Sermon for Sun 14th August / St Edward’s, Burgess Hill.
Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7, Hebrews 11:29-12.2; Luke 12:49-56
Have any of you ever watched Homeland? It’s a TV drama essentially about spies and the worldwide situations they have to be part of in their work. Phil and I on the final series, and it is pretty tense at times. Because just when you think you have a handle on what is going on, you suddenly find out some new nugget of information that turns everything on its head. The spy you thought was American might actually be working with the Russians; the President is swayed so easily by the advisors around him, and the person working for peace, might actually be seeking war. Sometimes it’s quite a shock when something like this is revealed.
Perhaps a little like our gospel passage today.
Jesus, who has ‘Prince of Peace’ as one of his names, Prince of a peace that the bible tells us is beyond our understanding, Jesus who said to his disciples: Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you… Well, here he is saying: you think I’m here to bring peace, well, I’ve got news for you, actually I’ve come to bring fire and division.
What are we to make of that?!
The scriptures tell us to honour our father and mother, to look after one another, to love our neighbour and now Jesus says: families will be divided against one another. You’d be forgiven for being confused.
But, in fact this whole chapter through Luke 12 is one of Jesus saying: look, less focus on the now and more on the future; less on what is around you here and more on the Kingdom of heaven. He knows that not everyone is going to believe in him or follow him. He knows that belief or unbelief will come between people. It’s not an intention, but a side effect if you like.
Strong beliefs do divide us don’t they? In the church we try and hold these things in tension but one look at the recent media coverage of the Lambeth conference and we’ll see that even the church doesn’t always do it well! You know how people used to say don’t talk about politics or religion, here in BH you can add to that, the town centre shopping development! Because when we have strong beliefs, we are passionate about them, we hold to them, we want to convince others of our views.
Jesus goes on:
I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled…Luke 12:49
What would happen if the fire of God were abundantly aflame in all of us? Would we talk with passion about Jesus the way we might about the town centre, or politics or whatever our own bugbear or passion is?
What would happen to our families, in our communities, in our churches if we allowed that fire that Jesus says he has come to bring, to burn through us? What if the word of God were kindled in our hearts so much that we could not help but be on fire for the Lord?
I think the point Jesus is making here is that his message is about so much more than being inspired listening to a good preacher out in the fields, or seeing people healed by the power of the HS, it’s more even than challenging the leaders of the day, it’s more than an image of Jesus as Prince of Peace or the baby asleep in the manger –
actually it should be challenging and thought provoking, creating in us hearts to act, to speak, to see lives transformed. After all, if we are always peaceful about our faith, our actions, our lives then we would be perfect right? God wouldn’t need to challenge us on anything or lead us into new paths. But can we really say hand on heart that’s who we are? Personally or as a church ?
I read a really good essay on this passage this week, the writer (Debbie Thomas) noted that we should remember that it’s not Jesus’ desire to set us against one another but just that he recognises this is the way the gospel affects people. His peace is, she says:
[Jesus peace is]…not the fake peace of denial, dishonesty, and harmful accommodation. His is a holistic, truth-telling, disinfecting peace. The kind of deep, life-changing peace that doesn’t hesitate to break, in order to mend, and cut, in order to healDebbie Thomas
So then perhaps our role is to seek that healing, mending, truth telling in order to release that real peace Jesus is talking about? Even though it may bring division too?
Jesus goes on that they could interpret weather and seasons but not the times they were in – perhaps our role now as he was implying for them then, is to understand the events going on around us, and to seek to address them with the message of the kingdom of heaven? (Tom Wright)
As we move forward with our new vision here at St Edward’s, we need to remember this, for ourselves, that we will be challenged sometimes by God, by the sense of the kingdom of heaven here and now that is at odds with our world. When we get angry at injustice, fed up with politics, anxious about climate change, heartbroken at the death of a young boy we read about in the media – this is the kingdom within us stirring us up. And I hope the same kingdom within us will continue to stir our hearts for the future of this church.
As we move forward, we want to continue to worship together and we will be starting a new mid week evening service that is more informal and charismatic, allowing more space for the Holy Spirit to work… but we also want to reveal the kingdom of God to the community around us as I was talking about last week. I want us to be people who listen to the kingdom within us and use that, respond to it.
One thing that we have talked about a lot is the need to create something, a place of worship, that is accessible to the younger generation, families, kids, young people as well as the older. For those who have never experienced church or have limited understanding of what faith is, you know, they won’t just walk into church one day and say: tell me about Jesus – I mean they might but very unlikely! And yet these last few weeks we have had hundreds of people through our doors, 60+ kids each week and their adults, drawn in by the fun and activities on a Thursday.
What are we offering them as a way into the kingdom?
So, come the Autumn we are going to be starting a new afternoon, outdoor service. A time of worship and gathering that is hosted outdoors in a new space we will create behind us here. An extension to the sanctuary if you like, but outside! I’ll be sharing all the details in our vision launch in a few weeks time. But this is something no other church is doing locally, it will be interesting and engaging for all ages, fun, and not “churchy” but still preaching the kingdom of heaven.
But in order to do all this we ourselves need to be filled up and burning with the passionate fire of knowing Jesus. He is our inspiration, our guide, our meaning and purpose. So I’m going to finish with the lines of the start of Hebrews 12 which we heard, but here from The Message Version – a contemporary paraphrase of the bible:
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honour, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG