August 14, 2022
Divine Endorse Arson
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The ending of Luke 12, which we read today, deals with the topic of eschatology. Now what is eschatology? Do you all remember the song by the Cavilers and then covered by Pearl Jam called Last Kiss?
Well, where oh where can my baby be?
The Lord took her away from me.
She's gone to heaven, so I got to be good,
So I can see my baby when I leave this world.
This song is dealing with the topic, eschatology. Granted, it is horrible, very un-lutheran eschatology, but Eschatology none the less. For one thing, we don’t believe that the Lord takes people from us. God doesn’t destine you to die a certain way. And we believe that baptism is the sole requirement to enter heaven, not being good here on earth. Eschatology deals with the end of time (which is called the Eschaton). Now, we do have a book in the Bible that is solely dedicated to the eschaton, but that doesn’t mean that other NT books are void of the subject.
Jesus, through the author of Luke, is doing two things in this passage: maintaining discipleship through division and (2) the interpretation of signs. I have to say though, this is not one of those popular passages from Jesus that everyone has tattooed on their arms, have t-shirts made. Nobody puts Luke 12:49 in their church’s mission’s statement: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” That is not exactly an attractive phrase to bring people to the faith. “Hey, do you want to come to a place where we will light you on fire?”
I was curious how I approached this text in years past. Maybe “borrow some ideas.” The two times I have preached this text before where before Covid. I said things like some conflict can be good for an organization. That sometimes division happens for good reasons. Yeah, I said all that before all this covid stuff happened. For the last 2 1/2 years, I have had to make lose, lose decisions. I have had people say to me, “You required us to wear mask so, I am never coming back to your church.” As well as people who have said, “You allow people to not wear masks so, I am never going to come back to church.” There are days when it feels like I can do nothing right anymore. And I know that this has always been the case, but it just feels different these days. I don’t know if this is all the inevitable and this pandemic just sped up the dissatisfaction or if there is something else going on but I, for one, am tired of conflict. I am tired of being at odds with my family, with my friends, with the people I have been called by God to serve. I am tired of conflict and I have at times wondered if the way I feel now is always going to be the way I feel, because if that is the case, well…this even worth it?
And I know I am not the only one who feels this way. Look around and you will notice that there are a lot of missing faces, but it isn’t just here. Many people have completely disengaged from church communities around the country. This is a nationwide trend, but to be honest, the pandemic only sped it up this trend. We have seen a lot of people disconnect from church communities over the past 40 years. 10 years ago we were talking about how people rather go to a sports practice on Sunday morning than church. Now, you can say that this family has their priorities backwards and blame them, or we can turn the discussion around and ask why they would choose sports over church? Is sports giving their family something that church is unable or unwilling to supply? Have we scared people away? Has the word of God scared people away?
To be honest, I think the answer to both of these questions is yes. There are multiple times in Jesus ministry where people turned away because Jesus was a bit to radical. I think we also have not done that great of a job of showing people why the church matters, instead we expect people to come and support what we are doing but give them no voice in the organization’s decision-making. I mean, to be really blunt and honest, I think a lot of people view the church as only caring about their money and not about their soul. And while I know that is not the case and you know that is not the case, we do care more about them than what is in their pockets, sometimes our language and our actions do not always convey what really matters—I.e. you.
This passage seems to affirm precisely the wrong tendencies in human communities—when you get a bunch of humans together, it is only a matter of time before divisions and conflict occur and appear. And yet, I also reminded that the beginning of this very gospel, the angels make a promise to the shepherds: Glory to God in the Highest and peace to God’s people here on earth. What happened? Did the angel’s lie or mislead us? Did the God lie to us? Was God’s word lost in translation by the messengers, the angels themselves? Did they play a game of telephone?
Perhaps you could make that argument for either of those scenarios but going back and looking at the entire nativity narrative, “the specter of division has always been present in Luke… Mary’s Magnificat speaks of division—dividing the powerful from the lowly (Luke 1:46-56), pointing to God’s just sorting of power and privilege as a manifestation of faithfulness. Simeon describes Jesus as a sign that will be “spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).”
Raymond Brown in his commentary on the infancy narrative goes so far to say that in Simeon’s prophecy when he promises a sword will pierce the heart of Mary, that it might not be referring to seeing her son murdered by the Romans. Rather, the piercing of Mary’s heart points to the judgment that Mary will undergo in struggling to respond faithfully to God’s Word. Jesus will be a sign that divides one’s motives and inclinations like a sword, requiring a piercing spiritual discernment.” While I don’t completely agree with Brown’s interpretation, his argument is rather compelling and really got me thinking. Perhaps Luke is picking up on the conflict that could have existed even in Jesus’ own family. His words were and still remain radical. I can’t imagine the thanksgiving meals at Jesus’ home were always so light-hearted. In Luke 8, when When Mary and Jesus’ brothers are rebuffed by Jesus’ redefinition of family as “those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:19-21), the cost of this discernment becomes plain. Even the hallowed category of “family” is rearranged in light of God’s larger covenantal priorities.
So, “the challenge, is of course, the pastoral application of a passage that could be used for all manner of self-justification. Fiery baptisms have been invoked to sanctify war and cruelty. Jesus’ description of family division has been co-opted to rationalize denominational schisms and excommunications that deny the labor of love. There is division that serves the gospel of peace, and there is division born of stubborn pride. How does one discern the difference?
Or how many times has “unity” become a synonym for complacency and the avoidance of “division” used to hold together a broken system that probably just needs to be broken in order to be repaired? Jesus came to light the world on fire, yet how many times have we demanded, “Forget Jesus! You either do it my way or I am leaving.” How easily we forget that the gospel was always meant to comfort the the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Sometimes, we can’t fix what is broken. Sometimes we have a Humpty Dumpty situation and we can’t put back the broken pieces. The church does need to, at times, take a stand, and I hope that when the church speaks that the church stands on the side of Jesus. However, Christianity’s history has not always shown that to be the case so, I hope that in all we do, we first and foremost continue to pray for the church here on earth. Pray that the church might always stand on the side of the gospel, the side of Jesus, the side of the cross. Pray for the Holy Spirit to enable us to act in this way. Because left to our own devices, we will always divide ourselves for the bad and create conflict that harms that does not repair. May we be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love like our God. May we have grace for each other, but may we never be complacent in our ministry and work here on hearth. May we be so bold to stand up like Jesus and err on the side of the outcast: the last, the lost, the least likely people. And when division and conflict occur, may we be gracious and kind to each other.
But may we also trust that very last part of our gospel lesson. That part of the story that deals with eschatology/the eschaton. May we also have the trust and faith that on the last day when we take our final, fleeting breath here on earth and sleep take that eternal rest, may we trust that God will put back together all that is broken, heal all that unhealed, and wake us up from that rest on that new and most glorious morning and bring us into God’s heavenly kingdom where we will forever live in the holy presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.