Sunday, August 18, 2019

Bring Fire to the earth!

Oh, today’s gospel. It is often a Gospel that is avoided because it seems so harsh. It sounds so well…mean.  If we do not hear it right it sounds down right destructive. This isn’t the Jesus we want. This isn’t the Jesus we like.

But it is…It so is… People want peace and a loving Jesus. We want a good challenge less messiah. We want Jesus loves me this I know…

Or Jesus loves the little children all the children of the world or maybe we prefer
 That old coca cola commercial song

 “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” Oh, how we wish it were true. You know how it goes.

I'd like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
For peace throughout the land
(That's the song I hear)
I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony

Oh, that’s it! So lovely, so peaceful, no fire of destruction, but Jesus isn’t really speaking of a destructive fire…Is he?

“Jesus the Good Shepherd who searches for and saves the lost sinner. (John 11) We like that picture. People want to believe that Jesus is patiently waiting for them to make up their minds. They feel quite comfortable indefinitely postponing repentance, baptism, commitment, forgiveness, faith. They think Jesus is the Good Shepherd who must wait for them. Any time they want they can repent, get saved, and the angels in heaven will rejoice.
That’s what we want Jesus to say and do. Instead he continues, “No, I tell you, I have come to bring fire on the earth. Not peace, but division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three ....”
We’re looking for love, peace, grace and mercy. And so, the words of the Beatitudes ring in our ears.

Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

This is always a difficult passage. I really didn’t want to preach on it.”[1]
Jesus addressing his disciples says I came to bring fire to this earth and how I wish it was already kindled.  Fire could be interpreted as destructive force as in the end days that many associate with the book of revelation but …but

I would like to say this is a comment about his own disciples, about Jesus followers… he really wished they had some fire underneath their commitment.  I came to give these people some passion, a mission, the mission of love and you should be excited about it.

Jesus also address his own call and what it means to follow him.  Remember when he said to the young man who loves God, who follows all of Gods commandments and wanted to do more so Jesus said sell everything and follow me…He went away sad for that was more than he could do.

Jesus here says I have a baptism that I am about to be baptized into and lord it is heavy on my heart. (My words not the Gospels) but this is what Jesus is saying I am about enter into the baptism of the crucifixion.  He already knows his disciples, much like the young man cannot follow him this far…at least not yet…He also knows they have no concept of what that will mean until after they are baptized by the fire of the holy spirit.

Jesus is forewarning what all he is doing will bring about. He says people will turn against each other even with in families. This is true as it happens throughout Christianity even to this day.

There is even often a split within ourselves. This dualistic way of being and thinking often finds us as individuals a house divided.

There is an old story that I love that illustrates this well.

One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’ The Evil wolf or the Good Wolf is fed daily by the choices we make with our thoughts and deeds.

You see even within Christianity this duality exists and when it comes to perception of how we are to live and what God calls us towards, we are divided again that is why there are so many different Christian denominations…This is why sometimes I have to use the hashtag NOTTHATKINDOFCHRISTIAN

I am reminded by a commentator that “It's possible that people don't always understand the Savior or see Him for the Person He really is and was. Look at the contrast in reactions to His birth. Shepherds came and worshipped Him and a short time later a king tried to kill Him. Jesus healed a man who had been born blind and rather than rejoicing at the Savior's work, the leaders of the synagogue kicked the man out of his church.

Jesus raised a friend named Lazarus from the dead which caused gladness among many who were happy to be reunited with the ex-deceased. But Scripture says there were also those who immediately began to hatch murder plots to get rid of Jesus and Lazarus. Shortly before His death Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. Great crowds welcomed Him, proclaiming Him to be the Son of David. Still, not more than five days later, crowds were calling for His crucifixion. There is a cost to discipleship. (I hate to quote him but) Billy Graham has said, ‘Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have.’

But by the year 500, Jesus' church had become the official religion of the Roman Empire and Jesus' Persona was changed. Now He Who once had no place to lay His head now had glittering churches and cathedrals. Before the calendar rolled over to the year 1000, Jesus had been changed again. The second millennium had the people thinking the Prince of Peace wanted them to take up the sword and march off to Israel to try and wrest the Holy Land from the forces of Islam which had conquered and forcibly converted the country.

