Sermon From August 18th 2013 / “Division and Fire”
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / August 18th / Proper 15 in the Season of Pentecost, Luke 12:49-56
“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
[Jesus] also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
(Luke 12:49-56 ESV)
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. We all like the Bible when it says what we want to hear. We all like Jesus when He says what we want to hear. When what is being said is not all that difficult, when what is said is acceptable in the society and amongst mixed company, when family and friends of all sorts can get behind the Christian faith even when they themselves don't share that faith. But what happens when what the Bible says goes against the grain, when what Jesus says is hard and difficult? What happens when people are divided over Jesus and what He says? Do we turn away, saying, 'O Jesus, that's a hard saying who can follow it?' or do we trust, do we keep the faith, do we stand in the midst of the fire that falls around us. Do you take the heat of unpopularity, or heaven forbid do you accept the reality that conforming to the Word of God and standing on the name of Jesus may cause personal hardship, persecution or in some cases may even result in the death of your body on the altar of public opinion or at the very real tip of the sword of your enemies.
Your Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt are experiencing persecution, churches are being set on fire, Christian businesses are being attached and set on fire. Coptic Christians are being kidnapped, beaten, raped, beheaded, the Coptic Pope is in hiding following death threats. Numbers of the martyred dead range from a conservative 200 up to an estimated number of 2,000. Egypt is exploding with persecution against those baptized into the name of Jesus. Not just in Egypt. Christians face death because they trust in Jesus all around the world. Over their martyred bodies the familiar words are prayed "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust."
It is as dangerous today as it ever has been to be a Christian and what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke today will ring very different in the ears of an Egyptian Christian cleaning up the brunt shell of his church, arranging funerals for his martyred fellow Christians than it will sound in your ears this morning, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?" Jesus says, "No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
When Jesus said these words there were as yet no Muslims in the world and many of the ideologies that currently feel free to persecute Christians had different names and different goals. Jesus however doesn't say these words only for the people of that day, He also doesn't say them only for Christians in Egypt, or Syria or North Korea or the Sudan, Jesus says them for you today.
There was this song that was very popular for years and I actually haven't heard it sung for a very long time; you might remember sitting around the camp fire singing it: "It only takes a spark, to get a fire going. And soon all those around, can warm up to its glowing. That's how it is with God's love, once you've experienced it, it's fresh like spring, you want to sing, you want to pass it on." Is this the fire Jesus is talking about? Is this the spark?
The fire Jesus came to cast upon the earth, the spark that get's this fire going is His crucifixion. His death upon the cross, that baptism, in His very own blood for the forgiveness of your sins, is the love of God for you. It is also the wildfire that burns bright in the darkness of the world. Every Christian baptised into Jesus is baptized into His crucifixion and resurrection.
From the kindled fire of the cross to the waters of your baptism the Light sent by the Father comes to you, Jesus comes to you, He is your Light and your life. In Baptism His light burns in you. Fire produces light in the darkness and as Christians “You are the light of the world." For this reason the Christian that lights up the darkness with the Light of Christ Jesus, will suffer for it, for the world rails against Jesus and His cross and passion but take heart for what Saint John says is true; "The Light [who is Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." The darkness will not overcome you in Christ Jesus.
Jesus says "A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." The kindled fire of His crucifixion is proclaimed in the world by your thoughts, words and deeds. Not everyone likes this and that is why John writes in His Gospel these sobering words, "the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
And here we are. We all like the Bible when it says what we want to hear. We all like Jesus when He says what we want to hear. But what happens when what the Bible says goes against the grain, when what Jesus says is hard and difficult, and people become divided over what Jesus says? This is the place where shining the light of the fire Jesus came to cast upon the earth is so important, because the cross of Christ will, in its shining, be either a stumbling block, foolishness, or it will plainly be "the power of God." When that light shines in you some will want to remove you, seeing you as a stumbling block, they may even kill you to remove you; others will see you as a fool and pity you as feeble minded; yet other will not be divided against you as the two sinners crucified with Christ were divided; no, not all will be divided against you, in Christ you will have a family, they will become your brother, your sister, your mother in the faith, your father in the faith. Because you are divided with some people in your life does not mean you will be left without family, in Christ.
"Lo though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." Look down into that dark valley and you will see a man running on ahead of you. And when you look you will see Him carrying His Rod and His staff, a cross over His shoulders. In the midst of the shadow of death He bears a light, no wait, look again He is the light. And like a man running a race looks with earnest desire for the finish line Jesus looks forward to the cross where the wild fire of the church on earth will be ignited, His finishing line, the place where His race is won finds no wreath of flowers no polished silver cup, what awaits Him is a crown of thorns and no crown of laurel leaves, what awaits Him is the cup of God's wrath, no refreshments, what awaits Him is your sin. Knowing that the cross waits His arrival in Jerusalem, knowing that this all awaits Him Jesus says, "great is my distress until it is accomplished." - "great is my distress until [the baptism of the crucifixion] is accomplished." Such is His love for you, that He runs the course through the valley of the shadow of death, preparing your way, that He may be with you as His heavenly Father was with Him. Jesus' burning desire is to come for sinners like the two criminals hung on His left hand and on His right, to come to sinners like you and me to redeem them, to give them mercy and forgiveness. As He looks out in today's Gospel reading He says, "would that it were already kindled," That the fire of the cross would already have come.
Because Jesus displayed true trust, and total faith, because He was willing and able to endure the fire of that coming cross, you can seek forgiveness in Him for the times you have lacked trust, for the times you have abused the gift of faith that you've been given, for all the times your thoughts, words and deeds have failed to proclaim the Light of Christ Jesus in you. Take heart, you are not the one who lights your own fire, the Holy Spirit does this; You are not the one who adds yourself to the company of the saints in light, Jesus does this at His crucifixion; and despite what the world thinks you are not the one who joins the family of Christians in a Church, God the Father is the one who makes you an heir to the Kingdome of God with Christ Jesus and calls you His Children in Christ Jesus.
This, dear Christian, is the abundant life; that you and I are counted with those who are united in Christ, that you and I are counted with Abraham and Isaac, with Jacob and Joseph, with Moses and Rahab the prostitute with all these sinners forgiven by Jesus, with all the forgiven sinners who are "so great a cloud of witnesses." Surrounded by these saints, united in Jesus, you are now free to, "lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely," so that you can "run with endurance the race that is set before [you]" regardless of the obstacles before you, knowing that Christ has run it, that He is the Light before you as you run, and the Light in you as you run. That His light is the cross on Calvary and that no matter how divided the world may be against you and against the Word of God in Christ Jesus, in Him you are united, the Body of Christ in the face of persecution, in the face of martyrdom, in the face of death and darkness. All creation may seem divided against us, yet remember, nothing not trouble, not persecution, not torture, or pain, or sickness or illness of any kind "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 John 6:60
 Mark 10:38-40
 Luke 23:33
 Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
 Psalm 116:15
 Luke 23:43
 Luke 10:16
 John 1:5
 Matthew 5:14-16
 John 3:19-21
 1 Corinthians 1:18
 Psalm 23:4
 Mark 15:17
 Luke 22:41-44
 Hebrews 12:1
 Romans 8:39