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PreachJuly 23, 2023
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Preachers can be tempted to ask themselves the wrong question when starting to prepare a homily. “The question is not ‘What do I want to say,” but ‘God, what do people need to hear?”, says Kayla August. “When we start there, the thing that’s ruminating in our hearts, I think, brings out a really good sermon.”

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Kayla is a Black Catholic preacher. Born and raised in New Orleans, she is presently pursuing doctoral studies, with a focus on preaching as a form of education, at the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. Through her preaching, she says “I hope to enliven the young adult faith community,” she says. “And also help to inspire marginalized voices—like mine—to play an active role in the Church.”

Listen to Kayla’s homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, on this week’s episode of “Preach.” After the homily, she shares with host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., her passion for preaching and the unique gifts and insights of lay preachers in the church.

[Listen now and follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or on your favorite podcast service.]

I ask myself not ‘What do I want to say,’ but ‘God, what do people need to hear?’


Scripture Readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


First Reading: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
Second Reading: Rom 8:28-30
Gospel: Mt 13:44-52


Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, by Kayla August


I had the opportunity of teaching a second grade class to preach.

Sparked by the book, “The Four Pages of the Sermon,” I set the goal of aiding second graders in making something a little less ambitious—a four-sentence sermon, complete with mini-pulpit for proclamation.

It was a passage on “The kingdom of heaven,” so before they began to write, I gave them time to reflect. I asked them to start by picturing what the kingdom of heaven was like and then I gave them time to draw it on paper.

With markers and crayons, they depicted what made up their vision of heaven. They drew water slides and alligators, sunshine and celebrities. And the best was a picture of the heavenly gate with the Bat symbol stretched across it—and, of course, Batman guarding the gate. (Guess St. Peter had nothing on the protector of Gotham city.)

As I saw their pictures, I was impressed by their ability to dream. Few of us linger in the question of what the kingdom of heaven is long enough to begin to answer or imagine thatsomething so perfect, it’s just as hard to believe in, as it is to describe.

Few of us linger long enough in the question of what the kingdom of heaven is.

But, in this passage, Jesus gives us a metaphorical glimpse.

To show that the kingdom of heaven is the greatest thing we can imagine. He said: the kingdom of heaven is like finding a treasure buried in a field and out of joy selling all you have to buy that field—just to obtain the precious treasure. He says, it’s like a merchant who spends his life searching for fine pearls, and when he finds that pearl of great price, he sells everything he has to buy it. The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, he says, which collects fish of every kind and the good found in that net will be there until the end of the age.

According to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is better than anything we can imagine and hope for; which means it is sunshine and waterslides, and perhaps a little Bruce Wayne too.

It’s all that we hope for and more. It’s the thing in our life we search for but never believe it can be found. It’s our deepest hope, our greatest longing, our most audacious wish fulfilled for eternity. It’s more than our wildest dreams. It’s a pearl of great price that can’t be measured.

The problem is, we hear about this kingdom but we don’t get to see it in this world. So it becomes hard to believe in this perfect place, particularly when the world we live in not only lacks perfection but is filled with harm and destruction; when pain and despair are the only things that seem limitless.

It becomes hard to believe in heaven, particularly when the world we live in not only lacks perfection but is filled with harm and destruction.

As addiction rates persist and suicide rates rise, particularly for L.G.B.T.Q. youth. As natural disasters destroy and wipe out communities leaving nothing but shards in their wake. As institutions sworn to protect the most vulnerable, misuse and maltreat the innocent under their care

We see it when governmental policies pass laws or fail to pass them causing more hurt than healing in an already divided nation.

We see it as innocent people in war-torn countries suffer without end—and we ask why his burden is heavy and yoke far from light for those who spent their life in desperate need of God’s aid.

We realize it when a friend who just celebrated that their cancer went into remission finds out the cancer is back again.

We experience it when the hope for a child is met by the inability to have one, or when the love we thought would be forever is lost without hope of return.

In moments like these, the kingdom of heaven is not only far away; it feels like a silly thing to believe in at all, because the kingdom of heaven is mixed with good and bad. Jesus names the net of the kingdom takes in both good and bad fish, which leaves a heaven on earth that can feel more like hell.

At times, the kingdom of heaven is not only far away, it feels like a silly thing to believe in at all.

It means when we hope for angels on the journey we sometimes find devils instead, and that the pain we feel, the sorrow we endure, and the troubles we face will continue until we reach the heavenly gates.

Our lives are spent sorting through the good and the bad, and searching for the pearl hidden in our midst.

So how do we sort the glimpses of heaven from the moments of hell on earth?

Well, sometimes we happen to glimpse it by accident, and sometimes we have to search until it’s found.

If we think about it, I think most of us have glimpsed the kingdom of heaven on earth. It’s the place where the seemingly impossible becomes actual and all the stars seem to align.

It’s in the brief moment when all we could ever want or imagine is close enough to grasp. It’s the thing that not only meets our expectations, it exceeds them. It’s when what we hoped for becomes real.

We hope for angels on the journey, we sometimes find devils instead.

It’s when your favorite team ends their losing streak of years or decades to win the championship, and you feel like you’re holding the trophy in your hands. It's hearing the words “I love you” or “Will you marry me?” spoken for the first time by the person you love so much you think your heart will burst with joy.

It’s giving birth to your first child and realizing that it's actually possible to hold the world in your arms. It’s getting the call that your cancer went into remission, and the days that were once numbered become a daily gift. A living miracle.

It’s finally reaching that goal you set years ago, after moments of failure and hurt and disappointment and disbelief, now you’re here, and you realize that the hard nights have become a glorious morning. It’s the pearl of great price that is so precious that you would sell all you have to buy it; all your money, all your resources.

