Why Are You A Christian?

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 6, 2016)

2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14

Psalm 17:1,5-6,8,15

2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5

Luke 20:27-38

I attended a youth retreat this past summer and heard a talk from a Fathers of Mercy priest here in Kentucky. If you’ve ever seen a priest wearing a black cassock and a HUGE crucifix on their chest, (picture a crucifix you normally see on someone’s wall at home!) there’s a good chance he is a Fathers of Mercy priest. He said he often gets asked why they wear such a large crucifix around their neck? His answer was simple, “If you’re going to wear one… go BIG!”

During his talk, he posed a question to the crowd, which has stuck with me. He asked, “Why are you a Christian?” People raised their hands and gave answers like: Jesus, serving others, Eucharist, etc. He said those are all good things, but they are not the best answer. Then he said, “There’s only one reason that you can give that ultimately answers the question, ‘why are you a Christian?’ What is it?” And I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “This is so easy, I’m a Catholic Deacon for crying out loud. The answer is obviously…. It’s ummmm, uhhh… well I have no idea where he’s going with this!” So I just sat there… in awkward silence avoiding making eye contact with him as I waited for an explanation.

He went on to say that there’s one event in the life of Jesus Christ that had such a powerful effect on His followers and other witnesses that it altered the course of history. One event that caused devout Jews to leave their strong traditions and follow a new way. One event that was so incredible that Christians willingly died for their newly found faith. One event that is the answer to why we are here today, over 2,000 years after Christ’s death, worshiping together in this Church. So what in the world is that event and ultimately the answer to the priest’s persistent question, “Why are you a Christian?” Answer = the Resurrection.

Why? Because without the resurrection… Jesus Christ is a liar and a fraud. Without the resurrection… Jesus Christ is just an ordinary man. Without the resurrection… Christianity would have been just another fad religion that would have died out with the death of it’s leader. You see… the resurrection is a core belief that gives Christians the courage to go out and spread the Good News!

Seriously, think about it. Imagine you’re an Apostle following Jesus. You hear Him over and over speak of how he was going to conquer death, rise again and go to His Father in heaven. You’re nodding your head as you’re listening but in the back of your mind… it also sounds a little like crazy talk. You then watch Jesus die a horrible, torturous death on the cross. You then wait. Pretend that was the end of the story. Suddenly a Roman solider puts a sword to your throat and asks you if you were a follower of Jesus. “Who me? Sorry you must be mistaken. I’m just going to walk away now and live my life in peace with my head still attached to my body. Good bye!”

BUT… if Jesus did in fact rise from the dead and NOW that Roman solider asks you if you are a follow of Christ… I’d be like, “String me up, cut off my head, I’m not denying Christ, I’m ready for heaven!!” And that’s what happened. The Apostles, with the exception of John, were all martyred because they witnessed the resurrection and could not deny it.

You see… we hear in today’s Gospel that God is not God of the dead, but of the living. The resurrection proved this and started a ripple effect in history that continues to this day through the Holy Spirit and His Church. This should be a cause of great joy for us. Why? Because Jesus didn’t lie about the resurrection. So why would He have lied about anything else He taught? And in case your New Testament studies are a little rusty, here’s the gist of His teaching: God’s Son came down to earth in the form of a baby; Jesus taught by word and example a new way to live; He died a horrible death to pay a debt we couldn’t fulfill; He conquered death and rose to His Father in heaven; and here’s the VERY good news – His death has opened heaven to all who believe in Him.

The resurrection gives us new life. It is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. We can’t be wasting this gift by living a life of sin. We need to ask God to give us the grace and perseverance to live for Him… one day at a time. And when we fall, the resurrection should give us the strength to get back up and take the next step forward… back on God’s path.

Remember, through the resurrection, Jesus proved He was who He said He was. If we are to call ourselves Christians, we too should be able to prove who we say we are through our words and our actions.

May the resurrection of Christ give us the strength to live out our faith each and every day!

