August 18, 2019 (The 10th Sunday after Pentecost)
Indian Hill Church
Psalm 80:1–2, 8–19
Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine
12:49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:49-56, NRSV)
Let us pray: Loving God, open our ears to hear your word and draw us closer to you, that the whole world may be one with you as you are one with us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Wouldn’t it be great if following Jesus was easier? I mean he seems to get more and more difficult with each passing week. Last week it was be ready or else and now this passage, with its strong emphasis on division, even to the point of splitting families, wow! Talk about family values!
He contradicts our idyllic pictures of peace by stating that he has come not to bring peace, but to bring division: division in households, division within families. Jesus says he has come to bring fire. This is not the Jesus we learned about in Sunday School. What we learned in Sunday School was a very nice and pleasant Jesus. Jesus is your friend, your buddy, your pal. That is not this Jesus. This is not nice and pleasant.
I don’t like conflict any more than the next person, but Jesus seems hell bent on causing trouble and division. One of my former professors David Lose states, “One of things I’ve learned over time is that the only time there is no division in a community is when there is no vision. Because a vision sets a course, pulls you forward, and invites – even demands – change. And that creates division.” Jesus is sharing a vision. A vision of the coming of the kingdom God. It’s a kingdom that stands in stark contrast to the kingdoms of the world. Rather than valuing the strong and powerful, it values the poor and vulnerable. Rather than prizing power, it lifts up compassion. Rather than coming by force, it comes in weakness and vulnerability. And for all these reasons, it challenges the status quo and makes people nervous, uncomfortable, and some it even makes angry.
Which is why Jesus causes division, because this is not the world that God wants for us.
Because the vision of the Kingdom of God is one of love. For God so loved the world and it is love that draws the world together in sharing that love. It’s that simple, and yet so very hard. It is that beautiful and yet so very messy. Not easy, to be sure, but beautiful to the end.
I can remember a friend growing up who broke his nose but didn’t want to miss any football, so he waited to go to the doctor. When the season was over, and he finally went to the doctor. The doctor told him, that he had some good news and some bad news or not so pleasant news. First the good news, his nose could be fixed, and the not so pleasant news was he would have to break it and reset it. Sometimes you need to break something for it to heal and grow stronger.
This is an overview of what Jesus is saying in this passage. It is a different message than we’re used to hearing, but it is an important one. Jesus came into this world with a message of good news and a and a mission, that was not so pleasant. Jesus came with the message God’s new community was coming. And he came with a mission. His mission was to break the power and value system of the world on end.
His message was a message of love. Love your neighbor as you love yourself, love your enemy, love those who persecute you, and above all else love God with all your heart, soul and might. Sounds simple, right. But none of those are easy. And as we all know, love can be difficult and at times even unpleasant. So, when things get difficult or messy then we tend to quit or disengage. Remember that the opposite of love is indifference, apathy, uncaring, uninvolved and unresponsive; which is what happened. So then comes his mission, the whole reason we meet Jesus in the first place.
Because the Love that God is offering is different, it is very involved, it demands, it is costly, and it is transformative. Love will confront you with unpleasant facts about yourself, love will sometimes break you in order to heal you. Jesus had a message of love, a message of love that disturbed communities and families because it refused to allow people to coast along in a pleasantly unhealthy and unhappy slide into death. Jesus, the living word of God, broke into the world demanding that we get involved. No more sitting ideally by, watching people suffer. No more watch as others go hungry or homeless or sick. Get off the bench and into the game. Following Jesus is not a passive event. And this will set us against our own flesh and blood.
Jesus has called us to get beyond roles and to get into relationships; real, messy, involved relationships. And the sometimes unpleasant but ultimately good truth is – that kind of love is disruptive; it breaks what isn’t really working in order to create something new.
This is where it changes. It is easy to feel beat up and dejected by not living up to Jesus high standards, so what if we looked at Jesus’ challenge differently? What if we looked at how we can be a community of faith that instead of feeling bad about how we didn’t live out our faith, but rather we look at how we support each other in our faith. What if we spent more time on Sunday mornings in worship, in adult education, and fellowship encouraging each other to not just believe in, Jesus but to really live out our faith? How would we imagine worship, preaching, Sunday school, even coffee hour if our goal was to equip each other to enter more deeply into our faith? So that our faith might shape our lives. Now, I am sure I just scared many of you with that statement so hear me out…. I bet, and I don’t like to gamble that most all of us really want our faith to matter! Why else give up a beautiful Sunday morning to come here? I imagine that each of us want our faith to be a help, a guide, a useful aspect in our lives. It would be awesome if our faith helped to shape the way we think about our work, our families, our politics, and especially our money. But wait a moment preacher, we don’t want to be that serious about Jesus, because we know people like that and well, we don’t want to be like them….
So, what would it be like if we saw our faith as less of an obligation and more as a way of life? What if church became a place of encouragement and support so that we can really life out this Jesus life. What if your faith was renewed here and you were sent to make a difference to the world? What if your faith influenced you the next time you had to make a decision about something you bought, or some issue that was on your heart, or the next time you enter a voting booth? Because this I do know if you let your faith in Jesus be your guide you will need support because it is hard to go counter to our culture and when you do, it creates division.
So often in our faith we get lulled into images of a gentle Jesus like a lamb – forgetting the angry and anguished Jesus of this text. The Jesus who commands that those who want to save their lives must lose them. The Jesus who tells us to take up the cross and follow. The Jesus who demands that we make a choice to follow him no matter the cost: friends, family, possessions, our lives. Such loyalty always causes divisions, and divides…and it will. But it will also create joy. Because the one who sends us out was himself baptized by fire and is both with us and for us. This is a life and a faith that takes courage, and isn’t that a life worth living?
Let us pray: