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August 11, 2013 - Luke 12.49-56

“Transformation Pains”

Luke 12.49-56

August 11, 2013

 

49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

 

This is a problematic text. That is, its one of those texts that when you read it, if you paid attention, you say to yourself, “Uh…I think I have a problem.”  It’s hard to understand.  Is Jesus really saying that he has set out to split families apart?

Jesus comes to divide father against son?  Mother against daughter?  Mother-in-law against daughter-in-law?  What is going on here?  Isn’t Jesus supposed to help our families?  Isn’t Jesus a supporter of family values?  This text brings a lot of questions if we pay attention to it, and if there is one thing that I want the people in my church to do it is to pay close attention to scripture.  Not to just read the scripture in a quick once through kind of way, like reading some “cookbook for life.”  Let us today pay attention to this text, ask all the questions that come up and let’s see if God won’t answer them for us.

 

Could following Jesus really split a family up?  I mean does that really happen?  I mean, where we live, it seems to me to be one of the most joyful things that can happen when a family member seeks to follow Jesus.  Isn’t it?

It might make us wonder just how seriously we take our faith if it never causes us any fallout.  It brings to mind what Shaw once said: “Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it.” – George Bernard Shaw

I forget how lucky and blessed I was to grow up with committed Christian parents.  If you are like me, then you probably also forget how wonderful it is to have Christian parents, Christian children, and a community of faith like First.   Because it is not like that most places and it has not been like that in most places.

There was once a young man, who came from a very wealthy family, and he became a Knight in the service of his country.  He served his country in a war with Perugia, and had an obviously fantastic future ahead of him. His father was proud of him, and bragged about him often.  He could have chosen to stay in the military, or he could have taken over the family business, or he could have chosen to be a political leader.  All of these things were open to him.  But there was a problem:  he kept going to church and praying, asking God what he wanted him to do.  “Come, Holy Spirit and lead me.”  And the Holy Spirit did.  Over time, the young man began to realize that God did not want him to be a military leader, or a wealthy businessman,  or a politician.  He wanted to follow Christ.  God wanted him to serve the poorest of the poor.  So, when this young man heard God say, “Sell all you have and give the money to the poor,” he did just that.

Well, this angered his father.  Because you see, he had quite a lot of stuff.  He was rich, and a lot of what he sold, his father didn’t feel like it was quite the boy’s to sell yet.  The man threw his son into jail and promptly sued him.[1]

Fred Craddock once said that “God seldom calls a person in a voice loud enough for the entire family to hear.”[2]  How true that is.

I guess we often forget how radical a transformation it is to really begin to follow Jesus Christ.  Sure, it does have the potential to split a family apart, because all of a sudden, you have a commitment to someone and something that is greater than you love for your family.  That is an awesome thing.

We trip ourselves up when we trivialize how radical a hope and how radical a transformation it is when we choose to follow Jesus.  All of a sudden, death is a moot point, and we are no longer just trying to make our way through life, but we are part of God’s Kingdom endeavor to change the world into what it is that God wants it to be.  WOW!!

One of the reasons that Roman culture hated Christianity is that it tore families in two.  To really make such a sweeping and real change is to challenge ourselves to rearrange our lives.

Marianne Williamson said, “When you ask God into your life, you think that God is going to come into your little psychic house of your soul, and completely rearrange the furniture, tear out all the wallpaper and put up new stuff, and completely redo the plumbing and electricity.  New floors, new lighting, and everything just needs a good cleaning.  And so we go along for the first six months after becoming a Christian thinking how nice life is now that God is there.

Then, one day we are shocked to look out the window to see that there is a wrecking ball there and a construction crew.  It turns out that God thinks your whole foundation is shot and you need a new one – one that he will give you.  It turns out that you are going to have to start over from scratch.”[3]  Few of us are prepared for that.

Jesus’ first words in this text are that he comes to bring fire to the earth.  Fire!!  Fire is a symbol of judgment in the Bible, a symbol of something being purified.  What is being purified?  We are!  What is being burned away?  All of our bad stuff - Everything that ought to be removed from us.  All of our impurities will be purged if we let the Holy Spirit run loose in our lives.

Instead of trivializing our faith and what God wants to do in our lives, we should embrace that fire and cherish the warmth it will give us.  Christianity is not something cute and fuzzy, something sweet and light, but it is something real, like a raging fire that warms up everyone around it.  If we hold God out away from us at arm’s length, then our faith becomes trivial and we become superficial Christians, Christians untouched by the transforming power of Jesus and God’s Holy Spirit.  We aren’t Christians because we go to church.  I wish people who attend church would realize that it doesn’t make them a Christian.  Standing in your garage doesn’t make you a car.  Putting your feet in the dirt doesn’t make you a flower.  Running around naked and eating grass off the prairie doesn’t make you a bison.  Coming to church doesn’t make you a follower of Jesus.  Only by following Jesus can we be followers of Jesus.