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No More Excuses

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 26, 2016)

1 Kings 19:16b,19-21

Psalm 16:1-2,5,7-11

Galatians 5:1,13-18

Luke 9:51-62

No. More. Excuses! That pretty much sums up today’s Gospel reading from Luke. The words we hear Jesus speak today are a direct contradiction to the way our current society acts and believes. Our society tells us that honest answers are favorable, but not really necessary. Our society tells us that it’s almost always someone else’s fault. However, Jesus tells us to…. are you ready for it…. Stop all the nonsense, stop giving excuses, take responsibility for your own actions and follow Him.

Follow me through this for a moment. To Jesus, Jerusalem is the final destination of his earthly ministry. He is to travel there for one reason… to die for our sins. Without His death on the cross, our sins are not forgiven. Without His death on the cross, death cannot be conquered. Without His death on the cross, the gates of Heaven are closed to us. He knew this and He was not going to let anything or anyone steer Him off of this course. No excuses!

With that in mind, Jesus and His disciples were traveling to Jerusalem, a predominately Jewish city. Along the way, they wanted to stop and rest in a Samaritan village. However, the people in the village knew they were going to Jerusalem and therefore they wouldn’t show them any hospitality. This was because the Samaritans were very hostile toward the Jews. So what do the Apostles James and John ask, “Hey Jesus, they don’t like us so do you want us to call down a fire bomb on them?”

This mentality is the one that always cracks me up in our “politically correct, all loving, all inclusive and all accepting society” (I was trying to pour on the sarcasm pretty thick there in case you missed it). How many times do we read about one group of people spewing hate towards another group because of their beliefs? Marriage, abortion, guns, politics. Any of these issues can get heated very quickly and, in a group setting, often ends up with someone getting punched in the face. But what does this accomplish? NOTHING!

But what does Jesus tell James and John to do to these people who don’t like them? He tells them to move on and keep their eyes toward Jerusalem. I’m not saying these “hot button” topics shouldn’t be discussed. But if the listening party only spews hate and violence back at you, it’s going to steer you off of your course so just move on. No excuses!

After passing by the Samaritan village, we next hear of two different people wanting to join the traveling party and follow Jesus. However, both of the people want it on their terms. “Hey Jesus, I’ll follow you to the end of the world…. But let me first finish this honey-do list.” Now it may sound like Jesus is being unloving when the first person is rebuked for wanting to bury his father before following Jesus. The back-story to this is that many scripture scholars believe the potential disciple’s father is probably in good health at the moment and has no plans of dying in the near future. Awkward…

When I felt called to becoming a Catholic Deacon, imagine if I would have said, “Yes, I’ll absolutely be a Deacon…. As soon as my kids are grown, I’ve paid off my student loans, paid off my mortgage and retired from my job… THEN Jesus, THEN I’ll follow you to the end of the world.”

Now… let’s get personal and down to business. I want to challenge you today by posing two questions for your consideration. Ask yourself, “Do I love God?” and “What does He want from me?” I’ve been praying on these two questions for more years than I can remember. Sometimes I think I’ve got the answers, other times the answers seem clouded.

I mean… I know I love God. But for me personally, it’s that second question I struggle with, “What does He want from me?”

It seems that more recently I’ve finally reached an answer that feels right. So, what does God want from me? To be with Him in heaven after I die. God is the source of all love. He created me and wants me to return to him after I die. I have a feeling; call me crazy, that He wants that from you as well!

God is our creator and our judge. Contrary to popular belief, His vote is the only one that matters on our judgment day. The Bible and the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us the teachings we need to follow if we call ourselves a follower of Christ. And news flash, many of these teachings are not easy. Recall last week’s Gospel reading where Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

So if I want to spend eternity with God, I better live a life that mirrors God’s love. I better start being more faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, I’m just a hypocrite and I’ll have a lot of explaining to do on my judgment day.

What about you? Do you truly love God? Do you feel that He is calling you to follow Him more faithfully? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to cut through all of excuses and live out your faith to the fullest!

No.

More.

Excuses.