Distress and Division
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 12:49–56
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 14, 2022
“Distress and Division”
For some weeks now, we’ve been reading from Luke 12 in the Gospel lessons appointed for worship. Two weeks ago, Jesus told the parable of the rich fool who was intent on building bigger barns for himself rather than recognizing his stewardship calling from God to see everything he had as belonging from God (Luke 12:13-21). Last Sunday, we heard Jesus’ words about seeing God’s providential care for the birds of the air and flowers of the field, trusting that this same God will also provide for our own needs (Luke 12:22-34). The Gospel lesson for last Sunday ended with Jesus calling us to see beyond food, clothing and material possession to what is lasting and eternal: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). Now today, we are once again in Luke 12, but Jesus’ words take on a more ominous tone as he begins today’s Gospel: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). He goes on to speak of distress and division that will pit family members against one another. This doesn’t sound like the Jesus we know and love; the Jesus who is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6); the Jesus who is all about love and forgiveness. And that’s not all: he calls out the people for being hypocrites, knowing how to interpret signs in the physical world, but not knowing how to understand or interpret the spiritual truth that’s right in front of them. What in the world is Jesus saying here? All of this is before us in today’s message entitled, “Distress and Division.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. This is the opening verse of next Sunday’s Gospel lesson: “He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22). Steadily, step by step and mile by mile, Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem and what awaits him there: rejection by the religious leaders, betrayal by one of his own, suffering and death upon the cross, and ultimately resurrection from the dead. This is the baptism of which Jesus speaks: the baptism of his own death and resurrection that will bring forgiveness of sins, life and salvation to all who believe in him. What unimaginable distress Jesus must have been under knowing that all of this was before him! This is why he became flesh and blood like us, entering into our broken world, so that he might set us free from sin and bring us back to God. This is the message which we proclaim to the world: that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:4-5). All of this is God’s gift of grace, but like any gift, this gift can be refused. People can reject what God is freely offering them, and turn away. This is where distress and division come in, even within one’s own family. Within the family unit, some will receive this gift of salvation with thanksgiving and joy, and some will reject it. Sadly, this can and does lead to division as Jesus tells us: father against son, mother against daughter, and so on. Does this really happen? It absolutely does, as many know from first-hand experience, and that hurts terribly.
The problem here is not God, but us. God’s intent and design was to set things right with his broken creation, and he has done so by sending his own Son. Jesus, who is true God and true man, came to live that life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will that we could never do, and through his atoning death upon the cross as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for our sin we have been reconciled to God. The truth of what God in Christ has done becomes like fire, as the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 23:16-29): “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29). The raging wildfires in the western regions of our country remind us of the terrible power of fire to consume and destroy everything in their path. Many have suffered devastating loss because of such wildfires. Even while fire has the power to destroy, it also has the power to purify and cleanse. From the charred landscape after a fire, new life emerges. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of God’s Word not just as fire, but also as a hammer that shatters rock. That rock is our stubborn pride and hard-heartedness that stands in opposition to God our Maker and Redeemer. So often, we don’t want to hear the message of Gods righteous anger against our sin and disobedience. We do our best to ignore or evade that message, but it finds us anyway. It is often only when we are brought low, only when we have been humbled and called to repentance, only when we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19) – only then can the Lord God refashion and remake us into his new creation, all through the blood of Jesus. If there is distress and division because of this, it is not God’s doing. Even then, God is able to take the distress and division that his people experience and transform it into blessing as only he can do. The Word of the Lord reminds us: “And we know that all things work together for good, for those for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
In today’s Epistle lesson (Hebrews 11:17-31, 12:1-3), we hear about those giants of faith from the Old Testament – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab. Certainly all of these people knew what distress and division looked like in their own lives. But they pressed on; they persevered in faith. And we are called to do the same. The Scripture memory verse which we spoke together reminds us of this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). In the midst of distress and division in our own lives, in whatever form that may come, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who loves us and laid down his life for us. Amen.