Saturday, August 18, 2007

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 19, 2007

Jeremiah 38:4-6;8-10
Hebrews 12:1-4
Luke 12:49-53

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

Now, what kind of words are these that come from the one whom we title the Prince of Peace. Didn’t the angels herald his birth with the acclamation – peace on earth to men of goodwill?

Setting the earth afire and causing division is very counterintuitive to what we normally think of as Jesus’ mission. And yet, here it is. Set the earth ablaze. Cause division. What are we to do with that?

Consider Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called by God to the prophetic ministry. He was to speak the Word of God as God inspired him. Jeremiah had the awful task of telling the people that they had been sinning and that they must repent. That judgment was coming in the form of an invasion by the armies of Babylon.

Poor Jeremiah. For being faithful in delivering the word of God he was despised by the king and his court. He got paid for his faithfulness by being thrown into a well and left to die. Talk about setting the earth ablaze and causing division.

This was often the case for prophetic ministry. Prophets declare to the world the signs of the times and confront the world with its need for repentance. These words aren’t often well received by people. We would rather that people tell us how good and special we are and just leave it at that. We would rather not be confronted with our sins. And yet, isn’t this necessary for healing to take place.

Consider the case of the person who has been experience various kinds of pain for a long time but won’t go to the doctor because he fears a diagnosis of cancer. He fears the possibility of bad news more than knowing the truth. So he continues in his pain without seeking help.

Our sin is often the same way. It corrodes away the human spirit and needs healing just as much as the worst form of illness. And yet so many choose to rationalize away their sinful behavior. What is really needed is a cleansing fire. Separating ourselves from that which is evil so that we may become good, and pure, and perfect.

In Hebrews we hear the Lord instruct us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us.

How do you do that? Well, I am convinced that every kind of sin – and name for yourself whatever is bugging you – every kind of sin happens to us when we aren’t in union with God. When we stop listening to God and start listening to the desires of our flesh or to the temptations of the devil, then we commit sin. Stray away from God and sin has the opportunity to be conceived in our hearts. Once conceived, later on we find ourselves doing things we never thought we would ever do. Every form of anger, lust, pride, and avarice comes from being separated from God.

But the letter to the Hebrews gives the Christian the way to rid ourselves of sin. It really is so easy that it is hard to believe. It says – persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

That in a nutshell is the key.

Remember when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water? Peter asked Jesus to let him step out of the boat and walk with him. Jesus said ok so Peter did and was walking on the water just fine until – what? Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and onto the wind and the waves. Once his eyes were off of Jesus then he was sunk. Literally. Oh you of little faith – why did you doubt?

Same with you and me. When we seek the Lord with our whole heart and desire to be in full communion with him, then the result is that we become rid of every burden and sin. When our joy is with the Lord and we seek to give ourselves fully to him in love, then there really isn’t much room in our lives for sin. Plain and simple.

How do you seek the Lord with your whole heart? Pray at all times. This is not difficult, really. While it certainly includes a regular habit of formal prayer, it is also a matter of maintaining an awareness of the presence of the Lord with you at all times. Some say that praying always is impossible. I disagree. I will tell you how.

From an opposite experience, think of a time when there was something really worrying you. It stayed present in your mind all day long. You went to work, or school, and attended to the duties of your day, but that worrisome thing gnawed at you all day long without stopping. Your mind brooded on it.

Well, in a different kind of way, our minds and hearts can be fixed on Jesus as we go through the day doing our work. But with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus he truly becomes our leader in all we do. When our attention is on him he perfects our faith. He separates us from sin and corruption and makes us holy – God’s saints on earth. Ablaze with the fire of God’s love.

This is the message. When we are on fire with the love of God we become God’s instruments of salvation in this world. We can lead people to a saving and sacramental knowledge of the Lord. We can confront evil and oppression wherever it is and overcome it. We can literally change the world. We can become the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We could walk on water and move mountains just by keeping the eyes of our faith firmly fixed on the Lord. Oh how I wish for us to be set afire. Blazing with the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

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