is real, sacred, and true. Trust that story, tell it over and over, proclaim it to all who will listen, and live that story to the fullest.

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When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,” we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness. It is important to think about the Church not as “over there” but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.
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The Wounded Healer
Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.
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Exemple

How many times in our lives do we find ourselves in life situations where all the things that had been good seem to turn into something bad?  Just when we think that things can only get better we find ourselves one hundred and eighty degrees out of phase and the bottom drops out?

Probably many times, but we don’t recognize it when it happens. It looks to us like a normal happenstance and we accept it as such.

The story in 1 Kings 17, 1-7 dramatizes this situation. We find Elijah hiding from King Ahab at Brook Cherith.  The Ravens have been instructed by God to bring him bread and meat morning and night and he has the clean waters of the brook to drink. He is all set. King Ahab has no idea where he is and Elijah undoubtedly feels like he can continue in this wonderful environment for ever.

Verse 7 brings all this to an unexpected end. “The brook ran dry”. The lack of water forces Elijah to abandon his sanctuary and move on to another location, Zarephath of Sidon.

Perhaps we find ourselves in a job that appears to be all that we had been looking for. It is new and fresh and exciting and we can only expect that it will continue indefinitely. But, after a season, out of the blue the unexpected happens. Some major portion of the job runs dry. Without it we are forced to leave, to find another place where we can continue our dream.

Perhaps it is a budding relationship. We were filled with wonder that another human being could look on us with love. We are stirred to do everything we can think of to enhance the relationship. It becomes our focus, our reason for living to return the love and stability offered by the other person. When we least expect anything to change, it does. The brook runs dry. Something major rises to the surface and after multiple attempts to reinvigorate that relationship we finally accept the fact and move on.

Another way to look at this is to recognize that God does use the brooks of our lives running dry to move us out of our tendency to languish in a place that He wants us to leave. We would never leave if things had continued to be wonderful. It takes the loss of something important to move us on.

In a sense, it is a very good sign that He has other things for us to learn and experience. He wants us to glean what we can and once we have completed that task He finds a way to cause us to let go and move on to the next thing He has for us.

Life is filled with seasons. The seasons come and go.

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