The best way to witness to the Lord of kindness is through our own acts of compassion and charity. This is the way to effectively communicate the wonder of the Gospel. It does not depend on labels for validation. It is offering a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name to any who are in need. And it is recognizing that when someone offers us a cup of cold water, Christ is already at work in that person’s life. When will we realize that Jesus is too big to restrict to one culture or one nationality? There are people of every circumstance and every ethnic origin who bear the name Christian. Just think of how small and petty we are being when we try to restrict Jesus to people who look and pray like we do. There is only one way to communicate the Gospel that truly attracts people into the family of Christ and that is with words and works of charity.
Stewardship, quite simply, is recognizing that everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God and being grateful and generous with those gifts. We aren’t “owners” of anything, we are merely “stewards” of the gifts that God has given us. Stewardship isn’t a process, or a campaign, or an accounting of our gifts. Rather, it is a lifestyle rooted in gratitude and generosity. The whole point of stewardship is to help each other strengthen our relationship with God and get to Heaven!
Probably the most important aspect of God’s action is that God can change the human heart. For sure, all of us want miracles; we want all that is bad in our lives and in our world to be changed to good. We might ask ourselves today: what would I prefer? Would I like some physical or material reality changed or would I prefer my heart to be changed? The reply will tell us a lot about ourselves! ‘Ephphatha!’ that is, ‘Be opened!’
Tradition can be a wonderful thing. It only becomes destructive when we use it as a means of looking like a follower of Jesus rather than actually following Him. How about you? Where is God? Is He at the center of your heart? Is He the One who determines your attitudes toward others, or is He simply an excuse for your attitudes? Is God simply on your lips, but not in your heart? Tradition!
Faith is hanging in there when the day looks dark and the options are limited, because you know that somehow God is at work in your life. So you have decided that by the grace of God you are here for the long haul. You have placed yourself in God’s hands and you say with Simon Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” That is what faith is all about. Life is a marathon. It’s not how you start, but how you finish. Faith has to do with both having a great race and an even greater finish!
You have heard the saying before: “In other places people EAT TO LIVE but in New Orleans we LIVE TO EAT.” For New Orleaneans, eating is a ritual. Sharing a meal together is a source of nourishment; it is a source of strength; it is a source of building relationships. Because of our lived experiences, I believe all of us know what it means to hunger for God … to have this holy hunger, this deep thirst of the soul that can only be satisfied by God Himself. It is hunger pains that go much deeper than physical hunger. Our spiritual hunger can only be satisfied by the sacred body of Jesus; our holy thirst that can only be quenched by his precious blood. And when God touches you through His sacred Body and Blood, your entire life is transformed; your life takes on a new direction as a disciple of Jesus.
Obviously we get hungry a lot! But do we get hungry for that which will truly satisfy us? We know about physical hunger. But do we know about spiritual hunger? “Sir,” the people said in response to Christ’s teaching, “. . . give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And that’s true. The greatest need that each of us has is to feed on Christ.
I want to ask you this morning, “What’s in your wheelhouse that you can offer Jesus?” Giving to His Kingdom isn’t just about giving material gifts. Giving to His kingdom is about giving yourself. Have you a specific skill that Christ can use for the betterment of the world? What’s in your wheelhouse that you can offer Jesus? A young lad had five barley loaves and two small fish that he offered the Master, and look what happened. Can you imagine how that young man felt when he got home? Can you imagine his excitement as he tried to tell others? You and I can know that kind of excitement. All we have to do is to give Jesus what is in our wheelhouse!!
Can you hear St. Paul testifying about what God had done in his life? “Look at me,” he would say, “I once persecuted the church. Look at me, a man who has to battle this humiliating affliction--this thorn in the flesh. Yet Christ has used me to plant churches all over the known world.” St. Paul was a man of tremendous intellect. He was also a man of unquestionable persuasive powers. Perhaps if it had not been for his thorn in the flesh, he would have leaned upon his own ability rather than the power of God working through him. And you and I would never have heard the name of Paul of Tarsus. That’s the way God works. St. Paul's weakness became his strength. His scar became a star. His hurt became a halo. And the same thing can happen to us--if we don’t give into our weaknesses, and if our weaknesses causes us to rely upon God.
On Wednesday, Americans will celebrate Independence Day, a day which affords us a great opportunity to consider the freedom we enjoy today – and may so often take for granted. How many men and women have given life and treasure to purchase for us our right to liberty? One of the most precious freedoms we enjoy as Americans is the Freedom of religion. Unfortunately, in the past decade, we have seen multiple assaults on religious liberty. We pray that we can proclaim Christ in Peace, but no one will prevent us from our mandate to proclaim the Kingdom of God! This Independence Day, that us renew our “eternal vigilance” before everything we know is taken away from us. Just as Jesus Christ died to give us true freedom, so many of our countrymen have died to give us the liberty that we possess and enjoy and dare I say, so often take for granted.