Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Luke 12:49-56

In the days of transportation by stage coach, sometimes on a steep mountain road, the driver would stop to let the horses rest.  Then he would tell his passengers,“Everybody out.  Those that want to help, get out and push.  Those that don’t want to push, get out of the way.”  That’s harsh reality.

Are you with Jesus? God did not send himself to the world in the person of Jesus Christ so that some of his followers can ride while others get out and push.  God came to the world in the form of a servant and in the world’s most amazing servitude, he gave himself up to the cross – where he conquered death and rose victorius. Would anyone be moved to follow Jesus Christ if he had given only general directions and vague suggestions before retreatuing to heaven?

We live in an era of getting cozy with God, when some religious teachers say the individual experience of “me and Jesus” is what matters. In that setting, what I call rock music is used to energize and entertain the assembly and gospel preaching is turned into pop psychology for a feel-good mentality. Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!   “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!”  Is that entertaining?

Certainly Jesus was not suggesting that a son use a sword on his father or a daughter throw a hand grenade at her mother. He did not come to incite mass slaughter and destruction.

Jesus called for the kind of purity that condemns even a lustful look; yet he was a friend to a prostitute and to many a moral leper.

He saw his mission as so demanding, so insistent, so compelling, that a real division will be made between those who are faithful to his mission and those who turn away.

Jesus is saying that loyalty to him cuts across every other circle, whether social or cultural or business. But can his way of life be put into practice?

If you stand for truth in an enterprise that depends on deception to make a profit, you’ll soon be shuffled out. If you take up the burden of the poor and second-class, you may be called Marxist, or a trouble maker or liberal or whatever suits the political intention of your critics.  If you drop out and give up trying to make it in the world, your friends and family will think you’ve gone off the deep end. What, then to make of Jesus’ statements?

That is, he issues a call for loyalty that transcends every other allegiance, and rather than face the issue squarely, we often pretend not to hear him. The result is that we too often adopt a conventional association with Christianity best described as a mild religion.

If our religion makes no particular demands, if we think only a minimum standard of performance is required, and if we think of the whole God business as a private affair, then we have adopted the platform for a mild religion.

In the seventeenth century a group of Quakers left London to sail to America. But within a day and still in sight of land they had to put ashore on the south coast of England before sailing on. While they waited for repairs, they worked among the village people, sharing the fire of their faith.

When their journey resumed, the ship’s captain wrote of them, “They gathered sticks and kindled a fire, and left it burning.”

The question for our witness in the world is whether we are kindling a fire that shall burn after we are gone. Jesus says in this passage from Luke that anyone who seriously follows him is likely to be misunderstood, opposed, persecuted, and he or she may discover that even family members are turned off.

How shall we pass on the faith to our children so that they too will give a faithful witness? It is an awesome responsibility to pass the faith to coming generations so that our children will follow, as the hymn puts it, in the faith of our fathers.

There is a compelling verse in Psalm 78 in the New Jerusalem translation of the Bible. It reads:

“What we have heard and known for ourselves,

And what our ancestors have told us,

Must not be withheld from their descendants,

But be handed on by us to the next generation.”

Certainly if we ask any group of parents, all would agree that they want their children to have high standards of discipleship and obedience to The Way.  Each of us in whom faith is alive is indebted to parents, grandparent, teacher, pastor, church leader or friend for support or example, for having kindled a fire and left it burning.   When a new congregation is being organized, enthusiasm runs high.  People are looking for a dream to come true.

There are tasks enough for every talent, for all the energies. Whether a land to be cleared, or classes to be taught, visits to be made and committees whose work must be done, there are enough personal resources to meet the challenge. In each case, something of the individual’s personal choice is set aside in favor of the group’s goal, so the fire started can keep on burning.

Every congregation is the story of a large number of people willing to be inconvenienced, willing to sacrifice themselves,  willing to go a second mile time after time in favor of the group effort.  But things can go wrong.  Early enthusiasm may disappear.  What once appeared to be an opportunity comes to be viewed as a drudge.  Once, several people would have signed up for difficult tasks.  Sadly in some cases, few can be found to accept responsibility and get things done.  In contrast, the church in the first century believed its mission was to convert the world.

In more ways than we like to admit, the world has so changed our ideas about the faith that the chief necessity for a congregation may become the re-conversion of its own members, while there is generally no hope of lapsed members returning to fellowship. Thus, persons who should be part of the solution become part of the problem.

One of the congregations I served many years ago had so many problems that I wished there were some way I could draw a line in the sand. I wanted to burn and bury all the grievances and arguments that were remembered from 50 years back, and say, “If you want to start over and be a soldier of the cross, step over the line,  and if not, please go somewhere else to tell your old worn out stories of disagreements and difficulties.”  I wanted them to remember the stagecoach driver.

“Get out and push, or get out of the way.” By way of contrast, the highest benchmark of self-sacrifice is the cross.  That is, ordinary vision would stand at the foot of the cross and say, “This is the end.”  The eyes of faith take in that scene and say, “This is the beginning.”

If we have been content with mild religion instead of the fiery baptism that Jesus brought upon the earth, then it is we who deserve no peace. In all of the various  aspects of the church, there is nothing sadder than the spectacle of Christians who have lost their fire.  If we believe Jesus Christ is our savior, our guide, our model, our pacesetter, we have to ask, “have we caught his fire?”

It was to emphasize the strictness of his call, that Jesus used the exaggerated examples of people in the same family who are divided against each other. It is not the purpose of Christ or his followers to set fathers against sons or mothers against daughters.  It is the purpose of Christ and his followers to disconnect and disrupt all self-investments and self-serving decisions, whatever they may be, and to challenge us to take up our own cross

In return, we can offer our Merciful Father our joy with thanksgiving for what he has first given us, our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of his gracious love.

In just such ways, we shall start a fire.

When we are gone, it will be left burning.

 

May Christ live in each of us. Amen.