9th Sunday after Trinity Repps Luke 12: 49-56
Today’s Gospel is one of those particularly hard passages. It’s usually the sort of Gospel passage that we like to ignore or overlook or deal with another time. It’s harsh, it’s disturbing and it tends to go against the sort of Jesus figure that we all like and love – the meek and mild, the good, the lovely, the blonde haired, blue eyed figure. Father will turn against son, mother against daughter... I haven’t come to bring peace... they will be divided... I have come to bring fire! However, this is the exact point of this passage. Jesus’ words are recorded here, by Luke, to be shocking and attention grabbing. It’s all part of that sort of preaching that suggests you repent or face the fires of hell. No one likes it. The Church of England mostly avoids it. But we do need to face it! From the very start we are told that the message Christ brings is powerful and calls for change. Christ introduces this topsy turvy kingdom where rich and poor are equals, where rulers reign with justice, where the proud and conceited are scattered. This is not a peaceful message, it’s not easy and it certainly doesn’t sit well with many modern day listeners.
It was just as well Jesus didn’t have the Health and Safety Executive to contend with in his day or the whole Christianity movement would never have got off the starting blocks.
What was required of the workforce? According to the writer to the Hebrews they were to be mocked, persecuted, flogged, stoned, imprisoned, murdered, as they walked the world as refugees.
This was the job description for the early church and they were not for the fainthearted.
The Company Mission statement:
To set the world on fire and then to turn the world upside down.
To give priority to the underdogs in society, those with no voice
To dispense justice at all levels of society
To bring the world’s kingdom under the kingship of God
All employees should make themselves available 24/7
With the rider -
No claims for damages or compensation for loss of health, goods, or life will be considered under any circumstances.
Perhaps if our preaching and presentation of the gospel were a bit more honest our churches would not be so full of the over 70’s – not that there is anything wrong with being over 70 but we are in danger of them/us being the last generation to darken our doors.
There are countless Christians in our world today who are being tortured, persecuted and killed for their faith. China, many parts of Russia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran where Christianity is all but eradicated and these are just the places we know about.
But in the west, when the only challenge given to many Christians in our churches is to keep awake during the sermon – what should we expect.
In this race, this relay race that we called to be are partakers of, it is a blazing torch we should be handing on to those coming up behind us, not raffle tickets.
God is looking for volunteers for the front line, people prepared to throw caution to the wind.
Jesus said ‘I came to bring fire to the earth – I have come to bring division. This fire that Jesus speaks of requires of us change and that’s not easy. We shouldn’t be so surprised when we read about fire and division within Christian circles. Those who follow Christ have always been divided over many issues. Families torn apart by who Jesus was and is, sons and daughters cut off as they come out as being part of the LGBT community , families at war because they cannot forgive, family feuds over weddings, under age pregnancies or unwanted children. Even the church has shut people out of it for being too controversial, because women have felt God’s call to become priests, because pews are removed or hymn books changed.
There is nothing about Christianity that is easy. Even receiving God’s love personally is controversial in that it requires our lives to stand out and be different. But where does the good news of Christ fit into all this? I believe that people are fed up with the ‘smile, Jesus loves you’ sort of Christianity. What they want to know, as they look around at our broken world, when they see families divided, is where can love be found? where it can be felt and seen?
Christ came to shake the world, which meant bringing unrest and division. He came to bring fire. The purging fire of the Holy Spirit. This fire, this unswerving outliving of the gospel comes in the acts of forgiveness from a hurt mother, it comes in feeding the hungry and helping the homeless, being a welcoming face to the visitor, stepping out from cliquey groups to sit with someone else, with the lonely, crying with those who mourn, rejoicing with those who are happy. Fire comes in challenging the unjust decisions of the government to benefit the poor, in challenging clergy when their sermons are a bit too comfortable, and responding to the challenge of others from outside these walls. Fire means facing the world full on, not escaping from it or hiding from it. All this is fire because it challenges what the world is like. The fire Jesus brings dares us to be different in our world, where everyone is told to be the same.
We should never seek division but we should always be messengers of love and hope, being there when it matters, being there even when it's difficult or controversial. We do this, Saint Paul says, by letting God use us. Being honest to God about who we are and about our fears and limits. Being honest about our sin. And, laying aside all that holds us back, all that weighs us down, trusting that Christ’s topsy turvy, controversial, fire filled kingdom may be made known, even here in our safe, comfortable, pretty Martham Benefice. Christ’s message is controversial, he does bring fire. And he wants us to keep that fire fueled. As I have mentioned before, fire is essential for life. In Roman times a soldier was put in charge of the village fire, to let the fire go out meant instant death.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews has the key to the ‘How’. He tells us to lay aside the sin that clings so closely, in this case the sin of spiritual paralysis, when we know what we should say or do, and yet do nothing, when it is easier to ignore and walk away rather than get involved. We are to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Run, not stagger, or sit and watch others run, and we can only do this, if we keep our eyes on the goal, if we look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. As always with the message of the gospel we have a choice – to respond and join the race, or to ignore and face the consequences both for the future of the church and for ourselves.