Luke 12: 49 – 56_Divisive, Not Domesticated _August 18, 2019

Divisive, Not Domesticated

Luke 12: 49 – 56


(preached on August 18, 2019)


Sometimes Jesus says things that are hard for us to hear.  Today’s gospel passage from Luke is a good example.  “I’ve come to start a fire on this earth,” he exclaims, “and how I wish it were blazing right now!”  Whoa – is this the gentle Jesus you and I came to know in Sunday School?  Definitely not, but, as one of my professors in seminary used to say, “This is your Jesus talking.”  This is the same Jesus who so often speaks of God’s love, the same Jesus who welcomes children, the same Jesus who invites all of us to come to him and find rest for our souls.  This is not a warm and fuzzy Jesus, though.  This is a fire-starting Jesus, a Jesus who urges us to take a hard look at ourselves and change our lives.


This Jesus says, “I’ve come to start a fire on this earth.”  Over the past few years, some parts of our country have suffered great destruction from fires.  Those fires have been devastating, destroying homes and whole communities.  What I’m about to say is in no way intended to gloss over their pain of those communities, or make light of their losses.  Fires can cause terrible devastation.  But, although it may sound strange, fires can also be the spark for a new creation.


For example, consider the creative possibilities of fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Glacier National Park.  The Wilderness is a spectacular place of rushing streams and majestic mountains.  For decades, backpackers have hiked there, looking for elk, grizzlies, and golden eagles.  The mountains are covered with Lodgepole Pine trees.  The Lodgepole Pine is a tough, hardy tree.  The cones of the Lodgepole Pine are so thick, that it takes extreme heat to make the seeds burst out of the cones.  For millions of years, lightning strikes in the forest would cause forest fires and those fires would help renew the growth in the forest.  For years, the United States Forest Service fought furiously to put out these fires.  But recently they’ve changed their policy.  They’ve adopted a policy of managed fires.


The Forest Service has discovered that these fires have a purpose.  Without them, the seeds of the Lodgepole Pines are not released.  Without the fires, a lot of the underbrush and plant life cannot generate.  Strange as it may sound, the forest needs a fire from time to time, so that new life can sprout and grow.  Fire can serve a creative purpose.


Jesus may have this creative purpose in mind when he says, “I’ve come to start a fire on the earth!”  He might well be saying that the fire will blaze with new life, fire that will ignite our hearts and minds with the message of God’s Kingdom.


Jesus goes on, “Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice?  Not so.  I’ve come to disrupt and confront!  … [I’ve come to set] father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother.”  This can be hard to hear.  You and I might wonder, is he asking us to cut ourselves off from our families?


Jesus knew very well that sacrifices would be required of those who chose to follow him.  He knew very well that they might be cutting themselves off from the people they held most dear.  Jesus himself, at a young age, had confronted a choice between faith and family.


Earlier in his gospel, Luke tells about Jesus’ trip at the age of twelve, to Jerusalem with his family.  They have traveled to the holy city for the feast of the Passover.  But after the festivities, Jesus gives his parents the slip and stays in the temple, talking to the teachers.  Finally, after three long days of desperate searching, his parents find him.  “What were you thinking?” they ask.  “We’ve been out of our minds with worry.”  But Jesus makes no apologies.  He simply says he has to be in his Father’s house (Luke 2: 41 – 52).  He’s barely a teenager, but already Jesus is declaring his independence from his family.  Already he’s making the Kingdom of God the top priority in his life.


This is not a warm and fuzzy Jesus; this is a Jesus of challenge, a Jesus of confrontation.  This is a Jesus who wants to ignite a flame, to blaze new life into our lives.  This is a Jesus who asks us to make a choice.  The choice may cause division between us and members of our families.  It may put us at odds with the people we used to be comfortable with.  It may cut us off from people whose acceptance is important to us.


It might happen at a party, when someone makes a comment or tells a joke that demeans people of another race.  It might happen at work, when someone makes fun of gay and lesbian people.  It might happen at home, when a sister says she’s joining a club that excludes people of other religions.  And we have to choose: do we smile and shrug and say “Whatever”? Or do we share the message of God’s Kingdom, where all are welcomed as children of God?


Today you and I are blessed to live in a country where we enjoy religious freedom.  It’s rare for a person in the United States to be put in prison for practicing their religion.  Most of us move in circles where religion is discussed quietly if it’s discussed at all.  We generally don’t confront each other on matters of faith.  But if we take Jesus at his word here, we can expect that there will be times when we’ll have to take a stand for our faith.  Even when it cuts us off from family, when it cuts us off from friends.  Even when it cuts us off from what is familiar to us.


Priscilla Durkin writes, “Some of us come from families where unconditional love and forgiveness are part of everyday life.  Some of us come from families that are so important to us that we almost worship them.  I think Jesus is saying to these families, that maybe we need some accountability – that maybe we value family so much that we fail to [recognize] some parts of family life that need to change.  We can’t avoid conflict, even in families that are supportive, if we are open to the message of Jesus.”


Jesus comes to bring us peace, but the peace he brings isn’t a feel-good all the time, comfortable peace.  It isn’t peace as the world defines it; it’s peace as God defines it. It’s not a peace that pretends everything’s fine.  It’s not a peace that’s the absence of conflict.  It’s a peace that is the presence of God’s justice, and the presence of God’s righteousness.  It’s a peace that glows with the life-giving fire of God’s Kingdom.


The 20th century Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book for children, called The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  The book is the first in a series called The Chronicles of Narnia.  It conveys the message of God’s saving love in a beautifully crafted fantasy tale.  In the book Jesus is represented by a lion named Aslan.  The four children who are the main characters of the story are introduced to Aslan by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.  The children are not at all sure they want to meet Aslan, but Mr. Beaver reassures them.  He says:


“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more…

You’ll understand when you see him.”

“But shall we see him?” asked Susan.

“Why…that’s what I brought you here for…to lead you to where you shall meet him,” said Mr. Beaver.

“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!”  said Mr. Beaver sternly.  “Certainly not.  I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea.  Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts?  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.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If anyone can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” asked Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver.  “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”


Sometimes I think that you and I, with our gentle Jesus, our meek and mild Jesus, tend to domesticate Jesus.  We try to make him too much like our idea of what a Savior should be.  But if we take Jesus at his word here, we see that he won’t be domesticated.  He isn’t safe, in the way that we’re used to thinking of safety.  His word can be divisive at times, setting us apart from what’s familiar, cutting us off from family and friends.


The Kingdom Jesus invites us to, God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness, can be divisive at times.  Just ask the wealthy businessman who gives his life to Christ and now has to divide his bank account to share with those in need.  Just ask the addict in recovery, who has to cut himself off from a lifestyle that is familiar but also deadly.  Just ask the teacher who has to confront the parents of a girl in her classroom, because she knows they’ve been abusing her.  The teacher knows the painful division that will happen in that household as a result of her report.


The Kingdom brings new life, but not easy life.  The Kingdom brings peace, but not a feel-good-all-the-time, comfortable peace.  It isn’t a peace that pretends everything’s fine.  It isn’t peace as the world defines it.  It’s peace as God defines it.  The peace of the Kingdom is not the absence of conflict.  It’s the presence of God’s justice, and the presence of God’s righteousness: a peace that glows with the life giving fire of God’s Kingdom.




Rev. Elva Merry Pawle