10th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15
The Rev. Meg Lovejoy+
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it was already kindled!” (Lk 12:49)
Jesus sounds impatient in this verse from the Gospel of Luke. He was speaking to his disciples and was aware of what he soon faced in Jerusalem. That fire and baptism Jesus speaks of addresses the suffering and death he was to endure. Maybe you’ve experienced a similar feeling, a feeling of just wanting it to be over. Think of times just before a big presentation at work or a big exam; maybe a surgery or some other major event you experienced. You knew what was ahead and you wanted it to be over with and behind you. I think the impatient sounding comment shows Jesus’ humanity. He wanted it all to be over and behind him.
We normally picture Jesus as the kind, patient, loving savior but, the words in this gospel are some of Jesus’ harshest words and tell us he could be angry and hard when necessary. Jesus understands the radical choices that must be made in order to be ready for the coming of God’s Kingdom. Fire is a clear image of judgement. As it burns, it destroys, cleanses, and purifies. Jesus said, “I have a baptism to be baptized.” (Lk 12: 50) The baptism he speaks of here brings the image of water. Water doesn’t burn, but it does destroy, cleanse, and purify.
Both images, fire and water, are images of transformation. In order to be transformed, the old or “unclean” must first be destroyed or cleansed so that something “new” may be born. The old ways of the Roman Empire, the old ways of religion were to be transformed into a new way of life and a new religion of love.
An old and proven method of cleaning old dead growth of grass and underbrush is commonly used in managing pastureland and woodlands. It is the use of fire. Every spring, cattle producers who graze their cattle in the marshland of Cameron parish, burn the dead grasses in the marsh. Their cattle have been moved to different pastures for the winter and before they move the cattle back into the marsh, the dead grass must be removed in order to allow for new spring growth. Not only does the process of burning remove the old growth, it also provides fertilizer and speeds up the immergence of the new growth. As soon as the spring rains provide fresh water over the scorched marsh, new, tender, green shoots of grass appear. The brown, dead grass marsh is transformed with fire and water into new green growth that can sustain cattle, and other animals and reptiles of the marsh.
As Jesus’ suffering and death approached, he understood stress and anxiety would increase among his followers. He spoke of division because he understood that the stress would cause division in families. Yet, that conflict and division that Jesus said he would bring also brought new growth. The growth of a way of life that had never been seen before. A way of loving, a way of being loved, a way of standing up for and speaking for those at the lowest level of society, a way of recognizing God in each other.
Late nineteenth century theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) said, “ It is inherent in the nature of the Gospel to provoke division and controversy. The Christian message does stir up trouble. It thrives on it. To defend the poor provokes the anger of the rich; to defend the outcast enrages the in-group; to support a fair wage irritates the robber-barons; to call for peace incites others to war. We think we are safe because we are silent. Wrong! Jesus is calling now for a division of the house. The only safe place for the Christian in this life is in the center of the storm, in the midst of the battle, for that is precisely where Jesus is.”
Jesus never promised his followers that life would be easy. In these words, he predicted that life would be difficult and stressful. Yet, Jesus willing carried the cross of persecution, the cross that comes from the wickedness of others in the world, for us. But, the evil that seeks to corrupt and destroy the children of God can be overpowered with the fire of the Holy Spirit and the water of baptism.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Hebrews that, although many followers of Christ suffered and died terrible deaths, they kept their faith. Because we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we can draw strength from them to run our races, to endure the trials and sufferings of this life. We focus on Jesus Christ who suffered and endured the cross so that we might have eternal life in the glory of the Kingdom of God.
I heard an Allman Brothers song a few days ago that made me think of Paul’s encouraging words of those souls who have gone before us. It’s called “Soulshine”.
When you can’t find the light
That guides you through a cloudy day.
When the stars ain’t shining bright
You feel like you’ve lost your way.
When the candle light at home
Burns so very far away,
Well, you got to let you soul shine
Just like my daddy used to say.
He used to say soulshine,
It’s better than sunshine,
It’s better than moonshine,
Damn sure better than rain.
Hey now people don’t mind.
We all get this way sometime.
Got to let your soul shine, shine
Till the break of day.
So, I ask that you jump right into the middle of the storm. Live out your Christian faith and follow the path Jesus showed us - loving, giving, praying, and standing with those who need help. Let your soul shine. With the strength of all those who went before us, “we got this”.