Scripture Luke 12:49-59 Jan Savory
In today’s passage, Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem. This is the passage that comes up today as the assigned gospel reading in the three-year lectionary cycle that many denominations share. But when I saw it, my first thought was, really? I’m supposed to preach on division? About conflict in families? Where’s the good news in that?
What Jesus is this?
What has happened to the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers …”? Is this the one that we believe Isaiah was foretelling when he called him “The Prince of Peace”? The Jesus we see in this passage seems out of character with the Jesus who loves and heals and cares for the poor. This is not the sweet baby Jesus for whom the angels sang, “Peace on earth, good will to all” back in Luke 2.
In these unusual words of Jesus, I think we are hearing what is going on in his heart. For the last while, he has been teaching the crowds and the disciples, primarily about how they should live. Then, if Luke is following the conversation as it happened, Jesus breaks in with this change of topic. “I came to bring fire to the earth. I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
Jesus ministry has been divisive
Maybe he’s thinking back over his ministry so far. Is he remembering all the times when trouble and conflict have followed him where ever he has gone? Rejected by his home town of Nazareth, his family soon claimed he was insane. Next the people of Capernaum ran him out of town. Then a Samaritan village wouldn’t even let him enter. And worse is yet to come; he’s on the way to Jerusalem…and almost certainly to his arrest and death.
Turning everything right side up
The Message translates the start of this reading as: “I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront”
Jesus came to change everything, to turn it the right way up. All change – even Good News change – will cause conflict and grief for the simple reason that all change – even Good News change – means giving up / losing something, and it means valuing one thing over another. What Jesus is doing is naming the reality that was occurring around him. His presence in the world, God’s presence, was and still is unsettling
Love can disrupt the status quo
The Gospel message is love. And love, with its companions, justice, mercy and compassion, will turn the world upside down or, in other words, right side up. Jesus did not come to validate the social realities and values we have constructed. Such social realities and values often end up favoring those who hold positions of power at the expense of those who are powerless.
In contemplating this passage, I’m thinking of systemic injustice, nor any one person’s selfishness: current injustices to people who have been historically and systematically oppressed: racial minorities, religious minorities, the disabled, women, LBGTQ2S people and their families. And then there is our planet, God’s glorious creation, which we are well on the way to making unfit for humans and many other species. There are so many ways injustice abides in this world. so many ateas where we should be turning everything right side up
A very unequal distribution of wealth underlies many of these injustices. Helping the marginalized, upgrading out health care system, providing clean water to northern indigenous communities etc all require money likely in the form of more taxation and less disposable income. Other issues, like climate change, can only be tackled by a change in how we live. This is turning everything right side up. Many people resent and resist changes to their lifestyle and spending habits. This is the division we will meet for fighting systemic injustice.
What can we do?
We cannot as individuals or as a congregation tackle all of these. But what if each church congregation chose one as their primary outreach project? What if St George’s, as a congregation, selected once area where justice or compassion is missing and made it part of our mission, not only to alleviate the symptoms of the current situation, but to strike at the source of the injustice? Wouldn’t that help with turning everything right side up
The question for the church is – are we willing to have these conversations and listen to people’s stories? Are we then willing to find ways to alleviate suffering – not just at the point where people are in crisis, but “upstream” where the conditions that create the crisis begin? As we live and work and worship here in Lowville and the surrounding area, how is God working through us in this broken world?
I leave us that thought to mull over in the coming weeks and months as we, together discern what we want St Georges to be in the next few years. Amen