August 18, 2019
Proper 15C Luke 12:49-56
Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” We have come to this moment in the midst of a heady round of conversations, parables and confrontations with the disciples, the crowds and the authorities. Luke’s masterful shaping of these encounters between Jesus and his disciples, the crowds and the scribes and Pharisees, creates momentum that leaves little doubt about the outcome. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.
As Jesus descended the Mount of Transfiguration and set his face toward Jerusalem, Luke drives the story forward with Jesus clear about the destination — he is clear, determined and aware of the fate that awaits him. At this point, the disciples have heard him predict his death twice that he will be handed over to the authorities, beaten and killed — “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” They did not understand or believe him.
Today, we pause for just a moment. The crowds are surging around him. The disciples are seeking clarification, trying to understand the parables and where they fit into this journey to Jerusalem. And the authorities are on alert, looking for a reason to get this teacher under their control. It is in the midst of this chaos that Jesus says: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed?” Jesus, the Prophet dramatically raises the eschatological bar and all the promises of peace on earth are rent asunder by the truth that Jesus is not a meek and mild purveyor of platitudes to be nice. His stunning statement sets the path for the rest of the journey.
This prophetic declaration is filled with the emotion — Jesus is the Man of sorrows and in just a few chapters ahead, he says, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
I come to bring fire — I have a baptism with which to be baptized — what stress I am under until it is completed. The ostinato underneath Luke’s gospel is this: Jesus, the Son of Man or more accurately translated the Human Being, moves toward death for the sake of all humanity. Luke plants the seeds of hope in his prologue and the birth narrative, painting a vision of a new heaven and a new earth in the words of Gabriel, Zachariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon.
Luke shapes the young Jesus at the temple as a boy, in the river Jordan with John, in the wilderness of temptation, in the synagogue proclamation that today this scripture has been fulfilled, by the sea calling disciples, and in Galilee, among the crowds. We witness the young master as he heals, casts out demons, teaches, performs miracles and then goes up the mountain. There, everything changes — he has a choice to make — remain on the mountain to become yet another wise rabbi or to descend. He sets his face to Jerusalem.
The ostinato has been there all along, a deep rhythm that undergirds his drive to Jerusalem — I come to bring fire — I have a baptism with which to be baptized — fire and water, life giving and life taking — fire and water, body and blood, bread and wine — the Son of Man, the Human Being comes to set our hearts on fire — Jesus carried a vision of an alternative reality in the future, heaven on earth and the only way to it is through the portal of death. The Son of Man, Wisdom’s Child will walk the way of the Cross and pull all humanity through the portal of death and into new life, resurrected life. He pays the price for us all, and we, if we’re willing to allow that same ostinato to undergird our own lives, we will also see a new heaven and a new earth — a vision of the Kingdom of God, here and now.
Through Jesus the Christ, Son of God, the Human Being, Wisdom’s Child, we are saved. The cost to us: trust Jesus and believe that this is the more excellent way to be human. We are called to see through the eyes of Jesus, to discern God’s will by seeing as God sees through the lens of Jesus. We know the price has been paid and the gift of life has been given to us, but will we trust the Word that has been promised?
Together, as Christ’s Body, we gather, listen, pray, sing, confess and celebrate the feast in order to practice this glorious life, and we learn to listen for the ostinato, that deep rhythm reminding us of the fire and water that saved us all.
The Letter to the Hebrews is a wonderful reminder of this underlying rhythm. After the author of the letter reviews the salvation history of the people of God, and the role of faith (trust) in the promises of God, we, the recipients of the ultimate gift of salvation, are charged: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Let us take a minute to remember some of those witnesses who have been saints in our lives — close your eyes, and silently or aloud, remember those who showed you the way of faith.