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Church: Set The Church on Fire! (Luke 12:49)

By H. Beecher Hicks, Jr.
"I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I, if it be already kindled?" Luke 12:49

The more I think about Jesus the more I am drawn to the unorthodox nature of His ministry. From the time of His birth in a cow barn in Bethlehem until the moment of His death on a crude and cruel cruciform out by a city dump called Golgotha, Jesus never fit the mold, never conformed to the pattern, and never lived up to the expectations of the religious establishment.

Whenever I think about Jesus, I am compelled to remember a barefoot, itinerant Palestinian preacher who spent His time on planet earth demonstrating to those who had become content with their hunger that even two fish and five loaves would be sufficient for their filling, assuring the lame, the lepers and the lost that theirs would be an abundant life, and telling those who had nothing and prospects of less that they were entitled to everything, "full measure, pressed down and running over."

Whenever I think about Jesus I cannot escape being drawn to this One who had the audacity to walk on water and then tell others that they could do the same. Whenever I think about Jesus I think of One who made preachers out of crude fishermen, who sat at table with winos and roughnecks, who claimed to be a preacher but who was often seen in the company of a local prostitute, and who went out of His way to talk with a woman at the well, hold an in-depth psychological interview with a mentally challenged resident of the Gadarene Cemetery, took time to be touched by a woman with an issue of blood and then stopped by Bethany to take the grave clothes from a dead man's body.

The more I think about Jesus, the more I am drawn to the unorthodox nature of His ministry. It is this unmistakable bent toward the unorthodox that occasions the words of this Lucan text. Here in the twelfth chapter of Luke's unfolding Gospel, Jesus is in the process of parabolic teaching, sharing with his disciples His views on what He called the Kingdom of God. Here Jesus speaks of the economic principles of the Kingdom, suggesting that where your treasure is there will your heart be also, and ultimately suggesting that no matter what your economic status may be, "seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you."

But then, this word: "I am come to send fire on the earth: and what will I, if it be already kindled." There is something strange, and peculiar, and unorthodox about this word. Don't you find it strange that this word on fire is a word direct from the mouth of the Son of God? This word on fire is born in the heart of Isaiah's Prince of Peace. This word of fire falls from the lips of the One we have come to know as a compassionate Christ. It is a fire that He sends and He sets. For those disciples to whom this word was given Jesus says, then and now, Set the Church on Fire!

This word on fire bears a contemporary ring. Surely there are none who are unaware of the burning of African-American Churches across the length of our land. There is a sense in which those of us who march and minister under the banner of our Christ stand aghast whenever the sacred is profaned. The epidemic of fire and hatred directed particularly toward African American churches is a clear indication that we are still a nation divided, separate and unequal.

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