Sunday, 1 September 2013


Luke 12:49-56
Jesus the Cause of Division
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptised, 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.”
Interpreting the Time
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?

On Sunday mornings, I like to preach on the Lectionary texts - that's the prescribed readings for each Sunday of the year.
It's a good discipline.
It means I'm forced into preaching on texts I would otherwise avoid - and it stops me sticking to one hobby horse or another.
But, since I preached on the Lectionary text this morning, I decided to choose something different for tonight.
And, for the life of me, I can't think why I thought that the gospel we read tonight would be a good text.
Whatever inspiration I had when I chose it had long gone by the time I sat down to write a sermon!
Bringing fire, causing division - it's not exactly the Jesus we like to portray.
So lets begin to look at this text by thinking about where Jesus was in his ministry when he taught in such a vein.
It's fair to say that Jesus was under some stress at this point in his ministry.
He was already on his way to Jerusalem.
On his way to betrayal and suffering and death.
And he knew it.
And so his teaching takes on a different kind of urgency from before.
There's no time for messing around.
No time for finding just the right sound byte.
His time is limited and there is a message that must be shared.
Jesus is stressed.
And that is something many of us can identify with.
In today's world we are familiar with stress.
Perhaps not the stress of a journey to crucifixion.
But other life limiting, situations that bring considerable stress today.
Those facing terminal illness - their own or a loved one's.
Those facing uncertainty in employment.
Those facing loneliness or isolation.
Those battling mental health issues.
Those struggling with poverty, homelessness, hunger.
Folk today know about stress.
It is a 21st century ailment just as it was an ailment that affected Jesus in his time.
When stress threatens our well being today, we can know without a doubt that Jesus has been there.

But sometimes it takes stress to help us get some perspective.
We can all muddle along, taking life in its stride, getting upset at trivia, "sweating the small stuff" as I call it.
And then a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Or we face the prospect of unemployment.
Or a friend is killed in a tragic accident.
And suddenly, all the things we worried about before pale into insignificance.
And we begin to see what is important in life.
Stress of that kind, though never welcome, does bring perspective.

Jesus message in our gospel today is a message on perspective.
A message on urgency.
A message for us as a people of faith.

We cannot keep on muddling along as we do.
The gospel message is urgent.
More urgent than ever in a world that is so broken by war and violence and injustice.
Jesus said: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Our suffering world today needs the fire of Gods love and the fire of the gospel to spread like wild fire.
More than ever people in our communities need to know that there is hope, that there is love.
And who will share that hope and love if we don't?

So what will we do with the kindling Jesus brings?
Will we be indifferent - something we are good at. Keeping the peace by remaining as inoffensive as we possibly can?
Keeping a low profile so that we don't upset anyone?

Will we pour water on it - quenching the flame?
Often, our best intentions have the same effect. Instead of igniting the kindling of faith, they pour cold water on people's best efforts and drive folk away from faith.
When we make folk feel as though they don't belong.
When we convey the message that they're not good enough - for us or for God.
Or when we draw up rules and refuse to bend them to include others.
We put folk off before they've even got started.
We extinguish what little fire there is.

Or - will we ignite that kindling.
Take it seriously.
Treat it with the respect it deserves.
Let it affect our lives and the lives of others as we share the fire and the passion of God's love?

This gospel doesn't sound so strange anymore.
It fits into the context of our lives, lives that confront all kinds of stress daily.
But it still doesn't sit comfortably.
Because it is a gospel that demands a response.
A gospel that demands that we get some kind of divine perspective and catch on to the divine urgency.
The kindling needs igniting.
And we are the fire keepers today.
Will we fan the flames or quench them?


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