Sermon preached at 10.45 am service 18th August 2019
Gospel :Luke 12 vv 49 – 56
Epistle Hebrews 11 vv 29 – 12 v 2
From now on there will be 5 in one family divided against each other – 3 against 2 and 2 against 3
Mother in law against daughter in law and so on
Oh goodness goodness me – please don’t tell me that Jesus was foretelling Brexit !
Of course not… BUT and it’s a big But.. we must not lose sight of what was happening at the time that caused Jesus to say such startling things – we tend if we are not careful to think of Jesus’ teaching in a sort of spiritually bubble-wrapped sanitised isolation unaffected by the social and political upheavals of his day –
but nothing could be further from the truth
In fact if we have any sense of biblical history from Genesis through to Revelation the whole context and background – time and time again- is of political upheaval – wars and rumours of wars – a nation dragged into exile – prophets being scathing about the political situation that seemed time and again to run counter to what the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob – the God of justice – required from his people
In other words, The good news of God seems always to be in some sort of counterpoint to the political upheavals of the day not that the people of God always recognised this… certainly if you gave them a choice about how to behave so often they chose what was contrary to the will and purpose of the living God. They became trapped in political maelstroms and intrigue and lost sight of holiness of the God of justice. More importantly they glossed over the demands for true peace based on justice and the needs of the poor and downtrodden, something that Jesus never did.
That’s the sort of backcloth to so much of the bible.
Think Hong Kong and the imminent threat of China intervening and then think back to how the people of God in Jesus’ day were having to face the might of Rome.. it was a tinderbox…political security was on a knife edge and one false step would bring chaos.
and some would recognise a day of reckoning looming and some wouldn’t… some would see the storm clouds gathering, while others said nah – it’s not going to rain here – it will pass over and drop on some other poor souls …
some – and Jesus was at the forefront -could predict what would happen when Rome really decided to storm in… even Jerusalem the holy of holies would not emerge unscathed. In fact only a few years after Jesus spoke these challenging prophetic words, Jerusalem lay in ruins, never to recover.
These must have been troubled even terrifying times when Jesus was calling people to respond to his call to embrace the kingdom of God
And perhaps too in this passage we gain some insight into what could be deemed real turmoil in Jesus’ mind.. what did it really mean to be a messiah – what was God doing in and through his work and ministry ? this is life and death stuff – people have to decide….. it’s not a woolly ‘take it or leave it’. “No” says Jesus – I have come to divide not to paper over the cracks… the time bas come for a great showdown… and by going to the cross and facing evil head on Jesus believed that God was about to do something of fundamental, eternal and life changing importance that was far deeper than the impact of any political turmoil.
And this is at the heart of what the Christian faith is all about .. it’s not the gospel of being nice .. it’s a fundamental appraisal of who we are – how we relate to God and how God deals with, and has dealt with, evil and hatred and bitterness and sin both individually and at a wider level. The starkness of the Cross is both a symbol of hope and a verdict upon sinful humanity.
and of course not everyone is going to respond and welcome this with open arms – some will gladly accept the gospel while others will turn aside and reject it – tis ever thus.
OK I know this is hard going …but it is a matter of eternal life and death; of hope and forgiveness .. and these are deep powerful themes that go to the very root and heart of what it means to be human, and what it means to encounter the living God
The cross was a pivotal moment .. that’s how the writer to the epistle to the Hebrews saw it .. in that whistle stop tour through the story of God’s dealings with his people …amidst all the turmoil and upheaval it was all leading up to what God did in Christ – the faith of so many people in the Old Testament – and the list contains a few surprises I must say – commendable though it was – was all was leading up to what God had planned in Christ – something better that would bind everyone together in seamless garment of praise and thanksgiving. Something that was far more significant than any political system or upheaval could ever achieve.
I don’t know about you but this is the point at which my brain has begun to hurt so we had better pause and take breath
Fortunately the writer to the Hebrews also knew what it was like to live in turbulent times politically – he was writing several decades after Jesus walked on earth so it was similar for him as it is for us – meeting the risen Christ as a spiritual reality in a time of political upheaval.
And he summed up the ‘take home message’ for his own day and for all subsequent generations with what is surely one of the greatest mini passages in the whole of the New Testament
Therefore – given all that we have said – given all the political upheavals and uncertainly that bewilders and perplexes and sometimes totally oppresses us and threatens to overwhelm us…
Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud or witnesses let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, with our eyes fixed on Jesus upon whom our faith depends from start to finish
That my friends says it all – that is our faith – that is our hope – that is the gospel – and that’s why we are here
Thanks be to God.