HOMILY: Duped

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

PROTIP: You can take a look at the readings here. This homily focuses on the first reading and was preached on the occasion of the Oblates’ annual appeal. To learn more about giving to the Oblates, click here.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time | September 3, 2017

So I must admit. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for dear Jeremiah.

Because I love the fact that he dares to call God out.

See, when I look back over the last decade that I have spent as an oblate, there have been plenty of times when I too have cried out.

You have duped me Lord.

It’s not fair, Lord.

Why me Lord?

I still remember vividly my first real fight with God. I had just come off an extremely grueling summer as a hospital chaplain. 

In three months, I had handled more death calls then any other student chaplain in the program’s history. Then, I was assigned to one of our high schools where I received a class load of 150 battle-hardened juniors. As they were quick to tell me, they had driven out two previous religion teachers, one of whom left teaching as a profession. I had students who threw a textbook at their English teacher, who made animal noises during Eucharistic adoration, and one special child who felt my test was unfair and ate it. 

So as you can imagine, by October I was done.

I went into the chapel and I started screaming at God. This was not what I bargained for.

After I had screamed myself out, I distinctly remember two lines of response. I have no doubt they were from God, because I definitely did not want to hear them.

The first: what did you think you meant when you said you wanted to do my will. 

The second: if not you, then who?

For once, I stood speechless. And ultimately, I would have to admit that God won. Like Jeremiah before me, I couldn’t walk away from the path prepared for me.

I have never forgotten those two lines. And I have repeated them to myself at numerous other occasions when I have felt duped. From the small moments like when your brothers on the outer banks fail to mention that preaching the appeal means you need to bilocate because they have mass at the same time. To the large ones when you realize the cost of working in an inner city middle school when your 15 year old graduate is murdered walking home from school.

And I have come to believe that they are the same two questions echoed in our readings for this weekend.

The lines spoken to Jeremiah. The lines spoken to Peter. The lines spoken to Christ.

For each of these men would come to realize that every journey has its share of the cross.

They each came to realize that the path before them would not always be easy. But each on their own timeframe would come to realize that it is often only through the cross that one encounters resurrection.

That it is only often through sacrifice that one is able to reap one’s reward.

My friends, I believe that each of us has those moments when we too feel duped on our journey. When the path we have taken carries us under the shadow of the cross. 

When we realize that our vocation is not all smooth sailing. When we come to recognize that the people we choose to be on this path with are not perfect. When it dawns on us that we are not perfect.

But if these readings teach us anything, it is that new life is often waiting on the other side once we have carried our cross. Our marriage grow stronger through weathering the storm. We become a better manager or a better employee from learning from the crisis or the failure. Our friendship reaches a new depth as we help one another carry the cross.

We become a better person, a better disciple by allowing the cross to purify us, like gold tested in fire.

We become more understanding of the crosses that others bear. We become more grateful for the sacrifices that others make on our behalf.

And it is that altered perspective on life that the cross can bring that ultimately led me here today.

For my own journey has taught me the importance of others in carrying the cross. How we ultimately cannot persevere on our journey without the prayers, love and support of so many. And you my friends are part of that support network. 

My friends, thank you for the sacrifices that you have made and for the ones you may choose to make today to support the oblates of St Francis desales. The order that runs this parish. Through this annual appeal, know that your gifts have put me through school. Your gifts have kept the inner city middle school open where I have served for the last five years. Your gifts have made it possible for me to be there to help so many young people carry crosses that were too heavy to be borne alone, students who are undocumented, kids whose brothers have died from an overdose or whose mom has cancer, students who have been evicted or ended up in jail, kids grappling with their faith or their sexuality.

Know that I could not do this work alone. We could not do this work alone.

Know that your sacrifices are not in vain. On the contrary, through your willingness to give, you become our companions on this journey, sharing in both the cross and the resurrection, walking beside us down the path prepared for us.

So thank you. And may the Lord continue to bless each of you today as go forth to live out your call.

May God be praised. 

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