“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49).
In the churches in which many of us were raised, we were taught to live in fear of this fire of God.
We are not going to repeat that lie. The ancient Christians show us a better way of perceiving this divine fire as we encounter it in the Scriptures and in our experiences.
I want the children listening to me today to know and trust they can welcome and embrace the fire of God, that there is no reason to live in terror about the fire that has come from God, is coming even now, and will come at the end of time.
We welcome the fire of God because we know the character of the God who meets us in the flesh of Jesus Christ.
This God comes among us not to destroy humanity but to burn everything out of us that is not of love, that does not have its origin in the divine life.
Like all healing, deliverance, and reconciliation, there is pain involved in being set free and made well. It is not easy. It is not a cake walk.
But here is the good news: we are free from anxiety and fear as we embrace the cleansing fire of God. “With its fire, love makes better whatever it touches” (Ambrose).
We became cold in our self-imposed exile from God, and like any object, the further it gets away from the fiery source of its life, the colder it becomes.
Remember that God makes his ministers flames of fire, that we shine like the sun in the kingdom of heaven.
Remember that Cleopas, later in Luke, describes that their “hearts burned within them” as Jesus taught them from the Scriptures.
Remember at Pentecost that flames of fire come to rest on the heads of the gathered men and women.
As John promised, Christ baptizes us with fire and the Spirit.
For Cyril of Jerusalem, these words of Jesus about casting fire upon the earth find their fulfillment at Pentecost.
Remember that the flames of the fiery furnace do not consume the Hebrew children, but the angel—Christ himself—stands with them in scorching flames and they emerge from the fire unharmed.
Remember that the burning bush is aflame, is entirely engulfed, but never consumed by the fire of God.
So it is with us: the fire of the love that is the Spirit of God—Ambrose describes this fire of love as having wings—flies through us, consuming whatever is not of Love and trying whatever is good in us in order to purify the good and make it ready for the kingdom.
And we can trust this fire because it comes from the human who is God, who has journeyed through death and hell to bring us back alive with him.
We walk confidently into the fire that is God, knowing that his fire will keep us unto everlasting life.
Kenneth Tanner is the pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and a contributing writer for Mockingbird, Sojourners, Clarion Journal, and more. He frequently posts theological reflections and sermon excerpts on Facebook, such as the one above [source], which he preached August 18, 2019, the tenth Sunday after Pentecost. I’ve reposted it here with his permission. The liturgical quilt is by fiber artist Linda S. Schmidt.