A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr C ~ Pentecost 10 ~ Luke 12:49-56 (MSG)
Have you ever heard the phrase “gentle Jesus, meek and mild?” Well, whoever came up with that obviously didn’t read today’s scripture passage.
Luke 12:49-51 Jesus says, “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!
Not nice. But then, nice is the death-knell description for a church. ‘Nice’ conjures imagery of a pat on the head, a “there, there”, a pleasant, non-threatening, non-essential, non-effective innocuousness. Many Christians aspire to be nice. Many churches are fearful that if they aren’t nice, to a fault, that no one will want to go to their church. Nice. Safe. Quaint. Underwhelming. Yawn.
Well, I’ve got news for you that might shock you. Jesus. Wasn’t. Nice. Nice people don’t have a passion for turning the world rightside up. (Which, of course, requires that you view the current way of the world as upside down and in need of righting.) Nice people don’t wander into the heart of the system and knock over all the tables. Nice people don’t do that. Holy people do. People filled with righteous passion. People driven by a heart of justice daring to stand up, speak up, name names, call out injustice, and take action. That ain’t nice. But that’s Jesus. And if we’re to be his disciples, his followers, then nice ain’t gonna cut it for us either.
Oh, I don’t mean we ought to be mean, or obnoxious – just not nice. What instead? How about we demonstrate real power and be kind, thoughtful – loving. Gentle and meek – but the true meanings of those words are not about weakness but the incredible strength of having great power and choosing to use it for good instead of just ‘self’. We’ve had those words upside down for too long. Time to turn them rightside up too.
“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 (including you and me, by the way) – 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!
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild wants to burn the place down! Sounds awesome to me! Sounds invigorating, and inspiring. I can feel the Spirit stirring as I say it. But guess what? Not everyone will see the world as ‘upside down’ like Jesus did. Some folks, especially those who are profiting the most from it, will fight to maintain the world’s ‘upside-down-ness’ because it benefits them.
But Jesus has a vision, a worldview of a ‘way of being’ in which caring for and uplifting one another, not self-absorption for self-gain, are the dominant values. A world in which the currency isn’t power and money, but justice and love. He calls that worldview the ‘kingdom of God’. I’ve been calling it ‘IT’ in this series. And he talks about IT a lot. Mostly he says that IT’s right here, right now – above, around, and especially within you, but IT remains hidden for many because, well, they’re upside down too.
This kingdom of God that Jesus raves about, and longs for, isn’t a prize won at the end of life for being…nice. It’s a way of being, and a way of living, that is meant for right now – and the sooner we all start living ‘rightside up’ the sooner we’d all be living a fuller, more abundant life – ironically, even those who are benefitting the most from our upside-down-ness. They just can’t see it. So Jesus and his ‘brave new world’ feel like a threat. And what do you do to threats? You defend against them.
The upside down way of the world is not going to be righted quietly. It’s going to do everything it can to maintain its position. Sound like a war? Yup. You may remember a few months ago we did a sermon series called the ‘War of the Worlds’. Well, you’ve had some time to think about that. Are you ready to battle? It’s a lot easier, and safer, to be…nice. Jesus is a smart cookie. He knows this. And he knows that when new and subversive ideas about changing the world emerge that the very first front the battle rages on, is the home front.
Luke 12:52-53 From now on, when you find five in a house, it will be—Three against two, and two against three; Father against son, and son against father; Mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; Mother-in-law against bride, and bride against mother-in-law.”
Family dissention isn’t new. We see this all the time, sadly. The Covid pandemic certainly brought it up to the surface in conflicts over vaccinations, or even mask-wearing. Politics is another popular trigger for family conflict. So is inheritance, which Jesus talked about earlier in Luke 12.
And yes, even back in Jesus’ time one’s religious convictions were the source of family squabbles and conflicts. But it’s not just about stuff like denominations – Catholics vs Mainline vs Evangelical vs Fundamentalist. And its not just theological disagreements like ‘who God is for you’ or ‘whether Jesus was human or divine’ (both, but that’s another sermon)!
No, what Jesus is getting at is deeper. It’s about your worldview. It’s about how you understand yourself, and your relationship with the spiritual – the Divine – and your fellow humans, and the natural world, and the creature world, and the economic world. It is all interrelated.
Once a person has really awoken – and yes, to be ‘woke’ is a good thing! – once one has awoken to God’s kingdom immersing them, and feels the peace, and joy, and wonder, and depth, and love that pervades it, they can’t un-see it. And they can’t not do and say something about it. And the first place you’re likely to have the courage to say anything is among the people you share most of your life with. Your family and closer friends. Dissention is inevitable when worldviews clash.
Luke 12:54-56 Then Jesus turned to the crowd: “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.
Watch the news. Read a paper. Hear the vitriol of the rhetoric these days. Witness the piling on if some poor sap dares to make a misstep online. The storm’s not just rolling in. It’s here, gale force. As the great poet said, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows!” Apply that same simple wisdom to all this. The clash of worldviews is rampant.
Church attendance isn’t just something to do on a Sunday morning (or mid-week on YouTube) to pass some time. And it definitely isn’t a masterclass for niceness. If anything, church is a waystation for people on a fantastic lifelong journey – a journey of turning the world rightside up. A waystation is a place to rest, and be nourished, and to be reminded that you’re not alone, and to be strengthened and equipped – and then to be sent back out into the fray.
We tune-in here, in-person, online, and we are reminded that it is all grounded in asking for IT – desiring God’s presence – asking, seeking, knocking, opening ourselves to receive IT – IT being the presence of God, the love of God, the kingdom of God.
We keep coming here and tuning-in to encourage ourselves and other journeyers to keep working on our transformation – that as we strive to be full of IT, and fit for IT, that we must constantly engage in the hard work of releasing our grasp on this upside down world, so that we can keep embracing more and more of God’s rightside up kingdom – the real world!
And as that wondrous worldview of loving-kindness, care, compassion, and justice comes more and more into focus for us, we hear Jesus’ clarion call to stand to it. Stand to IT!
To ‘stand to’ means to have a high likelihood of doing something, or having something happen, especially to gain or lose something. It means to take up a position ready for action/battle. It means to take a stand in passionate support, or defense, of something.
If you’re a person of faith, you must be writhing in frustration as you watch the way of the world these days. It’s upside down in so many ways we cannot count them. As a person of faith you’ve been awakened to a better way – a deeper way – a way of loving God, loving people, and loving one another – love, love, love. That is a radical worldview. That is subversive. And to the powers that be, such subversive-ness is dangerous. You have no idea how powerfully threatening you are – because you won’t play their game – won’t succumb to their value system – won’t compromise your vision of love.
I’m going on sabbatical for 3 months. This wasn’t the ‘going away’ message I imagined. I thought it would be all warmth and ‘I’ll miss you’. I mean, I will, but that’s not where the scriptures took us this week. Here’s the strangest prayer you’ll ever hear a minister pray at such a time as this. In 3 months, when I return, I pray that you’re not nice!
“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!
Be like Jesus.
Usher in the kingdom of God that you have asked for, are full of, and are fit/equipped for.
Kindle the fires of deep spirituality, bold discipleship, and daring justice.
Stand to IT, my not so nice friends!