Sign of the times
Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 18 August 2019
Readings were Isaiah 5:1-7 and Luke 12:49-56
Today’s Gospel reading is known as one of Jesus’ hard sayings. It is hard because what Jesus is saying doesn’t seem to stack up with everything we believe he stands for.
How can the prince of peace say he has come to bring fire to the earth? Today we hear instead that Jesus has come to bring division. Division not only between communities but division in the deep relationships found only in families.
This isn’t really the news we want to hear when we already know there are great divides between the poor and the rich, the powerful and powerless, the oppressed and the oppressors. The list could go on.
On the surface this reading really stings and yet maybe it’s because we have forgotten the essence of the Gospel. Or at least focused on the parts that we understood or agree with. But if we go just below the surface of meaning, what Jesus is asking of those who are listening, is this:
‘Do you think I have come to protect the status quo?’
The answer, of course, is no!
What happens when anyone challenges the status quo? Let’s try a little experiment now, I would like all of you to stand up and move to a place you’ve never sat before and you’ve got exactly 20 seconds to do this…
Now some of you may have found this easy, some not so. What might happen if I asked you to do it again? Some of you might have become annoyed, some would have relished the challenge. There might be some mumbles, some of you might not move at all. If there were this array of responses to me asking for people to move, to challenge what has become the status quo, the ‘what is usual’ of seating arrangements, how might we respond if asked to do something really difficult?
Most, if not all of us, will become protective if what we have become accustomed to is challenged, especially if what we are accustomed to benefits us. And even we what we have grown use to isn’t that good for us, it is hard to let go of it. So can we imagine the response to a man who calls the world to live by forgiveness rather than might, courage rather than fear, and humility instead of power.
Can we imagine the response to a man calling people to care for the poor, love their enemies, and forgive those who persecute you?
Actually we can: the response was ‘murder’.
Jesus lived and breathed the Kingdom of God and that was always going to cause problems. I mean you can’t have two kingdoms reigning in the same place at the same time. It would be like trying to play football and rugby on the same field at the same time. What rules would be used? How might those who had trained hard to play one sport react when told they needed to play by the rules of the other game?
Jesus knew, simply by being who he was, that he would cause division. And if that was the case for Jesus, then it will, if we take following Christ seriously, the same for us. Not that we will seek division but rather division will at times be the effect of our faithfulness to Jesus who calls us to live the way he did.
We may not have experienced the same type of response Susan received for her faith. However, if we take our following Jesus seriously there will be some negative responses, because we are living God’s way in a place that works in ways other than God’s.
This is the sign of the times. Whenever we are faithful to Jesus, by loving those who are hard to love rather than worshipping ourselves, whenever we put others first rather than seeking the top position, whenever we courageously stand up for justice, speaking against anything or anyone who uses their power to control others, to tell others they are worthless, who gain life by sucking dry the lives others, and people, powers, government, even families respond in anger, hate or violence, then this is the sign that God’s Kingdom is breaking in.
The sign of the times are crystal clear – God’s kingdom reigns and some people don’t like it! Following Jesus seriously, means we are sign bearers, proclaiming God’s Kingdom reigns.
Something I would like us to think about, we don’t have to answer it now, is this: If the biggest response we get for being faithful to Jesus is apathy, are we following Jesus the way he wants us to? How much might the fear of division cause us to stop being as faithful to Christ as we should be?