The contractor who had remodeled and repaired the ramshackle Revival Church was having a hard time collecting his money. Determined to arouse the congregation to its fiscal responsibilities, he bought a devil’s suit, complete with horns, tail, and a big pitchfork.
During a Sunday service, when the congregation had reached an emotional peak of ‘getting religion,’ he strode in the open door and up the aisle. Pandemonium broke loose, the crowd pushed and shoved for the door. Some even crawled out the open windows.
Everybody got out except one old lady. She stumbled over a bench and fell at the feet of the devil. Looking up at the waving pitchfork, she shouted, “Wait a minute, Mr. Devil. I’ve been doing the things you don’t like, like singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, baking pies and cakes for our food sales. But, Mr. Devil, really I’ve been on your side all the time.” (Msgr. Arthur Tonne, “Yokes Priests Can Tell, Vol. 2, #124).
The 10th anniversary of September 11th terrorist attack is a month away. The shocking pictures of the World Trade Center collapsing are still vivid in the minds of the American people. It was a tragic experience but it was also an awakening call. September 11th has changed American way of life. It has affected almost every aspect of our lives. The Office of Homeland Security has been established. Airport security check has been enforced. More security agents have been recruited. Billions of dollars have been spent on homeland security. Thousands of American men and women have lost their lives in the war against terrorism. This experience, however, has yet brought us closer to the core of our beliefs. We are still not quite convinced that we are “one nation under God.”
Our democracy is being challenged. Our security is under threat. Our economy is shaking. Despite the deal that will cut up to $2.4 trillion in federal spending over the next decade, a series of reports show the economy is still struggling to gain its footing after a deep recession ended two years ago. Consumer spending is down. Service businesses are slumping. Manufacturing is weak and the economy isn’t growing fast enough to absorb a growing labor force. Unemployment rate is still at 9.1 percent.
The majority of Americans are Christians. Only a handful of people are atheists. The voice of the atheists, however, seems to be louder. The liberal thinking is dominating our social and political atmosphere. Our nation continues to operate as if we are not “one nation under God.” Our political leaders are reluctant to acknowledge their faith in God. It is time for us to turn to God asking for help.
It is interesting to observe the reactions to Governor Rick Perry of Texas’ inviting people to gather at the Reliant Stadium in Houston on August 6th to pray for our nation. Praying to God is a good thing to do. Praying to God in times of crisis and trouble is the expression of our faith in God. But some ‘smart’ people are ridiculing and criticizing the governor. They question his motive and religious beliefs. A group of people decided to file a lawsuit to prevent the Governor from promoting or participating in the prayer and fasting day. It is time for us Christians to take our stand for our nation.
There is a sign of hope. Presidential campaign has begun. Presidential candidates are preparing for their debates. Recently, the Public Religion Research Institute found in a survey that a majority of adult Americans want their leader to have faith in God. They say it’s important for a candidate to have strong religious beliefs because people who recognize that there is a God understand that they’re accountable to a higher power, not just a political one. And Americans are more likely to vote for a candidate if they considered his religious beliefs to be similar to their own. Christian voters are often looking for people who share their beliefs. Voters want to see candidate faith, but not necessarily the details. They are looking for presidents who can talk about Judeo-Christian beliefs in a general, familiar way, but are less concerned with doctrinal specifics. (Houston Chronicle, “For God & Country, August 5th, 2011).
In today’s gospel reading, the disciples are sailing into a big storm, battling against the wind and the waves all night long. They are struggling for their lives. They forget that they are disciples of Jesus. They forget that Jesus has chosen them to follow him. They forget that it is Jesus himself who has sent them on this journey. They forget that Jesus is still “with them.” They forget about Jesus’ presence in their lives; so when he walks over the water towards them, they are terrified and shriek, “It is a ghost!” But Jesus reassures them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” It takes courage to believe in Jesus. It takes courage to profess our faith in Jesus. It takes courage to continue to walk toward Jesus.
With little faith, Peter asks, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus tells Peter to come. But because of the strong wind he becomes frightened and begins to sink. He keeps sinking deeper into the water; so he cries out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus reaches out his hand to pull Peter up and to stop the wind and to calm the turbulent water. Everything is back to normal. They are amaze to confess their faith in Jesus, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
This is the confession that every one of us wants to have. Truly Jesus is the Son of God! The new translation of the Nicene Creed has changed from “We believe” to “I believe.” It is important for us to pay attention to this change. This requires everyone to make a personal confession of faith in God and in Jesus. We receive our faith from the Church, but we come together first and foremost as individual believers. These individual believers make a community of believers. We profess that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is our Savior. He is there and ready to give us a hand if we cry out to him for help. It is important that we pray. It is important that we cry out to him for help. He is awaiting us to call on him. Facing trials, threats and turbulent storm in life as individuals or as a nation, it is important that we remember to cry out to Jesus for assistance. Some people instead of crying out for help, they doubt and question God’s love or His existence, “Is there really a God? “Why did he let this happen to me?”
As people of faith, when the wind blows and the waves bash, we believe that God is there for us. Like Peter, our prayer is, “Lord save me!” We pray like the Psalmist, “Though I walk through the valley and the shadow of death, I fear no evil. For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23).
Jesus is always “there” for his disciples from the moment he calls them until the moment he dies on the cross. He is there for them after the resurrection and he is still there for us in the Eucharist. He promises to be there with the disciples and with us till the end of the world. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be our companion. “Paraclete” means a “companion alongside,” one who stands beside as a guardian and a guide. The Paraclete, the resurrected spirit of Christ on earth, promises to be always present, always alongside, always “in the boat” with us.
A man dreamed he died and went to heaven and there was met by Jesus. The man had lived a long Christian life, but it had not been without some times of great trial and tribulation as well as those times of joy and victory. As he met with Christ, the man was given a panoramic review of his life -- all the highlights and low periods. In the review of his life one of the things that continued throughout were his footsteps along the sands of time.
The man noticed that at those times in his life when it had really been rough there was only one set of footprints -- not two as in the good times. He turned to the Lord and said, “Lord, I don’t understand. You promised to be with me always. But when I look back now, I see that in those really rough times there was only one set of footprints. Lord, why did you leave me then?”
The Lord looked at him, smiled, and said, “Leave you? I didn’t leave you at all. Dear friend, if you look at the footprints carefully, you’ll notice they are a little deeper than the others. Those were the times I was carrying you” (Paul J. Wharton. Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers, 70-71).
”Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).