24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Beloved: I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry. I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.

I could have written these words myself, but Saint Paul beat me to it. To put it in context, the second reading today is from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. It’s believed that the letters to Timothy were written later in Paul’s life and were instructions to the younger man on carrying on Paul’s ministry.

We know from the Acts of the Apostles, that Saul, who became Paul, was no friend to the Christians. He persecuted them, even torturing them and killing them. It was Saul who was responsible for the stoning death of Saint Stephen, the first deacon. But God, in His mercy, chose Saul to not only preach the Gospel, but to put his thoughts in writing. Paul’s letters contain the sum and substance of our faith, even today.

He goes on:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in Him for everlasting life.

In other words, if Christ had chosen the best and the brightest, that wouldn’t have proved anything. Even in His time on earth, Jesus chose tax collectors and fishermen to be His Apostles. He chose shepherds to announce His arrival on earth. He hung out with sinners. This Church of ours isn’t a museum for saints. It’s a hospital for sinners.

Jesus made Paul an example. By choosing the new Church’s worst enemy to be it’s number one evangelist and teacher, He shows all of us that no one is beyond redemption. By choosing me to be a deacon He shows us that His mercy is still at work in the world. Like Paul, I can honestly say that Jesus is displaying all His patience by letting me represent Him and His Church.

But wasn’t that His way from the beginning? On the very night that He instituted the Eucharist, the night before His passion and death, one of His closest companions sold Him out for a few silver coins. When He went into the garden to pray, He asked His Apostles to pray with Him. What happened? They fell asleep.

When the Roman centurions came for Him, Peter, “the rock”, the man He had chosen to lead His new Church, denied that he even knew Him. Three times. The rest of His Apostles ran away and hid.

But it was these eleven men who would lead the Church and spread the Gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The actions of the twelve Apostles was just the first of many scandals that would plague the Church, right up to the present time. If the Church could survive the twelve, it can survive anything–even you and me.

By giving us free will, God the Father gave us the opportunity to sin. He doesn’t want us to sin, but He knows we will. By sending us His Son to die on the cross, He gave us the opportunity to be saved. Down through the ages, He’s given us encouragement by choosing taking sinners and making them saints. If the first Pope denied even knowing Jesus, then there’s definitely hope for us.

If Saul the persecutor could become Saint Paul the evangelist, there’s hope for us. If Mike Buckley the sinner, the non-church-goer, can become Deacon Mike, anything’s possible.

Jesus makes the point in today’s Gospel. Luke begins, “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus.” Of course, the Pharisees and scribes aren’t happy. “C’mon, this guy eats with sinners. What’s up with THAT?”

Jesus answers with the parable of the lost sheep. We’ve heard the story many times. It ends with the shepherd shouting to his friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep!” Then He tells them, and us, that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? What about those ninety-nine who did it right? Why are they being left out? I’ll tell you why. Because in the entire history of Christianity, over 2,000 years, there haven’t been ninety-nine righteous people who didn’t need repentance. There was only one. Her name was Mary.

Then He tells them the story of the woman who lost and then found one of her 100 coins. Same thing. She rejoices over finding that one coin.

This morning I read the short version of the Gospel….. You’re welcome…… If I’d read the longer one you would have heard the familiar story of the prodigal son. Again, we celebrate the return of the lost son while the one who stayed at home fumes over the unfairness of it all. Which son committed the greater sin? It’s a toss-up. __________________________________________________________________________

You’ve probably heard the story of the dash. But in case you haven’t, here it is. When you die, not IF you die, but WHEN you die, they’re going to bury your body. Then they’re going to put up a tombstone. They’ll put your name on the stone. Below your name they’ll put the date you were born into this life, then a dash, then the date when you left this world.

The dates are just marks on the calendar. The real story is in the dash. That little mark represents everything you did here on earth and where you’re going next. How did you fill up all those years represented by that little rectangular gouge in the stone? How did you spend your dash?

We’re in the part of the year when the Church emphasises stewardship. Time, Talent, and Treasure. That’s what the dash represents. How did you spend your time? How did you use your talents? What did you do with your treasure? Maybe it would be better to replace the word “your” with the word “His”. See, we don’t own time, or talent, or treasure. They belong to God. He lends them to us then watches very closely to see what we do with them.

If we want, we can squander all of them. Or, we can use at least part of them helping others. Notice I said “at least part”. God doesn’t begrudge us the time to go to a movie or watch TV. He expects us to use our talents to earn a living for ourselves and our families. He doesn’t mind if we spend some treasure to buy a new car or to go out for dinner once in a while.

But He does expect us to use these gifts wisely and to give some of them back by helping others. This afternoon some of us will be volunteering to help with a kickball tournament to raise money for Captain Todd Nicely, a United States Marine who is a quadruple amputee. He was injured in Afghanistan, serving his, and our, country. It’s just a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, but it will mean a lot to the Nicely family.

Every month we donate food and other items to the poor through the Meal-a-Month program. It’s not a huge thing for any one of us, but when you add it all up, it’s a lot of help for the poor people in our community.

Each month we collect hundreds of empty pill bottles which are a big help in distributing medications in third-world countries. It’s something that doesn’t cost us anything in treasure, but it does take time to remove the labels and bring the bottles to church. It would be much simpler to just throw them away when we’re done with them. But this simple act of generosity helps literally thousands of our brothers and sisters who have less than we do.

Practicing good stewardship doesn’t mean we all have to be Mother Teresa. It just means that we should be aware of God’s generosity to us and to do what we can to give something back.

We can’t buy our way into heaven. That’s not how it works. But at the end of the day, or at the end of our lives here on earth, we’ll all be judged. We hope and pray that God is more merciful than just. If He’s just, most of us don’t have much hope. But, if He’s merciful, He’ll take a good look at our dash. He’ll weigh the good and the bad, and he’ll say to each of us “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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