Deacon Cornell's Homilies


Hosea 2: 16b,17b,21-22
2 Corinthians 3:1b-6
Mark 2:18-22


February 26-27, 2000 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B

Steven Covey, in his book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" tells a story about himself. He was riding on a New York subway train early one Sunday morning. There were only a few people in the car, and most of them were either reading a newspaper or book as he was, or napping. At one of the stops, a man got on with two young children, a boy and a girl. The man slumped down onto a seat across from Steven, while the two young children proceeded to chase one another up and down the car. As Steven watched them annoy the passengers with their loud yelling and occasional stepping on a passenger's foot, he thought, "Why doesn’t their father control these unruly children." Finally, he couldn't stand it any more so he leaned over and said to the man, "Can't you do something about your children; they are annoying everyone in the car?" The man shook his head as if awakening from a dream, and realizing what Steven had said, replied, "You're right, I should. You see, we just came from a hospital room where their mother died, and I don't think they know how to deal with that. To tell you the truth, I haven't figured out how to deal with it either."

Steven goes on to relate the turn about in feeling that he had towards this family in hurt. The reality of the father and two children hadn't changed a bit, but because of Steven's change in attitude, he saw the reality in a completely different way, a better way. That is the point of today's Gospel. The reality of the new wine is that it promises joy and pleasure. But if you put it into an old wineskin, the continuing fermentation will burst the wineskin and instead of joy and pleasure, you have spilled wine and a torn wineskin.

 Almost all of Jesus' parables and sayings are designed to get us to see reality in a new way, to give us new wineskins to put the new wine into, to give us a new cloth to replace our torn old one. Like the people to whom Jesus told these parables 2000 years ago, most of us see reality through the glass darkly. We have fixed on a few canonized ways of seeing God and worship and religion, and because of this cannot see what is really going on

The very first words Jesus spoke in his public ministry, as recorded in the Gospels, were "Repent and believe in the good news. The kingdom of God is at hand!" I think most of us would say the word repent means to be sorry for our sins but that is not the primary meaning. The Greek word used in the original text of the Gospels is metanoia, which means to change our mind, in the sense of turning it. That is the preferred meaning of our word repent as well. Jesus was urging us to turn our minds toward God so we could fully appreciate the good news of the coming of the kingdom. He is not urging us to dwell on our past failings. He's trying to get us to see reality better but because we get stuck on repent, we miss the good news.

How many of you came here this morning because you are thrilled at the good news of this kingdom which is at hand but not yet here fully? I have to tell you that looking out from up front, I don't see too many excited faces; I don't hear people singing like people who are thrilled; I don't hear people responding with enthusiasm.  How many of us came here, not because we are swept up in this good news, but because we were afraid of the consequences of not coming?

We have boxed our selves into this very narrow view of reality that focuses on our weaknesses, our wrongdoings. We see God as a judge who records our every little wrongdoing as evidence to use against us in our final judgment. I think it is safe to say that most people look on religion as a burden, and the Church as an institution which delights in putting people down, and taking away any fun. The sad thing about this is that many of us have been taught that by people who represent the Church, just as the Pharisees did in Jesus' time.

Jesus came to reveal to us that God is not out to get us. In all of the sayings of Jesus that have been recorded, he only referred to God in one way. What was that? Abba - which means poppa or daddy. Not king, or mighty warrior, or judge, or even Father, but Poppa! So how did we get from Poppa to judge or scorekeeper? Would we look at reality differently if we could just understand the God is Poppa? A Poppa who wants to fill us with joy and peace and self fulfillment. But how many here are holy, full of this Poppa who is holy?

God has made us to be filled with his wonderful wine of joy and self worth. Instead of thinking about sin as a series of actions or failures, think of sin as being full of stuff that prevents God from pouring into us. Sometimes the stuff is our ego, sometimes it is false pleasure, sometimes it is anger or spite or hurt, sometimes it is just overactivity. As long as this stuff is taking up the space inside our spirit, God can't fit.

Our whole culture is focused on filling us up with junk stuff so that there is no room for God. The irony is that we feel empty. But it is the emptiness of being full of junk food instead of the nourishment of God's love. Fasting, and prayer, as well as tragedy and suffering can open up space for God to get in. And the wonder is that when God starts to fill us, even though we are satisfied, we have room for more. It is as if God is this huge angioplasty for our spirit. He balloons up and opens up our clogged spirit so we can take in the universe.

In a few minutes we will pray the Our Father (actually the Our Poppa), and say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". The usual way of thinking of this is as a balance of accounts: if we forgive others, then God will forgive us. As if God is withholding his forgiveness until we forgive others. Instead, think of it as a how-to suggestion. In other words, in the very act of forgiving someone else, we free up room in our wineskin for God's forgiveness to flow in. God's forgiveness is always there. It is unconditional. The only issue is whether we let it in.

Now isn't that good news? Isn't knowing our Poppa loves us and forgives us unconditionally great news? Aren't you thrilled that the coming of the kingdom will wipe out pain and suffering and hunger and sickness? How can you stay away from here? Come on, let's celebrate.

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