I don't think I have ever seen the entire film Firestarter, which features a young Drew Barrymore as a child who is able to start fires with her mind. When I was a kid, it was too scary for me, and, by the time I was old enough to persevere through the whole thing, I had lost interest. When I was in high school, however, I discovered The Prodigy, a techno group who helped launch the "big beat genre." One of their songs is "Firestarter," and, if you're feeling a little lethargic or, perhaps, angry for no reason, it's worth a listen.
Drew Barrymore and The Prodigy have their own version of kicking up some flames, but Sunday's gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62) contains its own line about some "twisted firestarter[s]" that might get missed in most sermons (quote from the song, not the bible).
Luke 9 is a pivotal chapter in this gospel account. It starts with the sending out of the twelve, whom Jesus gives the "power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases." Pretty big stuff. Then, after they return, Jesus feeds the 5,000--an important story that is skipped in this year's lectionary. Right after that, Luke fits in Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ, which initiates a remarkable shift in Jesus' ministry. He begins to predict his suffering, death, and resurrection and uses that prediction as a call to total discipleship. Then, there's the trip up the mountain with Peter, James, and John, who get to witness Jesus transfigured--his divinity shining through. And, when they come down, there is one more exorcism followed by a second passion prediction and its implication for discipleship ("who is the greatest?"). Then, as we begin Sunday's lesson, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, and the rest of Luke will be a journey to the Paschal mystery of death and resurrection.
But, as soon as Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem," he and his disciples encountered some resistance. Luke tells us that he sent messengers ahead of him to prepare the way, but, when they came to a village of Samaria--practically the first stop between Galilee and Jerusalem--the people of that town would not receive him "because his face was set toward Jerusalem." In other words, Jesus was on his way to fulfill his destiny in the holy city that the Jews identified as the center of worship, but the Samaritans, who were dedicated to Mt. Gerazim, a rival hill where they believed the focus of divine-human transactions was to take place, wanted nothing to do with this Jerusalem-bound prophet. But the best part is the reaction of James and John, those "Sons of Thunder." They ask Jesus, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"
Dang! Fire? Really? James and John are so in touch with their identity as disciples of Jesus that they feel confident that they have the power to call down a destroying rain of fire upon a village of rival Samaritans? And James and John are so out of touch with their identity as disciples of Jesus that they think that calling doing a destroying rain of fire on a village of Samaritans is an appropriate response? This is bizarre. Jesus, unsurprisingly, chastises them. And then the story moves on.
I don't think it's likely to get a lot of mention in any sermons on Sunday, including mine. Given the Track 2 OT reading from 1 Kings and Paul's exhortation to "be slaves to one another" in Galatians 5, the theme of the urgency of discipleship is more likely to come to the fore. But I'd like to stop long enough to marvel at the power that has been given to these disciples and the danger of using it in the wrong way. Surely there's a second sermon in there. (But, please, only preach one.) As we explore the theme of radical discipleship and its urgency, it's worth holding in our minds and in our hearts the power that is given to those who follow Jesus in faith and the danger that comes along with it. This is real stuff. It's powerful and humbling. No wonder Jesus takes it so seriously.