There’s an old story about a man who dies and goes to heaven. The man approaches the throne of God and tells God “You know, I’m very angry at you. Can’t you see that the world you created is filled with suffering and ugliness and destruction? Why don’t you do something to fix this mess you created?” God looks down at the man, and in a gentle voice says, “I did do something. I sent you.”
Some People Don’t Get It
That’s the central message of our readings today. “God sends us to be his light to the world.” But not everyone gets the message.
In our first reading, the prophet Amos condemns those who are rich for focusing only on their own comforts. God blessed these people in many ways. But they chose to only concern themselves with their own well-being.
Our Gospel from Luke builds on that theme. In his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus urges those who have to share with those who do not have.
Jesus does not condemn the wealthy for being wealthy, but reminds us that our well-being and comfort must never blind us to the needs of others. The lesson that we draw from this parable is that the rich man should have done more while he was alive to help the poor and others who are less fortunate. That message is intended for us as well.
It’s just not enough for Christians to obey the Ten Commandments and to avoid committing sins. Jesus is calling us to follow the model he gave us, living an active faith of love and service. The rich man in the parable was not barred from heaven because of a laundry list of sins he committed, but because of his “sins of omission.” Day after day, he closed his heart to a neighbor who was in dire need of help.
Our Faith On Fire
By show of hands, how many of you have ever sat around a campfire? It can be one of the most enjoyable experiences sitting there, watching the flames flicker, listening to the wood crackle and pop, seeing the golden glow of the embers. But it’s not just a passive experience – it takes a little work. I think a campfire is a good image of how we are called to live our faith.
Once you get a campfire burning, you can’t just sit back and relax. To enjoy the fire to its fullest requires some work. You have to keep the fire going by stirring up the coals, adding more wood to fuel the fire, and assuring that the fire gets enough oxygen so it can burn brightly. And what’s the best part of enjoying a campfire? (No, not Smores!) It’s sharing the experience with others.
Stirring Up the Fire – Stirring Up Our Faith
As many of you know, one of my hobbies is writing music and poems. One song that I wrote some time ago is titled “Stir Up the Fire.”
The song describes people who (like Lazarus) may be lying in our doorstep, people whom we tend to overlook as we go about our daily lives —– but who are counting on us to share our gifts with them. The first verse about a woman in need:
There is one … who feels lost, alone, forsaken
There is one … whose tears are all she sees
There is one … whose scars are deep and jagged
Be the one … who shares what we’ve received
What we’ve received from Christ is a model of service, a model of love and compassion.
Jesus did not avoid the marginalized in our world (the sinner, the leper, the adulterer, the thief). No, he sought out these people and, like a good shepherd, helped guide them to a better life.
I spent some time this week with a group of seventh graders. We were talking about the sacrament of Confirmation and how we can use the gifts God gives us to help others. I asked them to consider two questions (and I encourage you to do the same).
1. What are the gifts that God has given you that you can use in service to others?
2. What are the gifts you would like to develop so you can use them in service to others?
As we discussed these questions, some of the students talked about grandiose plans for doing things in their life. While still encouraging them to dream big I reminded the students of the importance of building on their dreams day-by-day, step-by-step. I reminded them of the words of Mother Teresa:
“We are not called to do great things, but small things with great love.”
By doing those small things with great love, we can accomplish great things for God.
The second verse of the song is about a man in need:
There is one … longing for compassion
There is one … a friend is all he needs
There is one … who wants to know the Father
Be the one … who shares what we believe
We need to be on the lookout for those around us “longing for compassion.” Sometimes a kind word or gesture is all it takes for people to see the face of Christ. We have to be willing to reach out to those needing a shoulder to cry on, or those longing for someone who will listen to them in their time of need.
I guess what I’m really saying is: We have to be willing to look outside of ourselves and to be active in service to others.
That’s what we’re talking about today. Taking simple steps to let someone know you care and to reassure them that they are loved and that they matter.
That’s what the rich man lacked in his life. That’s why he didn’t go to heaven. He cared only about himself when he had so much to give to others.
Jesus tells us that we are not meant to keep our talents hidden under a bushel basket. Instead, he calls us to be “light unto the world.” That sentiment is summed up in the bridge of the song:
Be the hands, be the feet
Be the face of God to everyone you meet
Be the reach, be the touch
Be the kind word spoken that says, “You’re loved so much”
God gave us hands and feet to serve, hearts to love, and voices to speak His words of love and compassion.
It All Begins with Prayer
How do we put these concepts into action? How do we discern what God wants from us? One of the best ways I know is by prayer and reflection. In his pastoral letter on Stewardship Awareness Sunday, Archbishop Carlson encouraged us to begin every day with this simple prayer: “Thank you, Father, for all your blessings.” And then pray: “Lord, what do you want me to do with all the gifts you have given me?” Archbishop Carlson tells us: “Listen to God’s answer. He speaks to us — not necessarily in words — in the stillness of our hearts.”
A Call to Action
This brings us to the chorus of the song. This brings us to the challenge that I want to leave you with this week.
Think of your faith as a campfire that you want to keep burning brightly. Be active in your faith.
Stir up the fire … of the Spirit that’s within you
Fan the flame … (be active and) let it burn for all to see
Be on fire … be the light of Christ to others
God sent you … to be light unto the world
God sent you (and me … all of us) … to be light unto the world
This Blog Post Copyright Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved. http://www.deacondan.com