Pentecost 13 8-14-16 St. Gregory’s, Boca 8, 10 & 6
“I’VE COME TO BRING FIRE TO THE EARTH & HOW I WISH IT WERE ALREADY KINDLED…” in the name of the Living God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ah, Jesus, you must be so tired, so frustrated that the world doesn’t get your message!
You have been teaching and witnessing and telling stories and parables about how God longs for us, your disciples, to LOVE, to CARE, to bring justice to the world God created and loves, and yet “how long does it take…?”
You are practically begging your disciples to catch on…and not worry about who’s right, who’s the greatest, who will be first in the kingdom? So many incredible concerns for security seem to preoccupy us, but that’s not where our treasure lies, YOU TELL US, not in those categories at all!
Give me your heart and soul and mind…live as I have paved the way, and as God has called you since before time and forever, AND YOU WILL KNOW ETERNAL LIFE….RIGHT NOW!
“I’ve come to change things, to help you adjust your perspective, rearrange your priorities…I’ve come to turn everything right side up…and HOW I LONG FOR IT TO BE FINISHED!
“Do you think I’ve come to smooth things over and make everything nice? (I can’t even stand that word!) NOT SO! I’ve come to disrupt and confront!”
Wow! No wonder Christianity in that key is so hard to live out. We would be speaking truth to power in our own day and culture were that our modus operandi. And a lot of people would be upset and walk out. There would be division in our congregation, as there have been divisions throughout history when one faction can’t agree with another and the churches divide.
We’ve seen it over and over again and among all denominations, most recently even in our own Episcopal church.
God comes to us with a LOVE SONG, but we don’t catch on to the tune.
Way back in ISAIAH’S time we just heard in the first lesson, despite the love song to the Vineyard, instead of GOOD grapes, God got JUNK grapes. Things have gone amuck: there is too much violence in the land. How contemporary a sound that is for us today! Gun violence, racial violence, political violence: Oh my God, how long, how long??
No wonder Jesus cries out in frustrated longing “I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled!”
If I had a hammer, I’d hammer out ???? what? (Who remembers Peter, Paul and Mary singing Pete Seeger’s iconic lyrics?) That song came to me pondering this passage, and the frustration we all feel in how long it takes for God’s justice to be done, for God’s love to be fully manifest, for freedom to be for all people.
“I’d hammer out danger; I’d hammer out warning; I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land. And if I had a bell, I’d do the same thing!”
Well, can’t you hear Jesus singing: “I’ve got a hammer, AND a bell, and I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land! It’s a hammer of justice; it’s a bell of freedom; it’s a song about love, between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.”
There’s ANOTHER LOVE SONG for you. (There’ll be two or three more before this sermon is done, inspired by Isaiah and his love song for God’s vineyard!)
How does this love get manifest, I was wondering? How is God’s fire, that Jesus is promising, getting kindled in our land, in our lives, in our hearts and minds and souls and in our very own actions and the way we live our lives?
I pondered this question as the lessons were germinating in my mind and heart and soul these last two weeks.
Believe me, I wanted OTHER, more peaceful and soothing and comforting texts for my last sabbatical sermon. I wanted to point to all the ways our sabbatical tastings have fostered spiritual deepening in our lives at St. Gregory’s during these almost four months of life together.
I wanted to prize transformation, both as a goal for us as Christians, as well as a reality we are already experiencing, now, NOT just WAITING for September and a whole new program of opportunities and practices for growth, formation, for action and ministry by our youth and adults.
Where are we right now in hearing and singing and living out a “love song for God”??
So the prayer of St. Francis came to me! That’s the way we know God’s love in the world! We must be instruments of that very peace and love we long for.
So in the Prayers of the People today, we acknowledge so many needs in our world, and just how you and I can be ministers of the love God longs for in this world.
Where there is hatred, let US sow love; where there is injury, pardon; discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; darkness, light; where there is sadness, JOY!
