Several years ago when I was in El Salvador, we visited a cooperative called Shicali.

Shicali was started by a group of young people with a variety of different disabilities. Some are physically handicapped. Others are blind. Still others experience different kinds of obstacles to life and work. Together, they make ceramics. Really beautiful ceramics. As we went on a tour of their facilities, they explained to us how they craft. What they make. And why. How they work together. They showed us the clay. And the kiln. And talked about the fire. It’s the fire that’s the magic – it brings life to the clay. It is the fire that brings out color and beauty. Makes it actually useful. Functional. So that it serves a purpose. And for the folks at Shicali – this has become their way of life – as they work together to make a living. They are a community – in many ways, that lives around the fire – benefitting from its gifts. Finding unity there.

Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? And then – Jesus says today – I came to bring fire to the earth.
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Fire. And division. Today we find ourselves in Luke’s so-called “Hard Sayings of Jesus” – the ones that we don’t always want to hear – or that we aren’t quite sure we understand. Jesus sets this idea of division in the context of the family – division among those to whom we might think we are meant to be closest. Now…for some of us – this idea might be shocking – or painful. That we might be divided – on different sides – angry with or set against those in our families. For some of us…perhaps this sounds all too familiar. Not shocking at all. In either case…what Jesus is trying to get at – is the idea that those things which once were of prime importance – are no longer as important. Those things which may once have defined us – now take on a different meaning. For Jesus’ contemporaries, the family unit – and on a larger scale – the tribal unit – were intended to be unbreakable bonds. And this was for good reason. These relationships offered security – they were the very foundation of survival. Especially for those on the bottom of the power food chain. These were ties – bonds – that kept society together. That kept people safe. And defined who you were and how you fit into the world. So when Jesus says he brings division – when he questions and troubles this paradigm – he also threatens chaos and danger. It meant there had to be a re-ordering of life and loyalty in order to find a new safe way of living.
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Jesus knew that many would find his message – his teachings – too difficult to follow. Even those in a tight-knit family might find that the truth of the Gospel separates them. That it would be too hard for many to buy in to a vision of life where everyone is equal – where everyone is beloved. Where we are all connected – and thus need to serve each other. Not everyone wants to receive the good news – not everyone wants to follow. For early Christians, this text would have hit home in a unique way. When some Jews began following Jesus, their families had funerals for them. They disowned them. They struggled against them. Early Christians in this situation had to decide who they were- and what their priorities were. They had to make very hard choices. And yet - out of this division – out of their struggle – out of their chaos – they were reborn. Baptized. With the fire of the Holy Spirit. Born into a new family – a new body.
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Part of the Body of Christ. No longer defined by where they were born. Or who they were related to. Defined as having died and risen again with Jesus Christ. No longer intended to be dependent on the ways of the world. Rather, they were intended to be a community. A community that loved and cared for each other. They were called to be a community that offered the same kind of security – and comfort – and love that the original family unit did. And so are we. We are called to this same process of re-evaluating our loyalties – our priorities – our sense of self. We are called to be fired – transformed by the fire of the word of God. To be a community that lives around the fire – and finds unity in the process of faithful living. Sometimes, this process of being fired – of being perfected – causes divisions like those Jesus is referring to. Sometimes – when we do the right thing – or even the wrong thing – when we do what we think God is calling us to do, When we live in the world in the ways we’re supposed to – we find that those around us don’t understand. Sometimes it costs us heartache, blood, sweat, tears. Sometimes it costs us relationships.
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To allow ourselves to be transformed – always seems to have some sort of cost – some kind of sacrifice. And yet, the good news about division is that we know it isn’t permanent. We know that God works for the good. We know that the arc of universe is long – but that it bends toward justice1. We know that creation is being perfected – this minute – this second by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Over time- God’s Word – God’s plan has the same affect on creation as the fire on the clay…we are being transformed more and more into the image of God2. The clay goes in with a mold – a shape – a sense of what it will be. Just like we are born into this world. Originally shaped and marked by our families – by our surroundings – by the places and communities in which we grow up – for better or for worse. But it is God’s love – in the midst of that chaos – that transforms us – and has the final say. God’s love that was revealed in the Incarnate Word – the fire of Jesus Christ.

Theodore Parker in the 1850s; the idea of the moral universe – then paraphrased and used again by Martin Luther King, Jr. 2 For me, this foundational idea of our diversification representing the perfection of creation by the Holy Spirit, rendering the image of God ever more visible – comes from the writings of Susan Ross. See Extravagant Affections: A Feminist Sacramental Theology, The Continuum International Publishing Group, NY, 1998.
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It is God’s love that, when we submit, changes us bit by bit – in all our diversity – to better reflect and shine forth the image of God in each one of us. Jesus Christ brought us a new baptism – by the Holy Spirit and fire. It is Jesus’ call to us – to live faithful lives – to serve each other – even at the cost of division – in the midst of chaos… It is our efforts to do this work – all of these things combined with the fire of the Holy Spirit – that transforms us by holy fire into something beautiful – something colorful. Something useful. Something redeemed when we come out of the kiln. Something – someone(s) – a community in the process of being perfected by God. God works in chaos and division. God works in us when we faithfully submit to the process of being fired by the Word. When we live lives defined by the fact that we are God’s beloved – and that we are connected. When we live our lives in such a way that we show that the Word of God – the fire of being God’s own – the fire of living in the Word – has made us one Body, one family, one beautiful, useful unit. We are meant to be a community that lives round the fire – round the Word of God – and by God’s grace is slowly perfected by it and calls others to join us – out of their chaos and division – and into the light of the truth. Except unlike Shicali – we aren’t here to make a living.
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We’re here to change the world in the name of Jesus Christ. To share the fire. How are you being fired by the Word? And how are you sharing it? We are called to share the fire – and to change the world. Amen.

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