1. It is a part of every American political campaign.
2. It is woven into the editorial commentary of every news outlet
a. From Fox to MSNBC
b. From America ONE to Democracy Now!
3. It isn’t the war in Ukraine, nor the Pandemic
4. It isn’t abortion or transgender rights
a. It isn’t any one of the hot button issues
b. that have so destroyed our national fabric over the past decade.
i. It is simply - the past.
5. It is the past
a. which politicians have used to win votes and solidify their base.
6. It is the past
a. which people have used to encourage support,
i. both for things like for the war in Ukraine
ii. and the protest against our support for it.
7. It is the past
a. that looms large in the minds of judges
b. who must decide on
i. what constitutes freedom
1. and what does not.
ii. when people get to live their lives on their own terms and
1. when they do not.
iii. who gets to make decisions concerning our health, our lives and the lives of our children.
1. And who does not.
8. For think about it-
a. how do we make decisions on what to do in the present,
i. without our past experience?
b. How do we make judicial decisions,
i. without appeal to precedent?
9. In fact, it is the past
a. which we inevitably remember
b. as simpler and safer.
c. more peaceful and moral,
i. that guides our decision-making in all aspects of our life.
1. because so often we yearn to return to it.
10. That is why the past is so important to politicians and policy makers,
a. because if they can promise to return our families, our morals, our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation, our church, our world
i. to the past we remember,
b. They will almost certainly win the future.
11. But the past is not only important to us as Americans.
a. it is vitally important to us as believers
i. especially as Catholics.
b. It is behind the whole sale rejection of anything modern in some churches
c. it is behind the clinging to Latin and lace,
i. The rejection of modern music in favor of medieval modes,
ii. the insistence on the “thee”s and “thou”s,
iii. the “mankind”s and the “my brethren”s of old-fashioned English.
d. it is the excuse given for the inability
i. to revisit settled doctrinal questions
ii. and of course, to question moral norms.
12. The past is vitally important to us
a. because we believe exactly what the people of Israel believed.
i. That we know who we are in the present,
ii. and who we will be in the future,
iii. by looking at the past.
13. That is why the prophet says what he says in this evening/morning’s first reading.
a. For he was speaking at a very difficult time for God’s people.
i. Judah had been attacked,
ii. Jerusalem destroyed,
iii. and the people of Judah had been forced into exile in Babylon.
1. There they had to follow Babylonian customs,
a. And worship Babylonian Gods.
iv. One of the only ways they retained any knowledge of who they were as God’s people
v. was to remember the past
1. when God split the Red Sea
2. and saved the people of Israel.
14. And yet even while the prophet acknowledges this,
a. What he really wants to do
i. is expose the fatal flaw in all their reasoning.
15. Because if all we know of who God is,
a. is what God has done in the past. . .
16. what if God wants to do something new?
17. What if,
a. instead of saving his people,
i. like he did on the shores of the Red Sea,
b. God lets them be destroyed by Babylon,
i. carted off into exile,
c. so that they might be saved again,
i. this time not by God splitting the Red Sea,
ii. but by driving a highway through the desert,
1. so that they might return to the promised land?
18. The only way they would know that this was God’s doing,
a. was NOT by looking at the past,
i. by looking at what was old,
b. but by looking for what is new.
19. Something New is what God is doing in the first reading.
20. Something New is what Jesus is doing in the Gospel.
a. For according to the law
i. adultery was a sin.
b. According to tradition,
i. the punishment for that sin was death by stoning.
c. And according to the Pharisees
i. this is what this woman, caught in adultery, deserved.
1. And because of this,
a. they were sure
i. both of what God would do,
ii. and what God would have them do.
b. But what would Jesus do?
21. What Jesus did was challenge their understanding
a. of the law, their tradition, and their God
22. NOT by challenging the idea
a. that people should be faithful in marriage,
23. but by challenging the ways
a. in which that fidelity should be understood and protected.
24. Adultery should be dealt with
a. not by defending the offended honor of husband
i. and destroying his damaged property (a.k.a. the woman),
b. but by recognizing that whether we are man or woman,
i. all of us are capable of sin,
c. and thus, all stand equally in need
i. not of judgement
ii. and the chance to begin again. n.
iii. and the chance to begin again.
1. That was new for them - as it often is for us.
25. That God is - by definition - the one who does what is new, is revolutionary.
a. Many would reject this understanding of God out of hand -
b. but to do so would be to forget
i. what one of the most central aspects
ii. of the Week we are about to celebrate, is.
c. And that is,
d. that the disciples didn't greet the crucifixion with joy,
i. and as the fulfilment of what they have always believed.
ii. they believed that Jesus would reign as a king on Palm Sunday
1. not die as a criminal on Good Friday.
e. and on Easter Sunday,
i. the women went to the tomb to bury Jesus,
1. not to witness his rising.
26. They did not expect the resurrection.
a. Why? Because it was God doing what God always does,
1. according to the prophet,
2. and according to Jesus –
a. something new!
27. We live in a world which many would assert is threatened,
a. not aided, by what is old.
b. For as often as we hear pundits
i. defend traditional values and moral norms,
c. We hear others decry Tradition
i. and proclaim that only a strict separation,
1. not of Church and State
2. but of Religion and Society
ii. Will heal our world.
28. As a result,
a. we live in communities that are divided,
b. families that are divided
c. a church, a nation, a world that are divided
i. by old hatreds,
ii. old judgments,
iv. old memories
iv. old memories.
29. It is little wonder we cannot escape the legacy of this past,
a. since really, we always seem to return to it.
b. And that is because we think that the past is the only place
i. we will find ourselves and our God.
c. But not according to the prophet,
i. nor according to Jesus
ii. and thus, not according to God.
d. Because according to them,
i. the only people who find God are those
1. who don’t just look to the laws and traditions of the past,
a. as important as they are.
e. But instead look to
i. where things are changing
1. like the Prophet of the first reading did.
a. Not to dismiss the past
b. but to understand it in a NEW light.
ii. And where people are challenging old certainties and formulas
1. like Jesus did.
a. Not to reject them
b. but so that we might live them more fully
c. and be more faithful to their deepest truth.
30. I don’t know about you; but such talk scares me.
a. for I am frightened by the thought
b. that it is precisely what is new and changing
1. in our lives,
2. our neighborhood,
3. our church,
4. and in our world
a. that is the place to look for God
b. and where God continues to speak to us.
31. but that is precisely why
a. the sentence spoken most often
b. by the Son of God in the Gospels is “DO NOT BE AFRAID!
i. because by definition,
1. who God is and what God does
2. is the one who makes all things new.
32. So let me ask you this fifth Sunday of Lent:
a. In the face of everything we have suffered in the past
b. In the face of everything we are facing now and in the future
33. If you are trying to find your way back
a. to attendance at mass
b. The practice of your faith
c. Belief in God
34. Ask yourself:
a. Where am I being challenged?
b. Where am I changing?
c. What is new in my life?
35. If we are looking for God this Lent,
a. I have it on good authority
i. we should start there.