Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost 
(Proper 15)

Text: Luke 12:49-52
(Jesus said), "I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism to receive, and how distressed I am until it is over! Do you suppose that I came to bring peace to the world? No, not peace, but division. From now on a family of five will be divided, three against two and two against three. Fathers will be against their sons, and sons against their fathers; mothers will be against their daughters, and daughters against their mothers; mothers-in-law will be against their daughters-in-law, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law." 

The disturbing Jesus

Did you just hear what Jesus said? "I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already kindled! Ö Do you suppose that I came to bring peace to the world? No, not peace, but division. And when I finished reading this Gospel passage, this Good News, just a moment ago I concluded by saying, "This is the Gospel of the Lord" and you happily responded, "Thanks be to God"? It can be rightly asked where is the Good News and why be thankful for a message of division and trouble? Anyone who has experienced the agony of family division and disrupted family relationships can hardly call that good news! How can we thank Jesus for such a message?

What are we to make of such talk? How does this message and picture of Jesus fit in with the sweet Jesus picture, the gentle baby of Bethlehem, or the quiet Christ who stood silently before Pontius Pilate?

We sing about "gentle Jesus meek and mild", Jesus the "beautiful Saviour", and "fairest Lord Jesus". Beautiful and fair he might be but mouse-like and compliant he is not. When we are in distress or facing trouble that is larger than we can handle, the image of a gentle Jesus holding one of his lambs or the compassionate Jesus healing the sick are good ones.

But letís not be misled by these pictures. If we are to be rescued from sin, Jesus needs to talk to us bluntly and urgently about our sin. If we are to be rescued from Satan, and from death, and the control that sin has over our lives that we need a determined, resourceful, tough, and fearless Saviour.

When it comes to sin Jesus calls a spade a spade. When he sees sin, he cuts it out. People are offended at Jesusí bluntness. Sin is serious business and if he has to, he will speak as severely as he needs to in order to get the truth through to us. He is prepared to be tough when he needs to be tough.

Just look at the cross. This was no place for a "gentle Jesus meek and mild", a "beautiful Saviour". The cross is ugly, a place of pain, torture, cruelty, blood and inhumanity. It took a tough Jesus to allow this to happen to him. It took a strong and determined Jesus to do this for us.

And so today, we read of the tough Jesus when he says, "I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already kindled!" He is talking about the fire that judges and cleanses. It is a fire the separates and divides. He speaks of a division right through the middle of families Ė a division between those who follow Jesus and those who donít. He speaks of tension, a lack of peace, and warns that there will be a judgement. Jesus hasnít come to sing us to sleep with soft songs and false security. He hasnít come to make us feel so comfortable and relaxed that we doze off.

In the Old Testament Godís prophets ranted against Godís people who had been sucked into believing that there was peace when there was no peace. False prophets flattered the ears of the people and told them only what they wanted to hear. God sent his prophets, not to tell the people that God was a gentle old man in the sky who didnít really mind, but that he did mind - they had wandered from Godís ways and he was angry because of their sin. When they thought everything was peaceful and happy, in actual fact, they were far away from God and it was on the cards that they would experience his fire of judgement.

Itís easy to like Jesus the Good Shepherd, the Jesus who blesses little children and deals compassionately with the sick and the sinner. Itís easy to believe that this kind of Jesus is so kind-hearted and gentle that he couldnít possibly get too upset about anything. We have a world today that doesnít really take Jesus seriously.

People believe that Jesus is so compliant he doesnít care if youíre a Buddhist, Hindu, New Age or Christian, as long as you are sincere.
People believe that Jesus is so easy to get on with that it doesnít matter if unwanted babies are aborted. He doesnít want unwanted babies to be born into the world.
People believe that he doesnít mind what you do as long as progress is made. It doesnít matter what the cost is, the sky is the limit.
People believe that Jesus doesnít even mind if you ignore him totally. Live a good life thatís all that matters.
People believe Jesus doesnít care if what was once classified as sin is considered OK, perhaps even desirable. We are living in 2001 Ė those old rules donít apply any more. People live by their own rules. They have no responsibility to anyone except to themselves.

