“When We Take This Stuff Seriously” August 18, 2019
“When We Take This Stuff Seriously”
Isaiah 5:1-7/ Jeremiah 23:23-29
Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2
I’d have to say that one of the tough parts of writing a sermon is coming up with the proper title. It can be catchy, but not too cute; it can be corny, but not ridiculous; but most of all a good sermon title should give you an idea what is coming without giving it all away. As you can imagine, there have been some doozies over the years. I’m thinking of a pastor whose church was in the middle of big stewardship campaign. The treasurer and finance committee had strongly encouraged him to speak on the importance of tithing and giving to the church, which is always a touchy subject. It’s hard to say, but I have my doubts that the congregation was comforted with the sermon title that day, which read “The Sermon On the Amount,” especially those who maybe weren’t so familiar with the real Sermon On the Mount and therefore wouldn’t get the joke.
And then we have today’s gospel text from (Lk 12:49) I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled. (51) Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, I have come to bring strife and division. So what do you think? What might be a good title if you were speaking on this troubling text? I spotted a few: “Disturber of the Peace” was one of them. “A House Divided” and “Jesus Lights a Fire” were some others. However, I have to admit that my first thought for a sermon title was something like, “Things I Wish That Jesus Had Never Said,” because this is not the kind and loving Jesus that I like to think about. This is not the warm and fuzzy Jesus; this is not the “Jesus is my best friend” kind of story that I pick to read to my grandkids. But here it is in both the gospels of Matthew and of Luke: From now on a household will be divided – 3 against 2, and 2 against 3. So let’s take a closer look at this somewhat troublesome text and hope to find the good news in the gospel of Luke.
First of all, we need to consider that Jesus is speaking to a group of men who gave up their careers to follow him. Some had families, wives, and children that they left behind and I don’t imagine that everyone involved thought that this Jesus of Nazareth was worth it. From now on, a household will be divided.
Next, if you were Jewish, the idea of following Jesus was a problem. I mean, the Jewish people knew what a Messiah is like: he is all-seeing, all-knowing, and the liberator of the people of God. To follow Jesus of Nazareth meant accepting as Messiah a rabbi who hung out with the riff-raff, accepted sinners, and preached a message of love and forgiveness. It meant accepting as Messiah one who looked almost nothing like the warrior King David they had expected. Likewise, if you were gentile it meant accepting as Messiah a rabbi who hung out with riff-raff, accepted sinners, and preached a message of love and forgiveness. It meant, that is, accepting as Messiah one who looked almost nothing like what you have always thought of as powerful and important.
The bottom line is that those who followed Jesus as the Messiah with all their hearts were regularly thrust into conflict and division. Following Jesus meant not just taking on new beliefs, but taking on a new way of living. As David Lose puts it, “To be a follower of the one who accepted and even honored the disreputable meant that you needed to do the same, rejecting the easy temptation of judging others and instead inviting them into our lives. To be a follower of the one who preached love and forgiveness was to practice the same, particularly when it comes to those who differ from you even, and maybe especially, in terms of what they believe.” (end quote) In other words, to be a follower of Jesus means that you were all in. Problem was, not everyone saw it that way. They will be divided father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother..
So you see, there was a time when it was costly to be a follower of Christ. Today – not so much. It costs us some of our time and some of our resources, sure, but we are glad to give them. So, how can this text speak to us today? What’s the point? The answer came to me in our reading from the book of Hebrews today. The writer begins to list all those who have suffered for their faith; those who have paid dearly… and for what? For their salvation? Yes, definitely. But Jesus came and the saints have persevered and we cling to the love of Christ all for the promise of the Kingdom. To live in faith, to be a true follower of Jesus is to live in the promise of the Kingdom of God. This is why Jesus came to be with us, don’t you think? To offer us the possibility of the Kingdom of God right here and right now; not necessarily in the sweet by and by. And if we are to seek the Kingdom of God we need to seek justice. I have to wonder if this might be our divider now days. I have to wonder because the entire population of “Christians” today are certainly a mixed bag when it comes to justice. And so we fight and argue; about the Muslims that live next door, about the poor and the needy, about the immigrant at our borders, about a thousand things – and along the way we can lose track of the one who came to offer us the Kingdom of God: the Messiah, the rabbi who hung out with the riff-raff, accepted sinners, and preached a message of love and forgiveness.
If we can take away anything from this difficult text from Luke, maybe it is that we are called to be a part in the justice of the kingdom, and that participation is going to be rough at times. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I didn’t come to bring a false peace. I come to bring division because if the kingdom is to come these things are going to have to brought up and talked about and understood and that’s going to be stressful.” But you know what – that’s the good news. The good news is that Christ came to earth to kindle the fire of the kingdom of God, and he knows – he knows – that if we take that seriously – it is going to cause trouble. It’s all about the promise of the kingdom of God. That’s the good news. And if we take this seriously, we don’t wait until the kingdom comes to seek justice, like so many before us, for the promise – the wonderful promise – of the kingdom of God.
Amen & Shalom