Sermon: 13th Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday August 18, 2013, St Petri
Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2 / Luke 12:49-56
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
It was a pretty normal gathering with a few friends around the kitchen table late one afternoon. There were about eight of us – all in our early 20’s just sharing a casual meal and talking about all kinds of stuff.
All of us were church connected and yet, all of us had been on our own journey’s of faith and life since leaving school, studying at Uni or working.
As is often the case, the big topics come up around the table– sport, politics, and yes, religion. As the conversations went on we came to a show stopper – one of those conversations where one two of three people are engaged in a disagreement, with the others listening in – and beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.
The issue was the how human beings can be right/OK with God – how a person is “saved”. One side was saying there are many roads to peace with God and that Jesus is only one way to be OK with God. The other was saying that it is only by God’s grace given in Jesus, received by faith in him that a person can be OK with God. The critical bible text, as I remember, was that one where Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me and that he is The Way, The Truth and The Life (John 14:6).
As a few of us kept working it through the other stayed very quiet. The debate was not heated but it was telling. There was no malice, just visible difference. It became obvious that we had parted company on Christianity and Jesus. We had taken different forks in the road and neither was wanting to go back to the junction.
Old youth group ties were somehow broken that night. The relationships and faith we once shared were no longer in unity. Confessing faith in Jesus as the only one from who real life, hope and love comes cost that night. It always does. At least that is what I hear Jesus saying this morning.
2 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.
I am thankful that Jesus never sugar coats the life he gives with false promises or expectations. It is best not to sugar coat things because if you do you can set people up to fail. The best sugar free advice I got was when I was considering a call to a place once. The president at the time painted this picture of what we would be involved in if we took the call – “You will be paddling up some wild and isolated Papua New Guinean river in a leaky canoe with one paddle!” We took that call. We could not resist!
Jesus is the fiery prophet here – no sweeteners in sight. We are allowed to sense him struggling with his own fate and the sever cost of it. He is like a Yr 12 student who has been building up for that final exam only to arrive in the last study week before the actual exam and be so restless – just wanting this thing be over!!
Jesus has quite an exam! He calls it a “baptism” or an “emersion” in God’s judgement and wrath for all human sin and evil. He knows that his obedience to his Father and the fulfilment of his mission to “draw all people to himself” will be painful and cost him dearly.
He says that he is “constrained” by this. In other translations the Greek word is translated “stressed”. Here is Jesus, the Son of God, stressed, struggling, impatient: So very human. So like you and me!
It must have been so tempting to give up his faith, his mission at times. It is quite tempting for us to do the same – avoiding the difference that is between us and our colleagues, friendship group or even own family that is just “there” because of a living faith and hope and mission of Jesus.
There are lots of ways of dealing with the “baptism” of difference.
Fire up and become quite judgemental as you take your impatience with sin and evil (nearly always seen in others more than yourself!) out on unsuspecting people who are just “not Christian enough” for you.
Blend into the crowd. Sit at that dinner table and not say a word. Sometimes that is the wise thing to do. Sometimes more is called for. Knowing when to “hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em and when to walk away and when to run” is never easy, as Kenny Rogers sung in that famous song, “The Gambler”.
Give up on Jesus’ claim to be THE way to life and hope and real love and settle for others people and things promising these things (but unable to deliver).
Which one do you seem to do?
Jesus is telling us that following him means being different, and that this will cost us – sometimes even in our closest relationships. We will not always “win friends and influence people” as we faithfully share our story of Jesus’ forgiveness and what that means for people. Jesus, in this text is like the doctor telling the patient that things will get worse with the treatment before they get better.
The writer to the Hebrews is so aware of this! He knows how it is to be different – to live according to a different way, to walk to a different rhythm and to share a concern and a connection of the heart with Jesus in a world that largely discounts his very existence.
As this writer speaks of the life of discipleship, being fully aware of the cost of such a life, he brings out the greatest of encouragement to his people and us.
What enables us to stay the course and remain true to our Savour and who he had created and called us to be in his world on our journey of life?
What helps us live our lives to the full in Jesus’ way – his way of deeper love, greater service to others, clear meaning and purpose, freedom from evil and darkness? The fellow traveller; the fellow believer – both living here and the living in Christ.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
If you have ever run a race or won an award or shared your impatience, your stress, your fears and doubt with a trusted friend you will relate to this magnificent picture he paints of that “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding the earth-bound disciple of Jesus – not looking on to judge or embarrass, but to encourage!
