Friends, we’ve got trouble. Yup, we got trouble right here in River City. Today’s Scripture is trouble! If we were to host the Lake Harriett band shell this Sunday, we would do well to select other passages from the Word of God…
“I’ve come to bring fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.”
“Do you think I have come to bring peace? No, I have come to bring division.”
Jesus calls his companions, “Hypocrites.”
Not the sort of warm, welcoming words we would want for a summer morning at the band shell! But, wait, are they any easier for us to hear this morning within the friendly familiarity of our pews? Not one bit… maybe that’s just the point!
Gotta admit, Jesus’ description of divisions within a family certainly struck home. There was plenty of turmoil growing up in my family and I presume the same in yours. There’s a lot that wasn’t fair. Then we live a few more years and discover there’s a lot in life that isn’t fair. What’s that all about!?!
Being the youngest, one of my constant complaints was “Chuck and Karen get to! Why can’t I?” That memory returned when praying with these Scriptures… Remember the brothers, James and John? Just three chapters earlier Jesus rebukes them when they ask Jesus, “Do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy the Samaritan villagers that didn’t welcome them?” (Luke 9:52-56)
So, why does Jesus get to do it and they can’t!?! He gets by with: “I’ve come to bring fire and division to the earth!” and then two of his most intimate companions get harshly rebuked when they propose the same? Not fair!
Seems when we first come to hear the Gospels and try to follow Christ there can be a certain clarity, passion, eagerness, and pleasure – not unlike first love. Then something happens. We feel the pinch. Not only is it not all about ME, some of our needs get set aside for the sake of the whole. Demands are made upon us. It’s time to grow-up!
Yes, these are hard words to hear! They are even more challenging to live! It’s easy to cop out! …easy to compromise!
So where is our HOPE? What is the GOOD NEWS? What is the GOSPEL TRUTH not just to be preached, but to be lived? Yes, it’s right there in our text…
“I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!
Jesus is on a mission. It will be hard and cost everything he can muster. He passionately desires to show us the ultimate cost of love.
James and John were all about fire that judges, condemns and consumes. Jesus is about the transformative fire of God’s love which cleanses, confirms, strengthens and raises up. Jesus is not about to pussy-foot around with cheap piety when he’s about to pay the ultimate price of love.
Such love – if it’s the real-deal and “Gospel Truth” – will set us at odds with “Family”, certainly with familiar societal norms and many cultural values – religion’s “costume jewelry” we all don so readily when we cop out or succumb to narrow self-interest. Will we pay the price? Are we at least willing to keep trying? That’s why we keep coming back here, …again, …and again, …and again.
Many of us grew up in a church that pretended to have it all together and to have all the answers. And, actually, that’s okay for “growing up.” It’s a necessary and appropriate stage of faith development. But most of us here are not children! Maturity, real Christian maturity frees us to say, “We don’t have it all figured out! But, we keep coming here — because we need each other! We get nourished here — to keep on keepin’ on!”
So, what about the children among us? How do we pass on the spiritual wisdom and maturity we have inherited? This week we welcome Shane Sanders Marcus to assume leadership of our programs from children and youth, understanding that ministry to include families. Beyond a warm St John’s welcome, we must also assure him that we’ll always have his back and will make ourselves available to assist with this vital ministry.
You may know Shane Claiborne… now 41, one of the wise old elders of the New Monasticism movement that sprang up a couple decades ago first among young Evangelicals. Here’s what he recently had to say to Krista Tippett on Public Radio:
“I’m convinced that if the Christian church looses the current generation, it will be not because we didn’t entertain them, but because we didn’t dare them with the truth of the world. It won’t be because we’d made the Gospel too hard, but because we made it too easy, and we just played games with kids and didn’t actually challenge them about how they live.”
Today, our Scripture is not entertaining, nor easy. Jesus’ admonition is hard and challenging. The baptized are to bring fire to the earth! Not some wimpy tongue of flame hovering over our heads as on Pentecost. Not some cheap “costume jewelry” of religiosity tempered by social acceptability. No, Jesus wants us ablaze! God will not stop challenging, transforming, loving and “kindling” us until God’s good purpose is complete.
That’s why we are here and keep coming back – because there IS a whole lot of trouble in River City. And we can’t “go it” alone. We come to be together, to be nourished, to be confirmed in whom — and whose — we are at our best.
We keeping coming back because love is hard. The peace of Christ does not come cheap.
When we come to this table we recognize and affirm that it is our bodies, too, that are broken in love; our blood, too, poured forth for the lives of others.
Recognizing this in the Breaking of the Bread …again, …and again: And, this is as it should be!