Sunday, September 25, 2005

You Are What You Preach—To Yourself!

The Cast of "Laguna Beach."

(Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on September 25, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 21: 28-32.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-sixth Sunday 2005]

What messages are you giving in your preaching?

That’s a question for me to answer, but it’s also a question for you to answer.

I am the preacher at this Mass (like it or not!), but I am not the only preacher in this church at the present moment.

The fact of the matter is, if you are old enough to think clearly and rationally, you are also a preacher—even if you don’t realize it.

The only difference between my preaching and your preaching is that most of the time your congregation is a lot smaller than mine is.

My congregation consists of all of you; your congregation usually consists of one person and one person only—yourself (unless, of course, you have moments when you get “preachy” with your friends: then your congregation also increases in size!).

Of course, there are times when I preach only to myself as well. Actually, I do that far more frequently than I preach to all of you. So please don’t complain if you only have to listen to me once a week! I have to listen to me as I preach to myself every day!

This phenomenon of “preaching to yourself” stands behind the events of today’s gospel parable from Matthew 21. Jesus here talks about two sons. The father asked each to go out and work in the family vineyard. The first said No, but ended up going; the second said Yes, but never went.


What is it that happened between their initial responses (yes or no), and their final decisions (to go or not to go)?

The answer is: “Each son preached a sermon to himself; and each son followed the preacher’s advice!”

Let me prove that to you.

The father said to the first son, “Go out and work in the vineyard today.”

The son said, “I will not,” and walked away.

That’s when his sermon to himself began. I went something like this: “You know, your father has been good to you. He loves you; he provides for your needs; he makes sacrifices for you every day. The least you can do is help him out in his vineyard. That’s not too much to ask. Besides, the fourth commandment says, ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ God would want you to go; he’d want you to obey. So do it!”

And he did. He went.

The father then said to the second son, “You go out and work in the vineyard today.”

This son said, “Yes, sir,”—and he would have been fine, if he hadn’t made the mistake of preaching a really bad sermon to himself as he was leaving his father’s presence!

His went something like this: “This father of yours always wants something—and it’s never enough! ‘Do this, do that’—all day, every day. Your friends are right: your father is always taking advantage of you. He’s unreasonable and he’s unfair! Well this time, you need to put your foot down. You’ve got other things to do; you don’t need this aggravation. Why don’t you go off with your friends and do something fun for a change? You deserve it!”

Such was his sermon.

Obviously preaching makes a difference—a big difference—especially when the preaching comes from yourself!

This means that it’s crucial for all of us preachers to get our sermon material from the right places! If we tend to follow the dictates of our own preaching (and we all do!), then we obviously need to utilize the right material to shape our personal sermons!

For example, the first son—although he initially said No—made the right decision in the end because the 4th commandment influenced the sermon he preached to himself. The commandment, in effect, was his sermon-source.

The second son, on the other hand, was influenced in his sermon by his own selfishness and laziness—and perhaps by his less-than-stellar friends—and in the end he made the wrong decision. His emotions—and perhaps the dictates of his friends—were his sermon-sources for the day.

So—from whence do you normally get your sermon material? In other words, what are your sources?

I urge you to reflect on that this morning.

Our primary source for our personal sermons should be God’s word, as found in the Scriptures and in the Catechism—and as preached in the Sunday homily by a faithful bishop, priest or deacon. Our friends, the books we read, the TV shows we watch, the songs we listen to, etc.: these can all be good secondary sources of sermon material if—and this is a big if—if they echo the truths found in God’s word!

If they don’t, then they must be rejected—or they will lead us to become like the disobedient son in that parable, who said he would go to work in the vineyard but never did.

Unfortunately, in today’s secular culture, there aren’t as many good, secondary sources of sermon material as there used to be. To figure that out, all you have to do is turn on the television set for awhile.

On that note . . . a couple of weeks ago, I asked the teens at prayer group on Thursday night the following questions: “In your opinion, what are the 3 most popular television shows among teenagers today?” and “What are the lessons teens are learning from watching these shows?”

I split them into two groups and sent them into separate rooms to discuss the questions. Both groups came back and listed “The O.C.” and “Laguna Beach” among the top 3 programs. That’s interesting because “Laguna Beach” is a “reality show” which is set in “the O.C.” (Orange County, California). In fact, the full title of the show is “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.”

For those who may not know what these shows are about, here’s how one writer from San Francisco, Lorraine Sanders, described “Laguna Beach” and connected it to the other program, “The O.C.”:

“On ‘Laguna Beach,’ eight perfectly coiffed, impossibly stylish high school students cruise through their hometown in expensive SUVs. Our occasional narrator, Lauren, a.k.a. ‘L.C.,’ and her friend Lo commiserate about tanned heartthrob Stephen, whose on-again, off-again girlfriend Kristen spends most of her time badmouthing L.C. and playing mind games with her male admirers.

“Our kids have beach bonfires, get their nails done, head to LA fashion shows and party as only 18-year-olds can when they hit Cabo San Lucas for spring break. All that’s lacking of ‘The O.C.’ is a tad more teen angst and screwed-up parents acting out for the cameras.”

The question I have for young viewers of these shows is this: If you allow the content of these programs to directly influence the sermons you preach to yourselves every day, what kind of messages will your sermons contain?

I dare say, the messages probably will not be: “Honor your father and mother; treat members of the opposite sex with respect; be honest; don’t be materialistic; and don’t abuse your body with alcohol or drugs!”

More than likely you’ll be preaching the opposite messages to yourselves.

Of course, to be fair, I could ask this same question of older viewers concerning “Sex In the City,” or “The Young And The Restless,” or almost any other program on daytime or primetime TV!

There’s an old saying that we’ve all heard before: You are what you eat. Well, here’s another saying that’s equally as true: You are what you preach—to yourself!

That was true of the two sons in this Gospel parable, and it’s true of you and of me.

Which brings me right back to the question I began with: What messages are you giving in your preaching?