Staying Close to God's Closeness to Us

Homily for the Eighth Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

How is it going between you and God? Are you aware of God’s closeness to you? Sometimes we might be tempted to think God is not close to us if something bad happens to us, even though God is close to us. In the first reading today (Isa 49:14-15), the people of Zion, Jerusalem, are complaining that God has forgotten them and God replies that he has not forgotten them. Are you aware of God’s desire for you to remain close to him? Do you remain close to God by putting God first in everything? In the Gospel (Matt 6:24-34), Jesus warns against forgetting God due to concerns about material possessions.

In one sense, it is understandable that the people of Zion, Jerusalem, thought God had abandoned them. At the time of this prophet, Jerusalem had been taken over by Babylon and many of the inhabitants had been taken to Babylon. The city had been destroyed. So the people said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” (Isa 49:14). But through the prophet God responds,

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget you, I will never forget you? (Isa 49:15)

The closest human bond we can think of is that between a mother and her baby. It would be unthinkable for a mother to forget her baby. As unthinkable as that is, God says it would be even more unthinkable for God to forget us. Whether something bad has happened to us, because sometimes bad things happen to good people or because we sinned, what is important to remember is that God is always waiting for us, God does not abandon us. God does not want us to stay in the mess and wishes us to step out of the mess and put the pieces back together again.

One of the most dramatic examples of people moving from a mess to experiencing the tenderness of God in our first reading that I have seen in recent times was last month while I preached a parish mission in Alabama and had lunch with a group of recovering drug addicts. They had lived in darkness and tried everything to free themselves of their addiction unsuccessfully until they or a family member discovered the Cenacolo Community. It was founded by a nun in Italy over thirty years ago and now has more than 60 houses around the world, including four here in the US. Their program of recovery is a spiritual program, in some ways not unlike seminary, morning and evening prayer, daily Mass and adoration, rosary three times a day and it also includes a number of hours of manual work each day. People enter the community in a mess and not only recover from addiction but by the time they leave again they also find Jesus. In the transformation that occurs in their lives, we can see the words of the prophet today fulfilled,

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget you, I will never forget you? (Isa 49:15)

Whatever the situation of our lives, God desires our friendship. God created us, loves us and desires us to spend time with him every day.

Are you aware of God’s desire for you to remain close to him? Do you remain close to God by putting God first in everything? In the Gospel, Jesus warns against forgetting about God because of worry about material possessions. Yes, we need food, we need clothes, we need many things for daily living but Jesus says it is the pagans who worry about all those things. Jesus says,

No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt 6:24)

Instead Jesus says put God first.

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides (Matt 6:33)

Is God always in first place in our lives? I think none of us here would deliberately put God second or abandon God. However, we could become so busy that God could slip into second place in our lives. I will share my edited and shortened excerpt of a story that shows how we could become caught up in so many things that gradually could allow God slip from being first in our lives.

Satan called a worldwide convention of demons. In his opening address he said, “We can’t keep Christians from going to church. We can’t keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth. We can’t even keep them from forming an intimate relationship with their Savior. Once they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken. So let them go to their churches, but steal their time so they don’t have time to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what I want you to do,” said the devil: “Distract them from gaining hold of their Savior and maintaining that vital connection throughout their day!”

“How shall we do this?” his demons asked.

“Keep them busy in the non-essentials of life and invent innumerable schemes to occupy their minds,” he answered. “Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, and borrow, borrow, borrow. Persuade the wives to go to work for long hours and the husbands to work 6-7 days each week, 10-12 hours a day, so they can afford their empty lifestyles. Keep them from spending time with their children. As their families fragment, soon their homes will offer no escape from the pressures of work! Over-stimulate their minds so that they cannot hear the voice of God. Entice them to listen to distracting things whenever they drive and to keep the TV, DVDs, mp3s and smartphones going constantly in their home. This will jam their minds and break that union with Christ. Pound their minds with the news 24 hours a day. Keep skinny, beautiful models on the magazines and TV so their husbands will believe that outward beauty is what’s important and they’ll become dissatisfied with their wives, and keep the wives too tired to love their husbands at night. That will fragment their families quickly! Give them Santa Claus to distract them from teaching their children the real meaning of Christmas. Give them an Easter bunny so they won’t talk about Jesus’ resurrection and power over sin and death. Keep them busy, busy, busy!” (The above story is a modified version of the first scene of the play Satan's Agenda written by Geraldine Harris and Kristen Maddox © 1998 - 2008 and used here with permission)

I think none of us here would deliberately put God second or abandon God. But we could become so busy that God could slip into second place in our lives.

In the first reading today (Isa 49:14-15), the people of Zion, Jerusalem, are complaining that God has forgotten them and God replies that he has not forgotten them. Whenever our lives are in a mess either because sometimes bad things happen to good people or because we sinned, God does not want us to stay in the mess. God wishes us to step out of the mess and put the pieces back together again.

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget you, I will never forget you? (Isa 49:15)

In the Gospel (Matt 6:24-34), Jesus warns against forgetting God due to concerns about material possessions. Jesus asks us to put God first.

No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt 6:24)

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides (Matt 6:33)

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2017

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

 

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