Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 15)

Text: Luke 12:49-51
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.

In tension with the world

Every now and then you hear of a study that has been conducted to see what effect religion has on a personís health. In a study conducted a while ago a medical research centre come doctors had collated the relationship between frequent church attendance and health. One of their findings was that people who attend church regularly, as opposed to people who attend church infrequently, enjoy lower blood pressure and visit the doctor less frequently.

Now I don't know what is happening in your life at this very moment or your attitude about being in this worship service this morning but at least you ought to be pleased that this service is having a good effect on your blood pressure! However, I wonder what effect today's Gospel had on your hypertension and stress levels. Whatever purpose Jesus had in mind in saying the things that he says to us in today's Gospel, it could not be to promote better cardiovascular health!

Jesusí opening words of his sermon were, "I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already kindled! Thatís not a very soothing and comforting beginning, but I bet he had everyoneís attention. And as people listened Jesusí words become even more disturbing. "Do you suppose that I came to bring peace to the world? No, not peace, but division". That even arouses our stress levels even more.

Didnít the angels say when Jesus was born that his birth would bring peace on earth? Here Jesus is saying directly the opposite. He didnít come to bring peace Ė he has come to provoke division not unity. He says that homes will be wrecked, families will be split apart and children will turn against their parents.

We live in a time when there is lot of marital and family stress.
Divorce rates have never been higher.
Counsellors are swamped with children who have to deal with the stress in their families.
The courts deal with problem children and problem parents every day. But this is not what Jesus is talking about.

He is telling his listeners that they will have marital and family division not because they have done something wrong as spouses or as parents, but rather because they are following him. When it comes to the meaning of discipleship, the cost that is involved, the conflict and division that the gospel can cause, he calls a spade a spade.

Jesus knows that in the future there will be a division between those who believe in Jesus and those who reject Jesus and this will cause hardship for some of Jesusí followers. It will mean that families and friendships will be severely tested when trusting Jesus will cause one person to reject another. He is giving his followers this warning now so that they will not be shocked when following Jesus will mean some very tough choices Ė and what can be tougher than choosing between loyalty to family and loyalty to Jesus.

Perhaps an example might go well at this point. A university campus chaplain tells this story. "Some time ago I performed the baptism of a graduate student. This young man had become convinced that Jesus was his Saviour and requested to be baptized. He was a graduate student from China. I talked with him before his baptism and made sure that he had a good understanding of the Christian faith and the questions that we would ask him at his baptism.

He was baptised during our worship service in front of a very excited congregation. I was also very excited and had brought my camera. After the service I made a big deal of having him stand again at the baptismal font and have his picture taken and then one with his Christian friends gathered around him.

He seemed somewhat reticent to have his picture taken. I attributed this to his shyness. But on the way out to the car park one of his friends said, "I don't know that you will need to give him those pictures to send back home to his family. They have assured him that if he became a Christian, he could never go back home. They will definitely disown him. Furthermore, his scholarship to the university is being supported by the Chinese government, and he is fairly sure that once the word gets out that he has become a Christian, he will lose all of his funding to study here."

The campus chaplain finished his story saying, "So I guess this young Christianís baptism was what Jesus was talking about - the division that loyalty to Jesus can easily bring into a personís life". Jesus words were, "Do you suppose that I came to bring peace to the world? No, not peace, but division".

We focus a lot on the comfort and peace and joy that Jesus gives to us when we are troubled by the events that happen in our lives. Just last Sunday I said in my sermon, "We rely on Jesus and his love for us Ė there is no one else who can help us. Our faith looks to Jesus to provide a way through the stress and trouble that comes our way".

We need Jesus comforting arms around us when we are troubled.
We need Jesus to carry us when we are too weak to carry on by ourselves.
We need to know that when the chips are down, Jesus love for us never stops.

Thatís the kind of Jesus we read about when we are told he looked with compassion on those who were helpless and harassed.
Thatís the Jesus who says, "I am the Good Shepherd. I know those who belong to me and no one will snatch them out of my hands".
Thatís the Jesus who says, "Donít be worried and stressed, trust in God, trust also in me".
We need that kind of Jesus. We need the love and comfort and help that he gives us when lifeís journey takes all kinds of twists and turns that catch us completely by surprise.

But I wonder if our emphasis on this kind of Jesus is to the detriment of the Jesus who is very stern when it comes to compromising our discipleship and watering down our commitment to him and saying quietly to ourselves,
"Jesus wonít mind. Everyone else is doing it".
"I don't like what is happening at my church, Jesus won't mind if I drop out".
I wonder if we are aware that we offend Jesus when we avoid his claim on our lives;
when we dilute the life Christ wants us to live with the values of the rest of society
and not let the light of Christ shine through us to change peopleís lives and make our world a better place.

To what extent are we prepared to put ourselves at risk, go out on a limb so to say, as a Christian?
To what extent are we prepared to stand up for what we believe, even when others think we are a tad weird, or have we just blended in with those who clearly donít know what is God's way?
To what extent have we merged with the values and morals of the world so that being a Christian makes no difference what so ever?
To what extent have we shrunk back from the whole idea that being a Christian will often bring us into a state of tension with the rest of the world?

For instance, have we adopted the worldís way of retaliation and separation rather than Jesus' way of reconciliation?
Have we adopted the worldís view that everything we have is ours to use on ourselves in whatever way we please instead of regarding everything as a gift from God not only for our use but also to share with those in need and to further the work of God's kingdom? 

Thatís precisely what Jesus is talking about today in our gospel reading. Being a Christian will often put us in a state of tension with others and sometimes with our fellow Christians who have followed the ways of the world. Itís no wonder that we feel a bit uncomfortable when Jesus talks about distress and insecurity and obedience to God's demands.

When we are faced with choices which mean either following God's way or the way of the world, is Jesus really the controlling factor in how we decide what weíre going to spend our money on, how we will use our time, the way we raise our children, what kind of language we use, how we view sex and sexual relationships and so on?

The apostle Paul wrote, "Don't copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is" (Romans 12:2).

Did you hear that? Let God change you into a new person!

Jesus died for us and through him we are made into new people with a new way of living, a new rule of God in our hearts and minds, a new way of thinking that is especially influenced by what God wants us to do rather than the attitudes and beliefs of everyone else.

Jesus does mind if we try to tack our Christianity on to our old ways or let worldly ways water down our Christian values.
The new life demands an end to the old - old loyalties, old ways of behaviour, and old attitudes.
Jesus calls us to have a lifestyle that is often in tension with the world. He calls us to let the light that came into our lives at our baptism shine into the dark places of our world where sin rules. Where there is light there can be no darkness.

Jesus knew that his disciples would fail him in that hour he needed them the most and he knows that we too will often fail to put off the old and put on the new life that he has given us through his death and resurrection and through the empowering of the Holy Spirit in us. Thatís why he is always ready to reach out with his loving hand to bless us, forgive us and reassure us that even though we fail we still belong to him. He renews, recreates and refills us with the will and the energy to follow his ways and to live according to God's plan for our lives.

In the Letter to the Hebrews we heard about the only way to be true to our calling as disciples, "Let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way Ö and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end" (Hebrews 12:1,2).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th August 2010

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