Sermon by The Reverend Christian J. Baron, 13th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, Luke 12:49-56
“Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
I’m so happy to be able to preach today for my first sermon as your co-rector. My hope is that over the years, I will be faithful to the gospel that we have promised to help bring into reality and crack open the scriptures in a fresh and interesting way. I’ll try to make you laugh… and cry… and to assist this parish in being immersed in the Kingdom. To help us to see a glimpse into the truth that this good news offers. To challenge and to encourage. To delve into heresy and orthodoxy and to lead and to be led by you into God’s truth.
The gospel for today is a bit intense, isn’t it? One of the downsides of following a lectionary is that it may not line up with my hopes for a fuzzy wuzzy comforting gospel filled with unicorns and rainbows and strawberry shortcake. With a humorous story that ends with us hugging one another and congratulating ourselves on all the good work, we are doing. Maybe Larry could fire up the organ to a play Kumbaya, while we sing and sway back and forth. No, that is not the lection for this week.
My initial response to this gospel was… “Well yeah Jesus, I did think you were going to bring peace. Isn’t that the whole gig?” So maybe like me, you also are processing exactly what Jesus is talking about.
Something you may recall, earlier in Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist explained that he was baptizing with water, but that Jesus would be coming to baptize with fire. This is important because baptism is a sign of purification. For those of us baptized in or with water, it is a sign of God’s work of purifying us and marking us as God’s own. But it was and is, also, a sign of death. In immersion baptism, the person’s whole body is lowered into the darkness of water and held there briefly to make sure that the water has totally washed over them. For the grown individual, baptism is a willing act of vulnerability… of weakness…of submission… the giving up of his or her life to God. For babies, the parents and body of believers, are placing the life of the child in the hands of God. God gave us this child, and we are willingly offering that baby back. It is supposed to sound a bit terrifying for the average independent, self-made, American citizen.
And for Jesus, he explains that his upcoming baptism by fire… would be special and terrible. HIs baptism would be a literal death. Death on a cross. He is rightly stressed about his baptism… about his death…
But what can he mean then about not bringing peace? Isn’t our whole understanding of the atonement based on the work of the cross? Won’t that atonement cover the sins of the world? Won’t that create peace?
Well, it hasn’t created peace in 2,000 years. And it seems like peace is further away than ever… at least how we usually understand it… You don’t have to look far to see that human beings are not unified. We are not in harmony. Sure, there are exceptions, and as Christians and humans, I think it is our job to point out those exceptions and to create space for that peace to happen. But for the most part, humans have created tools to do harm to other humans. And then we have created bigger and better tools to protect each other from those harmful tools. It really is pretty outrageous. My point is if Jesus isn’t going to bring peace, what in the world are we going to do?
I think it should also be noted that throughout the gospels, the Holy Spirit is fire and wind. It spreads quickly. It, too, purifies. It is how the Trinity carries out Kingdom work through the Church and through humanity and all of creation.
The good news, friends, is that we are called to live like Jesus and to sacrifice. We are to sacrifice our peace for the good of all those around us. To give up our own comfort for the comfort of others. To give up our very lives for the lives of others. To let the fire that Jesus talks about, do its work. The fire of sacrifice and the fire of the Holy Spirit.
And now here is better news. We need to stay near that purifying fire. It is painful and scary, but it is where we must be in order to live out the God-life. Because the stress that Jesus mentions here…from the gospel reading… isn’t because he is dying for our comfort. He is being killed because his Kingdom… a kingdom of justice and love threatens every other established Kingdom that human beings have ever created.
And so, Good people of St Philip’s. In a few minutes, you will offer peace to those around you. We will pass the peace. But as you prepare yourself to pass that peace remember that peace for Jesus is revolution. It is controversial. It is sacrificial… it is hard and it ends in death. May you look into the eyes of the person next to you and offer a peace that will require us to stay close… to one another and to Jesus… may it be a promise of a revolutionary peace that will change the world.