Be kindled with the fire of the Spirit again, and God will help you be a part of the healing of all things. Even if you can’t often see it.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 20 C
Texts: Luke 12:49-56; Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The fire was almost out for these people.
No flames, just fading red embers cooling. Their life of faith was sluggish, dull, stuck in malaise.
They used to be on fire. They heard the Good News and found the thrill of conversion and new community in Christ. Later, they went through a time of persecution. Some lost their property, some were imprisoned, but their fire of faith burned. Adversity banded them together, strengthened their faith.
But this community to whom Hebrews was written had cooled off considerably. Conversion and persecution were long past. They might be in the second or even third generation, and people do drift away. While those who remain just get tired. Too many problems in the world, with little to excite their faith, find hope in God’s leading.
That’s why an unknown preacher wrote Hebrews. It’s a sermon meant to fire up tired believers.
Today’s part is all about encouragement.
The preacher lifts up hero after hero from the past, beloved ones known from Scripture. Rahab, Gideon, Daniel, the widow of Zarephath. So many others. People who trusted God’s promises and lived faithful lives, served with courage and hope. Even in the face of persecution and death.
This preacher tells them to notice two things. First, all these heroes died before seeing the completion of God’s work in the world. But their trust in God wasn’t based on whether they experienced everything being made right again, or even anything good happening. Their trust was based on God’s faithfulness.
And second, these heroes are now this community’s cloud of witnesses. They’re running the race of faith and life, and these faithful witnesses are cheering them on.
So, the preacher exhorts, let’s run with perseverance the race set before us, releasing all the weight of despair and fear and anxiety and dread that drags us down. Be kindled again.
And now you see that Jesus’ desire to bring fire to the earth isn’t a threat.
Jesus feels the same as the preacher of Hebrews. After three years his disciples still aren’t getting it, still making mistakes, misunderstanding things. There’s been more and more opposition, so they’re getting anxious. And they can sense Jesus’ own growing weight of anxiety as he gets nearer and nearer to his death.
Are my followers ever going to be on fire for God’s reign? Are they ready for the setbacks and the challenges? They seem to want me to do everything. How can I get them aflame with passion for bringing God’s good news to all who desperately need it?
Jesus might also be anxious about you and me.
We’re a lot like the people of Hebrews. Most of us aren’t new converts, haven’t been persecuted. We can easily take our life of faith for granted. We can be sluggish, dull, as followers.
Partly because of the size of the problems in this world we know God wants us working on. Issue after issue, problem after problem. When you look at all the challenges in our society and can’t see much hope for changing even one of them, how do you stay charged up?
And partly for the same reason as the people of Hebrews. We live our lives of faith in our everyday, ordinary world. It’s hard to pay attention and listen to God’s voice all the time in a world where there are so many voices. It’ hard to stay excited for daily growth and challenges, to focus on all the good decisions we need to make. So we settle into patterns, habits, living our lives without much awareness of our life as Christ, for how we are vulnerable in our love, for changing the world. We just get up, do what we do in the day, go to bed, and repeat.
But Jesus says, “how I wish your fire was already kindled!” And don’t you wish that, too?
Except that will mean division, Jesus says.
If you’re fired up about your life in Christ, if the Spirit’s flame is burning in you to become more like Christ, to be a part of God’s healing and justice and mercy, that’s going to ruffle some feathers.
You know this. How many of us have stories of Thanksgiving dinners and family birthday gatherings where the division and tension over critical issues in our world was obvious and painful? How many have loved ones we don’t talk to about certain things, knowing it will get into fights and anger?
And it’s not just about politics, or even just about the United States. God’s desire for you and me and all God’s people to live in mercy and justice, to be safe and whole and loved and fed and sheltered, for all to know God’s abundant, rich life, all this is beyond your life and mine, beyond Minnesota or the U.S. God dreams this for all people.
And if the fire of the Holy Spirit draws you into that way of life, that path, that hope, you’re going to see some divisions. In families, yes. But even in the Christian faith. So many who bear Christ’s name are working against Christ’s way, God’s path the Spirit is firing us up to walk. They’re promoting hatred and destruction and oppression in the name of Christ.
Jesus would prefer all God’s children were together on the side of God’s mercy and justice, afire to work for the healing of all things. Right now, and maybe for a long time, it’s going to split people from each other. But he’d still prefer you’d be rekindled, alight with the Spirit for this work, this life.
So you and I come here every week to be relighted, rekindled.
We may not see the healing of all things, or even much of a small part, the preacher of Hebrews reminds us. But we’re following Jesus on his path and even our small part will make a difference. As Rabbi Rami Shapiro has said, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work. Neither are you free to abandon it.” It is enough for you to be you, to be kindled with the Spirit to love as Christ in your place.
And remember, you and I, and all who love God’s justice and mercy and are led by God to Christ’s path, are not alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses of those who have gone before us, who now are joined by our brother, Gary, witnesses who know how hard it is to stay afire, how challenging the divisions can be, how daunting the world’s grief really is, and who are cheering you, and me, and all God’s faithful ones to keep at it.
We need God’s fire. There may be divisions. But in the Spirit we keep following Jesus on his path of faithfulness, trusting it is the way of life for all things, surrounded by witnesses cheering us on.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 Rabbi Rami Shapiro, paraphrase and trope on a portion of the Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Fathers, Talmud)