Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Being Before Doing

Two scripture passages that I encountered last past weekend got me thinking.

On Saturday I attended a conference and one of the speakers used the story of Gideon in his presentation. Gideon lived in Israel at a time when the nation was under the control of its enemies. Many Israelites went into hiding to avoid being persecuted. Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press in order to hide from his enemies so they wouldn’t steal his wheat. While he was carrying out his chore in fear and hiding an angel of the Lord appeared to him and greeted him saying, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior!” (Judges 6:12) Gideon went on to lead Israel to repent of their idolatry and drove the enemy Midianites out of the land.

Sunday was the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord when Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. After coming up from the waters the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus and a voice from the heavens proclaims, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) The event of his baptism marks the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus.

The thing that struck me as I thought about these two passages is that being preceded doing. They were affirmed in who they were before they did anything. Gideon wasn’t acting like a mighty warrior, but that was his true identity before God and it was proven in his deeds. Jesus certainly didn’t look like the Son of God to those around him, but that was his true identity and it was manifested in all that he did, and ultimately in his death and resurrection.

How often we get that backwards. We allow ourselves, our self-worth, to be defined by what we do. I must not be special because I’m not doing anything special. I must not have great worth because I don’t have much net worth. In reality, we must first understand who we are to the One who made us and let that be shone forth in all that we do. I am forgiven. I am loved. I am a child of God. That means that everything I do has importance, meaning, relevance, and eternal consequences. Gideon had to take some baby steps. He tested the Lord, but slowly he began to believe and to grow into his God-given identity. That’s when God was able to use Gideon to be a blessing to others. That’s when others began to see the blessing of God upon Gideon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Giving What You've Got

Today is the feast of St. John Neumann, the first American saint. He was born in what is now the Czech Republic in Eastern Europe. Upon completing seminary he was initially denied ordination because his diocese had too many priests (imagine that). His desire to become a priest was so strong that he left his homeland and came to the United States where the bishop of New York ordained him. At the time he was one of 36 priests serving 200,000 Catholics and his parish boundary stretched from western New York to Pennsylvania. In fact, in my home town of McKeesport, PA, there was a parish that he visited and preached at in 1846. He eventually became bishop of Philadelphia where he started the Catholic school system in America. He was widely regarded for his great love and pastoral care.

St. John Neumann was a living example of the story shared in the Gospel reading for today, the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:34-44). Like the meager offering of five loaves and two fish, John Neumann offered the all that he had, little and poor as it was, and Jesus took that offering and multiplied it many times over as a blessing and provision for others. It is a reminder that when we give to God what we have, even though it may seem insignificant, he can do great things with it.

I know my temptation is to hold back. I want my offering to God to be perfect. I often feel that if I can’t have the “perfect” prayer time I might as well not pray. If I can’t come up with the “perfect” blog I might as well not write anything. If I can’t use my gifts in the “perfect” manner I might as well not bother at all. That is not the lesson of the feeding of the 5,000; and it is not the lesson of St. John Neumann’s life.  All God asks is that I give him what I have. If it’s imperfect, he can make it perfect. He makes up the difference. He brings about the miraculous. He multiplies whatever I have to give, if only I give it. In that moment of surrender, when I give him my little offering of loaves and fishes, he is pleased and he can work with it.

(Click here for sourcing of biographical info on St. John Neumann)