Sunday, August 14, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 23:16-29
Psalm 119:81-88
Hebrews 11:17-31 (32-40) 12:1-3
Luke 12:49-53 (54-56)

Isnít my word like fire? says Yahweh; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

What does Jesus mean when He says, ďI came to throw fire on the earth. I wish it were already kindled.Ē This sounds almost like the boast of a warrior king who has come to bring destruction and wrath. Jesusí message becomes more difficult to hear as He moves closer to the cross. Life in Godís Kingdom will not always be easy; there will be persecution. The Gospel is not a unifier, it is a divider. But Jesus comforts His disciples with the promise that they will not be alone.

Last week Jesus warned His disciples to be ready. Ready for what? The religious leaders were already pressing Jesus to catch Him in some crime so that they could be rid of Him. The inevitable end of Jesusí ministry would be on the cross. Jesus certainly wanted the disciples to be ready for what was soon to come because His passion and death would be trying on them as well. But Jesus constantly reminds them not to be afraid. ďThey canít really kill you because your Father in Heaven is willing to save you.Ē No matter how wonderful this message sounds to us, there are too many who do not hear and believe.

Thatís the dividing that comes with the fire Jesusí throws on earth. He divides hearts; some are inflamed with the divine love of God, others are left cold. The fire is not a fire that destroys, but one that fills the hearts of Godís people with His love. Jesus wishes that it was already burning, but it would take something very radical for it to happen. Jesus had to die on the cross, and then after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit could be thrown upon Godís people, filling them with everything God has promised to those who believe.

The Blessed Denis the Carthusian wries, ďThe way to attain the perfection of divine love is then stated. ĎDo you think that I have come to bring peace on earth?í In other words, do not imagine that I have come to offer people a sensual, worldly, and unruly peace that will enable them to be united in their vices and achieve earthly prosperity. No, I tell you, I have not come to offer that kind of peace, but rather division - a good, healthy kind of division, physical as well as spiritual. Love for God and desire for inner peace will set those who believe in me at odds with wicked men and women, and make them part company with those who would turn them from their course of spiritual progress and from the purity of divine love, or who attempt to hinder them.Ē

See, living fully and faithfully in Godís divine love means turning away from the expectations of the world. It means being at odds with those who would make vices acceptable and prosperity the goal. It means dwelling in Godís grace and being transformed into the person that God has created and redeemed you to be.

Sadly, many in Jesusí day did not recognize the signs of His coming. They didnít see that He was the fulfillment of Godís promises. They didnít recognize the signs of the coming age because of their spiritual emptiness. It is no wonder that Jesus wanted to fill them with the fire so that they could hear and understand His teaching that Godís Kingdom had arrived. They wanted God to fulfill His promises in their way and they could not hear what Jesus was saying. There are many who continue to live like that today. Prophets preach messages that sound good to listening ears, but are not truly from God. They are messages offer the kind of peace that allows followers to be united in their vices and achieve earthly prosperity.

It isnít easy to tell the difference between the words of God and the words people claim are from God. We are human, and we are easily deceived. This is a problem that Godís people have experienced since the beginning of time. There are many people today who claim to be prophets and who say that they have been given a special message from God. These messages often come in the form of dreams, but they also say, ďGod told me.Ē While it is important to hear what they have to say, we are to always remember that Godís Word does not contradict itself.

In the passage from Jeremiah God asks, ďWhat is the straw to the wheat?Ē Straw is part of the wheat; it is the stem that is left after the wheat kernels are taken. Straw has value; it can be used for bedding, for warmth, for building. But wheat is life-giving. The kernels can be used for food or they can be planted to grow more wheat. Godís word as compared to that of the false prophets is life-giving. It is forgiving. It is filled with grace and hope and peace. Godís word might be demanding. It might be powerful, like the hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, but it is also healing and it is transforming. Most of all, Godís Word reveals His faithfulness.

The best way to know whether to trust a prophet is to discern whether they are speaking for God or if their message somehow benefits themselves. Does it bring them glory or give them leave to act as they want? Does it fill their pockets or further their agenda? I once belonged to a list where ďprophetsĒ provided ďwordsĒ for the people, but it became nothing more than a marketplace. Even the prophecies were filled with sales pitches for books or workshops and rather said anything of value.

