God is a Consuming Fire


Northern rose window of the cathedral Notre-Dame in Chartres, France.

Pentecost +11
Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Lyons
Isaiah 28:14–22, Psalm 46, Hebrews 12:15–29, Luke 13:22–30

Praise the Lord. This morning, we need to put this message in context. The crucial verse in Luke is Luke 19:10: “For the son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” Okay. Chapter 15 is the crucial chapter in Luke because we see seeking and saving the lost, going on in that chapter in three parables. In two weeks, we’re going to hear the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin is also there. And, the Parable of the Lost Sons is there.

Now, we’ve already read that in Lent … which was while ago. Okay. But, you remember that, where the young son rejects the father and decides to go try something else. But, what we find out later is the older son rejects the father, too, and, by his actions, does the same thing with the … Even though he stays around at the house like he’s one of the good people … He stays around at the house, but then forces the father to come out from the feast and deal with his little pity party, and is basically saying to the father, “I wish you were dead,” just as the younger son had done.

But, the father keeps on holding out hope for these two numbnuts. And, praise the Lord, the Father is like that. Jesus is introducing us to His Love, to His Heavenly Father, who is not like an earthly father. And so, Jesus is pouring new meaning into what the Father is. Because we have, in our sin and in our ways and customs, destroyed that picture. So, Jesus is helping us understand who the Father is. Amen?

Amen.

Okay. So, we’ve seen a little bit of that. He’s done that when He’s taught us to pray. When He prays, when He prays not in Hebrew, but He prays in Aramaic, which is to say there’s not a special language to address God in. You address God in your heart language, which is crucial to what Jesus is talking about today.

Now, where do we find … This passage today is in the middle of the journey to Jerusalem. Remember in chapter nine, Jesus has decided to go to Jerusalem. Well, what happens in Jerusalem? Not happy stuff. Because God has sent the prophet to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, which is the capital, like Washington, DC, where the state and church come together, and the leaders of Jerusalem decide what’s going to happen in Israel. The king is there. The high priest is there, et cetera.

And, interestingly enough, Jesus has trouble with the swamp. We see going on today … So, in the journey to Jerusalem, Luke talks about, at the beginning, going up to Jerusalem. Here in the middle, we have a focus once again on Jerusalem. And then, we’re going to do some more discipleship passages and end up on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, before Holy Week.

So, this whole section, from the end of chapter nine to the beginning of chapter 19, is done is a chiastic cross pattern so that disciples can memorize what’s going on. So, when Jesus talks about prayer in the first part, He’s going to talk about prayer in the second part. So, Luke has formulated this pattern so that it is memorable so that the disciples, who do not have their Bible in their hand because the Bible hadn’t been invented yet … It’s hard to carry scrolls everywhere you’re going. Luke has put it in this pattern so that we can memorize what’s going on.

And so, there’s two passages on prayer. The first one contains the Lord’s Prayer, and the second one contains parables on persistent prayer. So, He’s going to talk about wealth in two places. He’s going to talk about the cost of discipleship in two places. Today, we focus back on Jerusalem again.

We’re trying to frame this so that we understand, how is Luke looking at what Jesus is doing, and the teaching that Jesus is giving? Now, what’s exciting about today, exciting for me, anyway, is that Jesus pulls the symbolism of the Great Feast out of the Scriptures. The Great Feast is a promise given to the prophets that has to do with the last day. Amen?

Amen.

In fact, Isaiah, in just three chapters before our reading today … And, you’ll notice that in Isaiah … The prophet Isaiah and God are not happy with what’s going on in Israel because the people, both the swamp … The leaders of Israel have chosen to hide behind lies. And, God come and says, “That’s not going to protect you. Lies … [inaudible 00:07:09] lies is not going to protect you, no matter how you believe that. No matter what you say … You can verbalize it, but it isn’t going to help.”

