Sunday, February 28, 2016

We Don't Have All the Time in the World

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
February 28, 2016

Year C: The Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

We Don’t Have All the Time in the World
            Many of you know that I went to school at St. Peter’s Prep, a Catholic high school in downtown Jersey City.
            My four years at Prep shaped me in lots of ways, going a long way to make me who and what I am today.
            And, it’s true that during those four years a bond formed among my classmates. There’s something powerful about going through that experience together, maybe not unlike what some of you experienced in your school or in the military or in some other way.
            Even when we don’t see each other for years there is a mysterious but strong bond among us.
            One of my classmates was a guy named Tim O’Donnell.
            Like a lot of my classmates he was from Bayonne.
            We weren’t close or anything, and I’m not sure we saw each other even once in all the years since we graduated, but I remember well as a really solid guy. As one of my friends remembered on Facebook, everybody liked him.
            It turns out that Tim was a teacher, a science teacher and a coach at County Prep.
            And, as many of you probably know, on Monday afternoon Tim, along with his five year-old daughter Bridget, was driving on the Turnpike Extension, approaching the toll plaza at Exit 14C, when they were suddenly rear-ended with such force that their car was hurled through the toll plaza, out the other side, and into oncoming traffic where they were hit by a van.
            Tim and his little daughter were killed, killed, I hope, before they even knew what was happening to them.
            What a disaster.
            What a disaster for Tim, who won’t grow old with his wife, won’t see his daughters grow up, won’t know his grandchildren, won’t teach and coach another generation of students.
            What a disaster obviously for little Bridget, her young life cut short, her promise and possibilities left unknown and unfulfilled.
            What a disaster for Tim’s wife and his other daughter who must somehow go on after what must seem an unbearable loss.
            What a disaster for Tim’s students and his athletes to have lost a mentor and role model.
            What a disaster for the man driving the van who had no time to react when Tim’s car came hurtling out of the toll plaza and into his path.
            And, yes, what a disaster for the man who rear-ended Tim’s car, the man who must now live the rest of his life knowing he caused such heartbreaking losses.
            What a disaster.
            The truth, of course, is that we live in a world scarred by disaster. That’s why each week here in church we pray for the victims of natural and man-made disasters.
            And, though lately our man-made disasters seem to be more large-scale than they used to be: shootings in schools and malls and movie theaters, entire Middle Eastern cities destroyed in civil war, the mass extinction of species and rising seas, millions of people misled by leaders or would-be leaders offering the easy and so very wrong answers of fear, hatred and division - although all of that and more is going on today, the truth is that the world has always been scarred by natural and man-made disasters.
            In today’s gospel lesson we heard about a man-made disaster.
            People tell Jesus about Galileans whose blood Pontius Pilate had used in sacrifices to Roman gods – a disaster surely especially horrifying to Jesus, a Galilean himself.
            And then Jesus reminds the crowd of what was, I guess, less of a man-made disaster than a random, unintentional disaster: eighteen people were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them.
            The world has always been scarred by disasters. And, I suspect people have always reacted in pretty much the same ways.
            As a priest, it’s been my privilege and burden to often be with people not long after disaster strikes – the doctor has given the prognosis, the accident has happened, the relationship has been broken.
            And, very often, the victims of disaster wonder why this has happened – why is this happening to me.
            Why is God punishing me?
            I wonder if Tim’s wife, who just survived a bout with cancer, is asking that aching question. Most of us would, right?
            Well, Jesus tries to put a stop to that kind of thinking when he asks, rhetorically, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?
            And, were those eighteen killed by the tower, “were they worse offenders than all those living in Jerusalem?”
            No, of course not.
            And, the death of Jesus on the cross – the death of the blameless victim in a horrifically public and bloody way – should’ve put a stop to that kind of thinking once and for all.
            Natural and man-made disasters occur, striking down saints and sinners and all of us in-between.
            Here’s the point, a point we need to relearn over and over, the point that every single disaster should teach us: you and I, we still have time to repent, to turn our lives around in a godly direction, to welcome God’s presence in our lives, to forgive those who’ve wronged us, to ask for forgiveness for the times we’ve messed up, to tell those we love that we love them, to love those we say we love, and yes, at least try to love those who are hard to love.
            You and I, we have time. But, we only have right now.
            We don’t have all the time in the world.
            In my life and in my ministry, I’ve encountered so many people who somehow fool themselves into thinking that there’s always tomorrow, that there’s always time so there’s no sense of urgency, no need to turn our lives around today – no need to forgive and ask forgiveness today – no need to love today – so often we fool ourselves – and I very much include myself – into thinking that there’s always time.
            And, you and I, we do have time. But, we only have right now.
            We don’t have all the time in the world.
            Lent begins with ashes – a good reminder that we don’t have all the time in the world.
            Lent is only 40 days – and we’re almost halfway through – a good reminder that we don’t have all the time in the world.
            As I was reminded so sadly this past week, we live in a world scarred by disaster.
            Horrible accidents occur. Tyrants mislead and kill. Towers fall.
            Through it all, God is with us.
            God was with Tim and Bridget last week on the Turnpike, with God’s heart the first to break at the senseless loss.
            God was with those slaughtered Galileans long ago and God was with the people of Jerusalem when the Tower of Siloam fell on them.
            God is surely with us in the disasters of our lives.
            But, we don’t have all the time in the world.
            So, let’s not wait.
            Let’s not wait to repent – let’s not wait to turn our lives around – let’s not wait to welcome God’s presence in our lives - let’s not wait to forgive and ask forgiveness – let’s not wait to love one another.
            May it be so.