Paradise is a moment when we glimpse eternity in an instant and when all we have and want is with us; when we can picture no better world and our heart is at peace.

Paradise is a moment when we glimpse eternity in an instant... The problem is that it’s often just a glimpse.

The problem is that it’s often just a glimpse. We get to hold it for a while, and then the world breaks in. It's gone before it arrives. And the kingdom that we undeniably experienced, becomes the kingdom still yet to come..

So, how do we start to realize the kingdom of heaven on earth?

We need what Rodney Reeves calls “Kingdom eyes.” Kingdom eyes allows for a vision that breaks through the fog. It allows us to uncover what is hidden in the field of your day to day) – the pearl of great price we’ve passed over, right before our eyes.

When we glimpse it, it not only changes our vision but it changes our perspective. It reorients our world and alters our priorities so that the glimpse of heaven we receive becomes a vision we want to enact.

It allows us to see that the seemingly “troubled teenager” that has been discounted by all has a deeper story and remarkable gifts that the world has not yet seen.

Kingdom eyes allows for a vision that breaks through the fog.

It’s when the hardship of illness that marks your days as numbered, becomes the one thing that finally allows you to live in the way you were too afraid to before - taking no day for granted.

It's when the aid you thought you were sent to give to others ends up being a far bigger gift to you - as you discover that riches given are rarely monetary, and you realize the ones you came to serve have far more to teach you.

Kingdom eyes flip the world upside down and show us that nothing is impossible for God.

As our eyes open, so do our hearts and our mind and we change as the world around us does.

We would buy, sell, search our lives to uncover what our actions allow us to obtain at that moment. It calls us to work for joy and justice instead of just hoping for it.

As our eyes open, so do our hearts and our mind and we change as the world around us does.

When we are able to see what the world could be, we realize our call to do all we can to make the vision a reality.

Kingdom eyes motivate us not to wait for the kingdom yet to come, but to begin building that kingdom right now, like Jesus did.

The Kingdom Jesus spoke of was both here and now, and also yet to come.

As Jesus preached about the kingdom of heaven to come, he enacted the kingdom in his midst.

As he modeled love with his ways and spoke love with his words.

As he healed the hurting and gave hope to the hopeless. As he turned toward the leaper when others turned away.

He showed that of all the healing he could do, of all the words he could speak, of all the lessons he could teach, the most transformative was the power of love in action.

The love of Jesus challenged society's standard of propriety and pushed the boundaries of convention.

It was a love that challenged society's standard of propriety, and pushed the boundaries of convention. A love that spoke of a God beyond regulation, a God beyond imagination. A love that inspired and converted hearts – one encounter at a time. A love that challenged what “loving” really meant.

These simple moments shook the system and opened eyes.

In preparing the kingdom to come Jesus showed those around him that the kingdom to come was not as far as they believed. He showed that it could be found in the here and now if they wanted it to be, because the kingdom of God is the fullness of LOVE realized on earth.

This transformative love is something we all contain. It is a power not limited to our Lord. It lives within us but it requires something of us. It requires more than mere words, it requires our actions.

This transformative love is something we all contain. It is a power not limited to our Lord.

So if you have the privilege of glimpsing paradise, what would it take to make it a reality for others? What would it take?

Would it take your finances; not giving from the crumbs of your income but giving from the surplus, making sure that you don’t have an abundance when someone else doesn’t have enough to survive?

Would it take your humility, the ability to admit your mistakes and your inadequacies; to say out loud that “you were wrong” so that you could apologize for the harm you caused, and take steps to ensure the harm doesn’t happen again?

Would it take your honesty, using your power to speak up to a person or institution of power that you know has caused or is causing harm—even though it might mean losing your clout, your position of authority, or even your job to defend another?

Would it take your patience, the day in and day out work of showing up until justice is achieved, making signs, writing letters, gathering people, raising money and raising your voice, until finally an inch is gained in the miles until true justice is achieved.

If you have the privilege of glimpsing paradise, what would it take to make it a reality for others?

Would it take your courage, the courage to speak your truth even when others deny it— because the silence is deafening for you and for others whose voices aren’t heard, and your voice may lead to their liberation?

Would it take your forgiveness, to let go of your pride, to give up your need to be right, to put down your walls and pick up the phone and call the person you've been avoiding, because you might be wrong too?

Would it take your time and your sacrifice, giving up your dream of heaven to work for a greater one. One where we all enter heaven together.

Where we work to build a place where everyone is welcome—and the many don’t sacrifice for the few.

What would it take? Because achieving the kingdom means being willing to give up all you have to attain the good to come.

Because your moment of heaven should not be the last, and when we experience divine love on Earth, it shines, and it can’t go unrecognized, it can’t be unseen. Our kingdom eyes and action open the eyes of others.

And we realize that Christ can turn the world upside-down or right side up again, with the hands and feet of the people of God.

Achieving the kingdom means being willing to give up all you have to attain the good to come.

Christ is inviting you to build the kingdom on earth so that everyone in this life gets a glimpse of what's to come.

If we work to spread the love of Christ preached about and work to build the kingdom he spoke about, then no one will ever feel locked outside of heaven's gates. Instead, we will bring a little bit of heaven to Earth until the “thy kingdom comes to be on Earth what it is in heaven.”

So, when Christ turns to us in the eyes of another and asks with their need: “Do you understand what I’m telling you.”

Like the apostles in this scripture, I hope you can undoubtedly say: “Yes!”

And then you can start building the kingdom today.

“Preach” is made possible through the generous support of the Compelling Preaching Initiative, a project of Lilly Endowment Inc.

 

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