In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
IT’S TOO HARD!! Often I am asked, Diratsoo, why is it that faith comes so easy for some people and yet, is so difficult for me? It is a question I am sure most of us have asked in some form. Who hasn’t felt the difficulties of faithfulness especially in the midst of wrong? While driving to Church on Sunday, we might get cut off or get pulled over for speeding, as we are trying to not be late for Church. Though we are coming to pray, events such as these two anger us and the rest of our day is ruined. We can’t focus on prayer in Church, let alone anything else.
Or perhaps when we bow our heads in private prayer at home, all we can think about is work, bills, personal battles we are facing. Focusing on Church and our Christian faith feels pointless. What about the world around us? All this negativity, whether it is daily shootings, disregard for those who are different, all the darkness in the world. For some it really becomes a strain on focusing on prayer or faith. Almost all of us in some form have asked how can there be so much evil in this world? Last week in New Zealand 3 Mosques were scenes of active shooters. If you travel to the Middle East, Christianity continually is the most persecuted faith in history. Did you know that last week in Egypt, militants killed 3 buses filled with Coptic Christian’s going to a monastery? There are more Churches closing or being destroyed than ever. How are we supposed to pray?
We don’t have to go that far. Every year, there are more and more Church’s closing, more and more people leaving the Christian faith. We have that struggle here in our own community. If we look back 20, 30, 40 years ago in relation to today, the Church is empty. Therefore, how do we focus on the good with all this negativity around us? It’s too hard!
We all know that the Second Sunday of Great Lent is known as the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. So today’s Gospel story is only about the Prodigal Son correct? Wrong! If we are paying attention to when the Gospel is being read or if we read it at home for ourselves, we may pass over the first 10 verses of the Gospel message today. It begins with the Pharisees arguing as to why Christ is eating with sinners or the unclean. And Christ speaking to them asks, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (vv.4-10)
How often have we thought about this passage? If we logically approach what Christ is asking us, he is saying who among you, who among us, would leave 99 sheep just to look for the 1 lost? Or how many of us would go looking for 1 coin when we still of 9 out of 10? After all that’s still 90% of what we had. Logically none of us would. By going after the lost sheep or the lost dollar, its sounds like Christ is saying that we should focus on the negative? It does almost sound like he is saying, forget the 99 go find that 1. It’s like the art teacher who puts up a piece of paper with a black dot on the board and asks the students to describe the picture. Almost every student write about the black dot rather then the white painting. Everyone focuses on the negative. Likewise why is Christ focusing our attention to the negative when clearly 99 or 90% is still positive?
That’s a great question. St. Paul in 2 Corinthians says this, Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in any one’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; (Ch. 6 vv. 2-6) St. Paul here is teaching the Corinthians that though today is the day of salvation, that though today we are freed by the blood of Christ Jesus, that though we have countless blessings, it is not without affliction, hardship, calamities, beatings. The 99% positive is not without the negative. When Christ is speaking about the lost sheep or the lost coin, He is not directing us to focus on the negative. Rather, he is teaching us that we must give our negativity, our loss, our darkness, our pain, our affliction over to God our Father and He will be our light, He will be our voice, He will find our lost. For there is no joy in Heaven like that of when 1 lost sheep is found – when 1 person repents. God is with us in our our loss, our pain, our hurt and guides sheds light on it for us to be found, if we give it over to Him.
One of my favorite sayings by Dr. Michelle Robin is “Comparison is the killer of joy.” When we compare our pain to others, when we compare our society, our families to the past, to others, we fail to see the joy, the positive. When we look at our community here and say, yes 20, 30, 40 years ago people were different, life in the Church was different we fail to see the goodness that is present here today. And it is not that the negative disappears. It is not that the faults or the lost magically become right. No, rather as St. Paul says, by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. (vv.6-8)
If we want to overcome the negatives, the hatred, the uncleanliness, the sinfulness, the bigotry, sexism, etc. etc. than we must do it with the power of God, genuine love, trust and hope in God. Last week St. Paul taught us and St. Peter states again (1Peter 3:9) do not pay hate with hate or evil with evil but through love, through forgiveness. This isn’t logical for any of us. Just like it isn’t logical for Christ to be eating with sinners, or for anyone to leave 99 and go find the 1. However, what Christ demands of us is to be greater than human understanding, great than human logic and ultimately a greater trust in God in everything, both the positive and the negative – not merely in words but also through actions, through the way we treat one another. The prodigal son, left his family, basically saying “you’re dead to me,” took his inheritance and went off to live a life of his own desire. I am sure the Father, was heart broken. I’m sure logically as any parent here would do, we’d try to persuade them to stay, ground them, tell them absolutely not. But we don’t read about what the Father does. The Gospel says, the father gave his son his inheritance and let him go.
I am sure he was in pain. And logic would demand action. But if he had focused on the negative, “I have just lost my son,” he would have crippled himself to the reality that he still has a family, a wife, another son, workers etc. he still had God’s blessings. And yes, one of his 99 was lost. Yet, ultimately and undoubtedly we understand that he lifted his prayers up to God and God returned his lost sheep – for my son was lost but now is found!!
Did he know what was going to happen? No. Did he trust that God would be with him and his son? Yes. My dear brothers and sisters, what is crippling us from seeing God’s love and beauty in our lives? What is handicapping and damaging our faiths; what are focusing on that is holding us back from the light of God? What negativity are we focusing on that we have not given up to God?
Pray! Let us give our pain, negativity, loss, isolation, addiction, and struggle, let us give it all over to God – “for prayer is the place of refuge for every worry” (St. John Chrysostom) Pray and trust in what God our Father has promised us, that if we are lost, we will be found, if we are in pain we will be healed. Do we know how? No. Will there be pain? Yes. But if comparison is the killer of joy, than love and compassion are the healers of affliction. God loved, God had compassion on us and God heals us, if we trust Him and give our lives over to His Divine Will. And that is the message of the Lenten season.
Give all you have over to God, and God will return to you blessings upon blessings – not in spite of the negativity but through it. May we be compassionate, loving, forgiving to one another, not seeking our own will but trusting in the Lord for “now is the day of salvation” and today we are being called home.