8/14/2016 Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 12:49-56.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Is not my word like fire,” says the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” asks Jesus, “No, I tell you, but rather division!”
These words are not what we would expect when it comes to Jesus. They are not comforting. They are harsh, sharp, and to the point. They are words fueled with passion and fire, the fire and passion of a Lord and Savior who came to serve and save and transform a people who had grown complacent in their relationship with God. They are meant to get people off the lawn-mower and onto the motorcycle version of faith. And this is the gospel of the Lord.
We are used to the comforting, soft-spoken version on Christ, BUT God did not send Jesus into the world to bring soft spring showers on the earth. Jesus was not sent to feed pabulum to a people who need the meat and potatoes of life. Jesus came with fire and winnowing fork in hand to separate the wheat from the chaff, the unrepentant from the redeemed. He came to serve with the power of salvation, but he also came as the Word of truth, which often flies in the face of dearly held values and comfortable life styles. He came as the embodiment of God’s love for his people, a love which is often more like a swift kick in the pants than cushy teddy bear.
For, God’s love in Christ Jesus is like a fire, starting with a little spark leaping down from heaven into the womb of a faith-filled girl from Nazareth, and then growing into a little flame, enlightening the tanned, weathered faces of stunned shepherds, until it ignites into a wildfire over the Judean hills and the Galilean sea country. The fire grows as the lame are healed, the blind receive sight and the dead are raised. It grows until there is a dividing wall. For there can be no fence-sitting when it comes to Jesus. There can be no dual loyalty. You either believe or you do not. You either get ready for the coming of God’s kingdom or you do not. You either repent (that is turn to the Lord) or you do not.
Jesus kindles this type of response. Jesus preaches the kind of sermons that are challenging and demanding, radical and divisive. He pokes the spirits of those who have become complacent about faith and living in the light of God’s grace. He speaks with such a conviction that he drives people into action, taking away the fence posts that most of us enjoy sitting upon. He comes to burn the Word of God into the hearts of people. For, the fire of God’s Word is meant to keep our hearts from freezing over and the passion of our souls from cooling down.
There is nothing nicey-nice about this! There is nothing safe about this – even though it is reassuring and comforting to know that we have a God that works with us, a God who wants us on his side, a God who desires us to live life to its fullest, a God who will provide us what we truly need in order to live in his word and be the people he created us to be. God has made a choice for us in sending Jesus into the world. With fiery passion, he has chosen to be our God. The only question that remains is this – are we willing to let the fire of God’s love transform us so that we live as God’s chosen people or will we try to put that fire out? Are we willing to accept the demands of faithful living for the benefits of a faith-filled life.
The problem confronting us is that of choice. A Baptist minister, fresh out of seminary, faced the dilemma confronting people with life changing choices. He was assigned to a small church in the hills of Kentucky. In his first sermon, he condemned gambling, especially betting on the horses. The sermon was not well received. “You see, Reverend,” a parishioner explained, “this whole area is known for its fine horses. Lots of our members make their living breeding race horses.”
The next Sunday, the pastor spoke on the evils of smoking, and again, his sermon was not well received – for many of his members also grew tobacco. The third week the pastor preached on the evils of drinking, only to discover that a major distillery was one of the town’s largest employers.
Chastised for his choice of sermon topics, the frustrated pastor exclaimed, “Well, then, what can I preach about?” A kindly, older woman spoke up and said, “Pastor, preach against those godless Chinese communists. Why, there isn’t a Chinese communist within 4,000 miles of here!”
Of course, we prefer demands to change that don’t affect us. We would prefer not to admit that we are sinners in need of change; that we are people who have put God on the back shelf and done our own thing; and that we live in accordance to the worldly values rather than the will of God. We prefer a God who puts his stamp of approval on whatever we choose to do – a God who turns a blind eye to our errant ways, who blesses us and protects us and provides for our needs even when we ignore him, deny him, betray him and take him for granted – BUT this is NOT the God who came into the world in Jesus Christ. We may prefer a comfortable lawn-mower faith that demands nothing of us. BUT we cannot accept God’s grace without accepting and embracing God’s call to action.
My friends, you and I are called to be faithful. You and I are called to respond to God’s guidance and care by living fruitful lives, marked by justice and righteousness. With fierce personal allegiance, God is to have priority over every other love, affection and ambition in our lives, even if that type of faithfulness causes tension and division between us and those people whom we love. For although we live in a society in which people want us to have a quiet, secretive faith that challenges and inspires no one, in our hearts we know that a faith that costs nothing and demands nothing has lost its spark and means nothing.
So while our preference is for a Christ who speaks softly and brings only unity, our need is for a Christ who empowers us to serve, who gives us purpose and direction in life and who instills in us the courage to speak his truth, even to those closest to us.
So, it’s time to have that uncomfortable conversation with you wayward children and grandchildren, siblings and friends. It’s time to speak to those closest to us about returning to faithful living. It’s time to rekindle the fire of faith in our own lives, too, and to live in God’s word until the fire of God’s truth burns away the chaff and enables you to reap the benefits of faith-filled living.
Remember, just like the forests that cannot renew themselves without a little fire now and then, so it is with our lives. May the fire of faith burn in you and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.