God does not always lead us into a path of wealth and happiness. The passage of Hebrews gives a much different picture. ďOthers were tortured, not accepting their deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others were tried by mocking and scourging, yes, moreover by bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn apart. They were tempted. They were slain with the sword.[h] They went around in sheep skins and in goat skins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts, mountains, caves, and the holes of the earth.Ē This isnít a life I would choose and it is not one in which I would expect to find peace. However, over the history of the Church, the stories of those persecuted and killed for the Gospel describe the faces of the martyrs filled with joy and peace as they were burnt or beheaded for their faith.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the faithful throughout history did not see the promises of God fulfilled. Abraham had a child, but he never saw the multitudes that God said would be His offspring. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph never saw what would come. Moses did not enter the Promised Land toward which He led Godís people. He lists many other faithful people who accomplished great things but never fully saw what was to come. The promise of Jesus was always there, in their words and in their hope, but they didnít live to see that day. Even the earliest Christians, many of whom knew Jesus personally, did not see the ultimate fulfillment of His work on earth. They lived in faith knowing that God was faithful, trusting that God would, in His own time and way, provide His people with all that is to come. We are still waiting for that day, the day when He comes again to make everything right. We are waiting for the day when we will all be welcomed back into the Garden to dwell in His presence forever.

They were not perfect. Each one had a black mark on their account along with the stories of their faith-filled journey. Rahab was a prostitute. Gideon tested God. Samson was easily deceived. David pursued Bathsheba. If we were to point out similar people in our world today, I doubt we would ever expect that they would be commended for their faith. And yet God accomplished great things through them because they believed in Him. We can accomplish great things, too, as long as we remember that it is Godís Will to be done, not ours.

It isnít easy. We may have to step out of our comfort zone and allow God to do something incredible in our lives. We might have to accept the assignment that doesnít fit our desires. We may have to trust voices that say what we know to be true even if they donít say what we want them to say. But we do all this knowing that God is near, helping us through.

It is hard for us to hear Jesus say that He came to bring fire when we prefer to think of Him as bringing peace. However, the peace Jesus gives is not necessary a lack of conflict. Faith in Jesus will cause division, it will bring tension. Those who are passionate about their faith, about Jesus, will stand up for their beliefs at all cost. It is no wonder that we question Godís peace when we are surrounded by conflict. We question because we misunderstand; we seek peace to be as the world defines it. But the peace of God is a life of joy in Godís kingdom even when we are facing persecution and death. God calls us to a life in which the fire that dwells within us burns brightly to light the world in which we live. The peaceful life might just mean divisions between those who believe are separated from those who do not.

We are called to be passionate about our faith. We are called to speak Godís word in the lives of those around us. Jesus expects us to be passionate about our faith, so much so that it just flows out in our everyday experiences. The fruit of the Spirit is not something that should be quenched for the sake of unity. Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with our passion and this will bring division.

In Jeremiah God asks, ďAm I a God at hand, says Yahweh, and not a God afar off?Ē The problem with people now as in Jesusí day is that they do not recognize the Lord God Almighty. They follow the words of men and have forgotten all that God had done. In Jeremiah God says, ďI have heard what the prophets have said, who prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, even the prophets of the deceit of their own heart? who think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers forgot my name for Baal.Ē

Jesus stood before the people in Israel, presenting the Kingdom of God and they could not see Him as He is. He was calling them to see the signs that pointed to the truth of His character and to repent, to turn back to God and follow Him as those who walked in faith throughout the ages. Even now, after He has suffered the baptism that brings us hope and peace, too many do not see Him as He is or follow Him as He leads. They donít recognize the signs because they expect God to fulfill their expectations rather than be faithful to His truth.

See, Godís Word is good and it is the word upon which we can live and dwell in peace not only in this world but for life eternal. The Psalm for today is part of that lengthy hymn praising Godís Word. Each of the stanzas in Psalm 119 use words that describe Godís Law. Many people are uncomfortable with this psalm because of the seeming legal focus. However, when we study the words used we realize that this psalm is really a comfort to those of us who trust God because they remind us that Godís Word is more than rules we must obey.

We trust in Godís salvation because He has said He will save us. When we are let down we can look to Godís promises. When we struggle with the life we are living in this world we can see how Godís boundaries will guard and protect us even from ourselves. When we are being persecuted, we can trust that God will provide justice for us against those who do us harm. We are reminded that those who are against us are not living according to Godís teaching, but we can trust in all Godís Word because they are faithful. Even when the world means to destroy us, we can look to Godís authority for peace. Godís testimony is worth obedience because He will protect us by His mercy.

Isnít there great comfort in those words? We are being called to repentance, to live the life of faith in peace that might not be so peaceful. Godís Word is truly like fire, breaking apart the hardness that keeps people from believing in Jesus Christ. It also divides. Our passion for Jesus Christ will bring discord. The world will not approve of the choices we make to witness our faith to others. We will face persecution. We will suffer. We will die. But we are being called to take our faith into the world no matter what might happen. This means being ready at any moment to do whatever it is God is calling you to do.

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