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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020

1. You know, I never wanted to be a leader.

a. In many ways I still don’t

i. In High School I never was the head of the class,

ii. Never the president of the club

iii. and certainly, never the captain of the

sports team!

2. I was always content to be part of the group,

a. and let someone else lead.

3. And I bet I am not alone.

a. For even those of us who were the head of the class

b. the president of club and the captain of the team

c. know what I sensed, even back then.

4. That being a Leader is hard!

a. And that is true, whether we are a captain, a president,

b. a pastor or a pope.

5. To be a leader means we have to be responsible for others

6. It means we have authority over others

7. It means we have to care for and shepherd others

a. so that together we will work for our common goals.

8. And that is hard enough even when times are good.

9. But just a brief look back over the last 20 years will show us that times have not been good.

a. From the disputed elections of 2000

b. up to the sure to be disputed elections of 2020

i. our country has been regularly rocked by political crisis,

ii. tearing our country into red and blue bits.

c. From that beautiful blue morning 19 years ago this coming Friday,

d. to the current fights over immigration and “the wall”

i. Our land has been rent by fights over

ii. who should be allowed to come to our country,

iii. who should be allowed to stay in our country,

iv. and who should be allowed to become a citizenof our country.

e. From those first revelations coming out of Boston in 2002,

i. our Church and other churches as well have been ripped apart

ii. by revelations of sexual abuse,

iii. monetary malfeasance and coverup.

10. I mean, who would want to be a leader NOW!?

a. And yet there are many who do.

b. And we are glad for it –

11. Because we have always been more than happy

12. to place our lives in the hands of our leaders

a. we entrust our savings to banks

b. our safety to presidents and generals

c. our children to teachers, coaches, brothers and nuns

d. our salvation to priests and popes

e. Confident that their responsible, strong, guiding handswould take care of us.

13. And yet while we love it when other people take the lead,

14. The crises we currently face

a. in our Church our nation and our world

i. are caused by the fact that

ii. The very people we trust to be our leaders

1. often abuse that trust

iii. and then we find ourselves powerless to do anything about it,

iv. for they are now the ones in control.

15. The very first Christians must have felt much the same way.

16. Like anyone back in the first century,

a. they trusted their families and friends for protection.

b. They trusted their rabbis and the elders in their synagogues for guidance

c. They trusted their local officials for civil protection

17. They were happy to allow those who wanted to lead to be their leaders . . .

a. so long as they could be free to follow Jesus.

18. However, that was the problem.

19. For as their numbers grew,

a. The family and friends they trusted for comfort and support

i. rejected them

b. The religious leaders they had trusted for guidance

i. expelled them from their communities and betrayed them

20. The local officials they trusted for safety

i. persecuted them.

21. The community of Christians that Matthew wrote his Gospel for

a. surely knew what this felt like,

b. for Matthew includes in his Gospel a story;

22. It is a story where Jesus teaches his disciples

23. how to treat people who have sinned against the community.

24. In contrast to what these first Christians experienced

a. at home, at worship and in their public life,

25. Jesus’ procedure was gradual, compassionate

a. and extremely reluctant to reject, expel or persecute the sinner.

26. Clearly it was important for this fact

i. as it continues to form the basis

ii. for the way many churches take care of such problems.

27. But it was important for more than just that.

28. For those first Christians would have seen something in Jesus’ words that maybe we miss;

a. For while in their families it would have been their fathers

b. in their synagogues it would have been the elders

c. And in their towns and villages it would have been the civil magistrates

d. who took responsibility and who had control . . .

e. in short who were the leaders,

29. In Jesus’ community of believers

a. it is not just the leaders

b. but everyone who cares for the sinner.

30. This was important for those first Christians,

a. who were often cast in the role of sinners.

31. But it was all the more important for them

a. because it meant that their community

b. was different from all the other communities that they lived in.

32. For while in every other community they lived in

a. they were not the ones responsible,

33. In Jesus community they all were responsible

a. for themselves and for one another;

34. But not because they were in control . . .

a. no, for they knew they were not powerful enough.

35. But because Jesus was in control, he was their leader.

a. and wherever Jesus’ followers prayed and worshiped together;

b. wherever they gathered and discussed and decided together,

c. wherever they acted and took responsibility together there

i. he was in the midst of them.

36. For that is where his body is,

a. of which he is the head,

b. the body which would be called the Church.

37. Of course, those first Christians quickly forgot this lesson,

a. and soon entrusted this sacred responsibility for each other,

i. to their priests and their bishops their kings and their emperors,

38. permitting themselves to be cared for,

a. protected, and ultimately controlled by their leaders;

39. allowing the kingdom of God to be seen in the face of the king

a. and reducing the Body of Christ - the Church - to itsclergy.

40. And although we are separated from these earliest Christians

a. by almost two millennia

b. we forget as well;

c. and we let ourselves be cared for, protected,

d. and ultimately controlled by others,

i. who often are only concerned for themselves.

41. This coming week, our thoughts will be brought back to that shattering event

a. which for many began the 21st century.

b. The terrorist attacks of September 11th.

42. there are adults now who were too young to remember that day.

43. Which is why each year we remember for them,

a. saying the names of those who died,

b. and recalling the stories of those who led by giving of themselves –

44. People like Firefighters Ray Murphy and Michael Lynch,

45. Who were parishioners of Msgr. Ivers and me at St. Frances de Chantal in the Bronx,

46. and who died saving people fleeing the Twin Towers,

47. priests like my friend Father Ray Nobiletti

a. who was nearly killed by falling debris on 9/11;

48. and of course Franciscan Fire Chaplain Mychal Judge, who was.

49. We tell these stories again and again because we do not want people to forget;

a. but perhaps there is another reason to remember them;

50. Because deep down inside they challenge us to do

a. what Jesus challenges his followers of every time and place to do;

51. to take responsibility

a. for our own lives and to care for one another

b. as individuals, as Americans and as Catholics

i. to work and pray,

ii. worship and learn,

iii. think and debate,

iv. to vote and to protest and to do it together . . .

52. For when we take responsibility again for our life together, like Jesus taught us to do

53. that is when we will begin to move beyond the scandals, the violence and upheavals this century has brought us.

54. and become again the community of disciples, the body of which he is the only true head, that wis when we will become again what Jesus would always have us be . . . his church.

55. And then imagine what we could do.

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