“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49)
How often do we describe the work we do (whatever it is) as “putting out fires?” It seems we often have misapplied our calling as we feebly try to either “keep the peace” or “to make people happy.”
Jesus seems to be saying the opposite.
Jesus is not a consensus builder nor is he an arbitrator of disputes. The message he brings is not one of ongoing compromise or accommodation; it is one of repentance and change. Jesus and his message take on different accents as it is lived and expressed in every culture and time period. Both the challenges and opportunities each time and place draw out of the gospel brings new understandings – yet death and resurrection stand at the center of who Jesus is, what he does, and how he keeps changing the world.
What might it look like to follow Jesus in a post-Christian, digital, secular age in North America that is full of rife and division? We continue to both struggle with and discover new realities together…
In this passage he declares that “he came to bring fire” (Luke 12:49); not to put fires out.
Jesus asks, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? “ (Luke 12:51a).
Does this sound like a nice Jesus who just wants everyone to get along?
“No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51b).
Jesus is not setting people against each other – but what he seems to be identifying is the reality that if we start loving people the way he is on fire for us; there will be some people who do not like it (or us) very much.
Jesus is the great wall destroyer, “For he is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14); but what is the cost of the “peace” he brings?
The peace of Jesus comes as a cross; under suffering, death and sacrifice to mend our broken humanity. It is the fire of unconditional; all consuming love. The powers of the world keep peace through violence. Jesus brings peace by handing over his life. Renewal and resurrection only come out of the ashes of what came before it. We cannot have Easter without Good Friday first.
Jesus calls us to give our lives for one another, and for the sake of the other, just as he gives his life to us. We often claim the centrality of Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” as one of the most universal part of the biblical message.
That is…until we get specific.
Then “loving your neighbor” becomes “too political” or “too controversial” or “too difficult” to do. We fear people fighting with one another or simply just checking out. Yet doesn’t a fire warrant engagement? Perhaps a fire that draws us into a common purpose and mission is what Jesus is driving at – one cannot take up the cross of Jesus part way.
We seek something easier. Something nice. Something everyone can agree with and get along.
Those aspirations are impossible. To break down the barriers that separate us (See Ephesians 2) means tearing down the distinctions we make around worthiness, heritage, gender, economics, who is in and who is out, etc. as Jesus builds us into a new community. Expect resistance when we are church together. The way to break down barriers and share one’s life with others is not by politeness; but with fire. God’s word is that fire (Jeremiah 23:29). Baptism is that fire (Luke 3:16). The Holy Spirit is that fire (Acts 2). Faith is tested by a refining fire like silver (Zechariah 13:9; Psalm 66:10; 1 Peter 1:7). We are called to live aflame with love of God and our neighbors.
Following Jesus brings controversy and division. Friends and family may turn on you. Neighbors might betray you. Institutions may disappoint you. Expect it. Pray and kindle the fire of faith like the faithful of every generation (Hebrews 11-12). When trials come (and they will) keep going; looking to Jesus who is true life and peace.
What controversies burden you?
How do those controversies keep the community from mission?
Where might Jesus point you to be on fire for others?
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