“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” From the Letter to the Hebrews.
Last Sunday we read from the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, about faith. Let me refresh your memories of the key verse in this section: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
Then there is a key verse about faith: “… without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
The chapter goes on giving example of the ancestors who lived by faith, some, like Moses, who never saw their reward on this earth.
Today in Chapter 12, we read this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also 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, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
All of these pioneers blazed the way for us, and they are witnesses of the power of faith. So let’s put away all sinful behavior that weighs us down, and get ready to run the race! Let’s follow Jesus who showed us the way, and perfected our faith, because he endured the shame of death on the cross, and it now seated at the right hand of the Father.
When you grow weary of running the race, think about the hostility that Jesus endured to blaze that trail for us, and it will refresh and inspire you.
Endure trials for the sake of discipline, the writer of this letter tells us. Trials seem to come at us out of no where, when least expected. Sometimes even discipline feels unfair when the answer is no. Sometimes we look at discipline and think it is punishment, but they are not the same thing at all. Discipline comes from the word disciple, and they come from the same Greek word. A disciple is one who learns, and discipline is the lesson. So to be disciplined is to be taught a lesson. In this view it is the trials that we endure that teach us lessons.
“Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
I have to admit that I was very undisciplined as a young man. I was not a very good student, because I was not very interested in the lessons. I mostly day dreamed about things that I wanted to do, anywhere except in school!
Since I surrendered my life to the Lord, things have been different. Now I spend my time in pursuit of holiness, trying to live by the two Great Commandments that we speak about often. Not that I am very good at it, but it is my goal. I want to be disciplined by the Lord now. I want him to teach me his ways, and lead me in his paths. I see now that the only true happiness is in knowing the Lord.
The author of Hebrews wrote, “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” I have to be on guard at all times in my relationships with others, lest I cause more harm than good, and yet I still manage to hurt others with my words and actions. I heard a friend quote a prayer that might be the best one for me; “Lord keep your arm around my shoulders, and your hand over my mouth.”
Now, there is this somewhat problematic reading from the Gospel. With all this talk of peace and love, comes this severe warning from our Lord. “Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;”
He seems downright made, doesn’t he?
Fire. Stress. Division. These don’t seem to jive with the gentle, loving Jesus we imagine. So how can we reconcile these ideas? First is his declaration that he came to bring fire to the earth.
We tend to think of fire as a destructive force, and we have fire fighters that deal with it, but listen to these words of St. John the Baptist,
“I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Here fire is related to the Holy Spirit. Remember what happened to the Apostles at Pentecost: tongues of flame sat on their heads as the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Fire is also a purifying force. Listen to this prophecy from Zechariah:
In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.
They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.'” (Zec 13:8,9)
Here fire is a way to purify, refine, and test. In other words, the impurities are burned away leaving only the silver or gold. So the people of God will be purified.
The baptism the Lord speaks about here is his passion, his death and resurrection. And he knows his actions will cause division, because there will be those who believe in the resurrection, and those who will not, and there will be enmity between them.
The early Christians were persecuted for their faith, and Christians around the world continue to be persecuted to this day. In some parts of the world, it is very costly to proclaim one’s faith.
But Christians, instead of seeking revenge for persecution, respond with forgiveness, and seek peace. This is contrary to the ways of the world, and it is mistaken for weakness.
In fact, it takes supernatural strength to respond with love when treated badly. With this strength we can pursue peace with everyone, be tested in the fire, and seek the holiness of faith so that we might recognize the Lord who lives in our hearts.
We don’t need to search for God. We are already one with him. Pray that we all repent of our sins, and live only for him. Amen.