Family Life Struggles

Feast of the Holy Family (December 28, 2014)

Gn 15:1-6; 21:1-3

Psalm 105

Heb 11:8,11-12,17-19

Luke 2:22-40

Today I wanted to preach on family life since every single one of you are either a parent, a spouse, someone’s son or daughter plus you are part of a church family.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They are the model to which other families should strive to imitate. Whether we are referring to a biological family, extended family, adopted family or simply friends that you consider family. The Holy Family show us what it looks like to have faith, obedience, and love…both to each other, to those around us and to God.

holy-family

So my goal this weekend is to inspire everyone in the church to somehow be more like the Holy Family. But I didn’t want just to say, “Pray more” or “be nicer.” I wanted to give some concrete suggestions using the Scriptures we read today. So I did what any good, analytical thinker would do…I turned to Facebook! I updated my status to say, “Needing help! I’m working on my next homily and wanted to know what you think is the biggest challenge or threat to family life currently.” I figured I couldn’t inspire you if I didn’t know what was holding you back. The responses I got were eye-opening:

Being too busy with worldly commitments like work and sports. Putting things other than family before family. Not spending time together for meals. Not keeping everything balanced. Lack of time for one another. Busyness influenced by television, technology and electronics. Adults on their phones oblivious to their spouse or kids. Our failure to speak face to face. Facebook (ironic since that’s how I got this list!). Accessibility and use of pornography. The lack of understanding that love is a choice not an emotion. Not having God as our anchor. Individualism fed by the disconnect of the media. Other family members and their addictions. Relativism. Distractions. Lack of discipline. When your husband lives in another city most of the time (oh wait, that was my Wife’s response). Parents being friends with their kids rather than being a parent first. Having a lack of closeness when everyone is pulled away in so many different directions.

And one of my favorites, “Conversations turn to texting. Emotions turn into emoticons. Love turns to lust. The world is at a person’s fingertips and it draws us away from each other and from God.” That one was written by a teenager. Pretty insightful.

What do you think? Are our families struggling? It sure seems to me! Based on these responses, family life does not seem to be an easy path. And since every one of us belongs to a family of some sort, we are all on this path together. I sincerely believe that today’s Scripture readings give us some insight as to how we can make this path more bearable in spite of all the challenges we experience to family life in today’s modern age. It boils down to two words, ACTIVE FAITH. Anyone can have faith, but it takes deliberate intention to have active faith in God.

Let me explain. Today’s reading from Hebrews refers to Abraham offering his son as a sacrifice to God. We all know the story. Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac, when they were advanced in age. A son they both desperately wanted but they pretty much gave up on the idea of having children due to their apparent infertility. Abraham didn’t understand, but his God asked something of him and he followed. Thankfully the story had a happy ending as God intervened at the last minute and Isaac was spared. God did this to test Abraham’s faith. His ACTIVE faith.

The Gospel passage tells us about Mary and Joseph taking their son, Jesus, to the temple to offer sacrifice according to the law of the Lord. We know that they were a poor family since they offered the sacrifice of birds instead of a larger animal like a lamb. So this poor family made the trip to the Temple in Jerusalem, by foot and with a newborn child, because their faith demanded it from them. They had an ACTIVE faith.

What is the difference then between these two families and many of our modern families? For this, I will return to my very scientific “Facebook research” one more time. A mom of three wrote, “I don’t think families pray together much anymore. Not just meal time prayers, but earnest, on your knees, seeking God together. Parents rely almost exclusively on the church to train their children instead of making time to model the study of His word. All the comments about technology (being a distraction) are true, but I think they reflect a deeper issue. We use technology as an escape. We escape instead of living intentionally, instead of being in the moment.” I believe what she is saying here is that many of us do not have a strong ACTIVE faith.

The best place to start living an active faith is within our own families. Could you imagine what the world would be like if all Christian families did this? It may seem impossible or overwhelming at first glance. But if we all did our part, family by family, we can slowly convert our towns, our states, our country and eventually our entire world. And yes, I am fully aware of how busy we are and how precious our time is…but isn’t that all the more reason why we need to use our time wisely? So my advice to you is from Nike shoes, “Just Do It!” Seriously. Pray together on your knees as a family. Study your faith together. Seek God together. Put down your phones. Put family first. Eat together as much as possible. Turn off the TV on occasion and instead, fill it with face to face conversation with the people you love.

