Monday, July 11, 2011

Sunday Sermon

July 10, 2011

The Third Sunday after Trinity

One day during the past week, I was at a restaurant having breakfast. It was my day off, and I was simply having a leisurely breakfast to myself and reading the morning paper. I tend to treat myself to a breakfast out on my one day during the week that I am off. I have done it for a few years now. I sit, read my paper, shut out the world for a few minutes, enjoy the food and then on about my day. It so happens that it is a very busy restaurant, even during week days, so many tables and booths are usually filled. I do not normally pay much attention to what people around me are doing or what they are discussing, unless they are doing so in a loud manner, or as in the case of this day, I simply happen to catch a couple words that catches my attention.
It just so happened that I was reading an article in the paper about Casey Anthony and her being found not guilty. Coincidental or God’s providence, I do not know, but it so happened that same moment the people at the table immediately across from me apparently were discussing that very topic. Now, I could only hear bits and pieces of what they each were saying, but the gist of it was that they seemed to feel that it was a crime that Casey was found not guilty and that the jury that found her not guilty was apparently all lunatics.
I went back to my paper and didn’t bother to listen any further, but as I sat there I could not help but wonder where these people came up with their conclusion. Did they have some miraculous power that somehow put them at the scene the day this child of Casey Anthony’s died? Did they somehow have more information than that of the lawyers and jury had that somehow gave these people a better sense of the truth?
I couldn’t help but shake my head in puzzlement and dismay at the way people are. This one conversation is not very different from many going on elsewhere in the country (or over the past centuries of time for that matter). We humans just simply cannot let go of the negative. We live in a country where our judicial system says a person is innocent until proven guilty and yet we treat each other as though they are guilty without even the possibility of being innocent.
It is so sad to say, that many of us act this way and do not even realize it. We make up our minds about things without even knowing the facts. I would wager that none of us in that restaurant that day had any true knowledge of that case outside of what the news media has presented at some point. Not one of us in that room could possibly have more or better information to convict this young lady of murder than those who were in that courtroom. Yet, they were very clear in their conviction that she was far from “not guilty” as the jury and courts had decided.
I am not here to say that I think she is necessarily innocent or guilty. I have no way of knowing one way or another. Yes, a tragic death of a child was involved, but that does not give me the right to simply assume the view that her mother committed the crime is true. Yes, she “confessed” to lying to the police authorities, and it would seem that those untrue statements that she made point some suspicion to her. I agree that it would seem, anyway, that those lies would not have been necessary if she were innocent. Why would she make these statements at all if she were innocent? We may never truly know. And even if we were able to find out, would it really help our day to day lives?
Now, some of you might be asking, at this point, what any of this has to do with today’s Mass, the readings or the message the Holy Spirit wants me to convey today. Well, I suppose I could say that I have the liberty to preach on any topic I choose. I suppose I could simply “twist” the readings to have them fit with the topic I want to talk about. Today, I suspect it is a little of both. As many of you know, I do not normally use the pulpit for specific issues of society that can be taken out of the news or politics. Oh yes, I touch on some topics generically and in reality I am doing the same here today, but I am not normally one to take a current event topic on a regular basis and preach on it.
You see, that conversation at the restaurant that day really gave me a thought for today’s sermon, but it was not about whether Casey Anthony is guilty or not. That’s for the governmental authorities to try and prove. Ultimately, whether guilty or not, she has only God to answer to in the end. So, that said, I am not concerned with her case specifically; I am concerned with people’s reactions.
Jesus’ parable we read today applies here very well. Parables are Jesus’ way of communicating truth through narrative analogies in order to teach a moral and spiritual lesson. His parables produce different results in different people – much like our parable today teaches. Just as the seeds respond differently where they are scattered, so do the messages of Jesus sink into the people who hear them.
We take the messages that the Scriptures tell us; we take the messages of the teachings the Church gives us; and we take the messages from our preacher’s sermons; we take all these messages and we form our lives from them or we ignore them completely. Our free will allows us to do just these things.
The Holy Spirit speaks through these mediums to reach our hearts and souls. Many of these messages are true to the Spirit of God. Now and again we get some bad messages, because humans that are communicating them are imperfect. But, overall, I would say the messages are as they are intended to be from God. Just like Jesus’ parables, much can be gleamed from the messages and there is so much in the messages themselves, that many ideas can be brought away from them. After all, the average person in the pew probably on listens to or concentrates on 40% of the words spoken at any given sermon. Not hard scientific data, simply blend of a few sources and research examples.
