The Work of the Church: To Build and to Plant
“The Work of the Church: To Build and to Plant”
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
January 31, 2016
Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17
1 Corinthians 14:12-20
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s. Jesus was in His hometown, entered the temple, read from Isaiah and proclaimed to the people that, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. They were amazed at what He said, but wondered why He would say that because they knew Him only to be the son of Joseph. In their hearts, they were saying, “Who does He think He is?” Jesus knew what they were thinking. He told them that in the days of Elijah when there was a famine, Elijah was sent to none of the widows in Israel but only to Zarephath in Sidon, to a widow who was obviously a Gentile. In the same way, there were many lepers in Israel but none of them was cleansed except for Namaan, a Syrian or Gentile. The people got mad because He was telling them that they were the Chosen people, but because of their unbelief and disobedience, God reached out to others. The Lord was effectively telling them that they had lost faith in God. This event tells us today that many of us don’t know where we came from.
Psalm 71:1-6 “In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge….be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come; You have given commandment to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress….by You, I have been sustained from birth….” We have fullness of security in God; He is a rock of habitation to which we can always go. From birth, God has been involved in our lives, sustaining us since then.
The reading from Jeremiah spoke of more depth than Psalm 71. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you….” (Jeremiah 1:5a). Even before conception, the spirit and soul are planted in us and God already knew us. In the reading, God is speaking to Jeremiah but He is saying the same thing to us. We aren’t just accidents. We have the divine in our creation. In our world today, pregnancies are terminated indiscriminately. Some of the babies aborted could have important roles to play for mankind but their lives are snuffed out even before they can see light. Fetuses are killed because they are a threat to the enemy. A baby’s cry at birth is a praise and proclamation to God: “Here I am to do your work!” To Jeremiah, the Lord said, “Before you were born I consecrated you….everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak….I have put My words in your mouth….” (Jeremiah 1:5-9). If there’s anything that destroys life, it’s fear. When we fear, we put power in things that don’t exist.
There’s nothing and no one more powerful than the Church. The United Nations tell us that 70% of the world’s population is in some form of slavery. Employees of large corporations are slaves of these firms, with the latter controlling their lives – dictating how much time they must put into the workplace. Employees are paid so little when these big corporations make so much profit out of their employees’ hard work. I know of a Philippine-owned company that makes bags that it supplies to a big store in New York. The Philippine company is paid USD14 for a bag, on average, and the NY store turns around and sells the same bag for USD600!
God tells thru Jeremiah not to fear: “I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10). God is telling the Church to “destroy and overthrow” and not to be in bondage; to “build and to plant”. This is our task as a Church. Our educational attainment doesn’t matter; it is God who gives us the abilities, power and anointing to do our work of building and planting. God has empowered us to be His witnesses. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be My witnesses….even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Are we being God’s witnesses of freedom and new life to the world? “We are ambassadors for Christ….” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
We may not have the confidence to be God’s witnesses and ambassadors, thinking that we didn’t do good in school or we come from a poor family. We have to remind ourselves that we were created in the image and likeness of God. We only think we’re weak and don’t amount to much because we’ve deceived ourselves into thinking this way. Our confidence is in God, not in our jobs or anything else. Plucking up and breaking down; destroying and overthrowing; building and planting – Christ did all this. He turned water into wine; He fed the five thousand. And He is in us! We have to eradicate the thought that “we can’t”.
“Your hands fashioned me altogether….clothed me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews….” (Job 10:8-12). A child in the womb grows till he is ready to be born because God’s hand is in him. God created every part of us to be like Him. We should not allow our circumstances to keep us in bondage. Some of the wealthiest Filipinos aren’t college graduates but they didn’t allow this to stop them from achieving their dreams. Abortion is murder. It says, “I choose not to give life”. But it is God who gives life; not us.
Our task is to edify the Church and fill the world with the glory of God. We do this by bringing knowledge of the love of God and hope to the people. Edify them. Tell them who they are in Christ; what they are capable of because they were created in the image of God. Forget the impossibilities. We are empowered with ability and authority to pluck out what’s wrong and to build what is right. This is our mission. If you concentrate on the wrongs of the past, it’s your death because God has erased the past. Let us renew our minds. We are co-redemptorists like Mary. Christ did the work, not us; but we’re to bring out what Christ has done in our lives.