Luke 12:49-56: Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 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.”
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. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.
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?”
Last Wednesday, I preached on the passage from Matthew in which Jesus instructs his followers on
w hat they should do if someone wrongs them. First go talk face to face. If that doesn’t work take a
couple of more people and if that doesn’t work bring it before the whole community. If they still won’t
recognize their misstep then make them like a Gentile or a tax collector to you, Exact same thing going
on in this morning’s Gospel reading from Luke. Jesus says I didn’t come t o bring peace, but rather
division. Members of a family won’t get along because of Him, friends will come to deep divisions.
And if that happens, well you know what it means when the thunder rumbles and the lightning flashes.
A storm is coming so who com e you can’t figure this out.
Both these passages are Jesus at his double entendre best. We miss the point because we immediately
think we know the answer. We fail to look at wait for it the context. How many times do we hear
Jesus talk about giving us peace, the peace that passes understanding, my peace I give to you! So how
can we not see this reading in a negative way. Context. There are many times that Jesus baffles the
brains of those who listen to him. There are many times when Jesus asks his disciples, why don’t you
understand. If we get on one track and refuse to open our minds to wider possibilities, we are in
So let me unpack the Matthew passage first, because it is a little more straight forward. We
automatically assume that let them be as a Gentile or a tax collector is to you, is giving us the answer,
we want to hear. We are right in this argument and it’s about time the person on the other side saw that.
Gentiles and tax collectors sound like pretty sketchy people, so Jesus is sayin g if we follow the process,
we will be right. But wait Jesus visited in the home of tax collectors and broke bread with them to t he
great disappointment of the Pharisees and other leaders. Gentiles were supposed to be kept at a
distance; they weren’t part of the “in” class of people for the religious leaders of the time. Yet Jesus
healed Gentiles and allowed them to be part of gatherings. What Jesus is screaming, but we aren’t
hearing even if you are right, even if you follow all the rules, you still have to remain in relationship.
In today’s reading, we hear a negative when we hear of divisions and confrontations. Jesus is preaching
opportunity. Jesus is calling for passion and persistence. Rather than saying this doesn’t sound like the
peaceful Jesus we know and love so we can’t believe it; the radical Jesus is saying don’t follow the
crowd, don’t just go along to keep the peace. If we are people of faith, we must stand up for what we
believe. We are called to maintain relationship so that we can inspire each other to grow in faith, to
consider new ideas, to persist in the difficult conversations when we feel we have a point to prove. But
take note of our previous example. Just because you go through the steps, doesn’t mean we have
permission to walk away.
My experience of the church today is that too many people want easy answers. They don’t want people
to poke at the bear of their faith. They want to live in a quiet little bubble on Sunday morning with the
tiny little box that holds their treasured faith secured away so no one can mess with in.
I don’t think this will surprise you, but many people have come to me over the years and told me they
were leaving. From I didn’t get my way, to the music is too old or too new, the homilies are too long
(wish I got at least one temper tantrum because they were too short!), the decision made by council was
wrong, you spent too much money, you don’t hold the right interpretations about faith etc. Usually
when I ask if they would like to talk, they say no, it’s long past that I’m leaving, “So what church will
you go to now?” is my next question. The usual response is, “If this is church, I’m done with it!” And
usually they never darken the door of any house of faith again. All too often I think they simply stop
thinking about God, about what Jesus asks us to do. I’ve been told numerous times that “I can meet
Jesus sitting in a meadow, watching nature; or in the face of a young child; or on a beach in the
Caribbean.” So let me use the Jesus of today’s passage. Should I not challenge them about growth in
faith, about doing justice, invite them to discuss the spirituality they learned at creek side and ask some
What we clearly heard Jesus say on Wednesday morning from Matthew and again today from Luke is
that we must be willing to “stand for what we believe in.” No matter who we encounter, we are called
to relationship, to learning, to mutuality. If we believe we have something important to say we must
summon the courage to say it, defend it, speak it again and again. Not to try and bewilder others into
agreeing with us; but as part of a conversation that calls us to growth, relationship and life together.
Let me take a risk here. Since the infamous Marriage Canon vote last month, I have had people tell me
they are unsure if they can continue in a church that refuses to do same gender marriage. (It’s important
to note that before the vote I had a person or two tell me they were unsure they could continue in a
church that did condone same gender marriage.) I think Jesus is clear to both groups. You are required
to stay! You are required by your faith to walk with those who you disagree with, who frustrate you. It’s
too easy to give up and walk away. It also betrays (and I know some won’t like this term) those who
have looked to you as a leader in this struggle, those who feel your voice is the voice they don’t have.
Mother Theresa didn’t have to stay in the slums. Martin Luther King Jr could have said it is too
dangerous to pursue my dream. In his 90’s former US President Jimmy Carter could have simply stayed
in the Southern Baptist Church despite disagreement with the church’s direction. But all three and
literally thousands of others in human history and millions unknown to anyone, have chosen to step
forward, to follow the cause, to insist on being heard because it is the right thing to do.
That’s the message of Jesus in today’s reading. If you signed up for the faith that doesn’t have
difficulties, doesn’t require you to go above and beyond, that is about showing up without doing much
– then you didn’t hear Jesus this morning. Just to get me out of the fire, there are many days, many
times that I want that kind of faith. However, I have responded to Jesus that I will try to do better!