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FROM THE PULPIT

FROM THE PULPIT

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REV. DR. GARY S. ELLER WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, OMAHA

Do you enjoy reading a good book on summer vacation? If you do, and you are like most folks, then you probably reach for a mystery or a romantic story to read through sunglasses on a beach or at a lake.

Nobody would put Gregory Boyle's best-seller, "Tattoos on the Heart," in either the mystery or romance stack. Father Boyle's book is a collection of stories from the streets of Los Angeles about the remarkable ministry of Homeboy Industries. Boyle, a Jesuit priest and Founder of Homeboy Industries, has lived all of the stories.

What you will find in his book are true accounts of young people trying to survive and manage daily life in and around gang culture and violence. There are enough hopeful stories to keep you reading and plenty of heart-rending tales.

Somehow, by the end of the book, you feel more encouraged than not. That's partly because there is a Father Boyle who will not give up on young people whom many others have already written off as marginal. But, more than that, because you can see the authentically boundless love of Christ shining through what he and others are doing.

What more could you ask of a summer read than a transformative story of gritty challenges overcome by redemptive love?

REV. JAMES LINDBERG LIVING GRACE LUTHERAN CHURCH, OMAHA

When you are listening to a speech or are in a conversation, what are the things that tend to distract you? Perhaps it's a cranky toddler that takes your attention off the presenter, or a loud talker in the next booth that distracts you from your conversation.

Distractions not only happen in these circumstances, but also in our lives. For instance, I can get distracted from my home life by demands at work. I can also get distracted from my faith life when I'm feeling down or even overwhelmed.

King Solomon is regarded as the wisest person in the Old Testament, but, as he gets older, he gets distracted from following God and being a spiritual and moral example to his people.

Solomon decided to disregard God's command to him and marry 700 non-Israelite women. In 1 Kings 11:8 it says, "Solomon built such shrines for all his foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods," and he worshipped these foreign gods as well. Solomon drifted away from God and got distracted by the gods of his many wives.

When do you find yourself drifting away and focusing less on God and your faith life? Perhaps it's when things are going good in life, or when you are experiencing stress, or when you get out of your spiritual "routine."

Is it time to work on your spiritual focus again? You can do this by making worship attendance a bit more regular. Or by taking some quiet time in the morning to read a devotional book or passage from the Bible. You can pray with those you love, or pray on your own in a way that fills your soul. You can also slow down and truly enjoy those things like family, friendships, relationships that God has blessed you with.

These are ways you can fight spiritual distractions you might be facing, and act wisely, in a way that the wise King Solomon did not.

MONSIGNOR JAMES GILG ST. MARYMAGDALENE, OMAHA

The Gospel account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes can speak to us from many perspectives. The miracle obviously gives a very practical example of the generosity of God, who always gives without limit and steps in to satisfy our hunger and thirst for both human and spiritual sustenance. Jesus brings the actions of God out in the open, demonstrating in His public ministry how God continually seeks to be our safety net in all circumstances. Feeding the crowd captures so well the reality of God's providential care of us.

The passage also invites us to recognize how our coming together in prayer and worship through the sacred liturgy is meant to effect in us the awareness and experience of God in our midst. As we celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday, we repeat some of the actions that Jesus performs in front of the people. He "took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them." Our celebrant does the same in the offertory, consecration and communion of every Mass. And we have our fill, just as the crowd in the Gospel had their fill.

The passage can also challenge us, as disciples of Christ, to realize how much we can make our own contribution to the feeding of the multitude. We have been reminded by many people, including spiritual writers, scientists and global commentators, that there would be enough food to feed everyone in the world if only we would respectfully harness the bounty of the land and establish effective harvesting and distribution procedures. Let us pray for God's help in moving us to find the wisdom and good will to join hands and feed the multitudes of our own time.

REV. DR. NANCY TOMLINSON ST. PAUL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, PAPILLION

Superheroes are simply a part of our American culture. Some of us grew up with them woven into the fabric of our childhood existence. We can remember when they first appeared on the American scene during the Great Depression and in the times when our Jewish brothers and sisters began to be persecuted and then murdered in the Holocaust.

In this nexus were birthed the first superheroes as we know them today. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man. They fight evil and stand for good. We learn from these narratives. They are powerful and still exist today. We learn to fight evil and to stand up for good. Perhaps that is why we continue to make movies, action figures, games, costumes and other items that seem to immortalize these superheroes.

Even 5-year-olds learn to be superheroes. One of the more uplifting articles I read this week was about a 5-year-old who had gone shopping with his mom and brother. He was dressed as Batman and his 2-year-old brother as Superman. And Batman (his real name is Zavi) helped rescue a baby. He crawled through a window everyone else was too big to get in and helped get a very young child out of a locked car (upworthy.com).

Such power in stories. Children emulate them. Adults attend events such as Comic-Con and spend millions on movies. Why? We yearn to hear about heroes who defend against evil and stand for good. But why have we relegated the field to graphic novel and comic superheroes? Our faith traditions tell us of superheroes that are not fictional. Real live men and women God has used through the ages to fight evil and stand for good and for God. Our Holy Writings are full of the stories of prophets and priests, and yes, even kings and queens who stood for good and right and God. The stories are brimming over with ordinary people that have stood for their faith and the good God calls us to do in the world. Come to church or temple or synagogue or the religious gathering of your choice this weekend and learn of heroes clothed in human flesh whose narratives are recorded in Holy Writings.

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