The transformation that Jesus brings into our lives is larger than we can even imagine.  Jesus wants to understand what it is he is going to do.  He is going to rearrange our priorities, our abilities, he will completely destroy the limitations that our humanity place upon us.

We are transformed.  To be baptized is to be transformed.  Some Christians baptize differently – some sprinkle, some go completely under.  Either way, the symbol of baptism is the same – it stands for our transformation – which is to be complete.  The transformation that Jesus brings to our lives, our hearts, our futures is one that should sweep over us and transform all that we are and all that we do.

There was a show on cable a few years back, on one of the cable channels.  It was an adult soap opera type of thing. It was about two plastic surgeons in Miami.  They had everything most people want in life.  They had all the money a person could need.  They were handsome, wealthy and unhindered by the plagues of life most people have to deal with.  And yet, their lives were complete disasters.  They abused themselves, they abused each other, they abused their families, and there was no happiness in their lives.  I found a real lesson in that show:  Those two men, whose very profession was about transformation, transforming people in a physical sense, were completely helpless and incapable of making any kind of meaningful transformation in their own lives.  Everything they tried blew up in their face.  They were not happy, and they never will be.  If their lives ever became transformed, the show would have been over.

That’s just TV, but it has some of the ring of truth in it.  So many people want desperately to change their lives, to be transformed from what they are to what they ought to be.  It has been my experience that without Jesus, meaningful transformation in our lives is just an idea, a dream to be chased. Without Jesus, there is no real meaningful transformation in our lives, just shadows of the real thing.

There is one mistake I do not want you to make here.  Don’t feel that Jesus doesn’t love you just as you are.  I know that Jesus loves me even though I am not who I ought to be yet.  It is the same for all of us.  But at the same time, while loving me so completely as I am, Jesus longs to help transform me into what God designed me to be.  That takes fire.  That takes surrender.  That takes a long time.

If you want to be transformed, then you can be.  But it requires that we open up to the Holy Spirit and be ready for the real thing.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes,

There is some very fine teaching available on the Holy Spirit, and I hope none of you is satisfied with it.  I hope none of you rests until you have felt the Holy Spirit blow through your own life, rearranging things, opening things up and maybe setting your head on fire.  There is nothing you can do to make it happen, as far as I know, except to pray, “Come Holy Spirit” every chance you get.  If you don’t want anything to change in your life, then for heaven’s sake don’t pray [for the Holy Spirit to come], but if you are the type of person who likes to stand out on the porch when there is storm moving through so you can feel the power that is pushing the trees around, then you are probably a good candidate [to pray] the Holy Spirit prayer.[4]

Isn’t that the kind of power we are hoping for from Jesus, like a mighty storm, coming into our lives, sweeping out all the dead limbs?  Giving us a chance to rebuild all that was built on a faulty foundation?

Remember that young man I told about earlier, the one whose father threw him in jail and sued him?  That is a true story.  The man’s name was Francis Bernardone, and he lived 800 years ago in Italy, but you and I know him better by the name “St. Francis of Assisi.”  His father did take great exception to him giving away so much money and he did throw him into prison and did take him to court.  His father thought that all Francis gave away was not really his to give away since his father had given it to him, and Francis’ father had no desire to treat the Bible with any seriousness.  But in court, Francis said, “No longer is Pietro Bernardone my father for, from now on, my father is in heaven.”[5]

 God longs to burn away our impurities.  Each of us is made in the image of God, with spiritual gifts to share with the rest of the body of Christ.  Each of us has the gold within us that longs to shine.  Jesus longs to refine us and make us pure.  Here’s the thing about having that gold within us.  As long as we hold Jesus at arm’s length, then that Gold will remain hidden – buried – covered by the rock and dirt that keep us separate from on another.  When we allow the Holy Spirit to come in and Jesus to take control, all of that can be burned away and we can be transformed!

 

[1] Jeffery Burton Russell; A History of Medieval Christianity: Prophecy and Order, Harlan Davidson, Inc, Arlington Heights, Illinois, 1968, p. 143-144.

[2] Fred Craddock; in the Clayborn Sanders lectures of Central Baptist Seminary held at First Baptist Church, Kansas City, Kansas, May 1997.

[3] Marianne Williamson; quoted by James Howell, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 32, No. 3, Logos Publications, Grove Heights, MN, July-September, 2004, p. 30.

[4] Barbara Brown Taylor; Home By Another Way, Cambridge: Cowley, 199, p. 145.

[5] Howell, Ibid.