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Second Sunday of Lent Year A 2020

1. Anyone who knows me knows

a. that my relationship with baseball is, at best sketchy.

b. IT always has been.

2. I always enjoyed playing and love going to a good game;

a. But maybe it was memorizing all those stats,

b. The names of team members

c. and which league those teams belong to,

i. but I just couldn’t do it as a kid.

1. Not even the baseball cards helped.

3. But some things did stick

a. One of those things was something that happened when I was five years old.

4. That year the recently moved LA Dodgers

a. were playing the Minnesota twins in the World Series.

5. The Dodgers hopes were pinned on their pitcher, Sandy Koufax.

a. One of the most powerful pitchers ever,

b. he was set to open in game one of the series.

6. But then he declined.

a. That game fell on the same day as the Jewish High Holy Day, Yom Kippur.

7. I remember this story largely because,

a. even though I was 5 years old, my father talked about it.

8. But what I remember was my father’s attitude.

a. Even though my father was protestant and not particularly observant

b. And even though my father loved baseball

9. My father had nothing but respect for Koufax’s decision.

a. As did many people.

10. But then it is just another sign of how things have changed.

a. Nowadays a decision such as Koufax’s

i. would probably not only not be respected

ii. but would probably be punished by management.

11. It would undoubtedly be seen by many as just another example

a. of how backwards religion is;

b. And how uninformed people of faith can be.

12. Because of course the World Series was more important than God!

13. For nowadays almost everything is.

14. We Catholics experience this particularly strongly, and for many reasons:

15. We live in a world,

a. which in so many ways

i. is  at odds with what our church teaches.

16. We live in a church,

a. which has scandalized millions because of sexual abuse and financial scandals.

17. We live in a time

a. where to say I am a Catholic is not greeted with a smile

b. but with a disapproving scowl or a jaw slack with astonishment,

i. as if to say, “You are a . . . what?”

ii. Because they cannot believe anyone would still be Catholic.

18. It’s tempting to think that in an earlier age, it was easier.

19. But it wasn’t.

a. And for many reasons.

20. The first Christians, the ones for whom the Bible was written,

a. would worship in their local synagogue,

i. Only to be driven out because of what they believed

ii. Just as Jesus was.

b. They would visit their relatives and friends

i. Only to be labeled “sinners”

ii. Because they ate with unclean gentiles.

iii. Just like Jesus was.

c. They would walk into town

i. Only to be arrested by soldiers as traitors, and in many cases executed for their beliefs

ii. Just like Jesus was.

21. This is what it meant for these first Christians to “pick up their cross” and follow Jesus

22. Because in such an atmosphere of hatred and persecution,

a. it was not merely hard to be a follower of Christ

b. it was nearly impossible.

23. Those first Christians must have thought, it was easier for the apostles – after all they lived with and heard Jesus himself.

24. We know this because of a story Matthew includes in his gospel.

a. where three of Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter James and John,

b. are invited with him to go up a mountain.

c. And when they get there, Jesus reveals himself for who he truly is.

i. His clothes are illuminated

ii. The air is filled with light

iii. Jesus is glorified

iv. Moses and Elijah appear alongside him,

1. symbolic of the Law and the prophets

v. A divine voice from heaven proclaims Jesus as God’s Son.

25. This is the moment of transfiguration;

a. when Peter James and John get to see Jesus in all his divine glory.

26. And yet, when they come down from that mountain, what happens to them?

a. We know what happens to them.

b. Peter denies he knows him, James and John and all the others betray him.

27. IF there was anyone who should have been sure who Jesus was

a. it should have been these three men.

28. But then maybe that is precisely Matthew’s point.

a. They were so sure they knew who he was,

i. they were blind to who he truly is.

29. To see that they had to travel with him up that OTHER mountain the mountain of crucifixion.

a. Where is taken up by soldiers.

b. Where his clothes are stripped

c. Where the air is not filled with light but darkness

d. Where Jesus is humiliated

e. Where his only company are criminals,

i. Because his male disciples have all abandoned him

ii. Leaving him with the women

1. . . . not Peter, James and John.

f. Where are they? Gone, for they refused to follow Jesus up that mountain and see him for who he truly is out of fear.

30. At that moment being a faithful follower of Jesus and a member of his Church wasn’t easy for them – it was difficult – maybe even impossible.

31. Just like it was for those first Christians

32. Just like it so often is for us.

33. But only because they and we so often think

a. That to have faith means to be sure

i. about what we believe and who we believe in.

b. That faith and surety go together.

34. But what happens when what we believe and who we believe in are challenged;

a. by the questions of children, the judgments of friends the prejudice of neighbors?

b. What happens when the convictions of faith collide with the challenges of the larger culture?

c. What happens is that we doubt.

35. And yet, that is precisely the point of these two mountains in Matthew’s gospel;

a. faith isn’t just when things are going the way we want them to,

b. when we feel loved and supported,

c. bathed in God’s glory like the disciples on the mountain of transfiguration.

d. Faith is easy at those moments of transfiguration when we can be sure of what we believe.

36. Faith is for those moments when things don’t go the way we want to,

a. when we feel lost and betrayed,

b. abandoned by our friends like Jesus was abandoned on the mountain of crucifixion.

c. Because faith and surety don’t really go together – faith and doubt do – and it is often only in those moments of doubt that we discover our faith.

37. Back in 1965 the Dodgers management respected Sandy Koufax’s conscience.

a. In the first game of the series Don Drysdale pitched,

b. but The Minnesota Twins won.

38. The World Series went to 7 games, but in the end, it was Koufax’s pitching that clinched the series for the Dodgers.

39. I do not remember the celebrations that happened after that final win.

40. I can well imagine that they were wonderful.

41. For the Dodgers, for Koufax they were a moment of glory; of transfiguration, we might even say.

42. The moral of this story could be: “Be faithful and things will go the way you want them to.”

43. Except for the story of Jesus teaches us a far different moral.

44. That faith isn’t just for the moments of transfigured glory but also our moments of personal crucifixion.

45. And that it has always been hard to be a person of faith, a follower of Christ and a member of the Catholic Church; and it always will be.

46. Because we will always be challenged by the larger world precisely

a. because our beliefs challenge them.

47. But it is alright to be challenged.

48. For it is precisely at those moments of difficulty and doubt and we rise to the challenge,

49. that we discover that we are most faithful.

50. And thus, strangely enough, paradox of paradoxes

51. we are most Catholic precisely when it is difficult for us to be.

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