This was a harder sermon to give than others. I felt as though I was unable to really articulate what I meant to say. However, instead of trying to sugar coat my sermons and the growth that happens to me through the sermons, I feel it is important to share these, even when I don’t feel very confident in them. This is a challenging text for me and I hope you’ll give me the grace of giving it the ol’ college try.
[Jesus said:] 49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they 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.”
54He 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. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
Wow. I’m not sure about you, but I’m not used to this Angry Jesus. I readily proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God, Prince of Peace, and the Word made Flesh. I quickly see Jesus as a reconciler, on a person who brings people together under the rule of God’s Kingdom. I don’t tend to see Jesus as the divider of families and the bringer of fire. This Angry Jesus is a bit disturbing to our ears. He upsets the balance of how we see him. We like the blessed are the peacemakers Jesus, not this mother against daughters Jesus.
At this point in Luke, Jesus has been much gentler than what we read here. But an ever increasing tension between himself and the religious elite and the fact that he’s now headed toward Jerusalem seems to come to a head here. He loses his cool. I think we can identify with Jesus a bit, here. We’ve all lost our cool from time to time and said things that were out of character for us. But if we simply disregard what Jesus says, we can miss some very important pieces of the puzzle of discipleship.
Essentially, that is what Jesus is talking about here. That following him, that being his disciple, is not easy business. It will put you at odds with people. It will sometimes make you feel as though your faith that sustains you also separates you from the world. And to put things in perspective, that very same thing can be said of Jesus.
In the interest of the Olympics, let’s take a look at an example of this division in national pride. You will find “God bless America” plasters in store windows, front porches, bumper stickers, on the television and the radio and the newspapers. American citizens from every ethnic background, religious affiliation, and race will cheer when we excel in sports. God bless America will be said countless times. Despite the cultural differences, no one really argues when someone says, “God bless America”. But, if you mention Jesus in conversation, things change a little bit.
People like to talk about God, because often God is generally interpreted as whatever personal deity you feel like keeping. Jesus, however, is a very different story. Jesus is a specific person and he represents a specific God. Jesus challenges people in ways that would be possible no other way. Jesus challenges our priorities and decisions, he makes us question our spending habits and how we use our time, and he makes us question who and what we are putting our faith and trust in. It seems that Jesus, in our passage today, isn’t just saying division is coming, but in fact it has already come.
Following Jesus has a price, as much as we hate to admit it. Following Jesus means that we follow him to the cross, we make sacrifices, we serve both our friends AND our enemies, we are strong by becoming weak. And sometimes people don’t get it. And sometimes we don’t even understand it. But we trust that Jesus doesn’t just bring division and a purifying fire, but that he also brings salvation to the world and hope for justice and redemption. The fire that Jesus brings doesn’t just destroy, like a house fire, but it purifies, like fire purifies gold, cleanses prairie land, and reinvigorates new growth. This new growth happens on all kinds of levels – on a global level as well as a personal level. This division doesn’t just divide families sometimes, but also divides our selfishness, our pride, our sin from who God created us to be.
We trust that Jesus isn’t this angry all the time. We trust that Jesus, fully God and fully human, died and rose again for all humanity, for all creation. We have faith, like those named in Hebrews, that God’s promises are real. We see them coming for you and me and the whole world – sometimes they seem far off and sometimes they seem near enough that we could reach out and just grab them.
But the thing is that you can’t just grab the promises of God. They follow their own timing. They have their own schedule. They don’t depend on us doing or thinking or acting the right way. They come by grace through faith. But that doesn’t mean we can’t live in a way that trusts that they will happen. Because by living into those promises, we find that divisions become pretty irrelevant. When we trust that God is working through Jesus’ death and resurrection to save the world, we find that it’s much harder to fear people we don’t know around the world. When you realize that God’s promises of eternal life for you doesn’t just start in some far off heaven but here and now, you may find that it’s easier to let go of the divisions that we so often create. When you realize that yours are the hands, feet, and voice of God in a world that needs to hear God’s promises and that the forgiveness offered to you is offered to all, then you can begin to look past the problems of division and to the solution – Jesus Christ.
Because as much as Jesus is a divisive topic, as much as Jesus insists that he will bring division and fire, we also trust and believe that God’s aim is pretty clear in the Bible. We trust that God will unite, that Jesus died and rose again for you and me and all humanity, and that the Holy Spirit is working throughout this world to draw people to the beauty and goodness and justice and mercy of God. Jesus isn’t telling us to pick fights with our family, friends, and neighbors. Jesus isn’t telling his disciples to create divisions. A professor of mine, Duane Priebe (as well as a few others) had a quote in class once that struck me. To paraphrase him, he said that whenever you make a division between yourself and someone else, you’ll find Jesus on the other side of that division.
Now, I’m not telling you to go out and be timid and scared and afraid to step on toes. There are times when we must speak out, but we do so out of love. We stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves because when we were without hope, Jesus stepped up the cross and hung on it. We speak up for justice and mercy because they have been granted to us. We are the hands and feet of God because we have experienced God’s hands and feet from others.
Yes, this week we might be hearing a hard truth. This Angry Jesus is not who we expect to meet today. Yet, Jesus’ prophetic words remind us just how much we depend on grace and forgiveness and just how much we need to show that grace and forgiveness to others. We see divisions, we feel the sting of a refining fire, yet this same Jesus who brings them also brings us eternal life and the promise that you are loved, you are never without hope, and you are never alone. Amen.