On Sunday August 14th our minister Rev Trevor Dixon led worship at Wesley Chapel. Worship began when we sang ‘Sing praise to God who reigns above,’ before Trevor led the opening responsive prayers of praise, confession and thanksgiving. We sang, ‘The Spirit lives to free us’, which had a lovely chorus reminding us to walk in the light of the Lord; it made me feel like dancing! The first reading was Isaiah 5.1-7 about the unfruitful vineyard. The second reading was Hebrews 11.29-12.2. We sang, ‘For all the saints who showed your love.’ Trevor read the gospel reading Luke 12.49-56 describing how Jesus came to bring fire and division, before he preached.
Trevor said that Jesus came to set the earth on fire. He and his family had been on holiday in Northumberland. The weather was mixed but there were many ruins to visit; they visited a number of these which had easy access. Many had fought for that part of the country. They visited Holy Island, Lindisfarne, which is accessible at low tide twice a day. Lindisfarne was the cradle of Christianity and had a Saxon monastery in AD 639. A priest who was a stern man was succeeded in 651 by Aidan who came from Iona and was loved by all. Saint Cuthbert succeeded in 654 and was later buried in Durham Cathedral. The Lindisfarne gospels from 715 had been illustrated by monk Eadfrith who was also a Bishop of Lindisfarne dedicated to the memory of Cuthbert.
Jesus came to set the earth on fire and he did just that. Whole communities have been wiped out in the name of religion; Catholics versus Protestants; the Christian crusades fought against the Moslems; Roundheads versus Cavaliers and the inquisition were all in the name of Christ! When we share the bread and wine of communion at the Lord’s Table we remember the peace Jesus came to bring. All these wars did not only happen long ago; wars continue to be fought in the name of religion in China, Egypt, the Middle East, Europe, Syria and many other places. Jesus never promised an easy, comfortable life; he just said that he was the way, the truth and the life. His disciples had wanted to call fire down on the Samaritan village, which had rejected them, but Jesus said no.
The song of the vineyard in Isaiah showed the threat of judgement on the workers, if the vineyard was neglected; the Lord would dig it up and put it on the fire. The vineyard symbolised the people of Israel who would be judged if they failed to bear fruit. The vines would be pruned and burned as useless; they did not realise God wanted justice and peace not power and greed.
We forget our calling; this is the world Jesus died for and our task is to claim the world for him. The reading in Hebrews described the deeds of the saints, their experiences of persecution, torture and even death. Those who have tried to claim the world for Jesus include Arch Bishop Romero, Bonheoffer, Martin Luther King, Gladys Aylward, Desmond Tutu and many others. Not one of them described themselves as brave or remarkable, but they had seen what was right and spoke of it; true disciples follow the lead of those described in the letter to the Hebrews. Jesus came to bring fire not peace; it is not comfortable doctrine or easy option. There is the fire of judgement, the fire of testing and the fire that came with the wind of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit of fire, the Comforter, the Peace Giver was the fulfilment of the promise of Jesus. We need the fire of the Holy Spirit to melt our hearts so we grow in the knowledge of God. Jesus promised fire not peace and yet comfort was promised. His baptism of fire takes peace to a needy world.
We sang, ‘See how great a flame aspires’ before Trevor led the prayers of intercession and petition and the Lord’s Prayer. Worship concluded when we sang ‘Christians alive! Let Christians sing.’