The Fire of Jesus

The Fire of Jesus

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! . . . Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:49, 51)

Division Not Peace

Amidst all the divisions in our world today, it is so hard to hear Jesus’ words this morning.  His words seem far different from the message of compassion and love we expect from him.  While Jesus’ life does show us God’s extraordinary love, the message of Jesus also led to his death at the hands of the religious and political authorities. His disciples feared that they would soon die in the same way.

Jesus’ harsh words honestly describe what happens when his truth is proclaimed.  He knows that when God’s truth is told, division can happen.  It is not that Jesus wants to be divisive, but he is warning us, so that we might be prepared for when our faith, or the faith of those around us, is met with resistance or, even worse, violence.  And we’ve got the history to prove such violence.  It’s the same history that highlights the blessings of faithfulness.

The Path of Those Who Have Gone Before Us

Consider our other lectionary readings today.  We heard from the prophet Jeremiah, who preached in a time of disaster and uncertainty for his nation.  The word of God that Jeremiah preached was not well received, yet he stood firm nonetheless.

Then look at the great cloud of witnesses named in our NT reading.  We love that verse from the Bible’s letter to the Hebrews, reminding us of the faithful who have gone before us who cheer us on.  But most often, the first part of this passage is never read, where Hebrews reminds us that those faithful were mocked, flogged, stoned, and so on.  Who would sign up for this kind of faithfulness?  Well, we have signed up for this actually.

As our Hebrews text tells it, we have now just entered history to play our part in the marathon race of witnessing to the truth of our faith.  We’ve entered a long-distance relay, in which the baton of faith is passed from the likes of Rahab to Gideon to Barak to Samson to Jephtha to Samuel and David and the prophets, named and unnamed, male and female – on down to us. As one Christian author stated, “Faith is no individual accomplishment but the precious, God-given gift, the ‘baton’ of faith, if you will, entrusted to each generation to carry and safely pass on.”1 Those who’ve passed the baton to us, now pack the stands to cheer on the rest of us as we now “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”.

But it will cost us, as we run this leg of our race in Jesus’ name.

Refiner’s Fire

We were baptized not only with water but with the Holy Spirit to become runners in this race of faith.  And as we all know, the Holy Spirit is represented in the Bible by fire.

The prophet Malachi refers to God as the refiner who sits by the fire. (Malachi 3:2-3) The process of refining involves putting a precious metal into a hot fire in order to burn off and remove all the impurities. The fire’s heat also enables the metal to be molded and shaped into something beautiful and functional. The refiners fire burns to purify but it doesn’t destroy. That’s the fire Jesus has come to bring into each of our lives! He is constantly burning away our sin and igniting our hearts with HIS passion to shape us into his disciples!

“There is a story of a woman who visits a silversmith. She asks him how he knows when the silver is refined. The silversmith responds, ‘when I can see my face in the silver.’2

God in Jesus Christ refines us as precious metal until we reflect his own image back at him. We are redeemed, changed and claimed by the fire of Christ’s forgiveness and radical love. “This fire edifies us so that we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”3 As people who are transformed, Jesus then tells us today that the time is RIGHT NOW to bring His REFINING AND TRANSFORMING actions into a world that won’t necessarily appreciate it but needs it so desperately!

That’s the fire Jesus speaks of kindling today!  The refining fire of God is directed to burn away injustice, oppression, the sin of the world and the sin of our lives…at a systemic level and at an individual level…and it burns away – until what is precious and beautiful is revealed.

A Challenging Gospel

Jesus did not come to bring a comfortable gospel. He came to bring a challenging gospel, one that calls us to oppose the powers of this world that harm, exclude, and instill hate. We are called to pursue justice for all people, to care for those on the margins, and to seek God’s will before our own. “Following this gospel might even set us in opposition to our own friends and family. But the message Jesus brings is a message of salvation and of love for all people – and sometimes that requires taking a stand.”4

Brian McLaren, a pastor, speaker, activist, and author, explained how he got a call asking him to come to Charlottesville, NC in August of 2017. He was asked to join a group of clergy who would be praying and peacefully protesting AGAINST white supremacists who publicly assembled in the largest group gathered in decades to demonstrate in that city.

McLaren didn’t tell anyone he went until he returned. He knew he was going into a difficult situation. Later, his pastor at his home church mentioned it in his sermon. McLaren tells how, after that church service, an older gentleman got in his face and lectured him, saying he did not respect what McLaren had done and thought he was wrong to go pray and protest against this demonstration.

McLaren said that to this day, he holds two memories embedded in his mind – one was the memory of the fear and determination he felt as he prayed and peacefully protested WITH this group standing up AGAINST this other group filled with HATE. And, juxtaposed to that memory, is the memory of standing in the center aisle of his home church after worship one Sunday, later being told by a brother in Christ that he thought what McLaren did was wrong.

McLaren said this experience reminded him of today’s passage from Luke. He reflected on the connection by saying, “When Jesus came (to live his life among us), he was not a pacifier…He was an agitator. He was a fire starter. He knew that things had to heat up before people would wake up.”5

What needs to be heated up today before people wake up to live the lives Jesus has called us to live?

It’s one thing to worship Jesus. It is something more difficult to follow him. “That’s because what the world looks down upon – Jesus calls blessed. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek and the humble. Blessed are the merciful and the compassionate. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst that God’s righteous justice might prevail. Blessed are those who make for peace. Blessed are you who are persecuted just because you stood for love, because you showed compassion, because you live for justice, because you walk a different way, blessed are you.”6

The breath of God’s Holy Spirit is fanning the flames as we follow Christ into this present time. I experience our congregation, all of us together, growing into a discipleship that has always brought Christ’s love, forgiveness and transforming power to others. But now more than ever, we’re called to find newer or deeper ways to share Christ’s refining fire with others. I sense we’re picking up the baton and finding our footing in the next leg of the race. Our pace won’t be perfect. We’ll stumble at times. There will be those who resist the direction we’ll head. But there’s a cloud of witnesses is cheering us on and Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, continues to run this path before us to show us the way. Thanks be to God. AMEN.

 

References

  1. Postils for Preaching, John Rollefson, p. 128
  2. Strange Fire, A Sermon by Rev Meghan Feldmeyer, Duke University Chapel, Aug 18, 2013
  3. Strange Fire, A Sermon by Rev Meghan Feldmeyer, Duke University Chapel, Aug 18, 2013
  4. From sundaysandseasons.com
  5. NOT PEACE BUT DIVISION, Sermon, Ministry Matters, August 14th, 2019 By Brian D. McLaren
  6. Keep the Faith, Rev. Michael Curry, Day 1, Aug 18, 2013
1 Comment
  • Ann Ellingboe
    Posted at 21:29h, 23 August Reply

    I always appreciate and respect your insight into scripture. This a hard passage but you make it seem simple and clear. Ann Ellingboe

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