Stepping Into Fire

Pentecost 13C: Stepping Into Firefirewalker_688x688
Luke 12:49-56
August 16-17, 2013

Jesus says, “What stress I am under!”
(Doesn’t really sound like Jesus does it?!)
But he does say it!
He says, “I’m stressed out!”

So what stresses you out?
Recently I’ve been using a survey
with couples who are preparing for marriage.

One of the areas the survey addresses is “stress.”
The couples are asked to identify the major stressors in their lives.

In my completely non-scientific sample of couples,
the top three stressors I’ve found are:
– the wedding (not usually the marriage, but the wedding);
– finances; and
– family

I doubt any of us would find that list surprising.
And these are just the top three.
There are so many things that can stress us out…
so many demands are made upon us everyday.

There are stresses at work:
to get so much in sales; to raise students’ test scores so high; to see so many patients a day; to increase productivity;

There are stresses at school:
to make the team; to wear the clothes that fit in; to have the most friends; to get the right answer

There are stresses at home:
to get the kids fed, to get homework and housework done, for everyone to get enough sleep, and just to get along

There are even stresses at church:
to get enough SS teachers; to get enough money for the budget; to figure out what to do about declining attendance

I get stressed out just listing stresses!
It’s no wonder we prefer a particular image of Jesus…
and it’s one of calmness, of peace, of gentleness,
of patience, of kindness, of tranquility…
not one of stress…

And yet we do have a God who became human.
And Jesus came to earth, dwelt among us, ….and was stressed.

Oddly enough,
in this passage, what seems to stress Jesus the most,
is that not that we’re too stressed,
it’s that we’re not stressed enough!

Jesus says,
“I came to bring fire to the earth…
Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division!

From now on five in one household will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
They will be divided:
father and son and son against father,
mother against daughter and daughter against mother,”
and he goes on and on.

What’s frustrating to Jesus, is that he sees that we’re afraid of stress;
we’re afraid of conflict.
When we’re afraid of conflict, the status quo persists.

The trouble with not rocking the boat,
the trouble with sticking with the status quo ,
is that very often it means continued privilege for the privileged
and passive acceptance of injustice.

Garth Brooks once had a song once which I think illustrates this text well.
It’s called, “Standing Outside the Fire.”
In the song, he points out that if you forever stand outside the fire,
it’s true, you will stay cool,
you’ll never get a scar,
you’ll never experience the pain of being burned.

But, he says, love does not allow us to stand outside the fire.
Love draws us into the fire.

Jesus says, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
Standing outside the fire feels safer and it is certainly less stressful.
But Jesus calls us not to avoid the stressful life…
but to take a step into it – to enter into the fire that he brings to earth.

Over the years, many church people (myself included) have been afraid to venture too close to the fire.
We have been afraid of conflict and of division and of getting burned.

From an early age we were taught to avoid getting too close to things that are too hot to touch:
When we were little, we were to avoid touching the stove, or matches;
when we’re older, we’re still taught to avoid the heat…
We’re taught to avoid touching certain topics of conversation –
topics that can cause discomfort and disagreement.
We’ve learned that lesson too well.

In 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. asked the church to get into the fire for Civil Rights,
white clergy pushed back and said he was moving too fast.
We were afraid of getting burned…

Others were afraid of burns when the church voted to ordain women,
or to welcome into the ELCA partnered gay and lesbian pastors.

These have been ‘hot-button’ issues we are tempted to stay away from.
But then what do we do about the fact that Jesus says, “I came to bring fire to the earth?”
He says, “Don’t you see?
Just like clouds are signs of rain, these are signs of God.“
Step into the fire.

Our national church gathered in assembly in Pittsburgh this past week.
Many people said ahead of time, “I hope there’s not much conflict.”
By that, I know they meant that they hoped people would respect each other
and speak kindly to each other in the midst of disagreement.

By and large people were respectful and kind,
but I’m grateful that there was some conflict too – there was some fire…

There was fire as the assembly talked about racism
in the context of a new social statement about criminal justice.
Racism was not a topic too hot to touch.

There was fire as the assembly talked about ministry with families in same-gender households and discrimination against transgendered individuals.
Sexuality was not a topic too hot to touch.

There was fire as the assembly talked about malaria prevention.
Death was not a topic too hot to touch.

There was fire as the assembly talked about a new ELCA fundraising campaign.
Even money was not a topic too hot to touch.

Jesus was stressed out…
he was stressed out by the lack of fire;
he was stressed out by the fear of conflict and division around him.
He says, “Do you not see?
“Do you not see that all those things we are afraid of – fire, conflict, division – they are signs of God?”
Step into the fire.


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