Elton Trueblood - "Baptism by Fire" (March 6, 1966)
|Our text this morning
|is one of the most striking in the entire Bible,
|and yet one of the most neglected.
|It is the words of Jesus when he said,
|"I came to cast fire upon the earth."
|For some strange reason, this is very little used.
|I myself have never heard of summon on this text.
|Why is this?
|Perhaps one reason is
|that it appears in only one of the gospels.
|As you heard one of the students reading,
|the words that you heard we're all from Luke.
|Luke is the only one of the canonical gospels
|that has kept this striking piece.
|Mark does not have it,
|Matthew does not have it,
|John does not have it,
|and we can be exceeding the grateful to Luke
|that somehow he recognized the merit
|and the significance of this great phrase
|and kept it for you and me,
|I came to cast fire upon the earth.
|And now we have a corroboration in an unexpected way.
|There was found in the sands of Egypt in our generation,
|papyrus that had never decayed because the sins were so dry.
|And this has been partly published under the title,
|"The Gospel According to St. Thomas."
|And here we find these very same words,
|"I came to cast fire upon the earth
|and how I am constrained until it is kindled."
|Now what can Christ have meant by this.
|Every one of us here is bound to wonder,
|but the fortunate thing is that we have some help.
|It is perfectly clear
|that he is referring back to the words
|of that fiery man John the Baptist
|of him Christ said, "He was a burning and a shining light."
|And you may notice that in Luke 12:50,
|immediately after this verse that has been quoted,
|you find that reference to baptism
|and it is something to come not something that has been.
|It is clearly nothing ceremonial,
|nothing sensation, nothing formal.
|He said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with
|and how I am constrained until it is accomplished."
|We get another hint
|in the first chapter of the book of Acts.
|Many of you will know that the final words
|of Christ on earth are not found in any of the four gospels,
|but are found instead in the first few verses
|of the book of Acts.
|And again in order to make clear
|this tremendous thing that is occurring,
|he refers back to John.
|And the words of John are these,
|"I indeed baptize you with water,"
|get the tremendous significance now of this conjunction,
|"But he who comes after me
|will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."
|This then is my subject, baptism by fire.
|Clearly predicted here in enunciated by our Lord
|and then amazingly demonstrated by the early Christians
|in the exciting experience that we call Pentecost.
|This is represented by the same author Luke
|in the second chapter of the book of Acts.
|Two weeks ago today, my wife and I were in Dallas,
|and we went to see a painter there
|who is trying to do something for our time
|that could conceivably be
|as ambitious as the work of the great murals
|of the Renaissance in Italy.
|He's making a tremendous mural of the day of Pentecost,
|and he is especially concerned to be faithful to the words
|that the spirit appeared as it were like tongues of fire.
|And this gifted artist whose name you do not know now
|but someday you will undoubtedly hear,
|see is that the heart of the matter is baptism by fire.
|Now this is only one of many metaphors that our Lord used
|to try to tell the people what they did not know.
|That is, what he had come for, what he was seeking to do.
|You know the metaphors that he uses.
|He said to the little company,
|you are the salt of the art
|that can save civilization from decay.
|You are the light of the world.
|He said that the gospel of the Kingdom was leaven.
|The leaven that will make the lump rise.
|He spoke a bread, the bread of life and of water.
|He said, "I am the door."
|On and on you can go with these metaphors,
|a galaxy of metaphors one after the other,
|each of tremendous and it's important.
|But dear friends we are dealing this morning
|with the most striking of them all.
|He said I came to cast fire.
|Our student reader read this morning
|from the New English Bible.
|And if you listened to what she said,
|you got this new translation,
|"I have come to set the earth on fire."
|What did he mean?
|Will you and I will never know all that he meant,
|but we can know part of what he meant
|as we see it in its total context
|and at least this much perfectly clear.
|He is wanting us to know
|that he did not come to do a little thing.
|He did not come to make some little variation
|on a liturgical service.
|Or to make some slight improvement
|on the work of the temple in Jerusalem,
|or to make slightly better synagogue.
|He came to do something
|he said that would affect all mankind.
|It is the earth of which you are to be the salt.
|It is the world to which you and all humility
|are to be as a light.
|He said, go you into all the world
|and his very last recorded words
|were you shall be my witnesses, where?
|In some little place merrily?
|He has a number of concentric circles in Jerusalem and Judea
|and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
|Another way to put this is to say
|that the very worst heresy
|is to make small what Christ meant to make large.
|It is easy to do a little thing.
|We can cut it down.
|We can make it a ceremonial gloss upon our culture.
|We can make it an ecclesiastical gesture.
|It is not very hard to have Sunday religion
|and end with that.
|And by his violent figure of speech,
|our Lord and master is rejecting all of these.
|He has come to make a blaze that will roar,
|that will spread, that will touch all of life,
|economic, educational, political, cultural,
|and not merely religious in some segregated and tiny sense.
