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Kindling - Sermon on Luke 12:49-56

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Jesus came to bring fire to the earth. Is it kindled already? What does it mean to do the work of God in a society that rejects the work of Christ, even as it proclaims itself Christian?   (NOTE: I was on vacation the previous Sunday, so there is not a sermon)

This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

August 14 - 13th Sunday after Pentecost

"Kindling".  Text is from Luke 12:49-56

Click here for sermon audio 


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

Jesus came to bring fire to the earth, and how he wishes the fire were already kindled. 

The gospel we just read is one of the ones that we have to sit down and really think about because it has somewhat troubling imagery and it does not seem, at first glance, to give us much to be comforted with. It is not talking about God's love for us, about how we must love one another or our neighbors. It does not describe the great sacrifice our Lord Jesus made for us. It's is giving us more information on division and strife, and puts an ominous tint on the coming times. 

Now, in the passage from last week, we heard Jesus saying, "Fear not, little flock," and with confidence Jesus proclaimed God's desire to provide his people with his glorious kingdom. And while the text about the thief that comes at any moment may have been an unusual analogy for the end times, we are uplifted by the knowledge that the faith that brings us far keeps us going and that the kingdom we have will indeed be at hand.

But this text this week may be about the here and now, or about the far future, or we may even decide it it's about the near future of the people following Christ, and the early church.  It starts out, "I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it was already kindled." And with the state that Israel was in, controlled by forces who had little interest in the common folk be they the priest class, the rich or the Romans, who can blame him.  

Kindling Fire

In Jesus' inaugural sermon he had said he was there to bring sight to the blind, and to free the captives, but by the time he was crucified, there were yet blind folk all over Israel and more people in a state of captivity than ever before.  Jesus had quite a message and there were quite a few ears to hear it, but to set the world on fire, at least in a political sense, was going to take action that his small group of followers were not going to be able to accomplish any time soon.  And to turn the world around? Evil in the world was still going to take place. Wars would be fought, people would die, the poor would be trampled upon, even the good news that he was bringing would not make any clear political differences to the world at large. 

And even the church, who had suffered under the threat of persecution and martyrdom for three centuries would become complacent some three centuries later when Emperor Theodocius declared Christianity the state religion. Suddenly people were baptized by rote, and not simply by faith any more. Christian became something that one simply was rather than something one felt or involved a deep change in spirit. One was born into the faith. And while the church became the central governor of people's lives, it was not so much to work people's souls as it was to imbue morality, sometimes a morality adverse to kindness and love and the goodness of human nature. 

Division continued to happen, with the Eastern and the Western Church, and then with the Protestant Reformation. With national borders and within denominations. Even with the Christian church being the faith that spread across the world with a foothold among all peoples, people still fought one another, sometimes even within families. 

The people that Christ spoke to were often those who had been rejected from their homes though. They were the ones who had been outcast whether because of disease and disfigurement, or perceived sins. And when Jesus called his disciples he called them from their homes, from their jobs.  They stopped what they were doing, gave up their lives and went along the Way.  So to hear the news that father would be divided against son and daughter against mother was not at all bizarre and unusual, despite the central place and importance that family held in Hebrew society. They were people who were rejecting a way of life that their ancestors had for centuries to learn something knew. The Law that they lived under had been fulfilled and they were in a time of Gospel. 

This passage, something of a predictor of the coming times is not so much about what God wants, as it is about what was going on in the world at the time. It was not a command but a statement. People are divided. There are clouds on the horizon and there will be a coming storm that will be difficult to navigate. And the signs are there in front of their eyes. 

It may come as no surprise to people, doing God's work is not always easy. The kingdom of God is not something that God's creatures can create or impose in the world. People constantly have self-interest. There is going to be conflict and strife. People are going to disagree, argue and fight. People have different goals which don't always match up to one another. And Jesus' gospel only threatens the life of people who are comfortable with their day-to-day existence. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel that, from the very start, is one that claims to cast the mighty down from their thrones and uplifts the humble of heart, but because we fear upsetting that boat, we fear making people angry, because let me tell you, my sisters and brothers, Christians can sometimes be the most passive of people and we absolutely hate conflict, hate making people angry. It's a lot easier to just shut up about injustice or at the very least leave passive-aggressive anonymous notes to our neighbor than it is to outright speak out against the greatest of injustice. 

And we don't make sacrifices because we know that other people won't make them, even if we know that the sacrifices will be for the better. It's hard to make time to do world changing things, because we are afraid we won't get home in time to catch the 49ers game or the latest episode of the Voice. It's easier to re-share an article on Facebook because the headline gets us excited than take a look at the content and find out the background, and maybe do something about it.

We will opt for the convenient solution rather than the heavenly one, because it is the easiest thing we can do. 

But sisters and brothers we are at a time in history that if it sounds hopeless, it is far from hopeless. My first day at Lutheran Church of the Cross was just over a year ago, which is very exciting for me because it means that my ordination anniversary is coming up. And I have to admit, I had a few dreams that I thought about when I came here, with only a limited knowledge of the ground and history. But I was coming into a church that felt like it was in a steady decline with and only a few ideas on how to get that turned around.

I'm glad to say that finally over the last month or so I've been able to feel that while we have some work ahead of us going forward we're going to be able to take some steps to ensure that not only the important ministries that we do here at LCC will continue, and that the safety and condition of our facilities will continue to improve but that they will begin to turn around and thrive. 

Jesus said, "How I wish it were already kindled." The fire is here, kindling. On our own, we, weak and frail humans cannot enact God's kingdom but we can live our lives as best we can, allowing his spirit to come upon us and transform us and empower us to be the vessels that he intends us to be. And we can try to imitate the kingdom today, giving God's gift of love to one another and living out the gospel by doing the work that he commands us to do. 

And letting me read from the second lesson, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."

This great cloud of witnesses even while we are not always Christlike, we persevere and cling to the faith in his holy name. God calls you to live out that fire that is his burning Holy Spirit within you. Do not be afraid when that spirit calls out your name, to speak out in the name of justice and to share his Good News in the world.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on August 14, 2016 3:34 PM.

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