How did the summer go? Where did the summer go?
It's hard to believe that we are already at September 11 ... a bit of a somber day for many of us ... be sure to take a moment today to say a prayer for those who lost their lives in the attacks 21 years ago ... as well as for their families. Despite the years passing, we remember and pray for those we lost and still love.
As announced, today we begin our Fall preaching series that will focus on DISCIPLESHIP ... Making disciples is why Christian Churches exist ... not to raise money, nor to build buildings, nor to bestow titles, and not even to do nice or charitable things ... THE main purpose of Christian Catholic Churches is to make disciples of Jesus Christ ... all the rest is simply a footnote.
Then, the job description for every pastor of every Catholic Church is simply to help the people of God to get to heaven ... a really formidable task, I might add ...
The first part of our series is entitled DISCIPLES know Jesus Christ.
· Do you know Jesus Christ?
· If so, how do you know him? And what do you know about him?
· If not, are you here to get to know him? And more so are you committed as you get to know him to becoming more and more like him?
I'm ashamed to say that for many of us Catholics, we really stopped our religious formation, religious education many years ago. Surely there are the exceptions ... those who read books or articles, or who have taken a course or two, or who belong to a study or prayer group, but for the most part, Catholics are not so good about continuing their religious education. And the tragic consequence of not getting to know Jesus better is that it prevents us from wanting to be more and more like him … to think like him … to act like him … to love like him.
In fact, in my 5.5 years as a pastor here, and in the other places I have served, it's become very discouraging to meet people who rather than wanting to get to know Jesus more deeply, merely want to check the box ... Baptism, First Communion, First Reconciliation, Confirmation, maybe Marriage, and then maybe a Funeral, with no contact or engagement with the Church, religious formation or our faith at any point in between ... How can we ever grow our faith with that model? Being Catholic, being a disciple is not just about checking the box, it’s about transforming our life … to become more like him, despite our sins and our weaknesses, every day!
Here at St Teresa's we have decided to work to aggressively facilitate that because we all want to go to heaven and we hope you want to go there too!
The passage today from the book of Exodus 32: 7-14 shows us what people can look like who do not want to go to heaven, or know God, or his son Jesus ... it tells us that they have become depraved. They have turned aside from the way pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it.
Are we like those ancient people? Have we started to worship people, accumulate things, and follow movements that bring us to places other than closer to God? Have we filled our calendars with so many appointments and engagements that keep us from getting to know Jesus better? Have we embarked on a journey to primarily:
· Worship Money and Riches and Wealth?
· Worship self and engage in narcissistic practices?
· Honor others above God?
· Become worshippers of titles and power?
It's surely a temptation that we can all struggle with, and if these are the ultimate goals of our life, the results will block us from knowing the Lord and become better disciples of Jesus Christ.
To help us, the Gospel gives us a number of perspectives, or insights into getting to know Jesus better.
In the initial perspective Jesus speaks to a group of people who resent his inclusive welcome to all, especially tax collectors and sinners. They are focused on how Jesus’ attention on those deemed undeserving undermines his authority in their view. He responds to their criticism with a parable that shifts the focus to the expectations of those in authority to seek the lost, and the joy experienced when the lost one is returned to the community. What does this tell us about Jesus?
Jesus’ query to his critics challenges those in religious leadership to consider how they relate to God’s work among the lost. But ultimately, the focus here is on God’s orientation as the seeker, and Jesus as God’s agent in that endeavor.
We are “those modern people in authority”. We are the people that Jesus is talking to about reaching out, about looking around, about cooperating with him to welcome all God’s people to the table.
In the larger version of the reading today is the very familiar story of the Prodigal son. Remember that the older son claims that he has earned a higher position than his younger brother; he believes that he has earned the right to be provided for. The father is quick to remind him that he has always been provided for. Indeed, he has always had access to the entirety of his father’s possessions. The older son is suffering from the blindness that privilege so often brings: the assumption that one’s status, be it social, economic, or religious, is the sole product of one’s hard work rather than the confluence of numerous factors. Knowing Jesus challenges us to look more closely at our blindness … are we the modern day older sons (and daughters) who because of our success, enjoy our privilege and thus continue to enable our blindness?
I remember reading a challenge from a former President who said:
Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own… I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something: there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. 
The Gospel often challenges us to be aware that “those of lower statuses” sometimes are judged as lacking individual achievement. We blame them, we say they are where they are because it’s their own fault. Remember in the Prodigal Son story, the older brother grows angry because of his father’s joy over the return of his younger brother who he claims has “devoured [his] property with prostitutes (Luke 15:30).” However, there is no evidence in the text of the younger brother squandering his money on solicitation. This is a bold and perhaps untrue assumption that the older brother makes. Sometimes, it’s much easier to assume that those we deem undesirable are deserving of their positions because of their own actions rather than to risk investigating systemic reasons for their lack of well-being, especially when we are benefitting from those systems.
In a place like Summit, where we are surely privileged on many fronts, we are challenged in our getting to know Jesus to look more closely at the systems that we benefit from, and use all in our power to see how the same systems can be tweaked to benefit all, or at least more and more of our brothers and sisters.
In so many ways, the readings today remind us, albeit subtly, that we drink from wells we did not dig, and sit under shade trees we did not plant. We are the beneficiaries of so many who went before us; we are where we are because others have toiled so that it might be so.
Jesus’ parable challenges us to examine our assumptions about status, privilege, and hardship. It challenges us to remove questions of worthiness surrounding God’s love and forgiveness, and by extension, our love and forgiveness. It challenges us to move beyond platitudes towards reconciliation with those whom we see might as undesirable.
Disciples know Jesus. Disciples love Jesus. Disciples want to be like Jesus.
We have work to do. Difficult work that much of the world is not willing to undertake. We learn this week about Jesus that he was driven, as God’s son to seek out the lost, the marginalized, those categorized as “undeserving” and bring them the Good News … that’s a given …
… but the question is, are we?
 “Remarks by the President at a Campaign Event in Roanoke, VA,” Barack Obama, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/07/13/remarks-president-campaign-event-roanoke-virginia