Title: Fire Upon the Earth
“I am come to kindle fire upon the earth and what would I desire more than that it should already burn!” (Luke 12:49).
What shall I say about the fire which Jesus came to kindle? Above all, that this fire does not yet burn upon the earth, as little today as then when he cried out in a deep desire, half-prophetically, half-entreatingly, “What would I desire more than that it should already burn.” It has never burned anywhere. I do not know of any place in the past or present to which I might point and say, “See there, in that person, in that achievement, the fire burns which Jesus kindled; there you can see it with your own eyes and touch it with your own hands.”
Oh yes, there is much smoke upon the earth, smoke of fervid, urgent love for God and man; smoke of quiet, sincere faith; smoke of anxious, unshakable hope; smoke of profound, progressive ideas, ideas so exhaustive that they reach that beyond which one cannot think; smoke of noble, courageous zeal for the good; smoke of universal movements for the betterment and re-creation of temporal circumstances.
Who would dare to ignore this rising smoke, especially in our day in which the hope and the good will and the earnest search of men for something new reveals itself as the deepest nature of man. Where there is smoke there surely is a glow, always and always the glow that Jesus has started. But smoke is not fire, even if there is ever so much smoke. We dare not become too easily satisfied about that which Jesus expects. Jesus was not so easily satisfied either, in what he desired to bring and give to us.
Some people are frightened at the sight of rising smoke. They become deeply disquieted when there are plain indications and action of a power that can disturb and interrupt the entire course of life. To them we must say: “Yes, you are right in being frightened, and in time it will grow much worse. Something entirely different is yet to come. Beware of that day, when not only smoke, but, out of the latent glow that you now surmise, bright flames will break forth.”
There are other people who are happy when they become aware of the rising smoke. They welcome the indications and the activities, at least those which they understand; they are overjoyed by the faithful light which is being diffused into the darkness of this life by these indications and activities; they would like to see more of it. To these we must also say: “You are justified in your rejoicing, and in time it will become much better. Something entirely different is in the coming. Rejoice, rejoice, concerning that day, when the bright flames will break forth out of the latent glow which you now surmise.”
Thus the word of Jesus about the fire is today, as then, a threat for some and a promise for others: “What would I desire more than that it should already burn!” For all, however, this points to the fact that that which is real, essential, true, which Jesus wishes to give and to bring us, is not here as yet. The glow has been started, but the fire is not yet burning.
The Advent Season is life for us, for some a time of fear, for others a time of hope, for all a time of expectation. And yet, when we think it over quietly, we must always admit that fear and hope are strangely mingled in us all.
First, we want to hear something about the glow that was in Jesus’ heart. Indeed who can find words to talk about it? It is remarkable to observe how people were so at sea when faced with Jesus in His lifetime; how the glow that was in Him, even then could not come to a flame.
“He is a prophet,” said some; “He leads the people astray,” others thought. “He is the Holy One of God!” they said on the one hand; “He is a glutton and a winebibber, the associate of publicans and sinners,” on the other hand. “Blessed is the womb that bare thee,” some are saying, and others answer, “He bath Beelzebub. By the prince of demons casteth he out the demons.” “He preaches with authority,” thus some praised him; “He is beside himself,” thus others reviled him.
Judging from these conflicting opinions, we can see plainly that the people met something in Jesus with which they did not know what to do, something that did not fit in with their habits and conceptions. One could look at it this way and that, as something glorious beyond measure, or as something really vicious, in fact frightful, and we will simply admit that to this day it is about the same with us.
When we look into this glow, our eyes overflow with tears. We can say all sorts of things about what Jesus was and what he wanted, and we ministers and other people, too, are fairly well skilled in talking about it, but, if we are honest, we must admit at the same time that we really do not know just what we are saying.
Either what Jesus says and wants simply has no place in our world, or our entire world has no place beside that which Jesus is and wants.
Now just think about this one thing, the forgiveness of sins, about the way Jesus regarded mankind. What a remarkable vision, or rather insight, that was into all that is really important in our world! It certainly is important for us, whether a man is good or bad, Christian or unchristian, whether we can commend his speech and actions, or, whether we must criticize and reject them.
For Jesus, however, that is decidedly unimportant. He overlooks all that, or rather, He sees through it all as though it were glass. He sees through the man himself, the man just as he is, nothing added. What seems important to us, is to Him something added.
He sees him and puts this question to him: Do you see what you are, and what your plight is? That is, before God! Do you see that you are entirely dependent upon God, and also judged by God? Do you see how God has taken you up, that you are nothing before God, that between God and you there can be only a plain No?
Do you see that you are also sustained in the good hands of God, and how near God is to you in the very fact that you are entirely dependent upon him for grace and disfavor? Do you see that in your life you are facing a wall, that you cannot go any farther? Up there, however, upon the wall your way continues and it is no longer your way. For the wall that you are facing and the way it continues, is God.
God is the halt! and the forward! Do you see that?
Do you see that God is your father and you are his child? In the face of this question all else comes to an end for us. Things may go well as long as we do not understand the end. We may possibly think that not by any means does everything end here.
