Gospel: Luke 12:49-56
Jesus delivers harsh words about the purifying and potentially divisive effects of obedience to God’s call. The way of the cross often leads followers to encounter hostility and rejection, even from those they love.
[Jesus said:] 49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they 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.”
54He 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. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
Remember, Jesus’ words are more often descriptive than prescriptive.
I suspect what Jesus is doing is naming the reality that was occurring around him. His presence in the world, God’s presence, was unsettling and the prophecies surrounding the coming of the Messiah emphasized it would be a time of disruption and division. It was to be a time of upheaval. And he’s predicting the impact his message of love will have on our self-centered human nature. There’s no hidden agenda here. He has come to turn the value system of the world on end. And that kind of revolutionary counter-cultural change is threatening to those who would hold onto their power.
Jesus is describing realities as they currently are, not how they should be. Jesus’ desire and goal is not to split up families, but affirms that even our closest relationships may be tested and torn because of our faith and convictions.
The church is no stranger to division. The church is no stranger to families breaking apart, denominations fracturing, conflicts between theological siblings which seem to never get resolved. The oneness, the unity, the communion is just never something we can hold onto for very long. But isn’t it some kind of assurance and comfort to know not only that God intends to bring us all into his kingdom – intends the kind of unity that we can only dream of – and also makes no bones about declaring that this message of hope and forgiveness and peace and unity will divide us because of our sin. It’s now part of the plan, and God grieves with you in your broken relationships, and your broken and divided church – but Jesus promises that this will happen. Jesus knew this would happen – I believed it grieved him, but he knew it. The unity and oneness we seek is not something we will ever achieve until God brings it about, and in Christ we hold fast to that promise.
If you are grieving division and conflict, the author of Hebrews wants you to know you are not alone. You are in good company of all the communion of saints who experience not only conflict and division but brokenness and pain. You’re in good company with the faithful saints whose life was hard and they lost a lot. You are in the good company of the communion of saints who wish they could have done more, who wish they could have left the church in a better place, who wish they had made different choices, but did the best they could with what they knew at the time. Because interpreting the present time is hard.
It’s always easier to look back on previous generations and say wow, they really botched that up. It’s painful to look back on our own last couple years and think man, I should have made a different choice. I could have done that better. Did it have to end that way?
While Hebrews makes us think of the past, this chapter of Luke’s Gospel speaks to our worry and concern for the future, what will happen – and then how shall we live now in the present. The following chapter focuses on repentance, a turning towards God and shift in perspective.
What shall the servants do while they wait for the master to return? What choice should I make? Will I have a choice? What if I make the wrong choice? Where is God in all this – past, present, and future?
The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God didn’t go anywhere. God has not left his people, God is near to us. God cares for us; every hair on our heads. And Jesus’ words remind us that God’s presence is not just to arrange for our comfort, security, peace, and safety. God’s presence in Jesus has shifted the very rules of the game and turned the world’s system on its ear. But the innocent suffer and even God’s faithful servants end up experiencing loss. Jesus implores us not to worry about the future and in the same breath tells us to keep our lamps lit. He tells us we are beloved of God and then tells us to repent before it’s too late.
So what are we to do??
Relax and don’t worry? Or be on high alert at all times, attempting to work twice as hard as the other servants to prepare for the master’s imminent return? What should we do? In a world where conflict and crisis about – and our present realities look very much like the reality that Jesus was talking about. What’s our response?
Because the sense of urgency in these texts is palpable – there must be action. Especially in times of crisis, disagreement, and conflict, when you see the storm clouds gathering. The lectionary podcast I listened to on the way home from the beach reminded me that Nobody is asking the church to be a meteorologist, we don’t need to give the scientific answers to why the clouds are forming. People just want to know when they’ll have to pack up the picnic and seek shelter.
Perhaps some of the hardest work the church does is knowing when to act and when to wait on God. When to charge forward with zeal and when to be still and know that God is God. When to lay aside and let go of the sin that clings so closely and run the race – and when to feel our sin deep in our chest and cry out to God for a new heart. When to affirm our work and when to repent and let God change our perspective. When to take up our cross and stand up stand up for Jesus – and when to sit and pray and give it all to Jesus.
That’s known as discernment. Wisdom. The church must be both about action and waiting. And understanding the difference between the two. And that’s why we do it together, in congregations – in small groups of trusted friends and neighbors to discern together. Because this work is hard.
What shall we do? How shall we repent? Where do we need to get a new perspective and what do we need to let go of? When can I step out in faith and when do I wait on God time? That’s hard work.
And some days when you don’t feel like doing it – another will be able to remind you that the cloud of witnesses has your back. All those who surround you now – and those who have gone before you. The late Rachel Held Evans writes in her posthumously published book Wholehearted Faith “For better or for worse, there are seasons when we hold our faith, and then there are seasons when our faith holds us. In those latter instances, I am more thankful than ever for all the saints, past and present, who said yes and whose faith sustains mine.” Evans, Rachel Held; Chu, Jeff. Wholehearted Faith
This hard work we do not do alone, as Lone Rangers for the Gospel, but we lean on one another. We walk with each other, cry with each other, sing with each other. We mourn our losses together and repent of our sins together, and hold fast to the promises together.