Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity
18th Aug 2019
Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity Year C
Jesus said to his disciples: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled’. Luke 12.49.
In the Letter to the Hebrews, we have been learning these past two weeks of the Old Testament people, God’s chosen people Israel. Theirs was a history of struggle to maintain their faith in God at times of great testing. But in all this they knew that God is a God who is nearby and not far off, though occasionally they behaved as though that were not the case. They were very human and often weak. Nonetheless what drove them on was an indomitable faith in their destiny and a courage in following it. And the message of our second reading this morning is that if our Christian faith is real, it will be a faith which will be put to the test. The can be no relationship with God which does not involve passionate struggle. But like the Old Testament people, God is feeding us and loving us. .
It is important to speak of God in this way. We come to this Holy Eucharist to receive Christ in the forms of bread and wine. They become for us the body and blood of Christ and so when we receive them we are taking Christ into ourselves. We are in the words of one prayer ‘Becoming what we receive’.
As this broken bread was scattered as grain upon the mountains, and, being gathered together, became one, so may thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom; for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.
From The Didache, a First Century Christian Document.
As we come to the Gospel reading we realise however that membership of the Church is not only a matter of ‘becoming what we have received’ as though that were our own privileged secret. Christianity is not a private or pietistic religion. There is another aspect of the call of Christ which is altogether different and which speaks of ‘bringing fire on earth’ and ‘not peace, but division’. Jesus accuses his disciples of lacking the stuff necessary to realise their baptismal calling. They do not have what we might call ‘fire in their bellies’. “I have” Jesus says “A baptism to be baptized and how I long for it to be completed”. The inference is that the disciples, and we too, are not always ready to accept a Christianity which demands more than our casual allegiance.
Linking the two passages is the idea of God’s Kingdom which has already come in Jesus Christ and which is provided for us in this Eucharist. But there is another Kingdom, the one which is in a state of becoming, and which is suggested by Jesus’ words. This involves struggle. The working out and the continual establishment of God’s kingdom on earth will take place both in harmony with the existing state of things and also in strong, fire-like opposition to it. Its reaction to the world in which it is placed will be volcanic. Our modern world and what is going in in our modern world, including knife crime, the Rise and fall and rise of unchecked money markets, violence in schools and with the police, drugs everywhere – these are but a tiny fraction of all those elements that exist in a kind of alchemic reaction to the Christian presence on this earth. We The Church are called to love God’s world, not possessively as ‘my little world’ but passionately, as that world which bids us to suffer alongside it, to love it and to speak up and speak out in its defence for what we come to know as ‘Kingdom values’ – of human compassion, of inclusiveness, of the embrace of difference. The Church is called to be God’s presence in the world. That presence is never to be benign but active and involved and compassionate. It stands for the living out of that courageous baptism which acknowledges all people to be part of the one Kingdom, whether they know it or not, whether they ‘feel’ it or not and even when they oppose that Kingdom. The Salvation Army motto ‘Blood and Fire’ is a typical reference to its own desire to engender a Christianity with real passion, one which has plenty of ‘fire in its belly’ and which fearlessly proclaims God among the poor.
I met a Scottish football supporter earlier this week who needed to tell me that he wasn’t a Christian. He wasn’t a Christian because he had his own moral values and didn’t need the Church to ‘improve’ on them! It would have been good to have had what we both wanted - a long and friendly conversation. But it was not to be… He had to get off to the England/Scotland match and I had to get to Mass. There are so many like him. They have difficulties with the Christian Church and feel that unless these difficulties are allayed, then Christianity must lie as a dead thing before them. Except that I think it does not and can never exist as dead. It is everywhere alive. The presence of Christ on this earth exists in strong relation to the world in which it is set and yet also exists as its life itself, and Christian Faith from us must be confident, refreshed by God and his Word, and deepened in prayer if it is to find that fire-in-the-belly doggedness which is the living spark that keeps alight the divine flame. How we wish that the flame would burn brighter, but how we are sustained and given joyful confidence in the fire that has already been lit by Jesus Christ.
Onwards and upwards!