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Seriously Jesus?

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Sunday, August 14, 2022. The Gospel passage is Luke 12:49-56.


Dear friends in Christ. Am I the only one here who struggles with the words of this text?  If Jesus seems unduly harsh in today’s gospel, admit it. This text is full of opposites: fire and water, peace and division and then finally a weather report. Don’t you feel pulled apart just hearing this lesson? Where is the Jesus of peace, the One who brings families together? This seems like angry Jesus here. There seems to be so much accusation in his words throughout the text. What are we to make of all this? I must admit, when I read this for the first, no second, even third time, it rubbed me the wrong way. Does anyone else feel that way? Let’s see if we can break this passage down a bit to hear what God might be saying to us today.


In my studies this week, I found something helpful about the fire Jesus is talking about. At first, I think we all assume the fire of judgment, like fire and brimstone. One pastor wrote when he realized Jesus wasn’t talking about judgment, “Rats! Just as I'm dusting off my fire and brimstone sermon, Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh [social science commentators on the gospels]…point out that ‘the earth’ in Verse 49 refers to an outdoor oven: ‘To [start a] fire [on] the earth’ refers to lighting an outdoor oven, called ‘earth.’ It is an idiom for getting things started…[to] “start things cooking.” (David Ewart)


Jesus is initially talking to his disciples as they are on the way to Jerusalem, to Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. What Jesus longs to be finished is his crucifixion. It is only after that the fire of the Holy Spirit will be released on the earth.


Jesus loves to turn things around, change them, “turn everything rightside up.” We think of him coming to bring peace, but rather than making everything nice, he’s come to “disrupt and confront.” And he’s not even talking to the religious leaders whom he often confronts. These words are to his disciples!


In my studies this week, I found something helpful about the fire Jesus is talking about. At first, I think we all assume the fire of judgment, like fire and brimstone. One pastor wrote when he realized Jesus wasn’t talking about judgment, “Rats! Just as I'm dusting off my fire and brimstone sermon, Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh [social science commentators on the gospels]…point out that ‘the earth’ in Verse 49 refers to an outdoor oven: ‘To [start a] fire [on] the earth’ refers to lighting an outdoor oven, called ‘earth.’ It is an idiom for getting things started…[to] “start things cooking.” (David Ewart)


Jesus is initially talking to his disciples as they are on the way to Jerusalem, to Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. What Jesus longs to be finished is his crucifixion. It is only after that the fire of the Holy Spirit will be released on the earth.


Jesus loves to turn things around, change them, “turn everything rightside up.” We think of him coming to bring peace, but rather than making everything nice, he’s come to “disrupt and confront.” And he’s not even talking to the religious leaders whom he often confronts. These words are to his disciples!


In my studies this week, I found something helpful about the fire Jesus is talking about. At first, I think we all assume the fire of judgment, like fire and brimstone. One pastor wrote when he realized Jesus wasn’t talking about judgment, “Rats! Just as I'm dusting off my fire and brimstone sermon, Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh [social science commentators on the gospels]…point out that ‘the earth’ in Verse 49 refers to an outdoor oven: ‘To [start a] fire [on] the earth’ refers to lighting an outdoor oven, called ‘earth.’ It is an idiom for getting things started…[to] “start things cooking.” (David Ewart)


Jesus is initially talking to his disciples as they are on the way to Jerusalem, to Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. What Jesus longs to be finished is his crucifixion. It is only after that the fire of the Holy Spirit will be released on the earth.


Jesus loves to turn things around, change them, “turn everything rightside up.” We think of him coming to bring peace, but rather than making everything nice, he’s come to “disrupt and confront.” And he’s not even talking to the religious leaders whom he often confronts. These words are to his disciples!


Jesus is saying that following him is not easy. Disciples may have to choose between family and Jesus. This is not to say that every time children disagree with parents, they can use the excuse, “That’s how God is leading me.” I’m sure some families of these twelve disciples struggled when they heard the guys were taking off to follow Jesus. Some, like Peter, were married. We know this from Matthew, Mark and Luke’s telling of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. 


