For us to be the people that God created and calls us to be, we cannot accept unity if it is defined as uniformity. No longer is peace about making everyone comfortable, everyone happy. Luke reminds us that the Gospel is not about keeping the peace, buy about the Kingdom of God coming to fruition here on Earth just as it is in heaven.
August 14, 2022
“Lessons From the Gospel of Luke”
Interpreting the Present Time
Luke 12: 49-56
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Luke 12: 49-56
“I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 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.”
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. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 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?”
Interpreting the Present Time Luke 12: 49-56
Lately, we have experienced several hot summer days. In various parts of our nation and our world, these hot summer days have meant one thing: forest fires. We have heard stories recently about forest fires in various points in our nation, in various parts of our world. We have heard about how after the forest, the land was left charred and burnt. We have seen images of blackened trees and ground after the fires blazed a path across the forests. In these images, even after the fires have been put out, it really does appear as if these areas will never recover from the damage done from these fires. These images of blackened trees, of destruction, of charred land, these images give the impression that these areas are disseminated and will no longer support life.
These images of destruction, these images of blackened trees, these images of dissemination are what immediately came to mind when I came across an article about forest fires. Ironically, this article was titled: “Life after the Fire”. The author was reframing the narrative about forest fires, shining a new light on the good which comes from forest fires. It said that the heat from the burning will actually help the cone bearing trees. The heat and fire will open the cones and release the seeds. That the closed cone is opened by fire. And within a month, the seeds will begin to germinate and regrow the forest.
I thought this was fascinating, this reframing of what appeared to be destruction and dissemination into an opportunity for growth especially after I kept reading this article. It said that forest trees needed to be exposed to fire every 50 to 100 years to invigorate new growth. That suppressing the fire would actually be detrimental to the forests because the dead trees and other items would just create a tinderbox and destroy the new growth that is trying to live in the forest.
This reframed narrative of death and destruction into an opportunity for new growth, for new life sounds a lot like resurrection, doesn’t it? This reframed narrative of life after the fire also sounds a lot like what we are going through as the wider church, as an individual community of faith. On more than one occasion, I have said that it really does feel like pre-Covid, we as a community of faith were doing great and then Covid pandemic hit and wiped out all our progress. It wiped out all that we had built.
Immediately as I read that line about the forest needing to be exposed to fire every 50 to 100 years, I thought of us as Midway Christian Church. It really does feel like we are experiencing life after the fire. It is hard to see empty pews. It is hard to not know where to start. It is hard to know that what we did a few years ago is no longer connecting to our wider community. Yet…what if like this article we reframe the narrative…what if what we see as destruction and dissemination, the Spirit is actually using to make way for new growth, for new life?
Or let me say it this way…what if in this new reality, post-Covid (whatever that means), in this new reality where we are coming to terms with the knowledge that what we did in ministry just six months ago is no longer working, what if in this new reality as Jesus disciples, we are once again being confronted with what it means for us to pray the prayer, to hope for, to work towards the coming of God’s Kingdom?
You see, as people of faith we forget this part of the Gospel message. We are okay with the whole love and grace part but tend to ignore this whole upending the status quo part. We like to make the Gospel message an either/or thing but in reality it is a both/and kind of thing.
Luke reminds us that Jesus isn’t this sweet lovable guy created in our image. Luke reminds us that Jesus and the Kingdom of God doesn’t play by our rules or ask our permission before it brings transformation before it brings healing and wholeness. Luke reminds us that we as people of faith have always preferred the idealized image of Jesus hugging the children and breaking bread with the sinners while forgetting, while purposefully ignoring that Jesus was breaking all sorts of social norms and status quos by doing these very acts.
Luke reminds his readers, reminds us today as Jesus’ disciples, just as it was back then, …As Jesus’ disciples, We can’t talk about, we can’t pray for, we can’t hope for the coming of God’s Kingdom here on Earth as it in heaven without also realizing that it’s actual fruition is going to cause conflict, that it is going to make people and the powers that be angry, that is going to make people and yes I am including us as ones sitting the in pews in this…It is going to make us uncomfortable.
From the very beginning of his Gospel, Luke has told us that God never promised us a peace which was safe. God never promised us a peace which would fit into our terms. God never promised us a peace which would only benefit a select few.
From the very beginning, even before Jesus was born, God told us that the peace Jesus brings, the peace Jesus proclaims will level the playing field. The rich will be made lowly, and the poor will be lifted up. The powerful will be brought down, and the meek will be given places of honor.
Our whole faith story tells us that Jesus came with a purpose, that Jesus came to bring transformation, that Jesus came to show us a different way to be. Think Pentecost…. The Holy Spirit came like fire, a fire to cleanse the people of God. Luke reminds his readers, reminds us today that the Gospel message ignites a fire in our hearts, in our minds, in our souls to purify the community of faith, to help us become the people God created and calls us to be.
And once this fire burns across the earth, once it burns away the death that holds us back, new life and new growth will flourish. Once this fire that will cleanse is contained, yes, the ground will look black. Yes, the ground will be charred. It may appear that this earth, that our communities of faith will never recover from this cleansing fire. But just wait! The seeds of new life will be released. The seeds of hope and justice will take root in the blackened soil and soon we will see new growth. We will see new life coming forth.
What Jesus is telling his disciples, what Jesus is telling us is there is a cost to discipleship, there is a purpose to discipleship. He is trying to get his disciples to look at the big picture of his ministry. He is calling them, calling us to a radical transformation. Jesus is calling us to be engaged in this world and to be alert to what is going on in this world, not just what we want to see or hear.
Jesus wants the disciples to understand, wants us to understand that discipleship, being true to the Gospel message is going to bring conflict into our lives. After all, look what the powers that be did to Jesus when he declared a vision of the Peaceable Kingdom.
But “when we look at ourselves and our world from God’s perspective — according to God’s commitment to justice, God’s multifaceted shalom, and God’s pledge to meet us in the love and solidarity — we share with our neighbor”, that is when new growth happens, that is when the new life happens, that is when the Kingdom of God comes near.
As people of faith, we are surrounded by the signs of God’s kingdom. We are surrounded by the signs of new growth. As people of faith, as Midway Christian Church, the fires have burned away the dead branches. It has burned away the things which are preventing the new growth from happening. As people of faith, we are experiencing life after the fire. We are experiencing an opportunity for new growth to rise from the ruins if we have the courage, the strength, and the wisdom to embrace what God is doing in our midst. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, August 14, 2022 – Interpreting the Present Time Luke 12: 49-56.
This sermon is also available as a podcast.