Readings: Hebrew 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56

This is Tough Love to Swallow
This is the second time I’ve preached on this passage in Luke, because it comes up in the Lectionary. Most pastors do not like to preach on it, so they simply skip it. If you do not follow the Lectionary it’s not the first choice of Scripture to preach on. All prefer the 2nd chapter of Luke, the story of Mary and Joseph traveling to Jerusalem for the birth of Jesus. We want to see the angels. We want to see and hear that one angel telling the Shepherds to “Fear Not”! John Wesley talked about it last week! Most congregants prefer to hear sermons that give them warm and fuzzy feelings. The stories that remind us that Jesus are always with us, that each and every one of us is important to Jesus. The pictures and paintings of Jesus that stick in our minds are the ones where Jesus is calm, cool and collected with this welcoming smile that is all inviting. We constantly hear Jesus did not judge, but he sure rebuked people.
You’re thinking, I’m dealing with this one and we don’t have to put up with this. Pastor Ed we just heard John Wesley preach last week about “the promise of Hope.” He was telling us that it is God’s great pleasure was to give the Kingdom. Yet here in Luke 13:57 Jesus gives us a flip side saying “You think I’ve come to bring you peace”? Well guess again buffalo chip! Wait a minute Pastor Ed we heard “I bring you tidings of Great Joy. With Peace on earth, good will toward men.” We sang “Hark the Hearld Angels Sing”.
But this text is a complete 180 degree turn from the teachings of Jesus we know and love. However, this is not a time that Jesus is puts on the gloves; this is up in your face teachings. This is a very rude awakening, like getting hit with a bucket of cold water after you have fallen asleep in the pew. Our first thought is that if Jesus loves us like he says then maybe ease into something before getting this blunt and harsh. Maybe we need preparation before this type of revelation. Something like; you remember that thing dad did as he was talking with Moses, to get Moses’ attention, Dad used a burning bush. Dad is going to use the burning bush again only different. You really are not going to like it, and oh yeah you are not going to like what is going on in the world either. Times are going to be different and some of the people you know are not going to see things the way you do. As a matter of fact they may not even like how you believe, in your faith or respect the fact that you are entitled to the way you want to believe. They are, but you cannot, so you may even be told to stop how you believe. No, Jesus does not dance that way nor does he beat around the bush, Pun intended. Jesus is blunt; as a matter of fact, Jesus has always been that way especially when dealing with the opposition. I don’t think we would want anything less than giving it to us straight. I’ve heard of people in town that are just simply frank about things. But you know where they stand.
Ok, so Jesus tells us that he came to bring fire to earth. Fire can be horrific and most of the time is destructive. We have stories in the news about fire burning houses and churches. In 2013, 14 Firefighters were killed out west and one of IFD’s own firefighters was in a coma from injuries sustained in a fire that same week. Fire has its great points; we heat, cook and it is used to cleanse things. Farmers use fire to clear fields in agricultural burning. The crops grow better and they’re able to raise more crops, thus have a better harvest. You know more fruitful.
Isaiah tells the story of how all that is given to us is so that we flourish in the land in which we grow. All that is given to us comes from God. When we prepare the land for planting in a proper way, the seeds will become more fruitful. It does require us to cleanse the land of weeds to prevent our plants from being choked out. This year too much water choked the fields as well.
Well Jesus is bringing fire to cleanse the earth so we can be more fruitful, God’s people to be more fruitful for His Glory, but wait; that ain’t all. Jesus also says that not only did he not bring peace to the earth; there will be division amongst you. Yes, division amongst us. With all the denominations of churches and boy, they do bicker amongst themselves. We see opposition towards us. Are we not seeing our religious freedom curtailed? No matter how bad we think we have it, there are people in the world that are being imprisoned, killed for being a Christian. People in the early church were killed for their beliefs. All of the disciples were martyred for being followers of Jesus the Christ. The bad news the good news is, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Even in the United Methodist Church.
