Text: Luke 12: 49-56
“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This scene taken from C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe is often used by preachers when talking about Jesus. I’ve probably used this illustration a handful of times over the years. Yet, never has it felt more appropriate than today.
Today Jesus does not feel safe. Today Jesus appears dangerous, frightening even. Today Jesus does not bring us comfort. Today Jesus unsettles us and causes us to look warily from side to side. Where will the dividing lines start?
If you were looking for kinder, gentler Jesus you should have stayed home today. Our message from Luke does not appear to have anything safe, gentle or kind in it.
Today Jesus tells us that he comes to bring fire on the earth and he wishes it were already kindled. Fire to us is dangerous and destructive. We are reminded of the fires in Fort McMurray, of two wild fires in Algonquin park which were raging this week. Fire terrifies us and it terrified those who heard the words of Jesus that day. We know a little bit about fire here too, almost 80 years ago this church burnt down. We know the destruction it can bring, we also know what comes after.
Today we look at the words of Jesus and we ask where did the Prince of Peace go? We are in the middle of Luke’s gospel and we find division, fire and destruction. Yet, Luke opens with a message of peace. When Jesus is born a heavenly host appears before some shepherds and tells them, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” At the end of Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus standing among the disciples and he says, “Peace be with you.”
Luke’s gospel opens and closes with a message of peace. Luke reinforces that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that he seeks to bring unity to God’s people. Yet, here we are right in the middle of Luke’s gospel and in response to a question from Peter Jesus says, “Do you think I come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
Last week we read from earlier in this chapter in Luke and Jesus called the disciples his ‘little flock’ and informed them that God delights to bring the kingdom. Now Jesus wants to bring fire to the earth and he’s eager to get started. How do these two passages work together? How do we reconcile these differences?
I’m starting to think I should have slept in or picked another piece of scripture to preach on this morning. And there’s the rub, I’d rather not deal with this passage at all. This passage is difficult and if we are honest with ourselves we find it a difficult, confusing and uncomfortable piece of scripture. We don’t know what Jesus is going on about, it seems so out of character and so we’d rather just ignore it. Pretend that this section doesn’t exist because it does not fit with what we want to read or believe about Jesus. We read through Luke’s gospel and we arrive at chapter twelve and we think, I’ll skip ahead to chapter thirteen where Jesus is healing people again. Enough of this doom and gloom, don’t we have enough of that?
The problem is we can’t do that because it is here. These words are here and they are here for a reason. They have something to tell us and if we feel uncomfortable with them, that should tell us something too. The message of the gospel, the message of all of scripture tells us that things aren’t alright. It tells us that we have problems, real problems that need to be dealt with. The Good News is that Jesus is the answer to those problems.
However, Jesus did not come to tell us that everything was alright. Jesus came because there were problems and there still are. He didn’t come to hold our hands and say everything will be alright. Even though he does in a manner of thinking hold our hands and through his death make everything alright. Jesus came to set us on the correct path, to lead us on the correct way and that means that something has to change. That means there is going to be division. That means we are going to disagree with one another.
The sad and frustrating part of this is that Jesus came to demonstrate that the Pharisee’s were to beholden to the law. The result which we see in many of the parables is that they miss out on the grace and love which God offers. They forget the core things that God asked them to do. Today we have the witness of Jesus and the church still argues with itself about it should be doing. Do we follow the ‘rules’ or do we reach out in love? How do find a compromise we can live with?
Friends we don’t like this passage because it has conflict in it and that scares us. We are afraid of what conflict will do to us as a family, as a community of faith and how it will impact us as individuals. We worry about divisions that might be created because if we’re honest we aren’t good at forgiving or asking for forgiveness.
The message that Jesus brought bumps up against our comfortable lives. When that happens we tend to take offense. Perhaps we say, well that doesn’t apply to me. Except it does. Friends, if you think the Kingdom of God is business as usual, then you haven’t been listening. You haven’t been looking around.
I have come to bring fire on the earth Jesus tells us and how I wish it were already kindled. Jesus is telling us that he wishes the Kingdom was here already! He’s screaming at us to wake up and hear the message!
Jesus doesn’t just want us on Sunday morning, he wants us all the time. An hour a week isn’t good enough for the risen Lord, he wants it all. Will there be division, yes. Your wife won’t like it when you give a little extra to a charity. Your children will be confused when you usher them across the street to avoid the homeless person. Division, confusion and questions will arise.
We don’t like this passage because of the inherent conflict in it. When we think of conflict our modern minds tend to go to armed conflict, to war, destruction and devastation. Conflict can be healthy and helpful if we are willing to be open. Conflict can lead to new ideas and opportunities, to greater understanding.
However, we tend to dig in our heels when we get into conflict. We hold steadfast to our position and aren’t willing to move. No other point of view can be correct. When we speak and argue we listen so that we can respond, we forget to listen so that we can understand. Division is useful, it shows us opposite opinions and broadens our experience and horizons. Two divergent ideas can lead to a third way.
Jesus is asking us to read between the lines. To see things as they are, to understand how things should be and to take a step towards making a change. He asks us to look around and interpret the present time.
Today Jesus is difficult because he needs something from us. Today Jesus asks us to join him on a difficult path. Today Jesus says the world won’t like you for the decision you make, because it’s an unpopular one. Today Jesus asks you to join him, not because he is safe but because he is good. Trust in his goodness and he will keep you safe. Amen.