Ah, I think I hear a love song brewing….Yet, another one.
“With a song in my heart, I behold your adorable face…”
Who remembers THAT one?? Doris Day, in a romantic lyric by famous contemporary songwriters of the last century, Rodgers and Hart, sung also by Frank Sinatra, Mario Lanza, Ella Fitzgerald, even the Supremes!! (Boy, am I dating myself, I’m not a rapper yet, so hopefully you are with me, even if you’re young!!)
Once again, if you listen to these lyrics, you realize the romantic love that is being prized is just a reflection of the love of God, if you have those lenses to see, and ears prone to HEAR, and then, most importantly Lips and voices to sing it. It’s a love song TO GOD, just as God sings a song to us, ALL THE TIME, if we could just HEAR IT!
It’s fiery, that love…and maybe that’s the fire Jesus promises, despite the travail, the pain & death, the divisions he promises even amongst family members.
If we can behold his face….as you listen:
“With a song in my heart I behold your adorable face, (YOURS, MINE, GOD’s);
just a song at the start, but it SOON is a hymn to your grace…
When the music swells, I’m touching your hand…it tells you are standing near…
and at the sound of your voice, heaven opens its portals to me!
Can I help but rejoice that a song such as ours came to be?
But I always knew I would live life through….with a song in my heart for you!”
So the love song goes both ways, and then is meant for all the world to sing.
And as with all love, it comes with heart break, even sometimes death; but still, miraculously, that love never dies. Once it is kindled, there is an eternity to it.
It may be like the refiner’s fire kind of love, out of the ashes, comes gold! Out of death comes life.
It may be that out of all those divisions heralded by Jesus according to Luke’s narrative, God’s good is manifest nonetheless. (Ask the Philadelphia 11, the first women ordained in our church before it was legal: 1974!)
This week I heard stories at bible studies on this text, about how divisions in families over religious beliefs or intentions brought resistance, push back, even separation; and yet in the end, one witnesses to the good that is manifest despite the fiery trials.
We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses whose stories attest to difficulties, if not death, in following the ways of God, and of God in Christ, yet we persevere, and somehow get grace for the journey.
In the famous hymn we love to sing “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord,” there is a verse that goes “When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, my grace, all sufficient will be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”
And then we sing as well: “Fight the good fight with all thy might, Christ is thy strength and Christ thy right. Faint not nor fear, his arms are near, he changeth not, thou art dear; only believe and thou shalt see, that Christ is all and all in thee.”
If that’s not transformation of mind and heart and soul, then I don’t know what is.
So, my dear sabbatical journeyers, this is our last week together, until we are reunited with our rector, from whom we will no doubt hear spirit-filled sabbatical stories as well!
Our journey has been rich, hopefully with aspects that will continue to help form us, until we take our last breath in this mysterious process of transformation into the loving beings God has created us to be.
As I pondered today’s fiery text of Jesus, that has prompted these reflections and these songs I have shared with you, there is a chant that came to me last week. It lies deep in my memory from Good Fridays spent in my parish in RI where every last night of Holy Week we sat before the Cross, lighting candles for our various petitions, thanksgivings, intercessions, and sang verses set to chants from the Taize Community in France.
They are very repetitive and easy to sing, made more poignant with various instrumentation to heighten their intensity.
So I can’t close without leaving you this prayer that hopefully will console, strengthen and guide you when you most need God’s fiery presence KINDLED in your life:
WITHIN OUR DARKEST NIGHT, YOU KINDLE A FIRE THAT NEVER FADES AWAY, NEVER FADES AWAY…
WITHIN OUR DARKEST NIGHT, YOU KINDLE A FIRE THAT NEVER FADES AWAY, NEVER FADES AWAY…
WITHIN OUR DARKEST NIGHT, YOU KNDLE A FIRE THAT NEVER FADES AWAY, NEVER FADES AWAY…