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5 Oct 2008

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I say again:  rejoice!”  (Phil. 4:4)        In the name …

This past Monday as the US House of Representatives failed to pass a bail-out package for Wall Street, the stock market simultaneously plummeted.  In seven-and-a-half hours, $1.2 trillion vanished from the stock market.  The Dow Jones industrial average fell nearly 800 points: its worst one day fall in 21 years, nearly a full generation.  Katie Couric interviewed Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, and Gov. Palin spoke about the possibility of this economic melt-down turning into a full blown depression.  My daughter Amanda came home from Middle School talking about the same subject.  It’s out there on the minds of our most powerful leaders and right down to the current-events discussions in public schools in small towns.  The US economy has got the whole world’s attention.  China is worried about her investments here and her exports, Russia about the price of oil, and the same in the Middle East.  European and Asian financial markets fell in sync with those in the United States. 

Things, in other words, are bad and could get worse.  And it couldn’t come at a worse time if you’re looking for decisive action.  Every member of the House of Representatives is up for election in five weeks, and few of them seem willing to worry more about the nation than they do about getting re-elected.  And a couple hundred miles to the north I think we can count out our financial leaders in New York City who care more about their bonuses than they do about us and our country. 

With all this going on, with families having to worry about mortgages, and the security of their jobs, and savings for college and retirement, with us living right now through a possibly pivotal point in American and world history, with all of the questions we have about the future and what we should be doing in the present, how does church fit in?  How does church not become trivial in such times?  How does what we do here on a Sunday morning keep having meaning on Monday?  Besides church giving space for some breathing-room, where we can slow down and remove ourselves from the confusion and challenges of minute-by-minute news updates and all the worry that comes with them … I still remember going on a religious retreat in college, the site was adjacent to the Mass Pike, walking those quiet grounds and watching the cars rush past on the highway, it all just made the quiet that much more appreciated …, church is where we can find our refuge from the moment by giving ourselves over to the everlasting.  This is a healthy gift of faith, this place.

And church fights off the stigma of trivial by not only being a place of quiet refreshment, but also of wider perspective.  Take this morning’s parable, for example.  Jesus tells the story of vineyard tenants who try to violently seize property from the landlord.  They beat and kill the landlord’s stewards, even going so far as to murder the landlord’s own son.  Everyone listening to Jesus’ words is appalled by the actions of the tenants, and everyone condemns them.  But Jesus, acknowledging their condemnation against the tenants, not making it Himself, but acknowledging their condemnation, speaks instead of the positive that can emerge from this situation.  Not orientated so much towards retribution as is the crowd, but instead towards what can emerge from this collapse, Jesus says:  “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’” (Matt. 21:42)  Jesus doesn’t dwell on the rejection, but on the possibilities it opens up for change and for the future.  This is His challenge to us.  He wants us to try and see what is possible in those rare moments of re-creation, re-building and re-organization.  Don’t concentrate on the destructive, but rather on the constructive that can follow it.

Our current situation, I think, has convinced most everyone that change is necessary.  From this economic failure there emerges the chance to re-build.  Surprisingly, our faith gives us the perspective to look past what is falling apart right now, and to think ahead to what can emerge if we act decisively.  Faith gives us the courage to imagine how things should be even when how things are don’t look so promising.  And faith makes optimism much more than naïve.  When I first checked-out this week’s readings so that I could start thinking about a sermon for today, I chuckled a little bit because of the overlap between the bad news of the newspaper and the biblical “good news.”  Monday’s headlines were of the stock market collapse and of political paralysis, and Monday I also read from Philippians:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say:  rejoice!”  How do you fit those two ideas together? 

Then I thought about Paul writing those words.  He was in prison for preaching about Jesus; he faced the possibility of execution for disturbing the peace of the Roman Empire, and yet he writes to his fellow believers:  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I say:  rejoice!”  That kind of confidence didn’t come from his immediate circumstance, which were pretty desperate.  It comes from his faith in God, his faith that things can change and be changed.  There were a handful of Christians against the whole, mighty Roman Empire, yet Paul could still hope.  He wasn’t restricted by the limitations of the present; he was liberated by his hope in the future.  It’s like Jesus’ words to us today about the possibility of change emerging from the ruins of the present.  It’s not naïve to hope like this because if it were, then Paul’s enthusiasm would have died silently and we would not be hearing about it half way around the world and 2,000 years later.  Church and faith in trying times is anything but trivial.

Church should be here in difficult times with practical help, as for example last Sunday’s mention of our church’s fraternal organization, and especially with activities like the forthcoming Crop Walk, but church should also be a force of hope and progress so that what we re-build in the future will better serve all of humankind than what we have now.  That our faith may give us perseverance and perspective so that we can change and rebuild our world, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.  (+)


Fr. Randy Calvo


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