Turn Off, Turn Away, Turn Toward

Scripture (Luke 11:29-32)

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them,
“This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
At the judgment
the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation
and she will condemn them,
because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
and there is something greater than Solomon here.
At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it,
because at the preaching of Jonah they repented,
and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

Reflection

There’s plenty of apps and platforms and devices that claim to have the perfect way, but...

...there’s no notification that alerts us to Jesus.

...there’s no ping that makes us listen to God.

...there’s no buzzing to prompt us to live in the Spirit.

Our world is all about signs.

Studying the human person has never been so exact and seems to have created a way to generate a response from people anytime, anywhere, no matter what is going on around them.

It’s fascinating.

Today though, Jesus seems to be saying that all these signs mean nothing. They, of course, should mean everything. The magnificent miracles that Jesus performs, the teachings he gives - all who Jesus is - should say “Savior!”, “Healer!”, “All Powerful!” and every other name that makes God awesome. It doesn’t happen. What Jesus says is pretty simple. Quit with the signs already. Enough of the demand for something even better. Let’s be done with all the notifications and pinging and trending and chasing the next big thing.

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“A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me.” Psalm 51:12-13

It’s that simple. Turn towards God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  Sit in His presence. Let Him create for us. Let Him keep us renewed.

This world keeps us running and busy and distracted. And it gets better at doing that every day. Our humanity wants to keep grasping at that which is never attainable. God’s asking us to turn off, turn away and turn toward.


We are all looking for signs in that next great post, that 50th “like” or that coveted “follower.” That’s not just on social media, but in every part of life.

Questions

  • Could God create, renew and sustain that good feeling, comfort and trust within us?
  • What would it take to give up that unattainable search for signs?
  • How can we be more aware of what Jesus gives us every day?

Prayer

Holy God,

May the sign of your Son, Jesus Christ, be the only sign we need.

Restore to us the joy of your salvation and uphold us with a willing spirit.

May we turn off and turn away from the world and turn towards You.

We ask this through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

 

Action

 

Turn off your phone today and simply sit in the silence.

 

Author

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Bryan Ramsey is the Youth Ministry Coordinator at St. James, Menomonee Falls.  He also writes for Project YM.  He is married to Corinna who also has a passion for ministry. 

The Daily-Ness of Prayer

Scripture (Matthew 6:7-15)

Jesus said to his disciples:
"In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

"This is how you are to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

"If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."

 

Reflection

Today we are finishing the first week of Lent.

How's it going so far?

It seems a good time to check in already... am I still fasting, praying, and/or giving in the way(s) I had intended?  Is my sacrifice a reasonable challenge?  Am I struggling each day?  Have I "cheated" or given up? Am I experiencing God's grace in a more direct or profound way than I typically experience God's presence in my life?  Or, has Lent this year been more-or-less like every other year?  Is Lent, especially a week in, after the reminder of our ashes have faded, just another season?

It's easy in life for many things to become routine and ordinary. In certain ways this is a true blessing... most of us don't want to think about how to brush our teeth or put on our shoes.

But in other ways, the rote nature of our daily tasks, including our Lenten prayer, do not serve us well.

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Take for example, the Our Father.  In today's Gospel, Jesus teaches us how to pray.  For most of us, we know these words so well.  We can recite them easily, without any thought at all.  But the challenge, I think, is to become present to these words on a daily basis. Just as the challenge is to be present, daily, to our Lenten promises.  Because if we do each of these two things, our world will change.  Our hearts will change, and God's kingdom will come.

"Give us this day..." a renewed focus on our Lenten practice.

 

Questions

  • What practices in my life of faith have become rote? What can I do to shake things up?
  • Do I need to update my Lenten promise? It's better to modify than to give up! 
  • What does it mean when I say, "Our Father"? How might meditating on these words alone  change my heart? my family? our society?
The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis, a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.
— Pope Francis

Action

Spend some time praying with intention the words that Jesus taught us.  Ask God to deepen your experiences with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving this Lent.

Author

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Laura is the campus minister at Messmer High School.  She is blessed to accompany young people as they grow in their lives of faith, service, and leadership.

The Difference Between Sheep and Goats

Scripture (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus said to his disciples:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.'
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Reflection

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I just had to Google the difference between sheep and goats. I did not grow up on a farm or have any real interactions with either sheep or goats, other than the occasional petting zoo. When I Googled “What is the difference between sheep and goats?” the internet told me that sheep have 54 chromosomes and goats have 60 chromosomes. That was not very helpful, so I kept reading. The reason I set out on this quest for knowledge was because in today’s reading, the Gospel of Matthew talks of separating sheep and goats. I think that, even if you are like me and do not know much about sheep and goats, this reading still has a great deal to teach us this Lent.

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This reading has always caught my attention because Jesus tells us that the Son of Man will separate the sheep from the goats. Genesis taught me snakes were bad, but I never understood why it was that the goats were bad. I think that is why it is important that sheep and goats are similar. We hear in this reading that the mark of a disciple is how we treat others. The sheep and goats are not separated based on what they knew or how involved they were; rather, they were separated based on how they did or did not care for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the stranger. I think many of us would call ourselves good people, but we sometimes cross the street when we see a homeless person on one side. Or perhaps we judge strangers and make assumptions about them before we get to know them. We think we are sheep, but sometimes we act more like the goats. It is really easy to do. This reading challenges us to evaluate how we are living out the command Jesus gave us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Another important message from this Gospel is that our God is a God of surprises. When Jesus tells of the judgment and the Son of Man separating the sheep and goats, the righteous and the accursed both ask, “Lord, when did we see you…”. Both groups seem surprised that this is how they are to be separated. Humans judge in very different ways than God judges. Jesus is stressing the importance of caring for our neighbors. This Lent, when we consider what we are doing in terms of prayer and almsgiving, do we consider how we can care for the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison, the sick, or the stranger?

Lent is a time to return to God. This reading is a wonderful reminder and challenge of how we are called to care for our brothers and sisters. Let us not be afraid to go to the “least ones” with unconditional love, without judgement or expectation and know that, when we do, we are serving Christ.

Questions

  • How does your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving serve the “least ones” that Jesus mentions in this reading?
  • What is something you can do to be more like the sheep?

Action

  • Find a way to get involved in your community and serve others at an organization you care about.
  • Take some time to consider who have been sheep in your life. Reach out to them and say thank you.

Prayer

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give and not to count the cost.
To fight and not to heed the wounds.
To toil and not to seek for rest.
To labor and not to ask for reward.
Save that of knowing that I am doing your will.

Amen.

Author

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Taylor Baar is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Our Lady of Lourdes in Milwaukee.  He is a graduate of Marquette University and spent one year in mission with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.