The difference between faithful following and falling away is God’s people. The things that will help you the most in your walk with the Lord is his people. The greatest gift of God we have, besides our very existence is the “mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren”, say the Lutheran confessors. In other words, to truly follow Jesus in our decisions, our conducting of ourselves in our work, our business dealings, our relationships, our search for our vocation, we have each other – the Body of Christ.
The church is not some club or only some mere organisation – it is an encouragement machine. It is a cosmic, global, seen and hidden encouragement machine. It is that better country for which we long and which we experience here and now.
Somehow I am not scared by the times we live in – where Christianity is constantly put down and the church bagged mercilessly. Maybe I should be. But when I hear Jesus telling me this is how it will be for the faithful follower, I get the fact that this Christian life will not be easy and there will be tension between even members of my own family because of faith in Jesus.
Not that we deliberately go around picking fights and being hard-nosed. No, we be truth- tellers and livers always in love and service to other in Jesus’ name. But because he does not sugar coat things, I am more ready for it, more aware and more able to trust him to see me through – more able to truly love, even in difference.
And then when I hear the writer to the Hebrews telling me that I am never alone – because I have you and all those who have gone before us in the faith and stayed the course who now whisper that encouragement that can only come from those who completed the race, received the crown of life and heard those beautiful words, “Well done good and faithful servant”, I find it hard to be scared.
Friends, we are on this journey of living out faith in Jesus in our homes, workplaces, local community and world TOGETHER. We are in this stressful, different, often difficult “baptism” of Jesus’ life in ours together and with those unseen guests who have made it and live to encourage us on.
We are “cloud connected” like your computer or phone being connected to an unseen network of people. We are not all alone but connected and in God’s kingdom – supported and loved.
So, people, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Focus on Jesus – practically. Talk about him. Read his word and hear his voice. Listen to his people a lot. Put his directions into practice for real and see what he teaches you rely on each other. Support each other. Lay aside anything which damages each other.
Even in our stress and difference. He will pioneer our new journey here and he will bring us to completion. Amen.
Share a high and low for your week.
Read the text – quite slowly and deliberately: Luke 12:49-56
What words/pictures come to your mind as your hear these words of Jesus read. Share these…
I said, “Jesus is like a Yr 12 student who has been building up for that final exam only to arrive in the last study week before the actual exam and be so restless – just wanting this thing be over!! Maybe we could say he like a person waiting for major surgery. You know that soon you will completely in the hands of others in a risky thing and you just find yourself wishing the day would come and the surgery would be completed!
How is living as a disciple of Jesus like this for you? Share one or two main concerns or stressors you are experiencing at the moment.
Ponder the times when you have felt that difference that faith in the Lord brings into some relationships – even in your own family and how you have found yourself responding to the difference of faith, or opinion or understanding. Did you fire up, blend in or give up – or all three!!? Share you stories…
The writer to the Hebrews reveals a wonderful truth – the truth that we not here struggling on our own as we face stress and concern because of our faith in Christ. We are surrounded by all those who have lived by faith in God’s grace and promises.
Read the text quite slowly and deliberately noting the images and words that trigger your imagination and thought: Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2
Share your thoughts on what you senses, heard, and/or felt as you heard this text….
We are part of not only a local church community, but also a global community and even a cosmic community of faith in God’s grace. I said, “The difference between faithful following and falling away is God’s people”.
How do you respond to this statement?
Share the top three ways in which being part of the church has helped you stay the course of living your faith in Christ.
Nowhere do we have a closer connection to the great cloud of faithful people who have finished the race with their eyes fixed on Jesus than in worship, and especially during Holy Communion. There we mysteriously join in the angels’ song – the Holy, Holy, that Isaiah and the Apostle John both got to hear (Isaiah 7 and Revelation 21). We echo the words of John the Baptist when he encountered Jesus at the Jordan and that that echo in heaven proclaiming Jesus to be “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 and Revelation 5:8). When we gather in the name of Jesus together we somehow cross the boundaries between heaven and earth and we are actually in the heavenly sanctuary, according to the writer to the Hebrews (see Hebrews chapter 9).Share your experiences of encouragement that comes from our worship and especially the Lord’s Supper…….
End with Hebrews 13:20
20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.