NB. I'm preaching this morning at St D.'s but not presiding. The knee is gimpy again (sigh).
8th Sunday OT (A)
St. Dominic, NOLA
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
O Lord! Why have you forsaken me? “Rest in God alone, my soul.” O God! Why have you forgotten me? “Rest in God alone, my soul.” O Lord! Why have you abandoned me? “Get a grip already! I haven't forsaken, forgotten, or abandoned you. Remember, my soul, I AM your rock, your salvation, your refuge and your strength. I AM your stronghold and your hope. Trust in Me at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before Me, and nothing will ever disturb you.” So says the Lord to His anxious people. Pour out your heart before the Lord. And nothing will ever disturb you. At the center of your love for God and one another – your heart – who or what takes up the most time and space? That is, when you carefully consider the source and summit, the foundation and center of your day-to-day existence, who or what directs your heart and mind? If that who or what is anyone or anything but Christ himself, then pour out your heart before the Father, pour out whatever or whoever it is that directs you, and surrender yourself once again to Christ. If you are worried that God has forgotten you, ask yourself: have I forgotten God?
God's people are anxious. They are afraid that He has forgotten them. So, He asks Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Lay to rest then any worry that God will forget us. If we are going to worry, why not worry about a very real and dangerous possibility: that we will forget God? That we will abandon the Lord and His covenant with us in Christ. Pushed and pulled from every side by the seductive forces of an increasingly secular culture, it is all too easy to give up on the Father and His Christ. He promises that nothing and no one will ever disturb us. True. But He doesn't promise that nothing or no one will never try. Whether or not we will be disturbed by this world's seductions is predictable. Whether or not we will be seduced is also predictable. How? Ask yourself: who or what sits on the throne of my heart? Who or what rules you? To put it in gospel terms: whom do you serve? Whose call do you answer? If Christ rules your heart; if you serve Christ and his Church, then there is only one call to answer, one voice that gets your attention and obedience: “Trust in Me at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before Me, and nothing will ever disturb you.” Pour out your hearts before Him. . .and serve Him alone.
Jesus says it plainly: “No one can serve two masters. . .You cannot serve God and mammon.” God cannot rule your heart if your heart is already ruled by a foreign god; or a disordered passion; or an alien creed; or your own ego. The throne of your heart has room enough for just one Master. Who will it be? Financial security? Personal preferences? Social prestige? Jesus urges his disciples, “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Then he asks, “Are not you more important than they? Can any of you – by worrying – add a single moment to your life-span?” If the Father feeds the birds of the sky so that they do not worry about food, and if we are more important than they, then it follows that the Father will care for us as well. When you place the Father on the throne of your heart, you do not worry. Why? B/c nothing bad will ever happen to you? No. B/c you will never again feel want or need? No. Well, why? B/c you will know that whatever comes will never be, can never be more anxiety-producing than forgetting the One you serve. With Christ as the source and summit, the center and foundation of our day-to-day living, nothing and no one can disturb you.
There's room enough on the throne of your heart for just one Master. Who will it be? Financial security? Personal preferences? Social prestige? A job can be lost, money stolen. Works can be destroyed or bettered by another. And there's always someone ready to take your place as king of the social hill. It's all just more junk to worry about. Jesus reminds us, “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’” And then, sounding very much like he did last week, he adds, “All these things the pagans seek.” Who are these pagans? They're the ones who serve Money, Popularity, Vengeance, the Thing of This World – all passing away as fast as an empty heart can grab them and give them a crown. This is not who we are made to be. We are not made to be temples to house the temporary gods of a failing world. We are made – pagans and Christians alike – we are made for eternity, built to endure the purifying Love of the One Who makes us. But such endurance is only made real by a decision, a decision to serve the One Who makes us, to serve Him alone. “No one can serve two masters. . .” No one can survive with a heart divided in two.
Nor can one with a divided heart be trusted. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, describes himself and his fellow apostles, “Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” A steward holds the keys to the castle and the treasury, so he must be trustworthy, a servant deserving of his master's trust. Since we can do nothing good w/o Christ, whatever trust we deserve as servants is his before it is ours. And given our very human tendency to fail his trust, it's a good thing that we do not have to rely on our trust alone! Paul notes that when the Lord returns to judge his stewards' care of his kingdom, “. . .he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts. . .” What will he see when the light shines inside? What disordered motives will wiggle into view? If Christ rules our hearts, he will see his serene reflection – perfect love, hope, and faith. If Christ rules, he will see what the Father sees when He looks at Christ – a beloved child, a pure soul, perfect trust. However, if some foreign god or disordered passion or bloated ego rules. . .well, all he will see is a heart that has chosen to rule itself, a heart that has chosen to spend eternity primping in a cracked mirror. If we want Christ to see himself reflected in us at the judgment, then he must be the one we serve.
As Lent fast approaches and we set ourselves on the 40 day trek, remember all that the Father said to Isaiah, “I haven't forsaken, forgotten, or abandoned you. Remember, my soul, I AM your rock, your salvation, your refuge and your strength. I AM your stronghold and your hope. Trust in Me at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before Me, and nothing will ever disturb you.” Pour out from your heart whatever or whoever it is that takes you away from your salvation. Pour out the foreign gods, the disordered passions, the causal idols of deceit and gossip; pour out anything that stands btw you and Christ, anyone who threatens Christ's trust in you. Lest we forget, the Psalmist sings over and over again, “Rest in God alone, my soul. Rest in God alone.” There is no rest, no eternal rest, in anyone but Christ.