August 14, 2022 Ninth Sunday After Trinity The text is Luke 12: 49, 51-56.
49 “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze!
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?
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, this is a bit disconcerting, isn’t it? Jesus, often called the “Prince of Peace” announces this morning that rather than bringing peace to the earth, he has brought division; and he wishes that the fire he has come to start was already burning. Now, we wouldn’t be wrong if we were to tell ourselves that this reference to division, especially within families, was simply Jesus’ way of acknowledging that those who decided to follow him would become estranged from other family members who chose not to. For this was certainly the case among Jesus’ first followers; many thought he was the long-awaited Messiah and others felt he was a blasphemer, bound and determined to flout Jewish Law at every turn.
And, it was also true that the Jewish people as a whole lived under oppression and persecution in the first century. So, there was division within families as well as between the Jews and their Roman occupiers. So, in many cases family members would certainly try to dissuade their relatives from engaging in anything that might bring the wrath of Rome down even harder on them. Following this itinerant preacher who was becoming a problem for the Romans, as well as the Jewish temple leaders would not have gone over very well in households where the family was trying their best to keep a low profile. Thus, the division Jesus predicts.
And while we’re free to practice our Christianity in our part of the world, there are still areas where professing faith in Christ might get you arrested, or even worse. The persecution persists in many places, but we here are at liberty to worship as we are called. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t division within the church; if there were not, Martin Luther wouldn’t have been compelled to start the Reformation over 500 years ago. And let’s not kid ourselves, if there were true Christian unity, there wouldn’t be the incredibly large number of different denominations that there are in the world. Now, this number, that I discovered as I was researching for this morning varies somewhat, depending on the source; but it seems that there are between 30,000 and 41,000 distinct forms of Christianity practiced around the globe. Now, many of these are tiny groups with only a handful of adherents, but the number of different forms Jesus’ church has taken is staggering. The division he foretold has certainly come to fruition.
That said, it’s a good thing we don’t experience the divisions within our households today, like those that Jesus spoke of. And there are no divisions between friends, neighbors, acquaintances, or co-workers in the present time. Wait a minute, allow me to rethink that. Have you been on social media lately? Have you been watching the news? Does the very thought of having a conversation with someone strike terror into your heart? Truly, I can’t recall a time when we, as a culture have been more divided. There has been a long-standing rule that the two things people shouldn’t talk about are religion and politics. Well, that’s gone out the window, for sure!
I for one have been limiting my social media views and I try to avoid watching cable news as much as possible. The division Jesus foretold is palpable; and no matter which side of an issue you find yourself on, there is always someone willing to argue the opposite opinion with you. I’ve heard many stories of people who have become estranged from their family members simply because of a Facebook post. Jesus told the crowd 2,000 years ago, “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.” But his prediction didn’t end there; Jesus castigated the crowds for their inability to recognize the truth of what was around them. A change is coming, he told them, and they had better be prepared for it.
You will recall that these verses this morning are occur right in the middle of Jesus’ teachings about faithfulness, preparedness, and that there is no need for worry. What he is trying to make the crowds, and us understand is that the divisions we create among ourselves are petty at best, and dangerous at worst. Look at the coming storm clouds and know there will soon be a tempest. Feel the wind that tells that a heat wave is coming. These are obvious signs that things are about to change; so it is with the work that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to accomplish. Wasting time bickering over foolish divisions is contrary to what God wants for God’s children. Quarrelling over politics here at home while a great portion of our world is engaged in bloody warfare, this is not what makes for abundant life. Disagreements about who is right and who is wrong won’t help to usher in the kingdom. Criticizing a family member on social media because their opinion on a topic is different from yours will only result in inhibiting the coming of the fruitful life that God promises. If we were only able to see the dark clouds and feel the hot, dry wind we might recognize that its far past the time for division; unity is what is needed most now.
There is important work to be done, and only if everyone is engaged can we accomplish what we are called to do. It’s two-and-a-half years since the pandemic started and regular church attendance is not even close to pre-Covid levels; this is the case around the country.
The coming together of God’s people has declined greatly and doesn’t appear to be rebounding, yet the divisions among us are ever expanding, as are the needs of our neighbors. Those who remain committed to being the hands and feet of Christ in the world must recognize that there may be fewer hands and feet than before. Thus, the workload increases for the ones who remain. Yet, with faith, preparedness, and a refusal to worry or allow divisions among us, God’s will for the people will come to be. We only have to interpret what we see around us and act accordingly. Respect the opinions of those who disagree with us; focus on those things which unite us rather than what separates us; acknowledge that there are far more important issues that need to be addressed than the petty ones we create among ourselves. It’s just a matter of setting priorities; what’s more important, whether we are on the right side of some insignificant issue, or whether we come together as followers of Christ? And in doing so, the Gospel is proclaimed. And that’s the most important thing we can do. Much more important than petty divisions.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and holy God, help us to avoid that which might cause divisions among us. Rather, bring us together as one as we seek to further the Gospel message. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who calls us to overcome division and unite as his hands and feet in the world. Amen.
God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!
Preached by Minister Tom Houston at Grace Ministries when he presided at service there on Sunday, August 14, 2022.