As church people, you are faced with the same kind of temptations. Itís easy to think that
Jesus wonít be upset about the miserly amount you put on the offering plate.
He wonít be offended if you pretend you didnít hear about that person who needed some kind of help;
Jesus wonít care if you cheat a bit at school, bludge a bit at work, let a few blasphemous words slip.
He wonít mind if youíre too busy and too tired to go to worship, or read the Bible and pray.
Jesus is too cool to be worried about our disagreements, our selfishness and our inability to get on with others.

Is Jesus so gentle and kind that he says that all this is OK?
Does he agree that your most important relationship is with yourself?
Does he join the world in chanting 'peace, peace' where there is no peace?

No, he most certainly does not. Jesus does mind. He is most certainly upset. He is no gentle Jesus meek and mild when it comes to sin. He doesnít fudge the truth that sin kills. Sin has deadly consequences. Sin is not to be taken lightly, and so he says: "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!"

He wants to light a fire! Fire burns and destroys. Jesus wants to bring fire on the earth. The fire that sweeps through the rubbish, the clutter, the lack of discipleship and the procrastination; the fire that burns away our excuses and our defences and exposes the sin that we have been trying to ignore.

After a fire has swept through the Australian bush destroying all the rubbish and clutter of the bush, new life shoots out. Fire purifies, but it also brings new life. Fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit brings about a change in our lives. He gives new life.

We are called to a new way of life, a new peace, a new relationship, a new rule of God in the hearts and lives of everyone who believes. Jesus does mind if we try to tack our Christianity on to our old ways. The new life demands an end to the old - old loyalties, old ways of behaviour, old attitudes, in fact, everything that does not fit with the command of putting God and the needs of others before ourselves. Jesus calls for a division between faith and unfaith, good and evil, easy and hard.

Jesus points out that to really have faith in him, to really know what true religion is, means to be personally dedicated and committed to Jesus and his ministry. This requires a struggle within each of us to cut away what is bad and evil and to be loyal and to maintain our loyalty to Jesus. Through both Godís Word and the Sacrament, we are encouraged by the Holy Spirit to put off the old, to have nothing to do with those ways that are not fitting for the new life in the kingdom of God. Daily we repent and divide off those old ways and turn to Jesus in faith for forgiveness and the new life.

Jesus continues, "Do you suppose that I came to bring peace to the world? No, not peace, but division." The response to Jesus, his opposition to sin and his call to discipleship will cause people to be either for him or against him. Not only will people in society be divided, but that division will run through the relationship that we hold most sacred Ė the family.

Enthusiasm for Christ has divided friends and nations. Parents and children may be divided over the claim of Jesus on their lives. As uncomfortable as this concept is - Jesus is the great divider. Iíll rephrase that Ė rather itís the response of people to Jesus that divides. Immediately you make your loyalty to Christ known, there will be those who will love you for it, and there will be those who will think you are a strange, a religious crank, and be very wary of you.

This stuff is outside the comfort zone, but it's the raw truth. Elsewhere Jesus reinforced this message by saying: "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters."

No doubt todayís text contains uncomfortable words. Cutting words. Words we are inclined to cut out of our Bibles as we stay with warmer sentiments and more harmonious thoughts. But Jesus said it, Luke wrote it down it, and those who selected the readings for today included it.

But these are important words. They jerk us out of our comfortable and snoozy religion. They remind us that Jesus is tough on sin. But there is more. Jesus is not just tough on sin, every sin, but he has dealt with the power of sin. That is the good news in this text. He conquered its power to condemn us. He has brought the love of God into our hearts. Ever so grateful for the salvation Christ has brought, we say at the end of the Gospel reading, "Thanks be to God."


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th August, 2001

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