[Jesus said:] 49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
and in-laws against one another.”
54 Jesus 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. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 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?”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of life,
Division we know all too well.
Help us with unity.
Unify us in the healing, although difficult,
Call and message of your Gospel.
Give us courage and boldness to live out
Your liberating good news of love in our world.
Goodness…the feel-good vibes from Jesus just keep on coming, don’t they…?
Bridegrooms coming in the middle of the night, unexpected hours, storing up treasures for yourself, snakes and scorpions…and now this week, houses divided and fire on the earth. Geez, Jesus…give us a little bit of break, it’s only summer. Good vibes only, as the kids say.
The challenge that often comes up with difficult readings or tough words from Jesus is that sometimes I don’t know what to say, or my creativity might be running a little dry that week. So there are times when I’m feeling less than inspirational that I might revisit some of my old sermons to see what genius pearls of wisdom I came up with 3 years ago. The problem this time is that 3 years ago in August we had just welcomed a new baby into the world and into our home so I was on parental leave and so I wasn’t preaching and I don’t have a sermon on this gospel! Agghh! Cruel twist of fate…
Well, onward anyway, I suppose…
Jesus doesn’t mince words here, this morning, and I don’t think we should either.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a divisive thing.
Being a disciple of Jesus and patterning your life on the Gospel is a divisive posture.
I’ve said it from this pulpit before, following Jesus and living lives according to the call of the Gospel will necessarily put you at odds with all manner of people—the empires and powerful of this world, those who reap advantages from the oppression and exploitation of others, it will even put you at odds with your friends and family. This is the nature of a Gospel that calls you to be in close proximity to the dispossessed, the outcast, the vulnerable, and the marginalized.
The thing is…we know division. We know what it’s like to be at odds with friends, neighbors, and even family members. Division, we got. It’s unity we’re pretty poor at. Amen?
“Do you think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth?”
Well…yes, Jesus… Actually that’s exactly what I think. I mean, after all, this is the Gospel of Luke, from which we hear the quintessential Christmas story every single year. Lowly mangers, silent nights, shepherds in the fields, heavenly hosts singing “Alleluia!”… I think the Prince of Peace is what most of us are expecting.
“Not so,” says Jesus, “rather division.”
The thing is, true peace—deep and lasting shalom—is a difficult thing to come by. It’s hard-fought and hard-won. You don’t get to deep and abiding peace without ruffling a few feathers, or overturning a few tables. As the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “True peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.” And justice means righting some wrongs. Justice means those with means and privilege get taken to task on account of the ones without. The message of the Gospel, the call on your life, Christian, to be a disciple of Jesus is not an easy one. “Very truly I tell you, if any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
The call on your life to be a disciple of Jesus is not easy. It is demanding, it is difficult, and it is not popular. Because the call on your life will necessarily find you aligning with and standing alongside the poor and the marginalized and the outcast, it will necessarily be the cause of division between you and those who don’t understand why you do what you do. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” St. Paul in First Corinthians. This Gospel is foolishness. It will not make you rich. It will not win you friends or admirers. It will not make you famous. But it will find you standing alongside those to whom God has called you. It will find you reaching out and serving and showing compassion and mercy and love to those most in need. It will find you giving up your life for the sake of those in need.
And in losing your life, you will find life.
Life abundant. A rich and full life. A life everlasting. A life overflowing.
It’s been a while since I’ve told you how our gardening adventures are going. Some of you might recall, we started some raised beds this spring with some tomatoes and peppers, and we added a couple more tomatoes and an eggplant a few months ago. We managed to keep them going throughout the unbearably hot June and mostly, everyone’s still going strong. Not producing a ton, but they’re going. I got worried when all of our plants were looking kind of sickly a while ago, so I started watching videos and doing research, and now I have all these TikTok videos and now like my whole feed is just gardening and tomatoes and things like that, but one of the things I learned I need to do is to prune the bottommost leaves when they start getting yellow and shriveling up. These leaves are dead, obviously, but the plant spends a significant amount of energy trying to keep alive these leaves and these branches that are dead and dying. The best thing for your plant is to prune away the dead leaves so the the plant can send the nutrients to the leaves and the flowers that stand the best chance of producing fruit.
Maximizing the flow of nutrients to the places where new growth is taking place, the places that have the best opportunity for new life to grow and flourish.
There are some places that no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you want them grow and flourish, they will never be that again. But if you prune them away, if you allow them to die, other leaves and branches, other parts of the plant have a better chance, they can thrive just as much, and even produce more fruit than those other places before.
Are you with me?
Are we still talking about tomatoes…?
You can read the sun and the moon and the stars, you’re great at interpreting the weather, but you’re terrible at interpreting what time it is, Jesus tells the crowds. Church, this is the most important question in any exercise of discernment, “What time is it?” What is God calling us to in this time? It may not be what God has called us to previously. Likely, it’s something new. And different.
In a season of clarifying values and discerning who we’re for and where God is calling us, a time of pruning away can feel like the scorching fire Jesus talks about at the beginning of our Gospel reading. It can feel like that fire is only coming after the things that you hold close and dear, and it can feel destructive. But church, throughout Scripture, fire, though scary and dangerous, is always understood as a sign of God’s presence. From the great spheres of fire set to rule over the day and the night from the very beginning of creation, to leading God’s people through the wilderness in a pillar of fire, to calling God’s servant Moses from a bush that was aflame but wasn’t consumed…God is present in these fiery trials.
And although fire is destructive, the new life and new growth that is allowed to break forth as a result of that cleansing and purifying fire is often stronger and healthier and more vibrant than what was present before.
In losing, you will gain.
Through the sharp edge of the Gospel, values and missions are distilled and purposes are clarified.
Through death, new life bursts forth in resurrection dawn.