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A sermon on Mark 4:35-41

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By Fr. Mike Paraniuk
St. Mary Catholic Church
St. Benignus Catholic Church 
St. Mary Queen of Heaven
and Holy Trinity Catholic Church

I was riveted to the radio listening to an interview about a country singer's journey from the valley of a living hell to the mountain top of God's grace. His name is Jelly Roll, named by his mom to describe her chubby son. 

Outwardly, he looks intimidating. He is 6 feet one inches and weighs over 400 pounds. His face is covered with tattoos. But inside, breathes a compassionate heart that has known great suffering. His parents divorced in 1997 when he was 13 years old. This sent him into a tailspin of drug addiction. 

At 15, Jelly became an incarcerated felon for an armed robbery of stealing drugs from two dealers. He would be sent to jail 40 more times from drug possession and dealing. Ten years of his life would be spent behind bars. Jelly joked that in one arrest he tried to run, but because he was so fat the officer nabbed him with just a fast walk. Jelly ran so slow the officer did not charge him with resisting arrest.

While in jail, Jelly filled his time with writing down lyrics and creating melodies in his head. He wrote hundreds of songs. When Jelly left prison, he carried with him his songs written on a stack full of papers stuffed in a bag. 

He told everyone, "I'll be singing these on Times Square one day." People laughed at him. No one would be listening to a fat guy singing sad songs.

For years, he traveled from town to town, playing to half-empty clubs and sleeping in his van while trying to gain traction for a music career. He handed out CDs of his music everywhere he went. His big break came when a recording company heard his music and offered him a contract. His big dream came true when he was invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. 

Jelly said, "I cried like a baby in front of 12 strangers."

All his life he felt no one accepted him. This changed in 2023 when the Country Music Association embraced him with four awards for New Artist of the Year and Male Video of the Year. Then, his other dream came true. Millions of people around the world watched him welcome in the 2024 New Year while singing in Times Square. 

The people who laughed at him are laughing no more.

There was a profound spiritual moment in the radio interview. He described how in prison these hardened, fearless inmates who had no interest in God were suddenly brought to their knees begging God's help before going to court. They are pleading for God's favor but could care less for God when everything was OK. 

Jelly Roll wrote a song about it called, "Need A Favor." 

I only talk to God when I need a favor,
And I only pray when I ain't got a prayer,
So who the heck am I, who the heck am I to expect a savior, oh,
If I only talk to God when I need a favor?
But, God, I need a favor.

Jelly told the interviewer that God is happy that I talk to Him even when my motivation is not pure. God is thrilled to hear from me even when I'm just trying to get a favor from Him.

I remember talking with a mom who said her son visits her only when he needs money. She told me, "I know he's not here to see me, but I need to see him. I love him so much. If money gets me a visit with him, I gladly give it."

The Apostles cried out to Jesus fearing they would drown (Mark 4:35-41). It's easy to forget God when times are good, then run to Him when life drowns you with trials and trouble.

God finds great happiness when you talk with him. He is always ready to listen. God says this in Rev. 3:20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

During your busy day, make room for God. Open the door for Him. Talk with Him, and not just when you need a favor. 

A wise person said, “If you only pray when you’re in trouble, you’re in trouble.”

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