Toorak Uniting Church

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The uncomfortable side of the Gospel

Luke 12: 49 – 56
Rev. Robert McUtchen
15 August 2010

The gospel of Luke today seems out of character with so much we have learned about Jesus. It is disquieting. It contradicts all we know. Peace on earth and Jesus birth, Jesus friend of little children, Jesus who forgives sinners, Jesus who tells Peter to lay aside his sword at Jesus arrest. So what do we make of it? Ignore it, say it does not really matter?

The answer must be a regretful but resounding NO.

In these words Jesus bluntly defines his ministry. It is so profound that it can have only one outcome among people – division. We have only to look at the record of his ministry to see that he did create profound division in society and among the religious leaders. While we focus on the nice man who went about doing good, or teaching about the love of God, we are blind to the profound nature of his message – that devotion to God was radical, that the present state of the world and society was NOT God’s ordering of the world, nor as he intended it should be. We hear echoes in his call – take up your cross and follow me, but then we go and sentimentalise it as a hymn – let not its weight fill your weak spirit with alarm...., nor heed the shame, and let your foolish pride be still.....

Jesus associated his mission with Fire. Take time to remember the symbolism of fire in earlier times – to cleanse, to purify, to represent Divine Judgement. He speaks of baptism – always associated with washing, making clean, removing impurity.

He spoke of intergenerational division. The traditional family unit would be divided between young and old. What would do this? It would be the forcefulness with which opinions would be held – so much that the ties of kinship and family would become secondary to the compulsion to stand by what your heart most truly believed.

Was Jesus appealing to people whom he feared, or knew, did not fully get what his ministry and mission meant? Was he appalled by the fact that while he faced death, his followers – like James and his brother, were dreaming of power and prestige after the revolution?

Two questions for today:

When I discuss Baptism with parents some are astonished, and even angry, when I remind them that the question about Jesus as Saviour and Lord they answer assumes they know what it means, and can answer confidently YES. I hope I am not too provocative when I say that God knows when they are not telling the truth. They are even less comfortable when we get to the God parents and they have to talk about the expressed faith of the God parents – I remind them they are the conscience, the honest brokers – and some have even dropped God parents or asked others, instead of the "best friend". When we talk about baptism, I remind them it is so serious, that a man actually suffered a horrible death, and that we recall that ugly event in this lovely family focussed moment. The great thing is that many respond positively, taking into their hearts what this really means.

How well do we really understand the mission to which we are invited? The gospel invites real action, which may challenge financial and political conventions. Whoever said that religion and politics do not mix was not telling the truth – active faith may mean opposing the policy and action of whatever government holds power. It may mean taking substantive action – as many Christians did throughout the apartheid years of Africa – Rev Charity Majiza sought refuge in Australia in fear for her life at one time; I recently read the story of Fr Michael Lapsley, an opponent of apartheid, who lost his hands and part sight to a bomb sent by the SA Govt, many of whose number were devout Christians. The challenge to act with so much faith is truly daunting – we have it so easy here. I have taken positions at different times which cost me dearly in health and money for the sake of what I believed the Gospel was calling me, yet I fear to contemplate how I would act, and if I would have had the internal strength to endure, were I in the mortal peril that these two people faced. Take time to reflect on how strongly you hold the elements of faith, and aks if they would ever be so important you would sacrifice family peace. Ask God for strength and help if you feel wanting – and know you are not condemned.

Secondly, are we a people of less strongly held convictions. Religious division is thankfully less an issue than it was 30 or more years ago. Is this because we better understand what unites and what does not unite us, or is that we don’t know and really don’t care?

His name was Jack, in his teens, he lived at Goorambat, and he trapped foxes for their skins. Caught the best fox he had ever seen – beautiful pelt – but because it a Sunday morning, his Father denied him permission to prepare the skin while it was fresh – wait till Monday – by which time it was spoiled – you did not work on the Sabbath. My friend Ray grew up in the WA wheat belt – droughts and flooding rains – little sister was three before she heard rain on the roof. Father invited the Jewish Doctor, and an Afghan neighbour to the home each week for "discussion" of religion and other things – strongly held views debated and understood.

Hearing this text may remind us that, for all the love and good things, we are called to a mission which may at times be costly and painful, and should never be under estimated. We are promised the help of the Holy spirit as we journey. Equally, Jesus words might also be heard as plaintive, and yearning – he dreads we might not fully hear or comprehend that to which he is committed, and to which he calls us to join. There is no condemnation here – but a desire that we each hear, open our hearts, and accept what he offers us.

In the elements of bread and wine, those simple symbols speak to us of offence set aside, grace freely offered to the least worthy, and a new creation in the confused jumble which are our souls. Know truly what you are offered, know truly how costly they are won for us, and dare to embrace the life to which we are called. Amen.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2010

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