Sunday, August 18, 2019

On fire for Jesus

August 18, 2019
Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

When you were listening to the Gospel reading, how many of you thought Jesus was talking about bring fire to the earth and destroying everything and everyone who doesn’t believe in him? This is what many people today believe. But, there is a very different way of understanding Jesus’ words.

Jesus wants us to be on fire for him and for loving and serving God. John the Baptist said the one who is to come while baptize believers with fire. So, think, when did Jesus actually send fire into the people?

Yes, it was at Pentecost. This fire is not one of destruction, but one of passion. Jesus’ fire is about passionately loving and serving him and the people God loves.

Unfortunately, Jesus warns us, when some members of the family are passionate about believing in him, and some are just as passionate about not believing in him, it causes conflict. Mom believes, but Dad doesn’t. The son believes, but Mom doesn’t. And so forth. Believing in Jesus can cause division.

One look at the news every day tells us that we are a country and a world divided. I wonder if Britain will ever resolve Brexit. Is it true that Russia is manipulating our elections? Does China steal our intellectual property – like the software in phones? Will there ever be peace in Korea or Afghanistan?

In the US, some people love our leaders, other people can’t wait for their terms to end. No, I’m not talking about just this President. I’m talking about the last 200-plus years! There have always been conflicts, and there has always been division. That is exactly why we have a balance of power in decision-making in our government.

There are no easy answers to ending such conflict, and we seem too divided as a country to find workable solutions. It seems no one wants to compromise to find a win-win for all sides.

Unfortunately, the same can be true within the church. Decisions made by the Denomination do not always sit well with parishioners. Again, this has been true for centuries. Whether or not to support abolition. Whether or not to ordain women. Whether or not to merge three denominations into one. Whether or not abortion should be legal. Whether or not LGBTQ pastors can have partners. Whether deacons should be consecrated or ordained. And more, and more. It took compromise and the time and effort to discern God’s will to make each of these decisions to end divisions.

When we consider how often we experience division, we have to remember that Jesus warned us that his coming would mean division rather than peace, even though he sends us his peace. When one group is on fire for finding justice for a group of people they perceive as oppressed, there are others just as on fire to say they are wrong.

It took a civil war to decide to abolish slavery. In the meantime, the Lutheran Church and other church bodies split north and south over the issue. Women pastors are still not well accepted by many people. LGBT pastors are also not well accepted, especially if they have partners. On some issues, it is still possible to tell if a congregation was LCA or ALC in its past. So, while there have been decisions made, there are still divisions within the church as a whole. The ELCA has decided, but we as individuals can disagree with a decision, and still belong to the same congregation.

What can we say? What can we do? My response is to remind us all that when we see another person, we are also looking at Jesus. And to remind us all that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, some of whom have lived simple, faith-filled lives. And some of whom have lived lives of extreme stress.

In the first three centuries of the Church, people were so much on fire for Jesus that they were willing to face lions instead of giving up their faith. It never occurred to them to outwardly say they believed in the Emperor and secretly believe in Jesus. They wanted to sacrifice their whole lives to show their faith in Jesus.

We rarely have the opportunity to demonstrate our faith so strongly. We live in a country which protects our right to choose our religion, to practice our religion, even to have no religion. We rarely need to demonstrate our passion for Jesus the way early Christians did, and the way some Christians do today in a few places. Let us rejoice that we live in a country where freedom of religion and freedom of speech are guaranteed. Let us also rejoice that belonging to the ELCA means we don’t have to agree with everything that is decided.

So, let us imagine ourselves to be on fire for Jesus. What idea burns in your spirit? What concern lights your fire? Are you concerned about abuse in families? Are you concerned about feeding the hungry? Are you concerned about the condition of our buildings and grounds? Are you concerned about Veterans? Are you concerned about reaching deaf and hard of hearing people? Are you concerned about our country’s broken immigration system? Are you concerned about people hating other people, for whatever reason?

What are you on fire about? Those things you are passionate about are things you can mention at the Visioning event in September.

What will St Matthew’s be on fire to do?

What will you want your next pastor to be fired up about?

What is Jesus calling you to do? What is God calling this congregation to do?