Scripture speaks of the Lord reaching out to the sick, the sinner, the sorrowful, to the lost, the lonely, the leprous. By 1500, Jesus was presented as One Who had become so angry with humankind, so unapproachable that if someone went to Him in prayer, he did so with fear. Jesus had once said "come unto me if you are weary and burdened" but the common man was taught it would be far better, far safer, far wiser for him pray to a saint of the church or the Lord's Own mother, Mary. Even Luther had that problem, and often prayed to St. Anne the patron saint of miners, until he discovers the Grace of God in Romans and the words of Paul in Ephesians. ‘By grace you are saved, a gift of God, not by your works….’”[2]

I know it’s hard to proclaim our Christian views in this world.  In my community many LGBTQ people have left the church and tend to blame every hateful action on the Christian church. We have let the scornful, divisive voices, of a certain group of Christians to somehow rule the airwaves.

Gayle Dee writes of the UCC; “We’ve all said it, “The UCC is the best kept secret…  if only people knew there is a church like us!”  There’s plenty of truth to the cliché.  Today’s “spiritual but not religious” are still looking for a sense of belonging and a purpose in life.  Our inclusive, extravagant welcome and our focus on making a difference in the world by working for social justice are exactly what many un-churched folks are looking for.  If only they knew about us….
Another cliché in the UCC is “You know we’re uncomfortable with the ‘E’ word.”  “Evangelism” still scares many of our members, bringing to mind the piercing Jesus-freak question, “Are you saved??”  So, if people are looking for a place like us, but don’t know we exist, and our members are reluctant to invite their friends, much less, total strangers, what can we do?”[3]

The very same can be extended to us.  The Federated church is a very well-kept secret. Many people believe the church is the community Hall.  Some are not sure which building in town is our church or if there is a church at all. We sometimes send out confusing messages.  Often, we do not send out messages at all.

I know some here are on fire for the church. I know some invite friends and family all the time and yet… In the old days, he he, well when I was a kid, we used to have a thing called welcome wagon.  A person in the local area would come to the door with a package of samples and coupons from the neighborhood businesses which would include a list of places to worship.  That doesn’t exist anymore.

There was a time when a pastor would go door to door introducing themselves and inviting people to the congregation. With today’s climate of trust/mistrust it really isn’t safe to do anymore and honestly, I am not comfortable with it.  

But if we are excited about our faith, if we want to be on fire for Jesus, if we want to see our population grow, how do we spread the news?

Well honestly most people find their new churches via the internet.  That is why it is so important as a congregation to keep up on Facebook, twitter, you tube, reddit, Instagram, etc.  I know it seems overwhelming.  It is overwhelming to me just reading this list and that hardly covers all the opportunities for electronic outreach.

Yet having connections on all that electronic stuff does no good we have no actions to post.

All in all, it comes down to visible mission. Not preaching the word. Not praying for more people to come.  Not just inviting people and friends.  

It is through our presence in the community. It is Through how we act out the word of God.  From simple visitation to feeding the hungry to reaching out to neighbors in need across the country and around the world.

Jesus said; “I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled.” Well he did bring fire to the earth and the flame is kindled now it is up to us to make it into a visible blaze. 

This is why we need to take time to look at our ministries.  We need to look at some of our social structures and see what we can do, what we can do as the small and mighty, to let people know there is a radically inclusive, loving community of God here in Marlborough and we are ready, and well equipped to welcome everyone.

You need to speak up if you have an idea…if you have a passion for any form of ministry let me know, share it with your friends, build up teams to get it done.  For example, I have a dream of revamping what our community meals look like. I have had 3 responses of people interested in looking at what we can do?  Are there any more please let me know and I will schedule a committee meeting this week. I can talk about my vision and dreams but what are yours? I can lift it up my own vision and dreams but I need to hear yours.  The fire Jesus is calling for is in each one of you and you all have gifts that can be utilized, lifted up and made into a blessing for the world around us. Just say yes to your inner voice. That inner movement that is the spirit of God nudging you forward. No Idea is too crazy.  No Idea is too expensive.  Let’s get the blaze a roaring! amen


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