Pope Francis recently said that, “The family is a community of love where each of us learns to relate to others and to the world around us.” Let us grow this love by getting rid of the unnecessary distractions the world has to offer and instead, ACTIVELY pursue an intimate relationship with the God who created you and your family.

God’s Barn

1st Sunday of Advent (November 30, 2014)

Is 63:16B-17, 19B; 2-7

Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 158-19

1 Cor 1:3-9

Mark 13:33-37

Today we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent.  It is a season of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word Advent is derived from the Latin word for “coming.” Specifically we are preparing for the coming of the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, on Christmas Day, as a baby. Now if you’ve been paying attention to the stores around here, you would have thought that Advent, or Christmas for that matter, started the day after Halloween. We as a society have gone crazy when it comes to getting ready for Christmas. That type of “preparation” is NOT what I’m referring to when I mention Advent. Don’t get me wrong, I love decorating our Christmas tree, putting lights on the house, singing Christmas carols and wrapping presents. But I wander if our society is doing all of this because they are more excited to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ or the coming of Santa Claus??

1st sunday advent

I want to read you a story that will hopefully get you thinking about what we really should be preparing for during Advent and why. It was originally told by radio personality Paul Harvey:

Now the man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men, but he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense, and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story about God coming to earth as a man.

“I’m truly sorry to distress you”, he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas eve”, he said he’d feel like a hypocrite, that he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. So he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later, he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another. And then another; sort of a thump or a thud. At first, he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly, he put on a coat and goulashes and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn.

He opened the doors wide and turned on a light. But the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow making a trail to the yellow lighted, wide open door to the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried “shooing” them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction except into the warm lighted barn.

Then he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could let them know that they can trust me. That I’m not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led, or “shooed” because they feared him.

“If only I could be a bird”, he thought to himself “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to the safe warm barn, but I would have to be one of them so they could see and hear, and understand.”

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. He stood there listening to the bells, Adeste Fidelis, announcing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow and wept (after realizing these simple birds helped him finally understand why God came to us in human flesh).

Christmas, in its true meaning, is extremely powerful and full of tremendous hope for Christians. Year after year, sign after sign, covenant after covenant, God has been trying to usher us back into His barn. But we just couldn’t quite get there. So God became man… so that we could get back to God. I’ve heard people around Christmas time say that baby Jesus was born to die. Although this is a true statement, I believe there is so much more to the story. Jesus was born to show us how to love authentically and how to be holy. He showed us how to live and ultimately how to die to ourselves and to the sins that enslave us. And through His death, we now have a chance at eternal life. But without Him coming to us, as one of us, we would not have followed Him. We would have had no hope for salvation.

You see, I’ve studied the mortality rate of humans and you know what…we humans have a 100% mortality rate. Yup, not a single one of us will escape death. But, we also have a 100% immortality rate after death. You are either going to spend your next life eternally in hell or, by the grace of God, eternally in heaven with your Creator. So why then do we spend more time preparing for this life, which could be over in an instant and at any given second, when we really should be putting more effort into preparing for our eternal life after death?

This is what the Gospel parable is alluding to that we heard today. “Jesus said to His disciples, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Why? Jesus tells us, “The Lord of the house is coming. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all, ‘Watch!’” This watchfulness is referring to us meeting Christ face to face. Whether it be at our death or at His second coming. Both of them will come whether we are ready or not. Whether we are fully awake or have been caught sleeping and unprepared.

This is what we should be preparing for during Advent. This kind of preparation is much tougher than hanging lights on our houses or putting up a beautiful Christmas tree. It’s tougher because it will cause us to change our behaviors, our attitudes and the way we treat others. Although it may be tough, I promise you, it will be worth it in the end if it means an eternal life with God in heaven.

Allow this Advent season to be one of prayerful reflection and preparation. Be awake to God calling you to be closer to Him. Don’t be left out in the cold when it comes to where you will spend your eternal life. Allow God’s love to usher you back into His barn.

barn