“Interpreting the Signs”

Luke 12:49-56

14 August 2016, Proper 15 C

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches


Luke 12:49-56

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

He 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. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?





Our Gospel lesson for this morning



is a little bit Cajun,

a little bit Mexican,

a touch of Indian,

all mixed together in a stir-fry of jalapeno and Tabasco!


Probably half the churches in the land



have a stained glass window of Jesus

surrounded by lambs or with children on his lap.

Doing a simple Google search,

I found that there are

twenty-three million, seven hundred thousand results

for churches named “Prince of Peace.”


Our hymnals are filled with hymns which create images of Jesus, the gentle Savior …



“I need thee every hour,

most gracious Lord;

no tender voice like thine

can peace afford.”

(Music: Robert Lowry, Words: Annie S. Hawks)


We think of Jesus as quiet and peaceable,

gracious and forgiving,

kind and …

well, about as controversial as milk toast.

It is easy to be lulled into a belief

that Jesus came to appease and avoid confrontation,

especially in the Gospel of Luke;

you remember the angels singing


         “Glory to God in the highest

         And on earth peace among those who he favors!”

         - Luke 2:14


Today Jesus is teaching

“I came to bring fire to the earth,” and “division!”



The crowds were in the thousands,

Luke reports in Chapter 12 (verse 1);

so many of them that “they trampled on one another.”

Imagine this setting in your mind’s eye.

Jesus is teaching his disciples and the crowds.

He is encouraging them to speak up and stand up for His sake,

to store up riches in the Kingdom of Heaven,

not to worry or to be afraid,

and to be watchful for the master’s unexpected return.


One would think

that the last thing Jesus would want to do

would be to incite a riot

– big crowds,

little control,

suffering under the bootstrap of Rome,

with it’s oppressive legions and taxes.

But incite!

Does he ever!

Fire and division

– that’s what Jesus is about!



From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 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.

- Luke 12:52-53


Jesus, where are your family values?


What is exposed here

in this raw tearing wound

is a dirty little secret

many Christian leaders would rather

not have you hear.

Some may even wish Jesus never said them.


I must admit,

I’ve even been guilty of it at times in my life



– on the church sign at the four corners in Palmyra

I had for years the statement posted

which read “Bible and Family Values.”

But the Biblical fact of the matter

– the dirty little secret of Christianity –

is that Jesus comes to divide families;

to set one generation against the next;

to break families apart.


I think about our church here in East Rochester.



I know family is so very important.

We share on Facebook the joys of children and grandchildren,

The love of parents and grandparents,

The accomplishments of families, close and distant.

We have a strong sense of Church family

– even though we may not be sisters –

we might just as well be,

or, we may not be brothers

– but we are often closer than blood.

It’s not going to be easy to say this, but here it is:

Jesus comes and families are divided;

one generation is set against the next;

families are broken apart.


Lowly Jesus,

meek and mild,

healer, bridge builder,

champion of the poor, the lost, the least

– Jesus savior, redeemer, the source of all love, prince of peace –

Jesus appears to be guilty this morning of inconsistency,

doing a 180 mid-stream,

making an about face on the character issue,

pulling a bate-and-switch

on the issue of family values.



Just what is the deal here?


A number of years ago

I heard an interview on the radio

With a marriage and family therapist.

She made the excellent point that



marriage is hard work.

We shouldn’t mislead our children to believe otherwise.

She encourages parents to read children books to their kids,

but when the end comes that reads

… “and they all lived happily ever after” …

we should substitute it with

… “and they worked hard to keep their relationship strong

for the rest of their lives.”


Fact is, making families strong

and keeping them close,

is hard work.

If you need any proof of this,

take some time to go through your own family

open some dusty closet doors,

and just see what tumbles out!

Families give meaning to “dysfunction” in America today.


The proportion of marriages taking place

As reported in 2011

That will eventually end in divorce is 53%

According to the Center for Disease Control’s

Center for Health Statistics.


In 2004, the Center for Health Statistics reported

The divorce rate was 43%.

(from http://www.divorcereform.org/rates.html)


Throw in some alcohol or drug abuse and see what happens.

Don’t forget experimentation with alternative lifestyles.

Toss in some infidelity,

a few education failures,

caring for aging parents,

parenting grandchildren,

partisan politics,

road rage,

or your garden variety neighborly family feud.

Stir into the mix working multiple jobs just to get by,

leaving early and coming home late exhausted and tired,

and the ever-present anxiety about not having a job tomorrow.

You look into each other’s eyes and say,

“any thoughts about dinner?”


Do we have to work hard

to make our marriage and families work?

Yes we do!


And I haven’t even gotten to religion yet.


Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior

- This is what Jesus was talking about

in our Gospel for this morning.



Belief in Jesus,

and a decision to follow him,

will tear apart families.

“You get excited about serving Christ,

but those you are kin to

– a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling –

don’t understand.

You find yourself set against them,

and it’s painful,

because what you are so excited about

is something that those you love

can’t even understand.”

(from Pulpit Resources, August 15, 2004)


When we accept the invitation from Jesus,

When we decide to leave our lives behind to go and follow him,

we expect everything to be wonderful.

We expect Jesus to come into our life,

take a look around,

make a few suggestions

- to make a few minor changes –

and we’ll be good to go.



Then, one day,

we wake up,

look out the window and see

“that there is a wrecking ball outside the house.

It turns out that God actually thinks

your whole foundation is shot

and you’re going to have to start over from scratch.”



Jesus is a blazing inferno,

and he is in the business of suburban renewal.

He has come to burn down a few houses

so that new foundations can be built.

The foundation Christ seeks to build

Is on that is based on a life of faith and works through Him.

 “I came to bring fire to the earth,” and “division!”


Being a disciple of Jesus Christ

will bring division and confrontation in life.

Yes, it will be painful.

Some hard decisions may have to be made.

But pluck out your eyes if they cause you to sin

– it’s “better to enter the kingdom blind

than to be cast into eternal hell.”

(paraphrase of Matthew 7:5)



Some dysfunctional relationships just aren’t worth having.

More important than family values are Christian values.

More important than freedom and liberty

is a life with the firm foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord.

More important than our own vane self-indulgences,

is a personal relationship with Jesus.


This is not the time to have a pity party

about how awful the world has treated you,

or to be overwhelmed

by the broken relationships

that have been left in your wake.

Jesus’ own family in Nazareth

thought that he was crazy as a jay bird

and were ready to toss him off a cliff.



He tells the crowd,

in the presence of his mother and brother,

that “Whoever does the will of God

is my brother and sister and mother.”

(Mark 3:35)


The journey before us is only limited

by our lack of imagination,

our lack of desire to make the hard choice,

a weakness of will to do the right thing.

God must come first in our lives.

A relationship with Jesus must come

before husband or wife, children, family, friends, money, or status.



Yes, the fire Jesus brings to our lives

is one of destruction and division.

Yet is also the fire of spiritual renewal

- refining and purifying the soul –

a fire offering both heat and light.

The fire Jesus brings is the fire of the Spirit,

the sweet Holy Spirit.


The same fire that descended upon His apostles

is the same Pentecostal fire that descends upon us this day.

The Spirit’s fire offers us the warmth of the Savior’s love,

and it’s light offers us the direction we need

for the living out of our faith.


Beloved members and friends,

may today’s Gospel

not be so much that it overwhelms you.

Yet, may it prove to be enough

to convince you to make changes that are necessary.



Change for Christ;

make changes for eternity. Amen.