Feel the Burn


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"Feel the burn," is an expression from the world of exercise and sport. When your heart gets revved up and your blood gets pumping, that burning sensation is a good thing. Of course, if you've ever been cold or wet, been in the woods at night, been lost in the woods, boy how you wished you could feel the burn of a glowing campfire. Yet how difficult it can be to start a fire without matches when it's damp or rainy. Well, that's the situation Jesus is addressing here. O, not starting a physical fire but a spiritual one, yet the spiritual one has to do with a physical one. Let me explain.

In the OT, the Lord had commanded that a physical fire be kept burning on His altar. The priest on duty in the temple tended to this fire on the Lord's altar where all sacrifices were burned. The fire that burned there had come down from heaven from the Lord's presence to enable the OT Church to have divine services. It was supernatural fire started not by men but by God. It bridged heaven and earth by bringing burnt offerings to God and by bringing God's presence to His people in the resulting smoke. No other fire could burn there, so each morning the priest had to put kindling on the coals to rekindle the fire. When 2 priests, Nadab and Abihu, used a different fire "a fire came from the presence of the Lord and consumed them."

As Jesus stands before us in this text, where is that fire now? Leviticus 9 records God starting it in the desert tabernacle. 2 Chronicles 7 records God starting it in the Jerusalem temple. But that fire went out when Jerusalem fell in 587, and though the temple had been rebuilt we have no record of God ever rekindling a fire there. Jesus stands here and announces that He had come to bring fire from heaven to earth, but this fire could not be kindled until He had suffered a "baptism of fire" so to speak. God cannot dwell with His people till all the sins of mankind have been dealt with. The fire of God's wrath must be poured out against a world of sins. Every single greedy, lustful, worrisome deed, word, and thought must be paid for, and it was. When the fire of God's divine wrath bolted from heaven and struck Christ on the cross again and again, all sins of everyone were paid for.

Once the fire of God's wrath had been satisfied then God could again send His fire from heaven an enable men once more to have divine services. This He did on the Day of Pentecost. Fire came from heaven and rested on the disciples. Just as fire had come from God's presence to start the fire for the OT Church, so tongues of fire came from heaven at Pentecost. The Church was the new temple of God, the place where God revealed Himself and gave access to His gracious presence.

Therefore, rejoice people of God; Christ has rekindled the divine flame for you. Feel the burn; you are not left in the cold, dark world having to start a fire by your efforts. Christ has truly set you ablaze without any merit or worthiness in you. As on that first Easter when Christ made the hearts of the 2 Emaues disciples "burn" by preaching to them that Christ must suffer and die for sinners, so He has made your hearts to burn through His word. As the first disciples were baptized by the Holy Spirit's fire at Pentecost in Jesus' name, so in His name you've been baptized and the Holy Spirit has been given to you no less than to them.

Feel the burn, and burn it does. The fire Christ has kindled on earth brings division. As the Pillar of Fire divided Egypt from Israel, as it repulsed Egypt and comforted Israel, so the Lord's fire does today. It burns right down to the most intimate relationships. The fire Christ has started divides fathers from sons and daughters from mothers and not just mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, but mother-in-law and literally "bride." At a time when the marriage is fresh and everyone is trying their best to get along, Jesus says there will even be divisions there because of the fire He has started.

"From now on," Jesus says this will be case. He is the watershed. As water that falls on the Rocky Mountains must divide between east and west, so once a person is confronted by the risen Christ he or she will either be for or against Him. His Person, His Words, His Works are a fork in the road. Like the Pillar of Fire everyone is either repelled or comforted by what Jesus does and what Jesus says. They either embrace or reject what Jesus does in that font, in His ministry, at this altar.

Feel the burn. Look around you. Look at the young people. Jesus has kindled in their hearts by Word and Sacraments a fire that embraces His Person, His Words, and His Works. They've felt the burn. About 20 of them have come to Lutheranism from other denominations. They came from fine Christian homes. Yet, they've been burned by the truth of Lutheranism. Every one of them has been in our divine service with a parent, a brother, a sister, or a spouse who had to sit in the pew while they came to the Lord's Table. They've been divided from their loved ones by Christ, the Fork in the road. That's because the boundaries of the Lord's Table can be nothing less and nothing more than the teachings of Jesus. Those who are repelled, who reject, who can't embrace a teaching of Jesus are not admitted to our table, and that burns. That hurts. It's never a happy thing when families are divided, but Jesus says that He came to earth to bring division, and our young people have felt it and embraced it, even though it burns.