We also believe that families are supposed to stay together and help each other out. Yet we know that does not always happen. In the church, we are a community and help each other but we bicker and fight over trivial things. I know at Old Bethel there are those who back the IU Hoosiers and those that back Purdue Boilermakers. You constantly see Cream and Crimson along with Black and Gold in the church. One person had a front license plate that read “Half my money goes to IU and the other half goes to Purdue.” Now isn’t that a house divided. Does not Jesus tell us in Luke 11-17 that a House divided will not stand? And yet in Luke 3:17 John the Baptist foretells that “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”. Now you’re sitting there thinking I’m totally confused. Well so was I in the planning stages of this sermon. The division is not based on whether you wear cream and crimson or black and gold, it is more about how and if you put Christ on and in your daily life. It is how we walk when we say we are followers of Christ. Do we go the road toward the Cross or do we follow the ways of the world.
An example; at Wal-Mart as I have traveled down the aisles looking for a space to park, as I come to the end of the parked cars, someone cuts across the lot forcing me to hit the brakes to keep from colliding. Of course I use my horn only to receive the salute. But the lanes are designed for ease and protection of those in cars. People do not paying attention, all they see is going the direction of choice. So cutting across the lanes of parking was the most direct route to their goal. Biblically we could use the prodigal son approach. Do we give forgiveness to a wayward son that has gone into the world and lived the way of the world even if he does not deserve it? But there were ill feelings from the other son who refused to come to the party. Doing what is right may not always bring out warm and fuzzy feelings from all it affects.
Families are not the only ones that suffer in divisions. Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth was written because of conflict. There is not a church today that has not had some sort of conflict from within. Conflict can produce division and strife in a church community. “There will be division” Jesus says. Why in the world would Jesus say something like that to his Church? He did it to Warn us! He did it to assure us! He did it to prepare us! This passage did not just come out of the blue. No, Jesus has been telling us all along that there will be conflict and division in our lives. Jesus also says that we need to be watchful and aware of what is going on around us. When we continue on in the Gospel of Luke we will read that Jesus says we must continually work on and work out our differences that cause conflict.
I myself do not like conflict. I will do whatever I can to avoid it. I get an upset stomach and become very nervous about an approaching conflict. I have a bad temper so I fear that I will lose that control of my temper which can make a conflict very ugly. Conflict does not need to be ugly. Conflict can be productive and helpful to a community. We prefer to only think of that baby in the manger that God sent here to bring peace on earth good will toward men. The angelic hosts singing in the heavens and the shepherds gathered to adore him. But guess what! That baby grew up! So do we. Babies don’t stay warm, cuddly and innocent.
God calls us to feel the heat of the fire and get involved in the action. Firefighters do but only with the right equipment. As God called Moses to stand toe to toe with the pharaoh, we need to stand up to the conflict, injustice, hatred, poverty and work to free those who are oppressed. By doing so, we gain the Glory for God.
Hebrews basically tells us this is a journey of faith that is a race. Runners know that if they focus on what is ahead of them, they are enabled and encouraged to keep on the course. We love to see runners in the lead and we cheer them on which enables them all the more. When I started Course of Study in 2005, that 10 year program seemed such a long journey. I would hear and see those who started long before me, finish, but they had the same distance to go and I was encouraged to keep on plugging. Then, there is the light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train. This journey cost me a lot but there were rewards along the way. Hebrews gives us all encouragement by telling us there is a cloud of witnesses that surround us.
We are called onto this journey of faith and we are to do it together. We need to set our sights on the kingdom to come with all its glory and rewards. As it was with the Israelites of old and the people in Jesus’ time, so it is and will be for us as well, there will be battles that constantly confront us. That tests us and divides us, but as a community of Christians we must take the division with stride and allow that conflict only to strengthen us as a whole. Listening to these hard to swallow words of Jesus to help us and makes us stronger by testing us. When we become stronger and more united, we seek the same goal, living to bring God to the world in need and to Him be all the Glory and Honor.
Adapted from “The Abbingdon Preaching Annual 2013” and “Sara Shaver”