Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons
4th Sunday of Lent | March 14/15, 2015
PROTIP: Before reading on, be sure to take a look at the readings here. This homily is based on the first and Gospel readings.
Some of my fondest memories of childhood involved our trips to the beach.
Now one of my favorite activities was to build sand castles. I would spend hours baking in the sun, carefully forming and shaping each little mound of sand. I would canvass the shore, looking for the perfect shells to use as windows, the perfect stands of seaweed to use as decoration.
But somehow, I would never get to finish. One of my brothers would come walking over and try to help, inevitably knocking over half of the castle. Two starstruck lovers would somehow miss my magnificent creation and go waltzing through it. And then the worst was the ocean. How dare it encroach on my kingdom that I had worked so hard to build? I would futilely fight the sea, digging trenches, building barriers. All to no avail.
Inevitably I would watch as my castle was destroyed.
I couldn’t help but think of my sand castles as I reflected on the 1st reading from this weekend.
For the Israelites knew well how fragile our kingdoms are.
How we can spend days, weeks, years, decades, generations building our castles, our temples, our kingdoms.
Only to watch them to be destroyed in an instant. All of that work crashing down around us.
I can only imagine the sense of utter despair that gripped those Israelites as they were marched off to a foreign land, with only memories of their former kingdom to sustain them.
And yet, it was only after the Temple was destroyed. It was only after their kingdom was lost that many of the Jewish people were able to reflect on what had gone wrong.
On how they had lost their way somehow. Becoming consumed with their own kingdoms and neglecting the kingdom that God had called them to.
And it was only with that new vision that the Israelites gained a second chance. A chance to realize that God had never left. That God still loved them. A chance to build a new kingdom with their God, instead of one in competition with their God.
Now, I must admit the lesson that the Israelites offer us today continues to challenge me.
Because I know that I spend the vast majority of my life working on my own little castles, my own little kingdoms.
I pour myself out in trying to make my work at Nativity Prep perfect. I can spend every waking moment organizing every storage space that I come in contact with. I can whip through the mounds of paperwork that keeps Nativity running. I can prep lessons and design assessments that both engage and push my students. I can clean and scrub and vacuum until our classrooms sparkle and shine.
And yet, just like with my castles in the sand, I feel that I am fighting against the sea. Disorder seems to always creep back in. The deadlines never stop racing towards me. And, shockingly, somehow children don’t seem to do exactly what I expect them to.
And so I watch as my castles seem to be always crumbling.
And like the Israelites, I can find myself despairing. Despairing that I am not working hard enough. That I am not good enough. If only I put in a few more hours, then maybe I will get there.
I believe if we are honest with ourselves, we all get caught in this trap from time to time. We can all sacrifice ourselves on the altars of our own kingdoms, and yet we never seem to reach that perfection, that permanence that we seek.
Things are never perfect at home.
Things are never perfect at work.
Things are never perfect with our friends.
Things are never perfect at Church.
And so we too can feel like our lives are a futile exercise in treading water, trying to stay one step ahead of the sea that is always encroaching.
Which is why I believe that it is no coincidence that this reading is paired with the Gospel from today.
Because God is speaking to us as once he spoke to the Israelites.
Reminding us all that we are loved for who we are, not what we do.
That every kingdom, that every castle is ultimately in His hands.
That the perfection that we seek is not what he requires.
For His kingdom has a different set of demands.
One in which we must prioritize love in all the work that we do, in all the relationships that we have, in all of the castles that we choose to build.
Love that allows for others imperfections.
Love that allows for our own imperfections.
Love that forgives.
Love that gives freely without counting the cost, without holding something back for safekeeping.
Love that stops and seeks God in the quiet moments.
Love that laughs and cries.
Love that builds and rebuilds and rebuilds.
Love that does not seek a reward.
And when we find this love, when we live this love this Lent, we may just find the permanent kingdom that we seek.
May God be Praised.