But when we do understand the question: Do you see that you have been forgiven, regardless of what you are: Pharisee, or publican, pious or ungodly, good or bad — do you see that you have been forgiven? that is the beginning, the real, the essential thing in your life.
Then everything comes to a final end for us. Then sinners must rise up from out of the depth, and, irrespective of their sin, they belong to God. Then the righteous must come down from their height, and, irrespective of their righteousness, they belong to God. Then all comes to a final end. Then all that counts with us will cease to be valid. All that counts then is God.
But what shall we make of this? If our world is really valid, then God is not valid in this fashion. If God is valid in this fashion, then our world is not. That is the alternative! What shall we choose? As Jesus considered men, they can be regarded only from the standpoint of God. What Jesus wants is evidently possible only with God.
Now what shall we say to this? It is plain that before this glow (that is in Jesus) we must close our eyes. There is nothing we can do with it. We can only become thoroughly confused.
Whoever can speak about this with smooth, intelligible words, whoever can listen unperturbed to this, only shows that he has not yet understood what it is all about.
It is the glow of the divine power, the divine love, the divine Spirit, the divine grace and mercy, that is radiant. It is in reality the impossible, something which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and which has not entered into the heart of man.
And yet this glow is there, at least at the brink of our world, there, where we cease to comprehend, at the boundary line of humanity. Plainly we feel the warmth, the light, the radiance that emanate therefrom, we see the smoke that rises from thence, the indications that Jesus, what He is and wants, is living, regardless as to the position we may take thereto. Our life takes its course, our world as well. But back of and above all of this is forgiveness, always the way in which Jesus looked at people, the urgent enlightenment that we are all sinners, the message full of promise that God verily wants to be our God.
It is like a great question mark and exclamation point after all that we are and have. No, the fire is not burning as yet; for that little bit of love, faith, zeal and good will in the world can certainly not be called a “burning.” But is it not enough that this glow is kindled in Jesus, so that we do not forget we are always unintentionally coming too close to it? Is it not enough that our entire life is lived in the reflection of the glow of this divine truth? How could we endure it, how great would be our terror and our exultation, if it should really burn?
Indeed, in that case we would lack words and ideas to say what it would be like if not only smoke but fire would break forth out of this glow. Jesus used this strong word consciously: I am come to kindle fire.
Whatever gets into the fire is not only changed, but it is transmuted in a manner unheard of, into something different from what it was.
Wood ceases to be wood when in the fire; it becomes ashes and gas, light and warmth. Jesus meant to say: such transmutation, such radical change is what I bring and give. Just so he purposely used that other strong word: I am not come to bring peace, but a sword, the sword that brings death, that is, not just a change and an improvement in this existence with which we are acquainted, but a transition from this existence to an entirely unfamiliar one.
Let us think for a moment that that which Jesus is and that which he wants, this Immanuel! God with us! is true; that it is not simply in the Bible, and spoken by a minister in the pulpit, but that it is simply true. What then? Clearly, then, something new, something different begins, something as different from all that now is, as ashes, gas, light and warmth are different from wood, death from life.
God with us! That is too strong a contradiction, not only over against our sins and sufferings but also against the nature of our existence even down to the very deepest depths of its roots.
God with us! That conflicts too much, not only with our unrighteousness, but more yet, with our righteousness; not only with the atrocities of history, but more yet with history’s supposed progress and achievements; not only with the misery on earth, but more yet, with the supposed happiness and satisfaction on earth.
God with us! That subjects our total human nature to a judgment, to a No, that will leave nothing left of us, and will bow us under a grace, a Yes, that we cannot comprehend. God with us! That is not only a better man, but a new man; not only a beautiful world, but an other world; not only a higher life, but an eternal life.
God with us! That is redemption, but real, all-embracing, serious, and therefore, radical redemption.
That is the fire of which Jesus spoke, the fire that wants to come forth out of the glow that He started. Hence the impossibility for us to look right into the glow; hence our helplessness in the presence of Jesus, now as then. Hence the earthquake, the disquietude, the confusion which inevitably arises, when the word of reconciliation is really preached and heard. Hence the alternative (either-or) with which we are inevitably confronted when we understand what is at stake, when we come too close to the glow in Jesus.
From Jesus’ announcement — God with us! — to the realization of this announcement; from the glow to the fire; from ourselves to redemption there is a transition, entirely unheard of, a dying, alongside of which that which we usually call dying is only a semblance, just play, notwithstanding all the seriousness of dying; a world-judgment along-side of which the destruction of the world which can come at some time, is insignificant. We stand here before an abyss over which there is no bridge.
For Jesus’ death actually stands between here and there, His death upon the cross. The word about the fire that is not yet burning has a continuation, namely: But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! It will always be surprising and remarkable that Jesus had to go this way, the way of death so soon after so short a period of activity, and that He had to fix his eye upon this end from the very first. It is as though He had had to say for all times and to all mankind with the surrender of His life: Wait for redemption, for the victory of the divine truth, for the fulfilment of “God with us”; do not expect anything of your own activities, of the progress that you achieve, of the structure that you can erect.
