Our Gospel today includes this statement: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world…”
Our three readings today contained so many points worth reflecting upon… but this one line, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world” is the one I kept coming back to over and over again. And contemplating this over the past week made me think about Kevin.
When I met Kevin, he seemed like a… pardon the expression… regular guy. Friendly, a little soft spoken, maybe even a bit shy. He was very articulate. I remember thinking that he was likable. Personable.
Kevin told me and a few others who were there, his story. He described how he often experienced great anxiety… and some sadness. He said that during his life, he frequently felt all alone. And completely lost. Kevin described what it was like knowing that he will never again leave the prison that he calls his home.
He described why he was there and the crime he committed and it did not seem to match at all with his likeable personality. It was hard for me to reconcile all that. Someone asked him about God and Kevin said, boldly, that he was certain that God exists… but also that God had left him to be all alone and lost. He said: “I know that God gave up on me…” I’ve always remembered that expression. “I know that God gave up on me…”
It occurred to me recently that I’ve been driving a car for 30 years… give or take about a month. For 29 of those 30 years, I would have stood right here and said with great confidence: “I have an excellent sense of direction.” I would have said that and I would have believed it completely. But about a year ago, I went to Portland, Oregon and spent three days looking for the spectacular Mount Hood peak in exactly and 100% the opposite direction of where it actually was. In a homily after that happened, I stood here and told that story. I won’t repeat it today because that’s not what this homily is about. Rather, this is about what happened afterwards.
What happened afterwards was the feedback I got when I told the Mount Hood story. My family, my friends, people who know me all made comments about how awful my sense of direction actually is. After hearing this story, someone I went to college with told me that they always worried that I’d get lost going from the dorm room to the bathroom. I actually thought that when my friends in college called me ‘Magellan’, it was a compliment.
This was all very, very eye opening to me. So… flash forward a year and now, I have a GPS device. This is a technological miracle. I cannot believe that a little antennae in this tiny thing picks up signals from several satellites in space and can tell me exactly and precisely how to get from one place to another. It’s amazing. And I’m convinced that it will be standard equipment in all cars someday. Just as some people wouldn’t get air conditioning in their cars for whatever reason back in the 70s, now today, I don’t think you could buy a car without AC. So will it be with GPS.
A month ago, I went on a weekend retreat at the Campion Center in Weston. Though I had been there a few times before, I didn’t remember exactly how to get there, so I programmed the address in and away I went. Unfortunately, as I drove there, I was listening to the new Counting Crows album… loudly… way too loudly… and I completely failed to listen to the voice telling me where to turn and how to get to Campion. No problem, as the GPS instantly recalculates and wherever you end up, it redirects you and it tells you exactly how to get back on track and to reach your destination.
When I realized that the GPS was screaming at me, I lowered the music and paid attention. I had no idea where I was and even though I had the GPS, I worried a little bit because it looked as though I had gone far, far past where I should have been. The voice directed me onto what looked like a side road… a narrow country road. It turns out that this was a little used pathway… full of huge bumps and twists… my car rocked and creaked as I went along and I was convinced that the GPS had messed up and that I was going to end up at a dead end or a bridge that was out. But after a while, the voice told me I had arrived at my destination and to my surprise and delight, I was at the back entrance of the Campion Center… safe and sound.
To me, the GPS analogy fits perfectly with my concept of how God talks to us. And my trip to Campion last month, getting lost and then redirected… even over a bumpy, twisty road, fits with my concept of how God doesn’t give up on us. And that no matter what we do or where we end up… God recalculates our route from where we are and brings up home… safe and sound.
The GPS analogy fits with my sense of how we do sometimes get lost in life. Often times, we get lost because we forget to pay attention… we stop listening. And we stop hearing the voice of the one who created and loves us. For me, there are things I do that prevent me from listening. There are too many things I do that prevent me from listening. For example… I’m a busy guy. I have a good job and a lot on my plate. Many days, I get up early… hit the road, run from meeting to meeting, race home at the end of the day and just crash. In reality, I think that this busyness makes me feel necessary, important, needed. It makes me feel like I’m successful. But… it also makes me stop listening. And when I do, I mess up, I miss the turns, I forget where I’m headed and I get lost.
So what do you do that prevents you from listening? What do you do that fills up your life, clogs up your ears, makes you take your eyes off the road in front of you and makes it nearly impossible to hear the voice?
My prayer is that I always stop and listen. Listen for the voice. My prayer is that you always stop and listen. Listen for the voice. Thankfully, God doesn’t give up on me. He doesn’t give up on you. And though Kevin did something awful… truly, truly awful… He doesn’t give up on him either. He gives him another chance… He calls him home.
We can learn a lot about the one who created us by considering the manner in which he chose to reveal himself to us. When we describe that revelation, we don’t’ use words like majesty, power and might. We do use words like sacrifice, suffering and mercy. When we talk about how the one who created us judges how we’re doing here… today’s Gospel tells us to use words like love and not condemnation.
How much does the one who created us love us? So much so that he never, ever gives up on us.