based on the apostolic exhortation
Lorenzo Lebrija: Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, Lord God, Our Father, and to you Jesus Christ, the bread of our lives and the center of our being. Amen.
Lorenzo Lebrija: Please be seated. Here's a very deep theological question. What's the difference between a sermon and a homily? Ah, right? A homily is based on the readings for any particular Sunday, which is what we normally do here. A sermon, which is what people tend to do in the subway to [you or 00:00:44] at the supermarket, they sermonize [towards you 00:00:46] ... A sermon is based on a teaching but is not necessarily related to the scripture readings for that day. For the next three Sundays, if you've been keeping up in the Gazette and the little thing that I put in there, we will be doing a series of sermons based upon the apostolic letter written by Pope Francis called "The Joy of the Gospel".
Over the next three Sundays, both today and the next two while Frank's away, we will be looking at this letter, at this document that the Pope has given the world, I think it is a beautiful document that the Pope has given to the greater global church. In particular, this Sunday, we will look at to whom or rather for whom do we live in our lives? Then next week, we'll look at the art of the accompaniment and then part three is a new mindset in Christ. That more or less tells you what we'll be looking at over the next three Sundays. Don't forget if you're not, for whatever reason, I don't know why anyone would ever not be in church on Sunday, but they are available on the web afterwards as well to listen to.
Here we are. Our first Sunday. For whom do you live your life? It's a question we often do not ask ourselves but perhaps should be a question that we should ask ourselves every day. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit in for Frank during one of the Bible study sessions that we do on Wednesday nights in Spanish. It was the second chapter of the Book of Acts. What's unique about that reading in particular is that it is the first recorded Christian sermon. Now it's obviously based on scripture, at the time they didn't even have scripture. They didn't have the Gospel of John, so it was just Peter who got up in front of 3,000 people and gave a sermon.
What's really powerful about the sermon though is that Peter lays out the case for being a Christian. He begins by telling us, the prophets have [prophesied 00:03:13] about the coming Messiah. They told us that the Messiah would have signs, they told us that God coming to the world was imminent. Here we had this guy named Jesus of Nazareth. It's interesting in his sermon, he begins by saying, "Jesus of Nazareth." He doesn't call him anything else, just this guy we know as Jesus from this town called Nazareth.
This guy we thought was special. We started to see him do all these signs and these wonders. Then this guy, Jesus of Nazareth was killed in the most awful and gruesome sort of way that someone could be killed, he was crucified. "How is it that we can stand up today," says Peter, and claim him to be the Messiah? He says, "Because of the resurrection." Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, God's love has been fully revealed into the world. It is because of the resurrection, this joy that we should have, because of the resurrection. Jesus is risen from the dead and therefore, our whole life has to be rearranged around Jesus.
Because Jesus is the son of God and he points it out in his sermon, Peter, he says, we thought David was great. But come with me. I'll show you where he's buried. He says, Jesus I cannot do that, because he's risen from the dead. That is the power of God. The worst thing that we could ever possibly imagine in life is death and God now has conquered death and not just any death, not a mighty death in war, but God has conquered the worst kind of death.
Francis says to us it is from this resurrection joy that the whole of the people of God need to find their joy. This is the joy of the Gospel. Here's the caveat. God asks everything of us. In order for us to be transformed, to be followers of Jesus, we have to be willing to give everything for Jesus, but, Francis says, at the same time, God offers everything to us. The Pope firmly believes that we need to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It is our moment of conversion. He lists several examples, I will only list a few of them here for you but one of them is Saint Matthew, the tax collector who was doing his thing, he was collecting taxes. Jesus comes up and says, "Hey. Stop that. Follow me instead." He does. Because at that moment he encounters what Jesus can be.
I'll give you another example that the Pope does not mention is John Wesley who later went on to start the Methodist church but was an Anglican priest in the 18th century. He came to America for two years, he preached and worked in Georgia and thought himself a failure. Because he says, "I have not found my conversion. I have not found my own encounter with Christ. I will go to prisons and I can talk to people about Christ, and their lives are changed. I'm jealous of them because I haven't had that." Eventually he did. He felt the warming of his heart as he described it when his conversion finally happened at [Altar Gate 00:07:24].
A third example of conversion is Oscar Romero. Oscar Romero was the archbishop in El Salvador. He was a powerful religious leader, whom many people expected to do absolutely nothing except keep the status quo in El Salvador. Until the day that he saw his own best friend, another priest, gunned down for standing up for the poor. It was at that moment, as he describes it, as the blood was still coming out of his friend, that he had his conversion moment and he saw God and Jesus in the poor.