However, all in all we take messages and we simply do the picking and choosing. We would be upset if someone misunderstood a memo we sent out to the world to read and then someone in the world phrased in such a way that it seems opposing to the message you originally sent and sends it out again….. Yet, we seem content to evaluate each other in a manner that is less than flattering, when we sometimes do not have all the facts.
We have seed that withers and dies. People, who claim to be God fearing, hear and see God’s message, but live a life in such a way that even a lackluster Christian would raise an eyebrow at. We have those who claim to be God fearing and may even attend church and maybe pray now and again, but their life seems out of sync and not representative of the life they claim to be until something happens and they suddenly need God. Then there are those who live their life as close as humanly possible in the understanding of what being a good Christian means.
Somewhere in the middle is where I find conversations much like the one I overheard. We have to be careful to not look at our fellow human beings and automatically assume the worst. I did not hear the entire conversation, nor did I try. I simply heard a few short words that happened to trip a thought in my mind. Obviously, with today’s media and technological advances, we are going to hear what is happening hundreds of miles away as if it happened in our back yard. We want to be concerned with our fellow human beings, but we sometimes get consumed with simply wanting a juicy story or something to gossip about.
I am not advocating that we stop talking about what goes on around us, nor am I saying that we should not have access to such information. However, I am saying that when we speak about such things, are we doing so in the guidance that Jesus taught us? The conversation I overheard parts of, would not be in itself bad, if it were simply a conversation of what we knew as the facts and maybe some innocent questions amongst themselves as to whether she was guilty or not, but in this case, they had already made up their mind when only the courts and the jury had most of the necessary facts to make this determination.
So, what does this parable tell us and what is it about?
· Some seed falls on the paths, and the birds quickly eat it.
· Some seed falls where there are rocks, and not much soil. Plants grow quickly, but soon the sun dries them. There is not enough soil, and the plants die.
· Some seed begins to grow in a place where there are too many weeds. The weeds stop the growth of the plants, and the plants die.
· But other seed falls on good ground. So, the plants grow well. The farmer has a harvest from these plants.
Jesus himself explained it to the disciples. The farmer is like Jesus. The seed that he sows is the seed of the good news about Jesus. The farmer sows the seed in many different places, just as Christians tell God's good news in many different places. What happens to the seed is different in different places. It is the same with the good news about Jesus. It has a good result in the lives of some people, and it has a poor result in other lives.
The first seed fell on the path, where there was no soil. Some people hear the good news but give no attention to it at all. This is like the seed on the path. These people do not change their behavior. These people do not think about other people. They are selfish. They quickly forget about the good news.
Some seed falls where there are rocks. It grows quickly, but then it dies. This teaches us that some people listen to the good news. They seem to like what they hear about Jesus. But this does not last. They have a difficult time, or other people laugh at them. Then they have no more interest in Jesus. They never really trusted him.
Some seed began to grow among weeds, and the weeds killed it. This teaches us that some people have no time for Jesus. They are selfish, and they want things for themselves. Perhaps they want to be rich, or to be powerful. They worry all the time. They are anxious about their possessions. Sometimes, the Devil is there to make these people doubt anything and everything.
Finally we hear in the story about seed on good ground. The good ground is like people who love the Lord. They believe in Jesus and they trust him. God will bless these people. His Holy Spirit will help them to love other people. They will be able to forgive other people, and to live in peace with them. They will be joyful. This is because God can change them. He changes the inside of these people, and this changes their behavior.
This parable can teach us about ourselves. God will bless those people who trust him. We learn from this parable the same truths as we learn from the beatitudes. When we know that we need Jesus, we should trust him. When we really trust him, he will teach to us. We will change, because Jesus will change us.
Granted, the views I have given are only one of a myriad of possibilities and I explained them in a dramatic and intense way to show a point. Do I really believe a majority of people are as harsh as some seed examples above? Not really, but there are those out in the world that really have no clue how they are treating their lives or each other. If the people at that table that day had their situations reversed with Casey, I somehow suspect their viewpoints would be different.
But ask yourself this question: what kind of soil are you like? I think if when we have a healthy conversation in life and we treat it knowing that we will never have all of the facts, and speak of others in non-judgmental ways, we at least are letting some of those seeds of Christ to fall within some of the good soil we are all made of. We are allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and accept some thoughts that maybe we would not normally listen to. We need to fertilize our soil by having an open mind to new and different realities that may not always seem to be “in check” with our personal views of life. Jesus’ parable challenges us to see a different way and to treat others in a manner we would want to be treated if in a similar situation.
I have no idea or not whether Casey Anthony is innocent or not. But, I do know that when we stop judging, we start accepting God’s love and grace.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.