Libby Caes’ Homily, August 14, 2016

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies 1 Comment

Libby Caes

August 14, 2016

Jeremiah 23:23-29; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

When was the last time you asked yourself the big existential question…

What is the purpose of my life? What is it that I really want?

It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day activities and busyness of life and lose sight of the larger picture.

It is also very easy to become complacent in our spiritual practices, only going through the motions.

What is it that I really want?

The opening verse of today’s gospel reading could be Jesus’s mission statement.

I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled!

Let’s explore this.

Fire is a universal and primordial image:

Fire can be destructive as well as life giving.

All of us have memories associated with fire.

As I sat with the image of Jesus coming to bring fire to the earth I realized that my gut level associations with fire are not positive ones.

As a child and teenager I had recurring nightmares of the Holocaust, atomic bombs exploding or our house burning down.

A few years ago, this is not a dream, it really happened:

Dave and I had company for Sunday dinner. There was a lit candle on the dining room table. After our guest left I returned to the dining room and found a cloth napkin on fire.

What might have happened if I hadn’t found that smoldering napkin as quickly as I did? I shudder to think!

I have not lit a candle since then!!

With these associations, Jesus coming to bring fire to the earth is not a happy thought!  It might even be a nightmare!

At lectio yesterday, I was told people were wondering what I, a Mennonite, would say about today’s text. You may or may not know that the Anabaptists had a fiery start, many were burned at the stake.

We all bring our buried images, our life experience and our biases to the Biblical text.

No wonder Jesus repeatedly says “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mark 4.9)

I couldn’t’ ignore words I didn’t like. I couldn’t go searching for a more agreeable gospel reading.

I listened and listened and listened some more.

Let’s listen again:

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.”

The Wisdom tradition states that our central task in life is to awaken the heart.

When we come to the gospels with this in mind and hear the gospels as being primarily about the inward spiritual journey, these words take on a different meaning.

This fire is heart fire.

This fire is intense, passionate yearning.

It is the fire of love. It is life giving, it transforms.

Teachers in nearly all the spiritual traditions insist that heart fire is an essential ingredient for the spiritual journey.

The Gospel of Thomas (logion 10) draws on this image:

I have cast fire into the cosmos and I am watching over it until it blazes.

Remember the road to Emmaus?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Those with Jesus experienced something beyond words. Something profound happened. There was a heart to heart connection.

After that rendezvous, when Jesus disappeared from their sight, the disciples are transformed people.

Heart fire burns away the ego and the false sense of self.

What emerges is the Real I, our essence.

Cynthia Bourgeault puts it this way:

Fire is the driveshaft of all alchemy, both physical and spiritual.

This fire will burn through the old order, like a brushfire through the wilderness, but in so doing it will clear the way for new growth.

I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled!

Jeremiah also draws on the transforming power of fire:

Is not my word like fire and a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jer.23.29)

Listen to this exchange between two of the desert fathers, 4th-5th century AD:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little and pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do? Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

It is not about the same ole, same ole. It is not business as usual. It is about opening ourselves to something greater, something we cannot manage.

When new wine is poured into old wineskins, there is trouble.

Jesus is very wise in speaking of conflict between family members.

Consider Pope Francis, a great example of the tension between the old and new.

Pope Francis is a man whose heart is on fire. His love and compassion for humankind and all of creation shine forth in his words and actions.

Those who want to preserve the institutional church and the old order hate him!

Consequently, there is conflict and division in the family.

In this context we can better understand the martyrdom of the first Mennonites, Anabaptists-those baptized again. Their hearts ablaze were a threat to the institutional church.

Pope Francis and the Anabaptists are in the cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews refers to:

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely

And let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Heb.12.1)

Jesus, Pope Francis and many others …nudging us on, wanting us to remain faithful and not become complacent, wanting our true selves to emerge out of the transforming fire of love.

There is a phrase in one of our Eucharistic prayers…”we thank you for the men and women through the ages who have danced love’s cosmic dream of communion with heart’s ablaze.”

At the end of today’s reading, Jesus seems to be talking about the weather of the eastern Mediterranean:

When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say it is going to rain.

When you see a south wind blowing, you say there will be a scorching heat.

You don’t have to go to to figure out what’s coming. It is obvious.

Then Jesus says, “Don’t you know how you to interpret the present time?”

The present time is obvious, just like the weather.

The Greek word for time is not chronos but kairos.

Chronos time, chronological time, is linear. It is even measured in milliseconds which may be the difference between an Olympic gold and silver.

Kairos time is time in another sphere. It is time in the Kingdom of God. It is spiritual time.

When we are in kairos time It is as if chronos time ceases and we are living in a different reality.

There are fleeting moments.

We can’t predict when these moments come but we need to be paying attention.

We need to be awake.

Now is the Kairos moment.

Now is the moment to rekindle heart fire.

Not in the past or in the future. Now.

If you will, you can become all flame.

I close with the prophetic words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, written about a century ago:

The day will come when after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation; we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, human beings will have discovered fire.

I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were kindled.




Comments 1

  1. So Beautiful, Libby. Thank you. We do lectio here in St. Louis on Tues, doing the Sunday readings. I have struggled and read a lot about that Gospel. Your sermon really put it in a meaningful sense for me. Thank you so much. Blessings

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