What all of these examples show is the transforming power of the Gospel. The power as Pope Francis tells us, to set us free from sin, from sorrow, from inner emptiness, and from loneliness. You see, we begin to live our lives for Christ and no longer for ourselves once we've had that conversion moment. Once we realize that we live for Christ. The Pope is smart enough to know that we need to have an encounter with Christ on a daily basis. Because we are going to fall. We are going to choose the secular, the comfortable instead of choosing love. We are going to choose the thing that won't rock the boat instead of seeing the face of Jesus in the poor. We are going to make bad choices. Because of this, we need to be reminded each day that we need to be open to Christ in our lives.
If nothing else, we need to have an openness so that Christ will encounter us even if we don't think we can encounter Christ. We have to at least have an open heart to be willing to accept Christ when Christ comes to our world. Here's the thing. The world is like a current. Most of the time, most of the world just goes with the current. That wouldn't be so bad if the currents weren't as toxic as they are. We live in a world that cherishes self-centeredness, individualism we call it [as if though 00:10:09] this was the greatest thing that was ever invented. When we become so individualistic, we forget that there are others who share the world with us.
When we become so self-centered, it becomes as the world takes us along this current, as the world just asks us to be more secular. The world asks us to buy more, to earn more money. To always be "moving up". To get the American dream. That's what the world does. What the Gospel says and what the Pope is pointing out is countercultural. It's also something that goes against this current. It is something calling us to recognize self-centeredness as a sin, realizing that a sin is when we don't choose love. Self-centeredness is a sin. We need to be reminded of that because we can discover the blessing of self-giving only when we recognize that self-centeredness is a sin.
Friends, things will always leave us empty. There will never be a car that is good enough. There will never be a house that is good enough. Your bank account balance will never be enough to fill that space, that only God, that only God's joy can fill. That's what's joyful about it, is that it is given to us freely. All we have to do is recognize it and accept it. When it's all about the me, we also don't hear the poor. We don't leave room in our lives for others, forget about strangers, we don't leave room for our partners, for our friends. God's voice is always there calling us to this joy. Unfortunately, because the world is so loud in telling us to go the other way, that voice is almost drowned out and it becomes like a whisper. A whisper that we can call into our lives. A whisper that we can recognize is there if only we accept it. It is only God's love which restores meaning to our lives.
Once we do that, once we recognize that our life is meant to be lived from the joy of the Gospel, from the joy that comes because Jesus was resurrected from the dead. We can begin to live life anew. We will see everything differently. Our outlook will be changed and I don't mean the computer program on your laptop. I mean outlook on life. Our entire outlook will be different, will be driven differently and you will be a more joyful person. This Christian outlook as we will see in the coming weeks, leads to a community that bears fruit.
For whom do you live your life? Are you living it for the secular god of money? Is money and more prestige and a better title, is that what's leading your life, is that what's causing your choices? Or is it a response to God's love. A response to this grace that defeats death, to this joy that comes from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Pope is not only a smart man, he's also very pragmatic. He knows that because we will fall down often and oftentimes all we can ask for is to have an open heart to receive Christ. He says there's a prayer that we should say each day.
I actually have this prayer, I've made copies in English and Spanish and I'm going to put them by the outside so that you can take them on your way out. I encourage you over these next three weeks, these next twenty-one days, to say this prayer once a day. Take it with you, take a moment out of your day to say this prayer, and I'll say it for you in a moment, so that you can be reminded and ask yourself for what and for whom am I living? What is the purpose of my life, am I just be carried by this current or is it time that I start living out of the joy of the Gospel?
Maybe on the first day all we can do is say, "I hope that by Day 21, I'll have an open heart to receive this." At least we will begin that struggle that God's grace will carry us through. This is the prayer. "Lord, I have let myself be deceived. In a thousand ways, I have shunned your love. Yet here I am, once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord. Take me once more into your redeeming embrace."
That's the prayer. If you say this prayer with me for the next twenty-one days, it'll become a habit. They say that anything we do for twenty-one days can become a habit. Why not let this become a habit in our lives, that for a moment each day, we ask ourselves for what am I living? What is the joy of my life? Hopefully, together, we will recognize the grace of God's redeeming love in our lives and in everything we do. Amen?