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21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fr. Paul Koetter
Sunday, August 21, 2016 - 9:00am

Fr. Paul's Homily

A few years ago Karen Phelps, a distance runner, wrote these challenging words, “On this particular day, I didn’t feel like running at all, but I made myself because running is a sport you have to practice every day. I wanted to win races, so I had a set plan for training. 

“1. Run daily, even if you don’t feel like it. 

 2. Run daily, even if you sometimes have to skip fun and pleasure. 

 3. Run daily, even in bad weather even if people think you’re weird. 

 4. Run daily, even when it gives you aches and pains and you feel like quitting. 

 5. Run daily, even if you don’t feel it’s doing you any good.” 

“One day,” she continues, “as I jogged along on my training run, it came to me that daily practice-training was what my spiritual life needed. Do you know what I’ve learned? Sometimes you may not feel like praying or reading the Bible or going out of your way to help others. But if you’re in training physical or spiritual you’ll do it.” (2)

Today I would like to speak with you about the hard work of being a follower of Christ.  Let’s take a moment and look at our Gospel to find a foundation for our discussion.

Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, his final destination where he will face the crucifixion.  As he is going along someone asked, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”  Now, we don’t know if this was coming from a person who saw themselves as saved, but was talking about others?  Or, was it from someone who was speaking with arrogance, wanting Jesus to affirm that “All those people are going to go to hell?” Or, was it asked by a person who was worried that he/she might not be included.  We don’t know.

Jesus responds by saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”  So many people, thousands, came out to hear Jesus talk.  But Jesus knew that most of them were only interested in seeing him perform miracles, and were not willing to follow him to the cross.  Even the apostles had trouble with the thought that Jesus’ mission included a cross!

Jesus emphasizes this when he says that people will not be allowed in simply because they say, “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.”  Just knowing about Jesus, just hearing his words, just sharing space with him…that is not enough.  More is needed.

We are saved by what Jesus has done for us…his gift of his death and resurrection.  We share in this gift through our faith in Jesus as our Lord and our Savior.  So, our salvation is through our faith in Christ, but faith must be sustained by good works.  Our faith in Christ does not excuse the lack of commitment.  We give our lives to Christ, then we submit ourselves to serving him through his body, the church. We serve him by caring for the down-and out. We serve him by showing our love to our neighbors. We serve him by using our influence in the community.

Being a follow of Christ is hard work!  It takes commitment and dedication.  Jesus loves us where we are, but he also wants us to move forward in our work with Him.  Have I moved forward?  Am I willing to move forward?  How is my prayer doing?  Am I willing to move forward?  How is my loving of others in need?  Am I willing to move forward?

It is interesting that the word, “Disciple” has the same root as the word, “Discipline.”  In both cases, we are called to learn and to follow.  We learn the path of Christ and then we follow the path of Christ.  And to be his disciple, we need to have discipline, much like our long distance runner, Karen Phelps, described.

As expressed in our second reading today to the Hebrews, we are encouraged, to “Endure your trials as ‘discipline’.”  In other words, it is through our trials that we are learning to follow Christ.  And the biggest challenge is to do it day in, and day out.  

The vast majority of the people who pray, pray every day.

The vast majority of the people who are in church on Sunday, come every Sunday.

The vast majority of the people who serve the poor, do so on a regular basis.

The discipline found in being a disciple of Christ is that we choose to serve Christ, to pray to God, to love others…everyday, whether it is raining or snowing or what!  And sometimes it is in the hardship of serving God through others day in and day out that we find our greatest blessing.  Sometimes the cross holds the greatest secret for fulfillment.   As so many Olympic performers have shown us these last two weeks, it is only through grinding practice, done daily, are they about to perform at an Olympic level.  When something is difficult and challenging, we also might find it to be the most fulfilling and meaningful.

I’d like to conclude with a story I read this week:

William Willimon once told of a Methodist Bishop of Angola, Africa, who came to Evanston, Illinois to speak to a group of young Christians. This bishop was asked, “What is it like to be the church in a Marxist country? Is the new Marxist government supportive of the church?”

“No,” the Bishop responded, “but we don’t ask it to be supportive.”

“Have there been tensions?” they asked.

“Yes,” said the Bishop. “Not long ago the government decreed that we would disband all women’s organizations in the church.”

“What did you do?” they asked.

“Oh, the women kept meeting,” he commented. “The government is not yet strong enough to do much about it.”

“But what will you do when the government becomes stronger?” they asked.

“Well,” he said, “we shall keep meeting. The government does what it needs to do. The church does what it needs to do. If we go to jail for being the church, we shall go to jail. Jail is a wonderful place for Christian evangelism.”

Then the bishop said this: “Our church made some of its most dramatic gains during the revolution when so many of us were in jail. In jail, you have everyone there, in one place. You have time to preach and teach. Sure, twenty of our Methodist pastors were killed during the revolution, but we came out of jail a much larger and stronger church.”

And, as if seeing the drift of their questions, the bishop said, “Don’t worry about the church in Angola, God is doing fine by us. Frankly, I would find it much more difficult to be a pastor in Evanston, Illinois. Here, there is so much, so many things, it must be hard to be the church here.” (6)        

Is it harder to be church here in Indianapolis, than Angola?  Or Honduras? Do our many blessings keep us from understanding the goodness of hard work, of faithfulness, of trials?

Jesus tells us that the gate is narrow and he reminds us that  simply giving an occasional nod in his direction is not enough.  Jesus calls us to more, much more, not to punish us, but so that we can share in his glory, both here on earth and heaven!