10th Weekend after Pentecost
August 18, 2019 | Bryan Simmons
Passage: Luke 12:49-56
And I'm still uncomfortable with this Jesus bringing fire to the earth thing. So maybe I'll just talk about my vacation instead a little bit. As some of you may know--I really am gonna talk about my vacation!--some of you may know I just got back from Yosemite National Park and it is a beautiful, beautiful place.
Who's been? Who's been to Yosemite? A few people. Yeah. We got really lucky this year. There isn't a lot of snowfall this year and then kind of a mild spring with a little extra rainfall. So the falls were still running by the time we were there. Normally it's dried out by now. So it was a really pleasant experience the whole week. But one thing that really stuck out in my mind was the Mariposa Grove. You see these huge sequoia trees. It's amazing. These giant sequoia trees that have lasted over thousands of years. They speculate that one of these trees is over 3000 years old. It's called the Giant Grizzly. And it is so thick around--it's lost its top by now--but it's still alive and it's still growing. It's amazing. These these sequoias are designed in a way that they can withstand the test of time better than almost any other tree out there. We had the opportunity--we glommed on to a tour group that was walking around, because they do these regular tours at Mariposa Grove. And what I found fascinating was they have every two to 10 years, they said, a fire rolls through. They said the Yosemite Valley is really never the same year to year because of these fires that come through. And these fires are actually a healthy thing for the forest. It's not something that they try to prevent. In fact, the natives that were there before them noticed that this was good for the forest as well, and they would start intentional fires to help the process along.
And that's actually what the National Park Service does, too. They do these controlled burns that go through and kind of purifies the forest a bit, so that the trees that survive can actually thrive and grow even more. And the sequoias have a have a knack of surviving these fires because they really like the sun. And so their lower branches drop off after a time because they don't get enough sun and their bark is resistant to fire. And so when these fires roll through, they tend to survive it more than any other tree. And their roots drink up more of the water then, because if all of the plants were allowed to just keep on going, everything would die because there wouldn't be enough water to go around. And so this fire purifies the forest for the sake of the growth and the ultimate betterment of the entire forest.
Well, I guess we got around to talking about the scripture after all. It's still uncomfortable to think about. Look, it's clear that this fire that Jesus talks about throughout the rest of the gospel is a concept of a purifying fire like a refiner's fire that is used to purify metals, silver and gold and things like that. It burns off the impurities to your left with just the pure silver or gold.
But it's still a difficult thing to think about. And unfortunately, I have to preach on it because the lectionary says so. This fire that was promised, as John said, Jesus would baptize the Holy Spirit and fire, is for you and me. And it's not a fire that Jesus says is going to destroy the whole Earth. He doesn't want to do that. As frustrated as Jesus gets, I don't think that's what's going on here.
But there's this fire that burns and purifies makes us better. But in that process also causes division. And it's really no wonder why. Without religion, we like to divide ourselves anyway. And so you take something as personal as faith. As personal as the gospel message saying that Jesus Christ died for you. For the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life, rose again to prove that hope is true for you. It is a deeply personal thing.
Not only do you have the believers against the nonbelievers, because if you're a non-believer, this is such a pipe dream, it's so silly, it's a stupid thing to think about. Why would some guy's death 2000 years ago matter? Particularly continuing to see the struggles today.
And then there are divisions within the body of believers. Divisions as to how this gospel message changes you and causes you to act from the inside out. Sometimes we're the ones being burned by the fire. Sometimes we are burned from within. Well, this purifying fire, sometimes we cause this destructive fire to others with these divisions, and it's hard to know if you're right, isn't it? It's really genuinely hard to know if you're right. The best way to guide you is the scriptures so you can be firmly convicted in the scriptures. The problem is, in this day and age, statistically, I've brought this up before, even though we become more firmly entrenched in what we believe to be righteous and true--knowledge of the scriptures, prayer, attending church--all of that is on a steep decline.
