Hebrews 11:29-12:2 and Luke 12:49-56
Have you ever noticed how many warning signs you pass by in the average day? Signs like “Do Not Enter,” “School Crossing,” “Caution: Wet Floor.” There’s a hilarious warning circulating on the Internet.
The writer says this, ‘Do not shampoo your hair in the shower! It’s so good to finally get a health warning that is useful. It involves the shampoo, when it runs down your body while you shower with it. I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out sooner! I use shampoo in the shower! When I wash my hair, the shampoo runs down my whole body, and printed very clearly on the shampoo label is this claim:
“For extra body and volume.” No wonder I have been gaining weight! Well! I have gotten rid of that shampoo and I am going to start showering with Dawn dish soap instead. Its label reads like this: “Dissolves fat that is otherwise difficult to remove.” Problem solved! If I don’t answer the phone I’ll be in the shower.’
In our Bible passage for today Jesus has a warning for his followers. The warning is this: if we choose him as our Lord and Savior, then we may very well face criticism and rejection, even in our most intimate relationship, our relationship with our family and friends. Listen closely to these disturbing words:
In Luke 12:49-53, we read, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Could Jesus, gentle Jesus, cause such division? This is a difficult passage. We want Christ to give us peace in our homes and in our world; Christ is saying to us that his coming into the world may very well bring, not peace, but tension and division.
There are numerous examples in the Bible of Jesus’ mission upsetting the status quo of religion and politics and culture and relationships. It’s the reason Jesus was killed. It’s the reason that his followers were persecuted, falsely accused, thrown into prison, tortured. It’s why some churches in other parts of the world have to meet in secret. It is why people say that you should never talk about politics, religion or money in polite company. Talking about your faith in certain quarters is guaranteed to create tension and division. That’s painful. How do we deal with that?
It’s important to remember that wholehearted commitment always creates tension. Complete commitment to one thing requires rejecting any competing commitments. Certain options are off the table. That’s why some people are commitment-phobes. They have a hard time committing their heart, their energy, their time, their money, their future to a cause, to a relationship, to a belief.
Commitment is scary. It requires discipline. It requires sacrifice.
It requires giving up what feels good right now for what satisfies forever. Some people never make that step.
J. P. Moreland, in his book Apologetic Reasoning and the Christian Mind, tells of sharing his faith with a college student at the University of Vermont. The student was a believer in ethical relativism. Here is how a believer in ethical relativism would express his faith: “Whatever is true for you is true for you, and whatever is true for me is true for me. But no one should force his or her views on other people since everything is relative.” In other words, believe whatever you want. You never have to take a stand.
Moreland writes, “I knew that if I allowed him to get away with ethical relativism, there could be for him no such thing as real, objective sin measured against the objective moral command of God, and thus no need of a Savior. I thanked the student for his time and began to leave his room. On the way out, I picked up his small stereo and started out the door with it. ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ he shouted! “I am leaving your room with your stereo,” I said.‘You can’t do that,” the student said.”
Moreland retorted, “I happen to think it is permissible to steal stereos if it will help a person’s religious devotions, and I myself could use a stereo to listen to Christian music in my morning devotions. Now I would never try to force you to accept my moral beliefs in this regard because, as you said, everything is relative and we shouldn’t force our ideas on others. But surely you aren’t going to force on me your belief that it is wrong to steal your stereo, are you?”
Moreland confronted the student’s desire to believe in ethical relativism in certain areas of his life and ethical absolutism in other areas. He went on to say, “Believe it or not, the student honestly saw the inconsistency of his behavior and, a few weeks later, I was able to lead him to Jesus Christ.” **
Fire brings new life. Christ knew that the fire that was kindled in him would be kindled in his followers after his resurrection. He also knew that everyone who had this fire burning within them would find that this fire would burn away their old life, their old priorities, their old vanities. Fire destroys, but it also purifies.
Rev. Meghan Feldmeyer knows the devastating effects of fire, particularly wildfires. Sometime back they swept through her hometown of Colorado Springs, CO. However, while researching wildfires, she discovered that they also serve a useful purpose in creating new life. She writes, “A forest that is affected by fire experiences something called plant adaptation. In this, plants and trees often adapt to be more resistant to fire. They become stronger and more resistant in the face of future fires. Also, there is increased growth in the forest after a fire, the heat from the fire triggers the dormant pinecone seeds to pop open and land in the charred and ashy soil, which is a mysteriously rich soil, and new life to burst forth.” ***
Fire releases new life. Why do you think the cross, a symbol of suffering and death, represents the followers of Jesus Christ? Because death is essential for new life. And willingly laying down your life for what you believe is the ultimate commitment.
We have some examples of followers of Jesus Christ who were willing not only to walk through fire, but to die for their commitment to Jesus. In Hebrews 11:37-38 we read, “They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”
If we are truly committed followers of Jesus Christ, we will face tension and division, in our families and with our friends. It may feel as if we are walking through fire, yet we know that fire brings new life.
Let us pray. Holy Jesus, our Lord and Savior, send your Holy Spirit that we may have the strength to endure what comes when we are truly devoted to you. Fill us and surround us with your love and help us to find our joy in following you. We pray in your precious name. Amen
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
References: * “20 Funny Warning Signs to Make You Chuckle” by Christos P Panayiotou, https://www.tradeskills4u.co.uk/posts/funny- health-safety-signs.
** Kenny Demara, Divided Desire: Restoring Lost Connections in the Global
Village (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013).
*** “Strange Fire” by Rev. Meghan Feldmeyer, https://chapel.duke.edu/sites/default/files/Strange%20Fire–08-18-13_0.pdf.