I tell you this to encourage you old Lutherans. Jesus is sticking forks in the road for you now. His Words and Works say one thing and our Synod in convention has said another. Doctrines and practices have been and are being accepted that conflict with the Words and Works of Jesus. Can you feel the burn? I can. What are we to do about it? What are you? What am I? All I am calling for now is for you to examine what Christ has taught you; see what our Synod is now saying, and don't quench the Spirit. Don't think that because the fire Christ has kindled burns it must be wrong or turned down. And ask yourselves this. Haven't you expected me as your pastor to require people to separate from loved ones at the Communion altar on the basis of what Christ teaches? Won't I be a first class hypocrite if I am unwilling to do the same?

Feel the burn, but remember Christ felt the true burn and as result the fire we get is heat and light not lightening that blinds and burns to a crisp. The heat and light of a campfire on a dark, cold, night is first and foremost comforting. As we hear together the Words of our Lord calling us to Himself regardless of the cost, we must see that it is first and foremost a call to the comforting heat and light of a fire not to the strike of a lightening bolt.

As I said at the beginning, the lightening has already struck and it struck Jesus. Before Jesus ever calls us to be divided from loved ones for His sake, He, the perfect Son, was divided from His perfect Father. Jesus points us to this fact in our text. The words mother, daughter, mother-in-law, and bride all have the article "the." The words "father" and "son" don't. This sets them off dramatically in the original Greek. In order to redeem us, Jesus was divided from His Father and His Father from Him. His Father "made Him to be sin." Think of how repulsive sin is to the holy God. Therefore, Isaiah tells us the Father was pleased to crush the Son. Jesus was divided from His Father to redeem us; Christians are called to divide from others because they have been redeemed by Christ.

Jesus says in our text, "How distressed I am until it is completed!" "It is completed" is identical to what Jesus says on the cross, "It is finished." Jesus is no longer distressed. "It is finished." He's not in heaven, in that Font, in this pulpit, or on that altar wringing His hands. Jesus has successfully redeemed us from sin, death and the power of the devil. He has won the right to send His Holy Spirit on sinners and kindle the flame of faith, hope, and love in us. Jesus is not distressed now, and we need not be either. We're called to bask in the glow and the warmth of completed redemption. We're to be refreshed by a Baptism that quenches our thirst for salvation. We're to be rejuvenated by an Absolution that forgives our sins, locks hell and opens heaven to us. We're to be revitalized by a Communion that feeds us with Christ's own Body and Blood to renew our body and blood for everlasting life.

Feel the burn, not the burn of the lightening strike that hit only Christ on the cross, but the amber glow of a cozy campfire. Haven't you ever noticed on a dark, cold night how much light and warmth even a small campfire gives? Step away from that fire and how dark, how cold, how creepy the night. Christ Jesus has kindled the fire of His truth in our midst, and it gives not just heat as it burns within us as it did in Jeremiah, but light. His Word is lamp to our feet and a light to our path as Psalm 119 says.

Look at this word before us. Do you see how much light is here about divisions and conflict in the Church? If Jesus had not clearly told us that He did not come to bring peace on earth, we would have to be bothered, worried that peace hadn't broken out by now. We would have to conclude we must be doing something wrong, and that's why there is no peace. Again if Jesus had not told us that He would be the cause of divisions in our own homes, we would have to wring our hands at the fact that divisions do exist.

Dear friends in Christ, feel the burn as the OT Church did. Christ was the Pillar of Fire who was a warm glow that protected them and guided them in the wilderness to the Promised Land. This same Christ is still our Pillar of Fire appearing to us in Water, Words, Bread and Wine to protect and guide us. He will not leave us or forsake us until He brings us to our Promised Land. We will be led their together you and I. We feel the burn together of the Spirit that Christ gives us in Word and Sacraments. Even though it smarts some times, the fire Christ kindles will always light and warm us through the long night of this life till the eternal day of the next. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Pentecost XIII (8-29-04); Luke 12: 49-53