Maybe you don't think this will be as fun, but I thought it would be kind of fun to do a little pop quiz on some knowledge of what's in the Bible. Before you get too worried about it, it's just a fun little exercise. It's fun for me and it'll be fun for you, I promise. So what I want to see is I want to see a strong show of hands. If you don't know, that's fine. Make a guess. We're in a place of forgiveness after all.
We'll start off a little slow here, remember back from Advent, I talked about the three wise men and so we'll see if those of you there were there for that sermon can remember this or not. The Bible says that there are three wise men. Raise your hand, if that's true. All right. Raise your hand if that's false. All right. It is false. They mentioned three gifts and that there were some magi.
All right, so now we're out to a start here! Adam and Eve ate an Apple. Raise your hand, if that's true. Raise your hand if that's false. Alight. Yeah. Adam and Eve ate a fruit. Could have been an apple. We don't know. Is this a proverb in scripture? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Raise your hand if that's a proverb in scripture. Raise your hand if that's not a proverb in scripture. I need to see more hands out there, there's people playing it safe. That IS a proverb in scripture.
How about this one? Is this a proverb a wife of noble character is worth more than rubies? Raise your hand if that's a proverb in scripture. Otherwise, raise you're hand right away. Raise your hand if it's not in scripture. No one's brave enough to do that. It is a proverb in there!
How about love the sinner, hate the sin? Is that in scripture? Raise your hand. Is it not in scripture? Raise your hand? Yeah. It's not in scripture. The closest that we get is love the sinner, hate your own sin-- talking about inner repentance.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Is that a proverb in the Bible? Raise your hand. Yes. How about if it's not a proverb in the Bible? It IS a proverb in the Bible.
The Lord helps those who help themselves. Is that a proverb in the Bible? Alright, is it not a proverb? OK, here we go, it is NOT a proverb in the Bible.
Final question. Bonus question. The heavens opened when John baptizes Jesus in the book of John. Raise your hand if that happens. Raise your hand if the heavens do not open. When John baptized Jesus in the Book at John. Okay. Trick questions. There's no baptismal narrative of Jesus in the book of John.
So what was the point of this fun little exercise? For one, it's just it's a little trivia experiment to get us to realize that we may not know everything that is in there, and we may not remember. We may have hit some of them. We may not have hit others. If you had a perfect score, congratulations. That wasn't the point. The point is there is a friendly reminder that scripture, yes, it is the best guide. But there's a lot of pages in that book and we don't know it all, all the time. No one here, including me, has memorized the entire thing.
Maybe you have! Raise your hand if you've memorized the entire thing. OK!
We rely on the scriptures for guidance, but we rely on each other for guidance in the scriptures as well. Because some of us remember things that others don't. And it's a helpful symbiotic relationship to live this way. Luther referred to the scriptures as the cradle of Christ and pointed out that it was the ultimate story in there, and that that is what truly mattered. But Luther was also deeply convicted in how the scriptures change you, and how the scriptures help you reflect on the world.
None of us are immune to this purifying fire. All of us have fallen into sin and temptation. Jesus comes along and says he's the way, the truth and the life and we believe him. And the problem is that that does cause division in this world because we, as an already divided people, are augmented by this truth. Because we barely understand.
It is in that humility that we can truly come before God. Ask for forgiveness.
As Paul says, we know Christ crucified for the sake of the world. Sometimes that's all we know. And so we come to this meal truly humbled to receive the strength of Christ in the body and blood. Now, as we come together later in this service, I want you to think about that. And how that meal truly strengthens a weary and broken heart for the world.
Christ is for you. Christ is for me. Christ is for all people. May you feel that fire burning within you. May you feel it working on you in a way that changes your life so that you see the world through God's eyes. A world worth dying for. A world where everybody deserves love.
May you not fear the division that may come. But may you be strengthened by those around you. As we work together for the sake of this beautiful gospel. Amen.