The Word This Weekend – August 18, 2019
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
[Jesus said:] “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! (Luke 12:49-50)
A fiery text awaits us this weekend! And, as a relatively new Californian, I approach this Gospel lesson with a measure of fear and trembling. After all, fire is a sore subject for most of us in the Golden State. During the long dry summers, fires break out left and right, sometimes due to human carelessness, and at other times the result of lightning strikes or other natural factors. Whatever the cause, the impacts are often the destruction of homes and lives, as we hold our breath throughout the season of wildfires in this tinder-dry part of the world.
Jesus lived in such a world, with a climate much like our own here in Southern California. An errant spark, or lightning flash, and the world around could erupt in a conflagration that would erase a year’s worth of farmers’ hopes, or the homes of hundreds of peasants or landowners, or hundreds of acres of brush and forest. Such a burning threat was real and frightening to his age and to ours. Fire is a truly dangerous prospect.
Yet, as any forestry expert will tell you, such fires are a necessary part of nature’s pattern of endings and beginnings. Fires also burn away harmful brush, bring needed nitrogen to tired soil, and pave the way for new growth in their wake.
In the ancient world, fire was recognized for its cauterizing and curative powers as well. And it remains a live option in our day as well. I well remember (and cringe) when, at 16, I underwent surgery to remove a large cyst. The operation was mostly successful, yet my surgeon needed to subject me to a series of topical silver iodine treatments to remove the remaining growths that the knife had missed. If you’ve never endured the burning tip of a silver iodine probe, you’ve been lucky. Imagine a hot poker or soldering iron applied to your skin. Don’t know what I remember more – the red hot pain, or the smell of burning flesh. And, believe me, it’s an experience I hope never to repeat!
Fire, in the way of the ancients and of ourselves, can be either a devastating horror, or a path to healing. It all depends on the use. Jesus blends this frightening yet curative image with another strong symbol – the baptism he yearns to have completed. Far from the trickle of water one might apply to the infant’s little head, or the momentary submersion into pool or river, Christ points to the baptism that awaits him in the Holy City – the baptism of his own passion and death.
Fire and flood. Cauterization and drowning pool. Into the maelstrom and into the furnace. Such is the path of the Messiah, and such is the path of the disciple who would bear his name and follow in his way. A path that can breed division and loss, yet heals and cleanses and revives as well. In the way of Christ, the fire brings gold from dross, and purity from disease. In his steps, and by his grace, we invite such fire to make us new and ready for the new growth to come, and welcome the flood that drowns the old Adam and raises up the new Creation in his name and service.
So, I look forward to seeing you, or sharing with you, as we assemble in faith this weekend -- as we submit to the cleansing fire, wash anew in the river of life, and feast at the powerful feast of forgiveness and renewal. Come fire! Come flood! Come Lord Jesus!
With You in God’s Good Work,