Proper 15c, Pentecost 13c, August 18, 2013

August 19, 2013

Pure Unbridled Jesus
Luke 12:49-56

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?

This world is such a strange place. The range of human experience on this planet is just more than I can get my mind around. I am dumbstruck by the extent to which some people suffer and other people prosper. It seems that there is no limit to the pleasure or the pain that this world can provide. As people were being bulldozed and shot in Egypt we have been enjoying the most pleasant August weather I’ve ever experienced in Arkansas. Not that nice weather is all we need in order to be happy.

There’s an organization called Arkansas Voices that used our Fellowship Hall each morning last week to have an art camp for children who’s parents are incarcerated. I mean what a tough start that would be for a child when the people you are most dependent upon are in jail. Life gets hard for some people really quickly. And at the same time it’s such a beautiful thing that there are people who are moved to reach out to those who are in tough places.

I’m just sort of amazed at both the horror and the joy that people encounter in this world, and unfortunately religious belief is as likely to be the source of the horror as it is of the joy. I’ve mentioned that I’m in this weekly study group, and we are currently reading a book called, The Case For God by Karen Armstrong. She is a highly educated person who can summarize entire philosophical or theological schools of thought in single paragraphs – paragraphs which often leave me wondering what she’s talking about, but I understand a bit of what she’s saying, and it’s been interesting to read how God has been understood throughout the centuries.

Sharla and I drove to Heber Springs last Sunday afternoon where we spent the night in the lakehouse my grandfather provided for his descendants. My son and a couple of his friends were there as well, and I had every intention of getting back to Little Rock by noon on Monday to go about my work. I woke up Monday morning and read a chapter in the Armstrong book that addressed the developments of the late 1400s where Ferdinand and Isabella were out to dominate the world in the name of Jesus. In addition to deporting tens of thousands of Jews and Muslims from Spain they are also the ones who developed the inquisition to make sure that those who chose conversion over deportation actually held the right beliefs about Jesus. And soon after that you had the Reformation which led to numerous violent conflicts between the various Protestant sects that broke away from the mother church.

Honestly, I had every intention of getting back to Little Rock by noon on Monday so I could get to work trying to plug all the holes I know to be present in the Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church community and facility. But after reading that chapter it occurred to me that we aren’t doing so bad when you take a really long view of things. We aren’t killing anybody in the name of Jesus, nor is anybody getting killed or incarcerated because of their association with this church, so I decided to go swimming instead of packing up to leave. It felt like it would be a sin not to take advantage of the good company and beautiful weather that we had that day.

There have been times in history when you would be bound up and thrown to hungry lions for professing your allegiance to Jesus Christ. But I can call myself Christian and spend a Monday on a boat on a beautiful lake. My previous Saturday had not been so serene when the air conditioner wouldn’t come on in the Fellowship Hall prior to the wedding reception that was going to be happening there in the middle of the afternoon, but the things that can really stress me out are not so big when you get some perspective on the situation.

It wasn’t until Tuesday that I read what Jesus had to say in this morning’s text. And he was not speaking like a person who had spent the previous day on Greer’s Ferry Lake. Jesus was standing in a far different spot than I was occupying when he spoke the words we are looking at this morning. He wasn’t worried about a leaky roof or a malfunctioning air-conditioner. He wasn’t even worked up about insufficient contributions. Jesus was stressed out over the fact that he was on his way to Jerusalem to be killed by people who were supposed to be advocates of the truth of God.

Jesus was facing some real stress, and he didn’t keep his thoughts to himself. He was about to undergo great suffering and death and that moved him to turn up the heat on his followers. He said he didn’t come to bring peace but to cause division. He said he came with fire and some people were going to get burned, and he wasn’t talking about something in the afterlife – he was talking about generating some severe interpersonal conflicts in this life. He didn’t take pleasure in the conflict, but he knew that the truth would be very painful for some people to hear.

Jesus didn’t come to play nice – he came to reveal deception and to expose the truth, and that doesn’t go over so well with people who are in love with distorted images of God and unjust patterns of existence. When Jesus spoke these words he didn’t have much time left, and it generated a new level of clarity to his message. He knew he was about to become the target of some misguided religious zeal, and he didn’t want his followers to be surprised when they found themselves in similar situations.

I’m actually strangely comforted by these harsh words from Jesus. I’m not comforted in the sense of being reassured that I have any righteous suffering going on. I don’t sense that I’m engaged in any large conflicts that are fueled by my advocacy of the truth, but passages like this remind me of why it’s hard to round up a crowd of people to get excited about Jesus.

It’s not just me – it’s him. How are we supposed to build a successful organization around someone who says things like this. Who wants to follow someone who says he’s going to generate conflict between you and your loved ones? What are we supposed to say to the children? Jesus is great! If you do what he says you’ll never get very far in business and powerful people will hate you!

Actually I can’t blame the meagerness of our congregation on Jesus – I’m generally not that clear about how difficult it is to follow him. Most of us are guilty of not wanting to know too much about what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus in our day. It’s easy to be more conscious of the weather than it is to be more socially conscious. And when we do engage in social activism it’s often so much easier to point out the sins of our neighbors than it is the selfishness of ourselves.

I firmly believe that following Jesus requires more bravery and boldness than any other undertaking I am aware of. Not only did Jesus consciously move in a direction that would cost him his life, he moved in that direction unarmed and largely unsupported. To follow Jesus is not an easy choice to make when you have other choices. He’s got some hard words for comfortable people to hear.

I know Jesus is hard to follow. I know most of us don’t follow him very well, but I join you in believing that following his is our best option. There just isn’t a way to find more satisfaction in life than to try to do what he said and to live like he lived. I don’t think Jesus wills for any of us to suffer, and I believe his love for us is unconditional, but I also think he wants us to grow in our consciousness of what love calls for us to do.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be more aware of the weather than we are of our neighbors. Jesus doesn’t want us to be content with the comforts of this world and to ignore the joy of abiding in God’s kingdom.

He spoke so frankly because sometimes we need some fire under our feet in order to get us off the couch and in to the world. There’s a world of pain out there, and we’ve got some good work to do. It’s not easy to follow Jesus, but there isn’t anything better than to be involved in the holy work of bringing comfort and seeking justice. Such work isn’t applauded by everyone, and it’s easy to be misguided in our efforts, but I also believe that when we try to do the right things we become better at reading the signs of the times.

Jesus got worked up because he wants our attention, and I believe the more attention we give to Jesus the more spiritually refined our lives will become, and I believe that’s what real growth looks like. I don’t know what it will do to our church if we as individuals truly grow in our knowledge and love of Jesus. Such growth may or may not translate in to larger numbers of people in worship and a bursting bank account, but if we will seek to grow in our faith and trust in Jesus our worldly concerns will become less important. As Jesus showed us so well, when you love the truth and trust in God nothing else really matters that much – not even your life.

I’m guessing we all have some room to grow in that regard, and it’s good to know that our friend Jesus loves us enough to light a fire under our feet and in our hearts. I can testify that a day on the lake is nice, but I know we experience something far better than that when we give ourselves to Jesus.

Hear what he is saying, pay attention to more than the weather, and find your way in to the best experience that you can have on this earth. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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