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Bishop's Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

March 20, 2022

[St. Ann Church, Kaneohe]

Fire is fascinating.  People can sit before a roaring fireplace or a flickering candle and be mesmerized by the fire.  We sometimes see Polynesian fire dances, in which the dancer twirls a flaming torch, and these amaze us.  If you have ever participated in a candle-light procession, there is something that is engaging about hundreds of little flames coming together.  As we look forward to gathering around a fire on the darkened night of the Easter Vigil, we will then use that fire to light a pillar of wax we call the Easter candle to lead us into the church, where we will all hold lighted candles in the dark, reminding us of the day we were given the fire of God’s love at our Baptism.

But we know that fire can also be extremely destructive.  My best friend called me in tears last week to tell me that his brother, who is a welder, died after being burned in a boiler explosion.  We all saw images of the devastating forest fires in the Western United States in the past few years.  And now we see buildings in Ukraine burning from fire caused by the bombs of war.  So while fire can be fascinating, it can also be frightening.

Moses, as we know, was born a Hebrew but raised in the privileged setting of the house of Pharaoh’s daughter.  Yet when he saw a Hebrew being abused by an Egyptian, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand.  When he knew Pharaoh had found out and was enraged that he had done such a thing, Moses fled to the land of Midian.  It was this man, who was so fired up with a sense of justice for his people, that God chose to go back to Pharaoh, and to tell him to let his people go, so that they could escape their slavery and oppression.  And the messenger – or angel – that God sent to Moses was a fascinating fire that burned but did not destroy.  And so it was that Moses returned to the burning furnace of Pharaoh’s oppression, confident that he would not be consumed.

We are also called to tell the modern-day Pharaohs to set people free.  We need a certain amount of “fire in the belly” to do this, because if we are uncommitted, we will make very little difference.  At the same time, we know it can be dangerous to go into the fray, because we can easily be burned.  And so we raise our voices against the evils of abortion or assisted suicide, and will only be effective if we are on fire with zeal.  Yet we can expect to be burned a bit by critics who believe a person has an absolute right to control her own body.  But because we have passed through the waters of Baptism, we cannot be consumed by that destructive fire of criticism.  We need a certain amount of fire to address the messy and extremely complex problem of homelessness, a fire that will keep us studying, engaged, and creative in finding solutions for our brothers and sisters in need.  Yet, we can expect to be fired upon by those who do not want the homeless anywhere near them, or even by the homeless themselves, who, like the Hebrews of old, prefer to stay in slavery because it a comfortable life.  We can reach out to the many people who are suffering from depression or great anxiety, because without us they will continue to slip down into an abyss of darkness and misery.  But we can be sure that they will not always appreciate our outreach, perhaps at first considering it an intrusion.  But our being soaked in the name of God in Baptism is what keeps us from burning up and withering away.  Yes, in so many ways, God makes us the messengers of his healing love, so that we can burn or even be burned, but never be consumed.

But we must first let ourselves be fired up by the Lord.  Otherwise, we will be like the fig tree that bore no fruit and was judged to just be sucking the life out of the soil without contributing anything.  God gives us this season of Lent to give us one more chance to examine ourselves, prune away dead branches of ideas that are destructive, fertilize our souls with prayer and fasting, and get in touch with our deepest roots which were planted and nurtured by the true and living God, the great I AM.  God wants every one of us to be a tree that is on fire with his love, yet never consumed by fear.  He gives us the same mission he gave to Moses, to help set people free by proclaiming the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ alone.