August 14, 2022

"Hard Words We Need to Hear

Rev. Scott Landis

Jeremiah 23:23-24 & Luke 12:49-56

You heard it right. It was Jesus who said, “I came to bring fire! I did NOT come to bring peace but division. Father against son. Mother against daughter. Mother-in-law against daughter-in-law.” This doesn’t sound like the Jesus I normally preach nor the one I thought I knew. But it’s right there. Read the book. There is no denying the words, but what do they say to us? How do we receive those ‘hard words?’ Those of us who claim to follow Jesus. What do these words mean? Those of us who claim to be the church in our day.

It's much more fun to read the passages where Jesus gathers the little children around him. Or when he heals the sick, comforts those who are mourning, or even preaches a new way of living – to love God and neighbor as we love ourselves. But the Jesus in Luke 12 is disturbing. He rattles our cages and certainly gets our attention – and isn’t that precisely the point?

How easy it is for us to come to church these days expecting we will sing songs we love, see people we genuinely care about, hear a sermon we will agree with, and enjoy a time of fellowship afterwards – OR perhaps better yet just click on our computers and enjoy the whole thing from in the comfort of our easy chair at home. There’s nothing wrong with any of that – particularly the part about agreeing with my sermon – but it’s not the whole story. And every now and then we need to be reminded of just exactly what it means to follow Jesus. Sometimes we have to hear hard words from the man who was passionate about his message — so much so he was willing to die for it. [Pause]

The message is not new. We heard similar words before. We just need to back up a few years – approximately 30 to be exact – to the prenatal Jesus. You may remember Mary’s song of praise – the one she sang after she got over the shock of being pregnant out of wedlock. It has been called The Magnificat. Remember her words? “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. But then she comes in for the punch.

Mary goes on to prophesy a scathing critique based on the power of God that will soon be incarnate in the child she now bears. She declares that the proud will be scattered, the powerful brought down, the lowly lifted up, the hungry fed with good things, and the rich would be sent away empty. [Pause]

There is no doubt - Jesus’ mission was certainly one of healing mercy. His primary focus was always upon the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the voiceless, those with no power. On the other hand, he offered words of warning and stern critique upon those in power – or at least those who thought they were in complete control, and who abused all the ones I just mentioned. He clearly spoke out against the self-made, self-righteous, self-important rulers of the day. It’s easy to comprehend Jesus’ message to those two extremes because he was very clear.

But this message today — in Luke 12, I think, is for those of us in the middle. We who probably don’t have a lot of power, or a lot of money. We may not even have a large audience listening to us. But we are also NOT without voice, we have bank accounts, and we have agency. In short – we are the privileged and it’s probably why the message may be just a little more grating to our ears.

Again, it’s not that what we HAVE is wrong or evil in and of itself. Rather, it’s what we are DOING with what we have, how we are LIVING our lives – which is motivated by the condition of our hearts. [Pause]

When Jesus says he has come to bring fire – it is not his desire to destroy us or the world in which we live by incineration. Rather, he has come to “light a fire” under us. To refine us. To burn away that which is inhibiting our ability to give him our full attention. Our total commitment.

And the division he speaks of is not really between us and the other. But to get us to do some deep introspection. To become keenly aware of our inner struggle (our inner divisions) and ask ourselves, “Just how committed AM I to Jesus and to following him – fully aware of the “cost and joy of discipleship.” [Pause]

The other morning, I was getting ready to go out paddling at the canoe club. Now, try as I might to maintain some level of anonymity, I have been discovered – even there – as a Christian minister. Maui is, indeed, a very small island. Someone, whom I did not know, came running up to me moments before we headed out and said, “You’re a minister, right?”

I have to admit, that’s always a loaded question which leaves me wondering what I am getting into as I answer in the affirmative. But even before I could respond, he shouted out with lots of pride, “I’m a Christian.” And then, before I could possibly respond he repeated, “I’m a Christian.”

I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to congratulate him or what. So, I said, “Uhhh, what does that mean to you?” I thought it a rather benign question and I was honestly interested in his response, but he looked at me as if I was from another planet. And then walked away. Fortunately, not getting into my canoe. [Pause]

While this was a rather strange encounter, his enthusiasm and declaration reignited a question I often ponder. What does my commitment to Jesus really mean – to me? I claim to be a Christian also. It is the faith into which I was baptized, confirmed, ordained, and called to serve. But what does it mean to follow Jesus?

As I thought about it the fire under my feet just got a little hotter – the division in my gut - that inner struggle, just got a bit more intense and real.

It’s a question we all need to think about if this entire enterprise we call Christian faith will make any difference to anyone – including ourselves.

You see, I think it is one thing to say “I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savor” – if that language even resonates with you. Or put differently, it’s one thing to say, “I am a Christian.” But is a different matter entirely to live our lives as if that commitment has any bearing on us and those around us. [Pause]

In so many ways the Christian church has become so enmeshed in contemporary culture that it may be difficult to distinguish us as anything more than another nice social organization when what Jesus was calling for was so much more. I believe that is why he was so passionate and used such inflammatory (pun intended) language to get the crowd’s attention. His very life depended on it!

We live in a time when there are far more folks who wonder why we are here on Sunday morning (or other times during the week) than they wonder why they are not. We live in a time when we not only hear Jesus’ accusation of hypocrisy directed toward “those other folks,” but – if we are honest – we have even thought the same about ourselves.

If that rings true for you – congratulations – you’ve just taken the first step toward authenticity — transformation – real salvation.

You see, we cannot follow Jesus until we recognize the hypocrisy in our own lives, repent of own sinful ways, and truly seek a path of righteousness - for Christ’s sake. [Pause]

I really like the way Jesus ended his hard words we need to hear. He reminded those who continued to listen – and I imagine there were quite a few who by this point had enough and got up and left. He asked them to take a good look around.

“When you see a cloud rising in the west – you know it’s going to rain – and it happens. “When you see the south wind blowing – you know it’s going to be a scorcher – and it happens.

“You KNOW how to interpret what’s going on out there. [point outward] “How can you NOT know” or better translated, “How can you possibly ignore what’s going on in here.” [point to chest]

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ demands much of us. In fact, it demands everything. It is not just holding hands, smiling as we sing and sway to “Kumbyah.” It also requires not only hearing but adhering to hard words as we give our lives to the one who was willing to give his that we might truly live. [Pause]

In just a few minutes during our time of offering Danette will play a beautiful song the tune of which you will likely recognize. It reminds us of our commitment to this Jesus who wants our full attention. I invite you to ponder the lyrics printed in your bulletin as she plays the song and consider what is going on – in here [point to chest].

All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live. I surrender all, I surrender all, All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.

May it be so. Amen.

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