Baptism with Fire
Today I cleaned out my fridge and pantry cupboard. It was very needed. I had a fridge that was full, but I couldn't find anything to eat in it. I cleaned everything out and then I had to sort and separate. Those things passed their used by date had to be thrown out whilst others needed to be gathered together in like groups, sorted and place back in the fridge for easy use.
This image of fridge cleaning is a bit like how John described Jesus' baptism of fire. The people were all wondering if John the Baptist could be the Messiah but he explained to them that there was one coming more powerful than him the straps of whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. He explained to the crowd that he baptised with water, but this One would baptise with the Holy Spirit and Fire. Next comes the fridge analogy. The Fire baptiser will clear out his threshing barn with his winnowing fork. He'll gather the wheat into the barn but burn up the chaff with His unquenchable fire.
Often we associate baptism with fire with speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts. Yes that can be part of it, but John wants to tell us that Jesus' prime task in immersing us in the Holy Spirit of Fire is a cleansing and gathering work for our souls, church and community. You can't clean out an individual or a church unless you separate the chaff from the grain. Some commentators talk about this meaning: people for the Lord and against. But what if the chaff is also everything that is not of the Lord like greed, bitterness, hatred, sexual immorality, violvence, etc. And the grain is the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, long-suffering and self-control. Gathering the grain and burning the chaff is the deep work that Christ does in a believer's life that flows from his sacrifice on calvary. Our part is receiving Christ's enormous free gift by faith and keep on receiving it as we are changed form glory to glory.
But what does this have to do with the Uniting Church in Australia? Whilst some rejoice that today is the landmark for same-gender marriage being safe within the UCA , there are others with significant grief knowing that the hope of halting what they see as contrary to God's will is over. Many are confused and seeking the Lord as to what to do.
For them and myself, the the two integrities on marriage seem to make a mockery of the what John says Jesus brings. If I try to clean out my fridge by putting both the edible and inedible food back in, I've wasted my time. Jesus gathers the wheat into the barn but burns up the chaff with fire. We can ask Jesus to bless our church with his presence but if we aren't willing for Him to get rid of our behaviour that scripture says is chaff whatever it is, we grieve the Holy Spirit.
So for conservative evangelicals we have the choice of leaving or staying in a messy fridge where no one can find anything. Perhaps there is a third option. What Jesus does is gather the wheat together and put it in the barn. When I cleaned my fridge an important part of it was sorting like categories together an placing them in order in the fridge. As I woke in the early hours of the morning and listened to the Lord I had a sense that the Lord wants to gather fire-baptised people together to pray. Both those who are leaving and those who are staying in the UCA, and those from other churches. Uniting is meant to be a verb not a denomination. The baptism of fire in times of revival was almost always preceded by prayer, sometimes by only a handful as in the Hebrides of Scotland. The cleaning baptism of life, the burning up of chaff and gathering of wheat should happen first in our own life and move out to our families, neighbourhood , local community and churches. Let us gather in prayer once again and pray for repentance and revival from the Baptiser of Fire, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Heavenly Father, thank you for John the Baptist and the way he points to Jesus Christ. Thank you for the Baptism of Fire that John said Christ brings. Give us courage to daily invite Jesus to baptise us with His fire, to cleanse our souls, gathering together the wheat and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. In Jesus' mighty name we pray. Amen