|Whatever else he meant it is perfectly clear that
|when he said I came to cast fire upon the earth
|he meant for you and me to know
|that he was undertaking something revolutionary.
|As a matter of fact,
|it is the most revolutionary idea
|that the world has seen if only we could know it.
|Vastly more revolutionary than any tired Marxism.
|Think of the revolutionary content in actually teaching
|that every son and daughter of earth
|is one made in the image of the living God.
|and one for whom Christ died,
|therefore important, therefore significant.
|We have hardly touched the fringes
|of this revolutionary idea
|and whenever it is taken seriously, it changes the world.
|60 years before the Emancipation Proclamation,
|it made my own ancestors in this state
|liberate all their slave.
|Here is a power which we deny by mild except.
|The reason I bring you this message
|to Duke University today is this,
|I think the real enemy of Christ today is mild religion.
|And my own religion
|cannot live in the same universe of discourse
|with all those who see that to be a Christian
|is to be baptized by fire.
|It is a wonderful thing to know
|that at the times when Christianity has been most vital,
|this has been most understood.
|Some of you here on undoubtedly know the work of Augustine.
|Do you remember that lovely phrase
|in which he clearly is referring back to our text
|and he says, "one loving heart sets another on fire."
|And there will be even more of you
|because of the present growth of existentialism
|who will know the works of Blaise Pascal
|Of more than 300 years ago.
|Do you know that in his account of his own tremendous
|and life-changing religious experience,
|which he wrote out and sewed in his coat
|so that it was found there when he died?
|Do you know I say that in this writing in French,
|he put across the page in great capital letters
|the word fire.
|What Blaise Pascal meant was
|that the experience of the living Christ
|that had reached into his heart was not a mild thing,
|not a cool thing.
|It was something that burned
|at the same time that it lightened.
|There must be many of you here who are Methodists.
|I hope you know the famous words of John Wesley,
|the founder of Methodism.
|And referring to the life-changing experience
|of his own heart he said,
|"My heart was strangely warmed.
|Here in the periods of vitality in different denominations
|and indifference centuries is the ongoing major tradition.
|We speak in the new Testament of one Lord, one faith,
|one baptism, what is it?
|It is clearly the baptism of fire.
|It could not be a thing as little as a ceremonial occasion.
|You can have a ceremonial occasion
|with no change in your life at all.
|What everybody can see is metaphorical.
|And what is meant is that our lives
|have to be so radically changed and altered.
|That hence, for the people we taught will themselves
|I seems to be telling us how the Kingdom is to grow.
|He says that the Kingdom is to grow by a person like you
|getting so close to the central fire of Christ,
|that you are in flame,
|and because you are inflamed, you inflame others.
|How else really do you expect the Kingdom to grow?
|Evangelism is not merely the professional job,
|of a professional evangelist.
|If you take the words of Christ seriously,
|it is the vocation of every Christian.
|And so we may begin to think of the church
|in totally new terms.
|Wouldn't it be glorious
|if you and I could think of the church
|and mean it as the incendiary fellowship?
|The fellowship of the enkindled one
|who consequently enkindle, others.
|We have a very good friend in Los Angeles
|who lost his house in the great fire that you know about.
|When the wind was so strong,
|and his house burned down
|because up the street at the top of the hill
|with a high wind blowing there was a house burning.
|And the fire came from the other house,
|came over the tops of the intervening houses
|blown by this high wind,
|landed on the roof of my friend's house,
|and burned it to the ground.
|This is a destructive fire,
|but what Christ seems to be teaching you and me is
|there can be an analog of this
|that instead of being destructive
|is that which changes the world.
|You are the faggot and if you are really on fire,
|you will have to set others on fire.
|The way you know whether anything is burning
|is whether it can enkindle another.
|This is a functional definition
|of what it means to be on fire.
|How this would change the whole conception
|of what the church is.
|This is clearly what the early church was.
|The early Christians had no money and no standing,
|but they changed the world.
|And in the pages of the New Testament this is what you find,
|this incendiary fellowship
|of people who were touching every one that they could touch.
|The master touched the servant and the servant the master,
|and the husband the wife and the wife the husband.
|The early church was simply a missionary ban.
|They did not so much send missionaries
|they were missionaries.
|in a very deep sense they were all evangelists.
|Everyone in the Act
|and with such tremendous opposition
|and such tremendous odds.
|They lived, they survived
|and in a very profound sense they triumphed.
|And you and I would not be here at this moment
|if they had been the upholders of mild religion.
|it is not conceivable that the early church
|could have done what it did
|except that it was made up of humble men and women
|Who knew what it was to be baptized with fire.
|And so I have come to this place where I love to come
|primarily to ask you a question,
|have you been baptized?
|Have you been baptized by fire?
|Will you arise and bow your heads in prayer?
|May the fire of Christ ignite You.
|May the cross of Christ redeem you.
|May the faith of Christ inspire you.
|May the love of Christ sustain you.
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