fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

These summer days, here are a few thoughts worth considering.
In a farming community, all the townspeople gathered in church to pray for rain. But only one person brought an umbrella. That's FAITH.
 We go to bed without assurance of tomorrow, but still we set the alarm clock. That's HOPE.
We see suffering everywhere, but we still get married and raise children. That's LOVE.
We plan big things despite zero knowledge of the future. That's CONFIDENCE.
Finally, on a man's shirt was written: “I am not 80 years old; I am sweet 16 with 64 years of experience.” That's ATTITUDE. Yes, a few thoughts worth thinking about.

The word of God takes us back to a prophet known as Second Isaiah, in the 6th century before Jesus. The author is fascinated with the awe and wonder and grandeur of this universe. And he proclaims that, just as the spring rains and winter snows bring forth new life on the ground, so too does the word of God bring forth goodness. And why? Because God’s word is life-giving and will ultimately achieve what God has set out to do.

Today we pray “Thy will be done” even though at times God’s will seems to be the opposite of what we want to happen. Yes, God’s word ultimately will achieve its purpose despite the hindrances we place before that word.

Paul urges the Christian community in the Rome of the 60s, undergoing all kinds of hardships, to stay the course and not lose their confidence in God. Paul goes on to say: just as a mother in her labor brings forth a beautiful child, so God ultimately will reveal his glory and splendor and grandeur despite the human tragedies and natural disasters we encounter daily.

This passage should inspire us to have confidence in God, especially when we may begin to think that, to quote the Irish poet William Butler Yeats: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood dimm’d tide is loosed….” (The Second Coming.) One day we feel healthy; the next day we discover we face a life-threatening disease. Paul challenges us to remember our ultimate purpose: eternal life with God.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus speaks to us in a parable about a sower, or even better, about different kinds of soil.  The sower is God. Notice how generous God is. He spreads his goodness everywhere. The seed is the word of God.  The different kinds of soil are different people. Some people are like “rocky ground”: initially enthusiastic but so shallow in their spirituality that they forget God when the going gets tough. Others are like “thorny ground”: they let the cares of this earthly life so consume them that they become unaware of their  purpose in life: to live in relationship with God.

Still other people are like “good soil”: they not only hear God's word but do it. Jesus asks us: Who are we in this parable?  Good soil! Yes, the word of God gives us much to think about: in Isaiah, the power of God’s word (it ultimately achieves what it sets out to do); in Paul, hope or confidence in the midst of hardship; and in Matthew, receptivity to the word of God as a disciple of Jesus.
In light of Paul's advice to the community in Rome, we might ask, how do we cope with the challenges of life?

President John F. Kennedy said, “The new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises – it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.”

Life is a set of challenges, problems and hassles. We sometimes imagine that if we could just deal with the immediate challenges we're facing, all our problems would vanish. But life is not like that. If we resolve one problem, others are just around the corner.

The temptation is to see this as preventing us from doing the right thing. Not so! The Bible is true to life. Look at what so many people today face around the world, for example, in Syria and Iraq, the South Sudan and the Congo.

How cope with the challenges of life?  First, talk to God as you would with a friend. Whatever situations we may face, bring them to God in prayer.

Second, trust that God is in control. Faith means trusting God's unconditional love for us. “Faith,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “is the art of holding on to things ... once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” Yes, it's hard to trust when everything seems to be going wrong.

But think, for example, about St. Paul. This leader of the early church was at one time locked away, imprisoned, apparently unable to do what he is called to do, i. e., proclaim the “good news.” Jesus Christ lives.  And because he lives, we live in God.

For Paul, in the midst of all these problems, challenges and hassles, it must have been very hard to see what good might possibly come out of all the dishonesty, delays and dithering Paul encountered as he faced a trial on trumped up charges. Read about it in Acts 24-26. Yet, as Paul wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. ” (Romans 8:28)

Paul's imprisonment resulted in him being sent to Rome to preach the gospel, precisely what he wanted to do. 2,000 years later, vast numbers of innocent  people, undergoing inescapable hardships, have been inspired by Paul's story about how good came out of evil. You and I may never know, in this life, how God uses our faithfulness to achieve his purposes. Perhaps our prayer should be: Lord, thank you that you are with us. Thank you that through all of these problems, challenges and hassles of life you work for the good of those who love you.

Finally, take every opportunity that God gives us to never give up on doing the right thing. Whatever challenges we’re facing, keep praying, keep trusting, keep looking for opportunities to serve God and never, ever give up! Pray, as we face challenges, that God will give us the grace to persevere and carry through on doing the right thing.

I close with this thought: How about…forgiving those we don’t want to forgive; being compassionate to those we instinctively want to punish; making peace with those who have badly injured us; caring for those we know need us; persevering in what we know we should do when we want to give up; carrying our inescapable crosses when we want to get rid of them; and loving when the last thing we want to do is love.

We have the potential to do great things for God. Begin with ordinary things. Pray that the word of God will inspire us to see Jesus more clearly in our lives, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly.

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