Sunday, September 22, 2013

Homily - 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - "God and Mammon"

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  
               Or better put, you cannot serve both God and money or wealth.
In ­­today’s Gospel, Jesus is giving us clear instruction in the proper stewardship of money by sharing a cautionary tale about not becoming enslaved to wealth and all of its allures.
Boy does our American culture need to hear these words now more than ever. 
               We are so wrapped up in our materialistic world.  We spend ourselves silly, racking up credit card debt like no other generations before.
We love our consumer goods: our iPhones, our big screen TVs, our video games, our luxury cars, our big houses, our fancy vacations, the list goes on and on and one. 
We’re all guilty of it in some way or another.  Mammon or money has become a dictator in our lives.
Come on, admit it.  You lose sleep over money issues.  Right? 
How many times have you lost sleep over your relationship with God or worrying if you’re serving the kingdom the way God intended?
As we heard a few weeks back in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus told his followers to store up treasures in heaven:  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
I know of a local Catholic family who lost sleep NOT over their wealth, but whether they were serving the Kingdom of God right way.
Maybe you’ve heard of Will and Diane Boegel.  They were longtime parishioners at St. Jude Parish in Redmond. 

Will was a successful doctor at Virginia Mason.  Diane was a surgery nurse at Evergreen Orthopedic Surgery Center.
They raised three kids, were in their early 50s, and at a point where most of us start living the good life:  sailing, golf, travel.
But none of that felt right to Will and Diane.  God was tugging at their hearts and pointing them to a different life.
               They’d volunteered on medical missions all over the globe and witnessed all sorts of horrible things.
But one experience serving orphans in Guatemala City changed their lives forever.  The experience shook them to the core and opened their eyes to new realities of children living in poverty. 
For Will’s 50th birthday, they served in a mission working with orphans living near a landfill in the heart of Guatemala City.  
There they encountered children living in squalor with no hope and no family to call their own.
As Dr. Will explained, “Little kids 6 years and up spend all night on the streets huffing paint thinner.  They're homeless. The paint thinner keeps them warm and cuts their appetite. It fries their brains, and they end up dead or in prison."
After the emotionally grueling experience, Will and Diane had to get away and landed at beautiful Lake Atitlan for a little "R and R."  It was there they discovered a 59-acre estate owned by a wealthy family.  It was for sale. 
Hearing God’s voice ringing in their ears, they decided to walk away from the cushy life here in the United States and founded Opal House, a refuge for orphaned children.
That was in 2007.  Today, Opal House is a thriving dream come true.
The statement on their website reads, Opal House is “A Children's home (orphanage) and medical clinic in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Placed on 59 acres of avocado and coffee producing farmland, God has called us to create a refuge of hope for homeless children and provide medical and surgical care to the community and country of Guatemala.”
God sounds the warning in today’s first reading from the Prophet Amos, “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!”
The Gospel takes it a step further by showing us one man’s efforts to tend to the poor who serve a rich man and Jesus reminds us, “No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon." 

Mammon is a funny word.  “Mammon” is the Greek translation of an Aramaic word that actually means much more than wealth and riches.  It also means anyone who relies on titles, positions, honors and privileges in this world. 
In other words, “mammon is anything that takes our attention away from God, the true source of life.”
The interesting thing to understand about Jesus’ message here is to know what the rich man’s steward is doing.
It was common for the rich men in Jesus’ time to charge a usury fee for borrowed money.  This is like interest upon interest and was forbidden by the Law of Moses. 
What this steward is doing is erasing this extra fee, thereby reforming his old life and performing an act of social justice.
I guess the same could be said for the Boegels.  They took all the money they had accumulated in this world and put it to work for the poor, reforming their old lives and now living a life of social justice.
               When I was in Lake Atitlan in January with Maryknoll, I had the honor to meet Will and Diane who joined us for lunch at a Catholic church known for its social justice in the Lake Atitlan area.
They brought with them a group of parishioners from Sacred Heart in La Conner and Assumption in Bellingham.
With them that day was Fr. Tom McMichael, one of the few married Catholic priests serving in the Seattle Archdiocese and his wife of 26 years Karin.
When our Maryknoll group concelebrated Mass before hundreds of Mayan natives in Santiago Atitlan, we invited Fr. Tom to join us.  

In the audience at Mass that day were Dr. Will and Diane Boegel, Fr. Tom’s wife Karin and all those visiting from Washington state.  It was a true Holy Spirit-inspired, Kingdom moment with a Northwest flair. 

This summer, I returned to that same parish in Santiago Atitlan, Guatamala.  A group of priests and deacons from our Maryknoll trip in January held a fundraiser to upgrade the computer lab at the parochial school there. 
               I was blessed to be joined by my dear friend Maryknoll Father Dave LaBuda as the school community held for us a celebration, complete with native dancing, classroom visits and dozens and dozens of hugs from all the kids at the school.  It was an amazing and life-changing experience for the both of us.  Perhaps you saw the pictures on my Facebook page. 
Two families from our own parish community joined in that fundraising effort, and I am eternally grateful to them both. 
               Their names are now on beautifully framed embroidery and will forever grace the walls of the computer lab. 
This is what Jesus is asking of us.  Not be so tied to our money that we don’t pay attention to the needs of the poor in our community and around the world.
The bottomline of Jesus’s Gospel message today:  Mammon (or wealth) can seduce disciples away from God, yet disciples must use mammon (or wealth) – now in the Kingdom – as alms to the poor. 
There are many ways to serve the Kingdom right here in our own parish.  We have our parish community’s Day of Caring twice a year.  We have St. Vincent de Paul in both parishes. 
And I’m here to announce that we are planning a parish mission trip to Guatemala for next summer (and plan to serve at Opal House with Dr. Will and his wife Diane). 
            I invite you to find one or more efforts that speak to your heart and please join in.