The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Third Sunday of Easter
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
April 30, 2017
By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes – Gandalf came by. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, and in the most extraordinary fashion... “I am looking for someone,” Gandalf said to Bilbo, “to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” “I should think so – in these parts!,” said our Mr. Baggins, “We are plain folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.”
You might recognize these lines as among the first found in Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit. They give us our initial glimpse into the lives of these fascinating little creatures, showing them to be unadventurous, charming, and humble homebodies. They live, for all intents and purposes, the good life...their days are centered around food and family and farming. The Shire, where a great many of the hobbits live, is a beautiful and comfortable paradise...with picturesque green hills, calm streams, and rolling fields. It really is the land of milk and honey, a place where hobbits can easily have their six meals a day, throw their wonderful parties, and enjoy the simple lives they have carved out for themselves. Is it any wonder, then, that Bilbo would be so emphatically against Gandalf’s suggestion that he join him on an adventure? Why would he give up the comfort and predictability of his life only to run off into the unknown with an eccentric wizard and thirteen unkempt dwarves? No, Bilbo will not hear any of it. He is happy and content at home and will not budge for such a nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable thing.
Whether you’ve read the books or seen the movies, or even if you’ve only heard of them, we all know that Bilbo’s story doesn’t end here...it is only just beginning. Gandalf the Grey, who is as wise as he is eccentric, pursues Bilbo relentlessly, not taking “no” for an answer. He knows that underneath the hobbit’s attachment to his home and his comfortable life is a flame – albeit a small one – that yearns for something more, for something greater. But Gandalf also knows that there is a fear in Bilbo that has prevented him from fanning that flame. Fear of the unknown, perhaps, or fear of danger, or fear of rejection, or fear of failure, or fear of loss, or an admixture of them all and more. This fear has kept Bilbo in his hobbit hole, ensuring that he live a safe, comfortable, and mundane life...it ensures that he never play with the flame that flickers deep within so that he’ll never get burned. But where Bilbo is weak, where he is afraid, where he is complacent, Gandalf is there to offer him encouragement, to challenge him to greatness, and to fan the flame the burns in the little hobbit’s heart. Gandalf knows that there is a lot more in Bilbo than you can guess, and standing by his side, he convinces Bilbo to trust the flame, to take the risk, and to follow him on the adventure of a lifetime.
It took him awhile, but as he made his journey Bilbo came to discover that, simple though he was, he had the capacity for greatness. As he ventured out of the Shire and through Bag End, as he muddled on to Rivendell and into the Misty Mountains, as he wandered into Lake-town and ultimately to the Lonely Mountain and back again – encountering danger after danger, set-back after set-back, but also little victory after little victory – Bilbo’s small flame was fed and fanned, and his capacity for greatness began to translate into actual greatness. He found himself doing things he never thought himself able to do; he found himself saying things he never thought himself able to say; he found himself thinking things he never thought himself able to think. A passion began to burn and roar inside the hobbit, and when he made the decision to go along with it and to give into it, it made all the difference...not just in his life, but all-throughout Middle Earth.
It can be hard to trust the flame, the burning that we experience deep within ourselves...especially when we have layers of fear and complacency covering it up. We long for safety and security, comforts and pleasures; we, like hobbits, become content trapped in a lovely, picturesque world governed by fear because we feel it’s better than getting burned by the flickers of passion. But today, as Gandalf visited the uncertain Bilbo and called him out of his hobbit hole, Christ comes to us and calls us out of our fear. In His resurrected glory, in His almighty power, He stirs up the flames of passion deep within us...a passion for Him, a passion for holiness. He causes our hearts to burn, and He bids us to come along with Him on the adventure of a lifetime.
In our Gospel today, fear and uncertainty have captured the hearts of the two disciples who are on the road to Emmaus. They had placed all of their hope in the hands of that simple carpenter from Nazareth. Before their eyes He cured the sick, healed the lame, and raised the dead...it was so clear to them that He was the One Who had come to redeem Israel. He had just begun to fan the flames of their passion, when, just like that He was captured, sentenced to death, and crucified. It was over...everything was over and nothing seemed worth it. They decided, then, that it was time to leave and to get back to normal life. You can just imagine what their conversation must have been like as they walked along; they probably thought themselves fools and vowed never to fall for so ridiculous a thing ever again. They doused whatever flame was left in them and decided to trek back to a life concerned with worrying about the time and simply getting home for supper. But then they met the stranger on the road. They were as guarded against Him as Bilbo was against Gandalf at first, but the stranger knew that there was a lot more in them then they could even begin to realize. And in that instant, He began to stir their doused flames back to life...He set their hearts on fire and revealed Himself to them – in and through the simple breaking of bread – reminding them that they have nothing to fear, and He called them once more to Himself and to a life of holy passion. And then they went off and changed the world.
Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, once said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” In other words, let God stir up His grace within you and then go with it! If we let go of our fear, we can be stirred up into greatness, and that can make all the difference in our dark world. Fear may give us a comfortable life, but it will also prevent us from living to the full, causing us to hesitate in responding to the Lord’s call to greatness. We pray today for the grace to leave our complacency and our fear behind – as the disciples did – to practice our Catholic faith deliberately and bravely and wholeheartedly, and to follow Christ on the adventure to salvation, allowing Him to use us – His quite little fellows – as instruments of His grace and love in this wide world.