Redemption is not a work that you can do, not a way that you can travel, not a power that you can use. Redemption comes, and comes from an altogether different side, it comes really and in truth from God Himself. It comes from thence where you are at your extremity, where you are and have nothing any more, and from thence where you are lost. There God will glorify himself through you. There resurrection and life are waiting.
Therefore, Jesus’ fire does not yet burn upon earth. Between it and the glow that has been started is the cross, is death, the end of all things. To the Jews an offence (stumbling block), to the Greeks foolishness, to them, however, that have been saved, a divine power. A divine power, yes, because it is the open way. But who has already walked this way? Who does not need to walk this way again and again? Who can be said to have already passed the cross and to be standing on the other side in the resurrection? Who does not take offence here? Who does not shake his head? Who would not turn about with Peter and go another way? Who dares leave it all to God?
Now if we would like to ask what we should do, the only answer would be that perhaps this very question ought to be able to die. For, as long as we ask this question, we really show that our longing for Jesus’ fire, for redemption, for the resurrection, is not very great as yet. Evidently we still have expedients and a way out so that we can contrive without Jesus’ fire.
“Behold I make all things new” has evidently not penetrated to our very marrow. We could ask ourselves why this is so with us, why we can go along in such ease, when we are really confronted with an alternative (either-or). Why is it that we still think what we do or do not do is so important, whereas in reality we are dependent upon God and live in Him? When these questions awake in us, we become shocked, unsteady, undermined people. Then we realize that we must die, not at the end of our days, but today. We then become people who not only wait, but know what they are waiting for, people who are waiting upon God.
We then become people who are standing, so to speak, in the shadow of the Cross and looking forward to Easter. Then our lifetime becomes consciously an Advent season. Perhaps that is what we can do, and nothing more is needed then than a certain honesty and watchfulness (soberness), a sense of what it all depends upon.
This much is certain: if we are silent before God, we shall hear the message that continually sounds from the other side over to ours and which could continually be heard on our side: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.
Long Branch Baptist Church
Halfway, Virginia; est. 1786
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Enter to Worship
Prelude David Witt
Invocation Isaiah 52:7-10
*Opening Hymn #76
“My Jesus, I Love Thee”
Welcome & Announcements
Morning Prayer [See Insert]
*Praise Hymn [See Insert]
“Behold What Manner of Love”
*Responsive Reading [See Right]
*Offertory Hymn #79
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”
Offertory Mr. Witt
Scripture Luke 12:49-50
Sermon Karl Barth
“Fire Upon the Earth”
Invitation Hymn #383
“How Firm a Foundation”
May the grace of Christ of Savior / And the Father’s boundless love
With the Holy Spirit’s favor / Rest upon us from above. Amen.
* Congregation, please stand.
Depart To Serve
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
So be careful not to forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you.
Do not to make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you.
For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.
When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land, doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish.
But because the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.
Ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of?
Has any people ever heard the voice of God speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived?
Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?
To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or man, but of God.
Jn 1:1-5;Lk 12:49-52; Dt 4:23-26;31-35;Jn 1:10-13
Almighty and merciful Father, We have strayed from your ways like lost sheep, each and every one of us. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our hearts; we have offended your holy ways. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. But you, O Lord, please have mercy upon us. Spare us from your wrath and your justice, for these things which we now confess before you, and for those things which we neglect. Be our Deliverer from these things.
You, Lord, You are our strength, our shield, and our Deliverer.
Forgive us, O Lord, for things which we as church and as a country have done which are displeasing in your sight, even as we thank you for those things which our church and our country have done which are pleasing in your sight. Lift up our Leaders, and give them your peace. Lift up those who proclaim your name throughout the world, and be with those who are called to give the final witness. Be their shield and ours in these things.
You, Lord, You are our strength, our shield, and our Deliverer.
Our health is gone. Life is but your breath in us. Breathe on us, restore unto us the joy of thy salvation. Walk with us and maintain us we pray. We lift up our near and dear ones. Breathe on Susan, and Warren, Breathe on Marian and Martha, Breathe on Lee and Irene. And on Mark, Lori, Ann. Lord, Be their strength and ours.
You, Lord, You are our strength, our shield, and our Deliverer.
Be unto our neighbors a beacon calling them home we pray. Grant us the joy and privilege of praising your name together, in this place which you set aside so many years ago we ask. We lift them up to you now.
Unto Thee Lord, do I lift up my soul. O My God, I trust in Thee, Let me not be ashamed, Let not mine enemies triumph over me. But restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and renew a right Spirit in me. Restore us, Lord, according to thy promises and grant us for your Son’s sake that we may hereafter live godly, righteous, and sober lives to your glory, the Glory of your Name. Teach us to be your children, even as you taught us to pray, saying: Our Father, Who art in Heaven…
• If you can stay after to help us cut out craft pieces for Marshall VBS and talk about worship, we’d love it!
• Please plan to stay next week for a business meeting.
• If you are available to help with 7 Loaves, please call Joanne Glascock (540)428-0029.