Homily – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Friends, each of us has been given life—a gift by our Creator in order that we can have a human experience and all that it entails.  Hopefully, we can come to experience being loved while here because ultimately we came into being from a God who has loved us beyond words.  We know this to be true from stories like the Prodigal and the woman who lost a coin and turned her house upside-down to find it. Parables like the Good Shepherd and the Good Samaritan describe over-the-top love for us as creatures of a magnanimous God.

When we remember; we must be filled with gratitude for such love and endeavor to share that love with others.  Sometimes life in its ability to give love isn’t always kind to everyone.  That is where we as Christians, followers of our brother Jesus must step in and pay forward the love we have graciously received.  Recent scriptures let us know that Jesus expects those of us who have received much to give more.

The readings for this Sunday lay out the perils of being a prophet.  We see what happens to Jeremiah in the first reading, spoken of by many exegetes as the “reluctant prophet.”  Jeremiah apparently had a tender heart and felt that he didn’t have the stamina to speak truth to people who didn’t want to hear it.  In our human nature this is understandable, but Jeremiah finally realizes that God believes in him and will give him the strength needed for what needs to be done.  Even those who don’t want to hear and do violence to Jeremiah are upstaged ultimately by compassion.

Each of us friends, even though we may feel like Jeremiah and perhaps don’t want to be bothered, must realize that we gave that up when we said “yes” to Jesus. Our “yes” only is true if indeed we stand up for those who are misused and abused, who live their lives lacking justice.

We see from the gospel additionally, the cost of discipleship—Jesus tells us he means to set a fire upon the earth and he wishes it were already here.  That line from scripture has always intrigued me and I read it to mean that our brother Jesus wants each of us to be so ignited with love that nothing will stop us in following God’s call to let everyone know that they too are loved.  And like Jesus, we show our love through action.

There were of course those in power who didn’t want to hear this message because it threatened their control and place in society and in synagogue—today read, church—sharing and caring and dispensing justice to all is generally not part of the agenda of those in control.

And so that brings us to the cost of discipleship.  Jesus minces no words—your family and friends may turn against you for demanding a love that includes all.  And even though this may be hard to bear, we each need to ask what is most important to us and then move ahead.

In the time of Jesus, he was asking a great deal of his followers as family—kinship was everything to these people.  Your good name, your family meant the difference between physically living and dying and if they turned against you, you were literally lost.  Today, we value being individuals and our independence, so family may not be as important in a physical sense. Our connection to family tends to be more on the emotional side—the place from where we came, how we make sense of ourselves in the world. This past Friday was the 30th anniversary of my dad’s death and even though the relationships in my family of origin tend to be somewhat dysfunctional, our dad was always the unifying force and we all felt he left us way too soon. I shared some pictures on Facebook of him and tagged my siblings and once again, our dad was that unifying force for a stroll down memory lane.

But during the time of Jesus, connection to family was really more of a practical consideration even though the emotional component may have been present too. We are made with physical, emotional and spiritual components and each can be tested as we endeavor to be true followers of our brother Jesus. I well remember the reaction from family and friends when I announced my plans to become ordained in response to God’s call to do so. There was overall great support for my action, but I was surprised by some of those, friends and family who couldn’t support me. Each felt, as did I, that they needed to follow their hearts.

The human reaction was more understandable than the reaction from the Church hierarchy wherein one would expect the Spirit to be alive and well. Because I and my sisters who had chosen to follow the Spirit’s call in challenging an unjust law concerning who God had called to ordained ministry, we were accused of being unfaithful and untrue to the Church—that we were a source of confusion to the people. Jeremiah and Jesus were accused of the same.  The cost of discipleship!

My friends, speaking up when we are with family and friends, for truth and justice—acting in ways that might set us alone in the crowd is what Jesus meant by setting a fire upon the earth. Being his follower is not a “milk toast” proposition!  We pray with the psalmist today, “Come to my aid, O God.” The writer to the Hebrews instructs us to remember Jesus and ultimately take strength from him so that we will not grow weary.

As I have said so many times before, the Sundays in Ordinary Time call us to anything but “ordinary” challenges.  We are called to rise about that which is lowest and most base in our human natures in both rhetoric and action and strive along with Jesus to set that fire upon the earth which melts hearts, clearing the way for a love which includes all. We really can do no less my friends—we are hard-wired for all that is just, all that is good and we must demand it of our leaders, both social and religious and we must begin now! Amen? Amen!