Saturday, August 18, 2007

20th Sunday of the Year (August 18th)

Readings for today

I come to bring fire to the earth!

Fire is a tremendously powerful thing. And it represents many things to us.

Firstly, it is is comforting.
When we gather in front of the fire, we feel its warmth and a sense of security. If gather around a camp fire there is a strong sense of community. One of the less positive aspects of central heating is that we no longer need the fire in our homes for warmth - yet we still enjoy the logs and the coal fire, especially on a windy, rainy or snowy day. The fire and the hearth speak of home, and comfort and love.
And this is true also of course of our faith. It is a comfort in times of sorrow and distress. It is a refuge for the weak, and not so weak. It is our home, our assurance of God's love, our hope for life beyond this life.

Yet, secondly, fire is also destructive, and because of this, it may also be purifying.
Fire can cause terrible damage - we have seen that in the news all too recently - yet this very power to destroy is also purifying. Fire burns away the dross. It destroys the rubbish and leaves what is really valuable. In days gone fire has been very important to this city. At one time the sky would light up over the whole of this area when the fires of Shelton bar burned hot and red in the manufacture of steel. Fire also bakes the pots and fixes the glaze. Similarly, fire burns away garden rubbish, destroys harmful bacteria.
And similarly, the fire of the faith, casts away the darkness of sin. It reveals the truth, burns away falsehood and bakes the pots of justice. Let us not be deceived that this can be a very painful process. It be decisive and hurtful. Faith might always give us comfort - but it is not always comfortable. Christ brings fire to the earth, and in a purifying fire, something and someone will surely get burnt.

And finally, fire is transforming.
The coal which was hewn from the ground round here went to fire the furnaces and machinery of the factories. Trains and ships crossed the nation and the world, powered by its fire. And still today, fire powers our cars, provides us with electricity and cooks our food - especially the Sunday roast we look forward too. It is a great power which does not only destroy, but it also changes, transforms. And when we are strongly motivated, angry or in love, we say that we have fire within, burning in our hearts.
And so, the fire of faith must burn in our hearts. It enthuses us, encourages us, enlivens us, transforms us. It is no coincidence that when the Spirit was given to the apostles at Pentecost he is described as 'tongues of flame', or when Jesus met the disciples on the road toEmmaus they described their feeling as a burning within. Neither it is coincidence that the Heart of Jesus is so often pictured as a heart surrounded by flames.

The fire of faith burns us, consumes us. It brings us comfort. It challenges, disturbs and purifies us. And it changes and transforms us.

'I have come to bring fire to the earth', says Jesus 'and how I wish it were blazing already'

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