Today’s reflection is for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 18, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that there’s nothing quite like a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning! Of course, because coffee isn’t just for breakfast, many take delight in coffee later in the day. And because we’re reaching over a hundred degrees these days, iced coffee has become quite the treat for many, myself included. While some like coffee cold, and many like coffee hot, I don’t think I know anyone who can’t wait to have lukewarm coffee. Lukewarm would seemingly promise to please everyone, but in truth, it pleases no one, and the same is true of our Christian discipleship. Jesus tells us today that he came to set the earth on fire! He desires nothing less than people burning with the fire of his Holy Spirit, filled with life and love and goodness and truth.
In fact, this is one of my favorite verses from the Book of Revelation. The angel of the Lord tells John to write this to the well-to-do Church in Laodicea, “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Today’s Gospel is very clear, if we are going to call ourselves his disciples, then we must take a stand. We must be red hot for him. In fact, he tells his disciples that their allegiance must be so decided that it will no-doubt cause division for many–even within one’s own family. There is no tighter bond than between father and son or mother and daughter, but the decision to follow Jesus may in fact be a source of brokenness. How many children in non-Christian countries (and even predominantly Christian ones) have made the decision to follow Jesus only to be rejected by family and friends.
Jesus tells us, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three…” Jesus’ desire is, of course, unity and love, but he knew all too well the tragedy of brokenness and sin that would cause many to turn away from him. Many in our church today, while claiming to title of Christian, remain luke-warm. For many years I straddled the fence between Christ and his church and the world. I called myself Catholic for an hour on Sunday, but made no commitment to following Jesus or the teachings of the Church at any point throughout the week. I was neither hot nor cold. I was a lot like Jeremiah–stuck in the mud and going nowhere fast!
The book of Jeremiah has some helpful wisdom for those who are luke-warm, in a dark place, or stuck in the mud and muck of the world. We need an Ebed-melech and three or four good men. When we are stuck in our ego, stuck in the allure and promise of worldly wealth or power; when we’re stuck in desire for pleasure and earthly friendships and fame we need some good friends who will speak openly and honestly to us about where we are in our life and in our faith.
Disciples of Christ are called to burn hot with the fire of the Holy Spirit, but the world is a difficult place and we can too easily become side-tracked and begin to cool. I want to encourage you this week to seek spiritual direction, read Scripture often, attend Mass weekly, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, join a Catholic book club, pray the Rosary, attend parish events, start a Catechism study, and pray daily. These activities will not only help your faith grow strong but will also surround you with like-minded people who are also seeking to be more like Jesus and burn with his love. These are the friends who will get you out of the mud when you’re stuck in your dark place!
All of these activities and friendships will provide fuel for the fire! Everytime we do these things we burn a little hotter for Jesus! Jesus has come to set the world ablaze and he is calling us to join him. There is no in between, I’m afraid. Like coffee, there’s only hot or cold. That’s it. Which one are you?