And so, our God is a consuming fire. Our God would have us live in a righteous way and live for justice. But, when we don’t, when we hide behind lies and say, “Well, we’re going to try to do justice our way,” or, “We’re going to try to do righteousness our way,” God is not happy with the swamp, either.

In our own day, we hide behind lies, too. We say, “Well, we can do whatever we want because science is improving so much, and I can just take a pill and overcome the consequences of sin. I take a pill or do something and overcome the consequences of unrighteousness.” Folks, God is not going to let that happen. Amen?

Amen.

Well, it is God’s desire that we come to Him and receive from Him, even though it’s difficult to live the way God wants us to live. God has said, “I am going to take care of your needs. I will meet your needs, and I want you to come, and we’re going to have a feast.” And, Jesus takes that symbolism of the promise given to the prophets of a feast at the end of days that we sit together with God.

Now, there was also a feast in some of our morning lectionaries about two weeks ago. There was a feast of the elders of Israel at Mount Sinai. The 70 elders, once they have been chosen, go to have a feast with the Lord. Of course, they didn’t look up. They kept their eyes looking at the food, I assume, because they weren’t consumed. It’s not easy to have a feast. Or, let’s put it like this. It’s wasn’t easy to have a feast with God in the old days. But, we’re in a new day. Amen.

And, God has come among us in Jesus to have a feast. Now, Jesus is doing two things here. He’s saying that the feast is crucial to the Day of the Lord. God is inviting people to that feast, even as we speak, and He’s inviting people from the north and from the south and from the east and from the west, to be in the feast that Abraham and Issac and Jacob longed to be in. The patriarchs of faith have longed to sit at table with the Lord in the Kingdom.

Now, I want to do that, too, because I know that at feasts, there’s always chocolate. It can’t be a feast without chocolate, right? I mean, if you look at Isaiah, where Isaiah talks about the feast in Isaiah chapter 25, you’ll see that chocolate is really there. I know. Unfortunately, this is being live streamed … and so, people at home are reaching for their Bibles because chocolate is there. Let me show you. In Isaiah 25, verse 6, says, “On this mountain Zion in Jerusalem, where we’re going to have a feast one day. The Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples, all peoples … not just Israel. Not just Israel and their friends, but all peoples. A feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine.” So, it’s an Anglican celebration of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well-refined.

Well, it’s got to include chocolate. Amen?

Amen.

Amen. Praise the Lord. Which, the people last night I preached this to, were not quite sure at this point, whether they should say Amen to that or not.

So, it’s God’s intent to make Jerusalem the place where the feast happens. Now, Jesus bring this up because the question to Him is, “How many will be saved?” How many will be saved? And, of course, He doesn’t answer that question. What He basically is saying … Well, fortunately for right now, the door is still open. The door is still open.

However, when God has the feast, surprising things will happen. The swamp is not going to be included in the feast, even though they think they are, because they’re not living into the righteousness and justice that the Lord wants. So, God is going to consume that. But, what has He said, what promise of hope did we hear today in Isaiah’s condemnation of the culture at that time? What’s the hope? What’s the hope?

Now, most preachers will answer their own question. I will not. Did you remember? What has God planted in on the Mount? God’s put something on the Mount, okay? So, even though God is going to consume unrighteousness, He’s placed something on the Mount. Do you remember what that is? Well, it was more than 10 minutes ago that we read that.

He placed a cornerstone in Zion. A cornerstone. Now, in the New Testament, that cornerstone and its relationship to Jesus is going to hit on a lot because Jesus is the cornerstone. The difficulty with God is, and His consuming fire is, it gets hot. Fires are hot. God wants to remove the dross from our life, the dross of sin and unrighteousness, and He wants us to be pure. Pure gold. You can’t have pure gold unless there’s fire.

Speaker 3:You need Him.

