Theme: Take sides
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, we like to hear good things about us and the world: but, at times, your son told us ugly things about us and the world; may we continue to hear Jesus’ word and how we may apply his teachings in our lives, through our great teacher, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Steven Molin offers this story, “A teenage girl at summer camp was torn between two sets of friends. Some of them were sunbathing on the dock, saying to her “stay with us.” But her other friends were in a rowboat saying “no, come with us.” There she stood, one foot on the dock, the other foot on the edge of the boat, and the boat was moving. Trying to appease everyone, trying to not decide, she ended up falling into the water; and worse, her hair got wet!
“But I think this is exactly what Jesus is addressing in the gospel lesson today. He is warning us that there will be times when following him will require us to turn away from something else. There will be times in this life when we will be required to say “yes” to one thing, and therefore “no” to the other. And of course, the action we most often take is the same one that girl did on the swimming dock. We try to go in both directions. We try to say “yes” to it all, and we end up falling in between the seams, and being miserable.”
Jesus is asking people to get off the fence. Jesus begins this portion of Luke by saying that he came to set fire to the earth. In fact, he wishes that it were already so!
Did Jesus literally want our planet burned to a crisp? Of the interpretation choices given us, I think I will choose metaphor, laced with hyperbole. I think what Jesus was hoping for and was impatient to see happen is that the human beings on the earth would be purified – all that the bad stuff everyone of us carry around is burned away from us. I think Jesus was frustrated that he wouldn’t be around to see that. Of course, none of have yet to see that happen.
Jesus refers to his coming crucifixion as a baptism. In baptism, we are purified, temporarily. But it is enough to reconcile us with God. Jesus, not needing to be purified, purifies us, taking away the sins of the whole world. Perhaps, that may be the fire he is referring to.
We have this popular view of Jesus, meek and mild – a taming of Jesus that we carry over from the manger. Jesus was meek and mild when he was a baby. Then he grew up! If anyone misunderstood Jesus’ message as being of one of peace, then they are mistaken. He says that he did not come to bring peace. Instead, Jesus came to force people to take sides.
In the case of a family of five, three will be against two or two against three. Fathers will turn against sons and sons against fathers. Mothers will turn against daughters and daughters against mothers. Even, mothers-in-law will fight with daughters-in-law – oh my! (Like that has never happened before.)
We’re here because we chose sides. But whole families don’t typically choose a side in lock step. Many of you know that my father was an atheist. Of my three full-blooded brothers, one is a Mormon (sort of, when we golf together, we have beers). One toys with faith, but hasn’t gotten off the fence, but is talking about going to St. James’ Episcopal Church in Salt Lake. The third, worships himself. Your families may be similar. How many spouses do we know who do not choose to attend church? (Of course, there are a lot of spouses missing today, including mine.)
In the first century, it was very difficult for both Jewish and gentile family members to convert to Christianity. The Christian community was very demanding with many rules. Jesus’ teachings nullified the family patriarchal structure and patronage system. Early Christianity was not sympathetic to anyone who had outside government or society responsibilities. Old pagan ways had to be removed. To bring Jesus home was the source of great conflict.
This same type of situation occurs today in other parts of the world when converts often find themselves without a village or a family. There are Muslim parents of Compassion children in Burkina Faso who want to covert to Christianity, but family pressure keeps them from making that change. Some do convert, but they need to find new relationships.
In this part of Luke’s gospel, Jesus has been talking about obstacles to entering the kingdom of God. In this context, family can be an obstacle to entering the kingdom of God. Our text for today is also a powerful reminder of knowing the importance of what time it is.
Jesus continues to say to everyone, that when they see a cloud come up from the west you say that a storm is coming. And you are right. You will all make great weather forecasters. When the south wind blows, you say it will get hot – and so it does – right again! (Obviously, they don’t get delta winds, probably because there is no delta there. In Utah, a south wind means a very hot day.)
After puffing everyone up with how great they are forecasting the weather, Jesus tells them that they’re hypocrites. And they are hypocrites because they can forecast the weather, but they can’t forecast what’s going on right now. It is ironic for Jesus to resort to name calling, which may cause division. But Jesus is trying to give the crowd a wake up call and sometimes a mule needs a two-by-four. The genius for Luke in recording this scene is that we all need an occasional wake up call.
Jesus was definitely something new in that time and to some in our own time, Jesus is new. People think they know Jesus, but even a lot of church goers are not that familiar with what Jesus really said. I heard on the radio once an atheist quote Jesus as a way of proving her point, except Jesus never said what she quoted him as saying.
If we dare to think that everything Jesus said was sweetness and light, well then we are not very familiar with the gospels. Jesus is saying that there is something more important than family and that is the kingdom of God.
If we make decisions on what is best for me and mine, then we are beginning at a false point. Jesus is saying that our family is very big and includes people we haven’t even met yet. It is these people who will eat with us at the messianic banquet. In the meantime, we have a foretaste of the messianic banquet here and now.
A sociology professor every year begins his course on “The Family” by reading to his class a letter, from a parent, written to a government official. In the letter the parent complains that his son, once obedient and well motivated, has become involved with some weird new religious cult. The father complains that the cult has taken over the boy’s life, has forced him to forsake all of his old friends, and has turned him against his family.
After reading the letter, the professor asks the class to speculate what the father is talking about. Almost without exception, the class immediately assumes that the subject of the letter is a child mixed up with the “Moonies,” or some other controversial group. After the class puts out all of the possible conclusions they can think of, the professor surprises them by revealing that the letter, was written by a third century father in Rome, the governor of his province, complaining about this weird religious group called “The Christians.”
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, thank you for the gift of families: a great joy and a great frustration for us; may we learn how to love others through loving our families and we pray that those who do not follow you may come to the knowledge and love of you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Luke 12:49–56 (NRSV)
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,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 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. 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?