As Christians, we lift the importance of whole families. Our children, spouses and other relatives are precious to us and so it should be. However, family can become like a god in one’s life. Everything revolves around the family and nothing else matters. This results in exhausted parents trying to run all over to be everywhere their children “need” them to be. There’s no energy for anything else.


Jesus’ call is to come, take up the cross and follow. Do you remember the gospel from a few weeks ago, when potential followers of Jesus had all kinds of excuses why they could not possibly become disciples right then? They were willing to follow, but just not at that moment. It didn’t fit their schedule. Don’t we hear such alibis for why people can’t come and worship with the rest of God’s people?


At seminary, each evening, we had prayer together. It was at 10, outdoors in the quad, weather permitting. As it grew colder, we moved inside. Each year, initially, there would be many students participating. As the year wore on, there would be fewer and fewer. One year, several said they could come if we met at 9, so we changed it. They only came a couple of times. Others didn’t come because they didn’t like the room we were meeting in, so we changed it to a beautiful little chapel adjacent to the larger chapel. Again, for a while, people came.


I’m not casting dispersion on or judging my classmates. This illustrates how all of us have excuses. Jesus fearlessly drew lines in families between those who would follow and those who refused. Such divisions ramped up more so later in the church’s history. Pastor David Lose points out, “Luke writes of these events about forty years after they’ve happened … he shapes his account to address the situation and questions of his community… so we can guess with some confidence that the division Jesus speaks of has manifested itself in spades in Christian communities” of his time.  


The words of Jesus today end in a weather report aimed at the crowd. Some may be followers and some not. Holy Land weather is predictable. If it is summer, during the dry season, even if it gets dark and cloudy, it will not rain. Knowing what the weather will be then is child’s play. During the rainy season, it could rain. You want it to rain. You need it to rain. So, you can see that Jesus is stating the obvious to them. They can get it concerning the weather report. Why can’t they just as easily see the signs of the Son of God? At seminary, each evening, we had prayer together. It was at 10, outdoors in the quad, weather permitting. As it grew colder, we moved inside. Each year, initially, there would be many students participating. As the year wore on, there would be fewer and fewer. One year, several said they could come if we met at 9, so we changed it. They only came a couple of times. Others didn’t come because they didn’t like the room we were meeting in, so we changed it to a beautiful little chapel adjacent to the larger chapel. Again, for a while, people came.


I’m not casting dispersion on or judging my classmates. This illustrates how all of us have excuses. Jesus fearlessly drew lines in families between those who would follow and those who refused. Such divisions ramped up more so later in the church’s history. Pastor David Lose points out, “Luke writes of these events about forty years after they’ve happened … he shapes his account to address the situation and questions of his community… so we can guess with some confidence that the division Jesus speaks of has manifested itself in spades in Christian communities” of his time.  


The words of Jesus today end in a weather report aimed at the crowd. Some may be followers and some not. Holy Land weather is predictable. If it is summer, during the dry season, even if it gets dark and cloudy, it will not rain. Knowing what the weather will be then is child’s play. During the rainy season, it could rain. You want it to rain. You need it to rain. So, you can see that Jesus is stating the obvious to them. They can get it concerning the weather report. Why can’t they just as easily see the signs of the Son of God? 


I like the way Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, translates the final words of today’s gospel, “the God-season we’re in right now.” He absolutely nailed it. Other translations refer to it as “the present time.” There are two words for “time” in Greek, chronos and kairos. Chronological comes from the Greek Chronos. It is the “time” of minutes and seconds. On the other hand, Kairos is a moment of indeterminate length when everything happens. It’s like quantity versus quality. Kairos, for followers of Jesus is indeed, “the God-season,” which should be all the time.


Let us pray. Jesus – Bringer of fire and division… How do we hold Your difficult words today?


May the kindling of Your fire renew us. May the completion of Your baptism redeem us. 

May we not be surprised by how You divide us – how You break down familiar systems to bring forth ones aligned with Your truth.


Clouds rise in the west. South winds blow. Interpretations of earth and sky unfold.

May we observe more deeply than earth and sky. May we observe and interpret the present time to which we are called.

Amen. (Courtnay Veazey)


Resources consulted


David Ewart, holytextures.com

David Lose, in the meantime, David Lose.net

Courtnay Veazey, courtnayveazey.Substack.com

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