You can’t have pure silver unless there’s fire. I don’t know how they get platinum and all that stuff, but probably, fire is involved. And, the issue is, here, God is this consuming fire, and He sends His prophet Jesus to Jerusalem again. But, this is the greatest prophet as the writers of Hebrews explains. So, this is better than Moses. This is better than the angels. This is today, in our day, He has sent His son.

And so, Jesus is proclaiming that. He’s proclaiming the Great Feast. A little bit further on in this same passage that we haven’t read today, so I won’t ask you questions about that … Jesus predicts His death. And, He laments over Jerusalem because, at the end of this journey of going up to Jerusalem, God will come to visit His city, and the city will not be prepared for when He comes. Amen?

Amen.

So, Jesus, then, here in Luke … Luke puts this in the context that Jesus is weeping over Jerusalem. “How often have I wished to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not?” You would not listen to God. You would not listen to His prophets. You would not live in righteousness. You would rather live behind lies. And so, when I call the Great Feast, there’s going to be surprises. And, the people who think they should be at the head table will not be at the head table. And, the people that are worried and have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe some of them will be with us.

Now, this goes straight back to Luke chapter four. Now, I don’t know if you remember Luke chapter four. That was at the beginning of Epiphany. So, that was way back in January, but that’s the announcement of Jesus’s ministry when He’s in a synagogue, and He announces that the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, et cetera. Also, take it from Isaiah. Isaiah. Are we getting an idea here that Isaiah is crucial to New Testament understanding? Okay. Jesus in Nazareth … When He gets to the verse where we’re supposed to bop the Gentiles over the head, Jesus leaves that out. What’s the reaction in Nazareth to the fact that Jesus is leaving out the destruction of the Gentiles? Well, the place explodes.

You see, Nazareth is planted in the north because the northern kingdom had become total gentilized and was doing all kinds of other stuff. You have the Samaritans up there. So, you have mixed breed people up there. You have Gentiles, big cities of Gentiles up there. And so, Nazareth is planted as a Jewish stronghold in the midst of all these Gentiles.

Now, if God had planted Nazareth up there, the people would be shining their Jewish light and trying to help people understand who the God is Israel is. That’s not what the Nazarenes are doing. They’re mad at Gentiles. They don’t like Gentiles. They don’t find any place … In fact, in other Scriptures, like Enoch, in the Tarot, which is the Aramaic commentary on the Scripture … Even in Isaiah 25, where God and Isaiah have said, “I want all nations” … They’ve made it so that when the Gentiles do squeak into that feast, that all they’ll have is shame. And, they’ll be crying because then they’ll realize that they’ve hurt the Jewish nation.

Whereas, God says, in Isaiah 25, “I will destroy the veil over nations, and there will be no crying for anyone.” Qumran … “For the Great Feast, in Isaiah 25, will only have the righteous there.” That probably means that there will be no women there, because they have a misunderstanding of what patriarchy and fatherhood means. There certainly wouldn’t be any Gentiles there, right? There are not Gentiles there, and there are no disabled people there because in the time of Jesus, there must’ve been sin in the family somehow, some way, for there to be disabled people there.

And so, there’s a problem with the whole family line, and so, only the righteous will be at the Great Feast. Is that what Isaiah’s talking about? Not at all. So, when Jesus in Nazareth, refuses to talk about the condemnation of the Gentiles, and then uses two Gentiles, a man and a woman, to show righteousness that God wants in our lives, the place blows up, and they’re ready to kill Jesus.

But, the issue here … Our God is the God of the whole Earth. He’s not just the God of Israel. He’s not the God of Israel and their friends around. He is the God of the whole world. And, it’s His heart’s desire that all of the nations come to Him. All the nations. He’s here for all people.

So, when Jesus starts praying in Aramaic, not in liturgical Hebrew, He’s broken the culture, saying, “There’s not a sacred culture. There’s not a sacred language.” Hebrew’s important. The word of God is written in Hebrew, but it’s not the only thing we need to know. God is interested in personal relationships with people who desire to be righteous. Amen?

Amen.

