The Fire That Purifies
“The Fire That Purifies”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 14, 2016
Readings: Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82
Today we remember the favor that God has placed upon us – the grace and ability to bring forth the Catholic Congregation of St. John, Preparer of the Way, to do its work of preparing the way. This is our role – to teach the truth and by our own lives challenge the people to live out what God has given us. We should prove it when we say that we are children of God and reveal who we are in Christ. Our whole life is based on Christ and what He has given us.
The Gospel seems confusing. Jesus said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth….Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division….” Yet every Sunday we say, “Peace be with you”. In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you….” Confusing? He said that He came to cast fire upon the earth. Fire is very destructive when uncontrolled. But there’s also good in fire; we use it for cooking, to keep us warm on cold days and to cause impurities to come to the surface. This is what Jesus meant He said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth”. He was also referring to the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit purifies us. The fire of the Holy Spirit in us energizes us so we can live out the life of Christ. This fire is not meant to destroy us but to discipline us. God does not bring destruction but disciplines us so we can live out the life Christ gave us. If we are not disciplined, we are illegitimate children. We look at the life of Christ. He went through the fire – He was wrongly accused and then crucified and killed for something He didn’t do. He went through the “disciplines” in order to give us this redeemed, new life.
Scriptures tell us that out of our innermost being shall flow rivers of living water, yet we hinder this flow when we refuse the discipline of God. When we live the life Christ gave us, we will encounter opposition and persecution as we die daily to self. We ask God to change us, yet we’ve been given everything we need to become what He wants us to be. We ask Him to give us patience, make us kinder and more loving, when He has already given us the grace to be like Him. This is the purpose of discipline – to make us pause and evaluate what God is working out in us. This is why when we are going through a period of discipline, we shouldn’t ask God to take away the persecution, challenges and difficulties.
Peace – we can’t have peace with someone who doesn’t agree with us. Peace comes when there’s genuine unity based on truth. This is why the many peace treaties signed among nations are shaky; genuine unity is absent. “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.” The road of Christianity is rough because it faces many wrongs and much opposition to the ways of God, and we don’t compromise but stand firm on the truth. When we do this, we are persecuted and make enemies in the process. For many years now, I’ve been against abortion and have been firm about my stand in protecting the innocent. All life is sacred. Nothing can change that, no matter how many laws to the contrary are passed. God’s truth in His Word is unchanging. Dreams, goals and aspirations that don’t follow God’s Word are wrong. We don’t add to or subtract from what He has given us.
There should be no divisions in the church if we are one in Him and we’re following the truth. But in reality, there are factions. There are leaders who lust for fame and power. We must do everything for the glory of God, and not for our own glory. Yes, there may be divisions because we can’t all agree all of the time. For example, some may find the things being acquired for the church as too costly, yet God deserves the best. There will be jealousies when we rise up; never mind them. The only thing that matters is standing firm on the truth of God. The question we should ask ourselves in self-evaluation is this – are we standing on the truth in our work, or are we being humanistic? We should always remember that no matter how good our work is, God will always deserve better.
In Ephesians 4:17, we are admonished to “walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind”. Some of us are still walking in the futility of our mind, with our understanding darkened because of ignorance and the hardness of our heart. We need to pause sometimes and be quiet, so we can wait upon God and listen to what He is telling us.
The Old Testament prophet Micah prophesied that a man’s enemies are the men of his own household – “For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rises up against mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law….” Jesus brings to the New Testament this Old Testament prophecy when He said in Luke 13 that “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law”. We see this coming true today; families are falling apart. Children don’t respect their parents and just do what they want, in complete disregard of their parents’ feelings. They reason out that their parents are too old to understand. Today’s youth think they know everything, but there’s wisdom in older people. In the US, Macy’s and other big corporations are learning this the hard way when the young people they hire to replace the older, more mature people are now giving them problems. Wisdom comes with age and cannot necessarily be acquired from universities.
We manifest the character of Christ as we go through the fire of the Holy Spirit. We are no longer bitter and jealous but secure in Christ. We take off the old self to put on the new that was given to us by Christ. We don’t give up, even if this new self doesn’t “fit” at first. God has given us more grace than we need; grace upon grace. Nothing can be greater than this grace, and nothing can come against us with this grace. The church is responsible for healing the nations. We have to bring the work of God to the world as His witnesses. The world faces threats from terrorism from Isis and other terrorist groups. Could it be that God is allowing this because the Church has failed to be His witness in the world – to be the healing, the love, the peace and the provision that the world needs? We should pause and evaluate ourselves. Where have we failed? A day will come when every knee will bow to the Name of Jesus, and it’s our responsibility to bring this about. When Jesus said He came to bring fire and not peace, He was telling us that He came to challenge us to do our work as the Church; as His Body. His Words are fire because they burn and challenge us to do away with the old and bring out the new. This brings us hope.
So today, as we celebrate the faithfulness of God, we celebrate the Eucharist and the life of Christ. He gave us righteousness and holiness. He dwells in us. The process of making pineapple jam reminds me of the work of God in our lives. The container jars are sterilized or purified first. In the same way, Christ had to go to the cross first, so He could bring holiness and righteousness into our “container” – our earthly bodies. The flesh is not evil. We have the holiness and righteousness of Christ in our bodies. Now we have the potential to be like Him because we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it takes harsh words to straighten things out, so we can be what God intends us to be. This is why we must go through discipline that may hurt; otherwise, we’re illegitimate children. Our challenge and responsibility is to take off the old and put on the new and be a witness; bring people to God. May we celebrate in truth and bring forth the glory of God in our lives and in His Church. Don’t ask God to do it; He has done His part. He’s now waiting for us to do our part.