Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fire Fighters

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost                      Jeremiah 23:16-29
ILT Chapel                                                                        Psalm 19:81-88
Brookings, SD                                                              Hebrews 11:17-31
August 19, 2013                                                     Luke 12:49-53 (54-56)
                                          “Fire Fighters"
Greetings to you on this day that the Lord has made--a day for us to rejoice and be glad.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49) That’s not your typical image of a kinder and gentler Jesus, is it?  But then he continues:  “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51)  Fire… Division… No, this certainly isn’t the kinder and gentler Jesus of Sunday School rooms and bible camp songs.  Fire… Division… No, this certainly isn’t the tolerant, accepting, and hospitable Jesus of contemporary Christianity.  Fire… Division… No, this certainly doesn’t fit with the marketing message of many churches today.

Fire… fire is much in the news this week as it rages across much of the American West consuming all before and leaving but dust and ashes in its wake.  Fire… Fire occasioned the only expression of obscenity I ever heard from my father.  It was in my youth bordering on young adulthood.  My father and I had worked side-by-side on the farm for several years.  Each year as we prepared the land for spring planting there would be a field or two which would require burning.  We would set fire to the stubble of the previous year’s crop, subjecting it to the rapid oxidation of burning rather than the extremely slow oxidation of decomposition.  Fire rots things in seconds rather than years.

The previous year we had raised flax on this particular field.  The flax plant has a solid stem rather than the hollow stem of most grains.  Flax straw is tough, fibrous, and slow to decompose.  It provides the raw material for manufacturing linen cloth.  If we didn’t burn the stubble for the previous year’s crop, it would clog our machinery and prevent the current year’s seed from being properly sown.  So, burn it we did.

On this particular occasion we’d been promised suitable weather by the forecaster on the TV and we expected an uneventful burn.  The weatherman, however, turned out to be wrong.  The wind stayed neither calm nor steady.  It switched directions and increased dramatically.  Surely it reached thirty miles an hour with gusts to forty or more.  The wind turned our sedately burning field into a raging wild fire which leapt our containments and threatened to escape into the neighbor’s pasture land.  From there it would spread right down the Sand Creek valley, driven by that ferocious wind, consuming all before it, and leaving but dust and ashes in its wake.  Arrayed as its opposition, standing between the fire and its freedom were my father and I with our tools, two shovels and a tractor.   We contained that fire, barely.  It was a close-run thing.  As my father and I collapsed, relieved and exhausted fire fighters, then I heard him name that fire with a curse, the only expression of obscenity I ever heard from my father.  That fire, if it had escaped our containments would have brought destruction upon our neighbors and that destruction would have meant the end of all my father… my father and I… had worked for.  It would have ended the farm.  Of necessity, we were fire fighters.

Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth…”  Of necessity this fire occasions fire fighters.  They are the ones who see in the fire Jesus cast upon the earth a wind-driven path of destruction consuming all before it and leaving but dust and ashes in its wake.  They are the ones who see the fire leaping their containments and escaping, free and wild before the wind.  They are the ones, who like my father and me, know that the fire running wild and free would mean the end of all they’d worked for… the end of hopes, dreams, and endeavors.  The fire cast by Jesus upon the earth occasions of necessity that sinners become fire fighters… and the best ones… the most diligent ones… are those that are institutionalized. 

Yes, sinners inhabit our institutions—even the institution known as church.  Sinners within the institution of the church are the world’s best fire fighters.  Why?  Why do sinners in the church fight the fire cast by Jesus upon the earth?  They fight it for the same reason my father and I fought that fire years ago:  it threatens to bring destruction upon all they hold dear.

The great champion of historical analysis, Carroll Quigley, provides an answer from a secular perspective—that is, from our human side.  He writes that every society develops organizations or instruments to satisfy the needs of that particular society at that particular time.  Quote:
An instrument is a social organization that is fulfilling effectively the purpose for which it arose.  An institution is an instrument that has taken on activities and purposes of its own, separate from and different from the purposes for which it was intended. 
As a consequence, an institution achieves its original purposes with decreasing effectiveness.  Every instrument consists of people organized in relationships to one another.  As the instrument becomes an institution, these relationships become ends in themselves to the detriment of the ends of the whole organization.”

Quigley is able to demonstrate that, from the human perspective, institutions are of necessity self-serving, and that means, since from the godly perspective we are sinners… that means we—you and I—are of necessity fire fighters.  Jesus came to cast fire on the earth—the fire of freedom… the fire of the forgiveness of sins… the fire of salvation by grace through faith alone… Do you see how threatening such fire is the institutionalized?  Institutions are all about boundaries:  who’s in, who’s out… who’s loyal, who’s not… who’s got power, who doesn’t…  Institutions are about bondage, not freedom,  Institutions are all about the consequences of sin:  what are the penalties… what’s just or unjust… who’s the judge, jury, and executioner… Institutions enforce the rules, they don’t forgive sins.  Institutions are all about works and their righteousness:  who’s got the right program… who’s doing the right things… who’s being the most benefit to the organization… Institutions are about workers, hard workers, not those who come to the rest promised by Jesus to the heavy laden.

“I came to cast fire upon the earth….”  This fire cast by Jesus will not submit to the containment of sinners, no matter how good of fire fighters they are… even the obscenity of death by crucifixion could not contain Jesus.  This fire cast by Jesus will not be stopped until it has consumed all before it.  It will run wild and free ending everything we sinners have worked for… it will be the end of hopes, the end of dreams, the end of endeavors, no matter how well institutionalized and well-meaning they are.  Then… then, in that wake of dust and ashes…. Then when all things have been repented—even the most precious of our virtues… when all things have been repented… Then, new life will spring up… the new life of the new creation which is ours… which is yours… in Christ Jesus your Lord.

This is not the kinder, gentler Jesus of Sunday School and bible camp.  This is not the fair weather Jesus promised by contemporary prophets of platitudes.  This is the Jesus, your Jesus, the Jesus who has come to be your Lord even if it means you’re being consumed by the fire and wind of the Holy Spirit so that Jesus Christ can be your life… your life in the new creation.  “I have come to cast fire upon the earth…” And you say, “Amen, come, Lord Jesus” Thanks be to God! Amen

This sermon was preached by the Reverend Timothy J. Swenson for the Institute of Lutheran Theology's online chapel service.  Visit:  www.ilt.org for weekday chapel services at 10:00 AM Central Time.  Archived chapel services are also available.

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There is a Time

2010-08-12 Irene Henderson
When Jesus declares in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are..." he is not making a future promised contingent upon the realization of some condition. No, he is establishing a present condition, in this time, right now. Indeed, there is a time for every matter under the sun and the Lord of all time has made each time beautiful in its time. Our dear Irene knew this. Thanks be to God for the life of this woman!
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11a
Matthew 5:1-10

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