The Cost of Love

Luke 12:49-56 (Psalm 82, Hebrews 11:29–12:2)
Last Sunday’s children’s sermon was a complete train wreck! Even now, days later, I’m not at all sure what I said, what the kids heard and learned, and what the purpose of it all was. But this I do know; the kids thoroughly enjoyed talking with me; and the congregation laughed long and heartily. When I returned to my seat I was confused and a little shell-shocked, but the congregation were still chuckling, and almost every face had a large smile on it.
The congregation loved the sermon because they had watched these children grow over the years. It was obvious that the kids loved being up there on the altar steps, and indeed felt relaxed and at home there. The congregation is accustomed to me sitting or kneeling alongside the kids – even while wearing all my robes. All of this combined in a wonderful moment. Perhaps it wasn’t the greatest pedagogical moment of all time – but it was a moment of joy and love, and a glimpse into our congregation’s hope-filled future.
All that said, to a visitor it may well have looked like complete and utter chaos. A visitor lacks the big picture which I outlined above. Well, same goes for us as we encounter the harsh and challenging words of Jesus in this week’s Gospel text:


[Jesus said:]49 I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they 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.
Once we understand a few bits of the context, things become a wee bit clearer:

In the Greek, verse 49 begins with the word “fire, and verse 50 with “baptism.” So, the original hearers/readers were hit immediately by the connection.

Folks would immediately think of Luke 3:16, where John the Baptist said: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
A better translation of the word “stress” in verse 50 (which sounds like anxiety and pressure) would be something like “totally governed by…” In other words, Jesus is emphasizing how totally absorbed by his mission he is.
Jesus’ mission is to reach Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die. This doesn’t sound like much of a peaceful mission to me!
That’s the context for the harsh sounding words. In fact, we know that even Jesus’ own family will experience pain:
Then Simeon blessed them [the Holy family] and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).
Likewise, Mary’s song (the Magnificat) is nothing short of a song about her son overturning the established order of the world:
He [God] has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things,and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53).
The family (the household) was the bedrock of the social order in Jesus’ day. When Jesus describes the household at war with itself (“father against son and son against father, etc.) he gives the clearest of signals that his mission isn’t intended to support the status quo, but rather to upend it. From now on, one’s identity – previously defined by one’s social standing, family of origin, and the like – is defined by one’s relationship with Jesus and his mission.
Jesus’ mission is one of peace. However, this peace requires the establishment of mercy, compassion and justice. And, as I wrote last week, this mission causes fear and anxiety for many. So, mercy is met with judgement; compassion with hatred; and justice with a perversion of justice – all finding a confluence at Calvary.
Pastor Ken+