Having watched way too much of the Olympics for two weeks, I heard a lot of stories about athletes who trained very hard for many years to get to the Olympics. If you listen to their stories, you hear about the difficult times, and the times they wanted to give up, but the love of the sport and the joy of competing kept them going.
I remember training for a 90 km run many years ago. I can’t tell you how many times I would finish a hard training run with feet hurting, muscles aching. I especially remember a 32 km race that I did as a training run. I was so exhausted at the end of the run, that it felt like the walk to my car took more effort than running the 32 km. I remember saying to myself: “Is this worth it? Why am I doing this?” But then the pain and fatigue passed away and I realized that I just loved running, and I’d put my shoes back on and head out the door again the next day.
I thought about that as I listened to the first reading from Jeremiah. Jeremiah had been preaching in and around Jerusalem. He was criticizing the way the people worshipped in the Temple and because of that, he became very unpopular. It got so bad that the priest in charge of the Temple police took him into custody, had him beaten, and then put him in the stocks for a day. What we heard in the first reading, was Jeremiah talking to God – actually, yelling at God – after being released from the stocks. You see, when God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, Jeremiah tried to talk God out of it. He said that he didn’t know how to speak very well, and thought that he was too young. But God convinced him to accept this role. He said: “Do not be afraid…for I am with you to deliver you.” Well now Jeremiah is saying: “Where were you, God?” He said: “O Lord, you have enticed me…you overpowered me. I am now a laughing stock. Everyone mocks me.”
But then we hear the rest of the story. After being beaten and publicly humiliated – being angry with God and wanting to give up, Jeremiah says: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Just like I put those aching feet into my running shoes the next day, Jeremiah realized that even though he was physically and emotionally exhausted, and felt abused by God, he was so filled love and – yes – even joy for God’s message, that it filled him inside as if he would burst if he couldn’t talk about it.
Most of you have made popcorn in the microwave. When I read the first part of the reading from Jeremiah, I thought about the flat package of unpopped corn – lots of potential, but something was missing. And then he talked about the fire that filled him, and I pictured the bag bursting at the seams with beautifully popped kernels.
This last Thursday we celebrated the feast day of St. Augustine. As a young man, Augustine didn’t act much like a saint. He was a bit of a wild child. But his mother, St. Monica (whose feast day was last Wednesday) continually prayed for him. He eventually became a Catholic and is one of our greatest philosophers and theologians. One of his writings was included in our daily office for Thursday, and it reminded me of today’s reading from Jeremiah. St. Augustine said, talking to God: “Late have I loved you…You were within me, but I was outside…You were with me, but I was not with you. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness…You dispelled my blindness…You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” St. Augustine burned for God’s peace just as Jeremiah felt God burning like a fire in his bones. The joy that filled St. Augustine literally jumps off the page.
The Gospel today describes a very important event in the ministry of Jesus. He had been preaching in Galilee and now the focus would turn to Jerusalem where he was to die. When he told this to the disciples, Peter got very upset: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” Peter was reacting as any friend would. When Jesus yelled at Peter, he was letting Peter and the others know that even though he knew this would be hard – he said he would undergo great suffering – it was something that he had to do because he was filled with love for his father and joy in fulfilling his father’s will. Like Jeremiah, he looked ahead and saw that the finish line was worth any of the difficulties that would come.
So we saw how Jeremiah was filled with the burning fire, how God shouted to St. Augustine until he let God’s love fill him up, and how Jesus, filled with his father’s love, turned bravely toward Jerusalem. Well God also wants to fill us to overflowing with his love and with his joy. But things get in the way. Remember how St. Augustine talked about being deaf and blind until God broke through.
But how do we do this? How do we let God fill us? St. Paul gives us some advice. He said: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Transform and renew the way you think about things. And Jesus said today: “Take up your cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
We open ourselves to God’s love – we allow ourselves to be filled – when we take the time to hold a door open for a stranger, when we send a letter to a government official protesting the Order of Canada for an abortion advocate, when we show love and forgiveness to our children (and our parents), when we put a couple extra bucks in the collection basket, when we take the time to pray to our God – the God who is always waiting to fill us up with his love and his joy.
Now we’ve talked a lot about Jeremiah, and about joy, so I think we should conclude with a very famous song about Jeremiah and joy, but his Jeremiah was a bullfrog. Please sing the chorus with me.
Joy to the world, all the boys and girls
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me.
Fill yourselves with God’s love and God’s joy!