Now, what’s going to happen, too, is Jesus is going to start the Great Banquet at the Last Supper. Now, you can tell it’s not the Great Banquet on the last day because there is no chocolate here. But, Jesus begins to live in to the Great Banquet in His celebration of the Last Supper, and that memorial that that becomes for us. So that as we come here and celebrate this each Sunday, we are beginning to live into what will be the Great Banquet at the end of time.

Now, I have to say that, as contemporary Anglicans, we invite members of all churches to come to this table because it is Jesus’s table. And, I have to say that I think is an important aspect of Anglicanism. We have always, from the beginning, maintained that we are not the true church although we are part of the true church. And, the activity that we do here every Sunday by celebrating what happens at the table, which is the story of Jesus and how this comes to us and what Jesus has done for us, and that Jesus wants to serve us and invites us to the table, is for all Christians to participate in, who have at least a rudimentary understanding of that and are baptized. So, our baptism is the entrance into the church. We celebrate the death and resurrection and our incorporation into the baptism, and the table is the continuing strengthening and power that we receive as Jesus gives Himself to us.

Every Sunday, He shares His body with us. He shares His blood with us so that we can be strengthened to go out and to call all to come in. Hello, we have a banquet! God wishes to have a meal with you and find out what’s going on in your life. Come! And, that is our challenge. That’s why Moses says to Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may go out and serve the Lord in the wilderness,” which means worship the Lord in the wilderness. We do mission because the people of the Earth are under the veil, and they do not know the true God. They do not know God who invites them to the banquet and wants them to live in righteousness.

And so, the only place that people are going to find out about who God is truly, is with us as we worship that. The end of mission is worship. And, the purpose of evangelism is for us to help people understand who God is and what He’s doing. So, let’s not fence the table off. Let’s not say, “Well, I don’t think they’re going to be interested in this today. Let’s talk about orchids … or stuff.”

God has set aside His people to live righteously and to help others understand who the Father is. Jesus has come on His journey and has made His journey to Jerusalem clear so that people will understand who the loving Heavenly Father is. He’s like no earthly father. He is full of mercy, and He is constantly transforming evil, hate, rotten stuff … He’s transforming that by grace into something better. That’s what God is about. And, that’s what we should be about as His people. Amen?

Amen.

Grace to live. He helps us each week. We come, we confess our sins. We say, “Lord, we didn’t live into that this week. Can you help me again?” Oh yeah, we’ll help you again. Jesus will be with you. We’ll help, we’ll strengthen you. The Holy Spirit is going to indwell you, and we’ll help you again. Because this message is so crucial.

So, it’s time for us to stop living behind lies. We have all kinds of scientific explanations for what’s going on. I think that the Lord is just fed up with us and has released His hand of protection. We can explain that from scientific ways, but the issue is He’s calling us to repent, but we’re so scientific, we can’t hear the call.

Well, it’s really hot outside. I mean, I already said, “I hope it stays cloudy this morning.” So, the sun isn’t shining full on us today because it’s hot outside because our God is a consuming fire. He says, “Pay attention, people. Don’t live like this. I have other ways for you to do this. I have sent Jesus, so you can see that I give Jesus to you every Sunday, so you can live differently. Stop doing this stuff. Stop living in an unjust manner. Live righteously under grace, under mercy, because I love you.”

Now, will our country hear these words? I don’t know. I don’t know. We’re used to explaining everything materially, rather than looking for the spiritual underpinnings. But, we’re here. We’re here as people who love God and who know. So, we need to do what we can while the door is still open, while the narrow way is still clear because at some point, the Master will rise and close the door.

Brothers and sisters, we just need to live into Holy Communion. We just need to share what the Lord shares with us with other folks. We need to live as Jesus cleanses us again. We need to live in that path. And, we need to share forth the reality. The reality that lots of people don’t get. The reality that God is a consuming fire. Name of God, Father son, and Holy Spirit.

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