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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lent! Time for Housecleaning.

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017
St Mary of the Pines Catholic Church, Shreveport, LA, U.S.A.

Let’s suppose that, after we left church today, we locked up the doors—and none of you
came back here until five years later. Not a single person set foot on this very property until Ash Wednesday 2022. When you do come back, what would your church look like after five years of no upkeep? 

The grass would be waist-high, the hedges would be overgrown and uneven, the church sign would be full of bugs and the exterior of this building would have ugly mildew patches all over it. The mailbox would be so full of letters and bills that the mailman would have stopped trying to fill it years ago. And because none of those bills had been paid, the electricity would be off and the entire property would be dark. In short, there would be a whole lot of cleaning up to do before church life here could get back to normal.

This gives you some idea of the state of the Temple in Jerusalem when the prophet Joel was a young man. (
Joel 2: 12-18)    Many years of misuse and disuse had caused Solomon’s once magnificent structure to look more like a building in the slums rather than in the upscale section of Jerusalem. Then, there was a turnaround. At some point, this dilapidated building was cleaned up and refurbished. Remodeling was done, all the debris was cleared away, offerings and sacrifices were restored and temple life returned to normal. Well, it returned almost to normal!

The prophet Joel spoke these words we hear today to the Israelite community because there was, still, a problem. The turnaround was not complete. Everything was looking good on the outside—but there really had not
been much change in the people on the inside. Joel prophesies: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”

What the Israelites needed to know then—and what we need to know now—is that the Lord wasn’t looking for an outer change as much as He was looking for an inner one. This is why our Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday every year. God is calling us to come back with a total commitment to living life with Him. He is not talking about part time encounters. He’s not talking about occasional drop-ins. He’s not talking about using Him only as a crisis hotline. He is asking for our 
total commitment to Him—because He has never stopped giving His total commitment to us! 

Someone might be thinking: “I don’t have a need to return to God. I’m not that bad.” Someone else might be saying to himself or herself: “I can’t find the time to commit myself totally to God.” Well, Church, there is no one here who cannot afford to get back to God, get close to God and stay close to God! 

If God had not blessed us with the ability to get up and move on our own, we would not have been able to even get away from God!
If God had not given us all that we needed, we would not know how to turn away from God. But because He has done so much for us; because He has provided for us, even when we didn’t ask for it; because He has blessed us, even when we didn’t bother to say “Thank ya,” we have every reason to get back to God! This is what repentance is all about. It’s turning ourselves around and getting back to God for all that God does right!
Return to the Lord with all your heart!
In this season of Lent, the real challenge is for us to return to the Lord different than the way we left Him. This is why the discipline of fasting is important for some house cleaning on the inside. 

Most people think of fasting as giving up some type of food — something we should have been giving up all along. Some people think of Lent as something different to do for 40 days. God’s call to “return to me and rend your hearts” is to make a change — not just for forty days or forty years — but forever! Rend your hearts — not your garments! This is what total commitment is all about!

We will do some fasting from certain foods during Lent. Let us also consider the fact that it is as important to control what comes out of our mouths as it is to control what goes into our mouths. Consider this! Let us start fasting from foul language. The air around us in full of it — and it’s not just on the Jerry Springer talk shows. We can get it in movies, in rap songs, in novels, in magazine articles and in some everyday conversations. We can even hear of children speaking it imitating our adults. 

Consider this! Let us keep judgments of others from spilling out of our mouths. Imagine what a challenge it may be for some to commit to a full day of not passing judgment of anyone else they might meet or hear about. Let us make no judgments about other people: about their motives, their goodness and badness, their social standing, their defects, their clothes, their color, their jobs, their mistakes or just because! Let us commit to seeing everyone as God’s children— the ones Jesus Christ died for—fellow pilgrims on the same journey with us.

Consider this! Let us fast from verbal negatives that slip so easily out of our mouths. Let us start a fast—not just from the hate language but also from the put-downs, the jabs that hurt, the insults, the criticism, the condemnations, the sarcasm, the harmful gossip and the vicious rumors. Sounds like a tall order? 

Not sure if you can do it? Of course, you can! All of us can! All we have to do is start small and build from there. Just choose one day of the week as a “no gossip” day! Choose one day of the week as a “won’t complain/won’t criticize” day. Choose one day of the week as a "no rumors” day! You’ll be surprised at how clean and pure your heart will become and how much more others will see and appreciate all the good that is in you.

Consider this! Let us fast from saying “Yes” to the wrong things and saying “No” to the right things. Let us say “No!” to drugs; “No!” to foul language and foul company; "No!” to infidelity; “No!” to cheating; “No!” to half-truths and blatant lies; “No!” to unhealthy habits; “No!” to profane and vulgar entertainment; “No!” to the ways of this world. At the same time, let us  say “Yes!” to words of healing and comfort; “Yes!” to words of appreciation and encouragement; “Yes!” to generous giving; “Yes!” to service and sacrifice; “Yes!” to patience and acceptance of others; “Yes!” to  prayer; “Yes!” whenever Jesus comes knocking on the doors of our hearts!

Thus says the Lord:
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and 
mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.” 

Church, let’s get busy with the housecleaning, so that we will not only return to the Lord, but also welcome Him to come and live in our hearts!


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