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Sermon for Sunday 18 August 2019

First Reading                                                             Jeremiah 23:16-29

16Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” 17They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” 18For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? 19Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. 20The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. 21“I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. 22But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds. 23Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? 24Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. 25I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, 27who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. 29Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”

Psalm                                                                    Psalm 119:81-88

81My soul has longed for your salvation; I have put my hope in your word. 82My eyes have failed from watching for your promise, and I say, “When will you comfort me?” 83I have become like a leather flask in the smoke, but I have not forgotten your statutes. 84How much longer must I wait? when will you give judgment against those who persecute me? 85The proud have dug pits for me; they do not keep your law. 86All your commandments are true; help me, for they persecute me with lies. 87They had almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your commandments. 88In your lovingkindness, revive me, that I may keep the decrees of your mouth.

Second Reading                                              Hebrews 11:17-31–12:1-3

17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. 23By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. 29By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Gospel                                                                            Luke 12:49-56

49{Jesus said to his disciples,} “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They 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.” 54He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”


As some of you know, each weekday, Monday through Friday, I post a short devotion on my and the church’s Facebook page.  If you didn’t know this, you do now!  I do this as part of my regular devotion time and things generally go well.  However, this past Tuesday the verse of the day came from Pauls’ letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2 verse 10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  And that got me thinking, since we are God’s handiwork, and that we were made in His image (Gen. 1:27), what then does it mean to be “God’s handiwork” and created in His image.  Needless to say, I pondered this thought all day and never got a devotion posted.  So, let me ask you to consider the same question, what does it mean, as children of God and as join heirs with Christ Jesus in God’s kingdom, that we are God’s handiwork and were created in the image of God?

Now for some, this passage has to do with our physical appearance.  And certainly, the Bible does tell us that we need to care for our bodies.  Solomon in Proverbs warns against gluttony and drinking too much.  Paul, in his letters, repeatedly warns against sexual immorality, just as examples.  The medical community backs all this, and a host of other bad practices, up in study after study, that not caring for our bodies will, and does, have detrimental effects.  Of course, none of this is a surprise to any of us. 

But does the fact that we were created in God’s image end with the physical, or, does this go further and extend to how we think and act?  And if this does extend to our whole being, physical, mental and emotional, doesn’t this changes everything?  It could possibly mean that we need to rethink our lives as Christians.  Being made in the image of God encompasses so much more than just the physical, it touches on every aspect of life, physical, mental and spiritual.  This is so important that the Bible, and Jesus Himself, warns us of the consequences.

Let me ask you this:  have you ever noticed how many warning signs you encounter in the average day?  Signs like “Do Not Enter,” “School Crossing,” “Caution: Wet Floor.”  Warning signs seem to be everywhere.  There’s a hilarious warning circulating on the Internet.  It goes like this: WARNING: Do Not Shampoo Your Hair in The Shower!  Finally, a health warning that’s useful.  Now bear with me.  This caution warns against the shampoo when it runs down your body while you shower with it.  It makes so much sense.  I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out sooner!  I, like most people use shampoo in the shower!  When I wash my hair, the shampoo runs down my whole body, and printed very clearly on the shampoo label is this claim: “For Extra Body and Volume.”

This explains why I’ve been fighting my weight for years.  “For extra body and volume.”  Well!  I got rid of that shampoo and I’m going to start showering with Dawn dish soap instead.  Its label clearly states: “Dissolves fat that is otherwise difficult to remove.”  Problem solved!  So, this afternoon if I fail to answer the phone, it’s because I’m in the shower getting rid of that difficult fat!

A trade school in Great Britain came up with an eye-catching warning sign to post in factories.  On a piece of electrical equipment, they posted a truly scary sign: “Danger: Do Not Touch.  Not only will this kill you, it will hurt the whole time you are dying.”  I doubt I’d ignore a warning sign like that.  Now at this point some of you might be asking, what has all this got to do with today’s lectionary?

In our Bible passage for today Jesus has a warning for His followers: for those of us who choose to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, we may very well face criticism and even rejection, even in our most intimate relationship; our relationship with our family.  For many, Jesus’ words are hard to hear, so let me read them again: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!  Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but division.  From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”  Being made in the image of God and being a faithful disciple means, that there will be hard choices to make, and some of those choices could bring tough consequences.

As I said a moment ago, for many, this is indeed a difficult passage.  All of us love to hear Jesus’ words to the apostles on the evening of His resurrection, “peace be with you” and all of us want Jesus to give us peace, His peace in our homes and in our world; this is one of the reasons we pass the peace each Sunday.  However, Jesus is saying to us that His coming into the world may very well bring, tension and division, not peace.

In June 1924, a riot broke out at a baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers.  The Tigers were down by four runs in the ninth inning, so the Tigers’ pitcher expressed his frustration by intentionally beaning one of the New York batters.  Soon the players of both teams were trading shoves and insults.  Within minutes hundreds of fans spilled out onto the field and began fighting.  It’s one of the most notable examples of fan riots in American sports history.

Sports fans used to be the ultimate example of rabid loyalty, of divisiveness.  For the loyal sports fan, you can’t cheer for both the Panthers and the Falcons.  You must choose.  Either you love the Tar Heels and hate the Blue Devils, or you love the Blue Devils and hate the Tar Heels.  Or you can do like Terry does and root for the team with the prettiest uniforms.  But that’s another story for another day.  The bottom line is, you must pick a side.  Sadly, those aren’t the biggest divisions in our country anymore.

Today we’re divided over politics, values, lifestyles, culture, ethnicity.  We want our churches to be the voice of unity and peace in our culture, so long as we’re faithful to God’s word, and this is part of our calling.  But there are numerous examples in the Bible of Jesus’ mission upsetting the status quo of religion and politics and culture and relationships.  It’s the reason Jesus was illegally tried, abused and crucified.  It’s the reason Jesus’ followers were persecuted, falsely accused, thrown into prison and the great majority martyred.  It’s why some churches in other parts of the world must meet in secret.  It’s why some people say that you should never talk about politics, religion or money in polite company.  Talking about your faith in certain quarters is guaranteed to create divisions.  It might be painful, but Jesus took the time to warn His followers this would happen.  The question is, how do we deal with that?

First, it’s important to remember, that wholehearted commitment always creates tension.  Complete commitment to one thing requires rejecting any competing commitments.  It means that certain options are off the table.  That’s why some people struggle with commitment.  They have a hard time committing their heart, their energy, their time, their money and their future to a cause, to a relationship, to a belief.  Commitment can be scary.  Commitment requires discipline.  It requires sacrifice; it requires giving up what feels good right now for what satisfies forever.  The problem is, failing to commit, is a commitment.  And failing to commit to God will have eternal consequences.

J. P. Moreland, in his book Apologetic Reasoning and the Christian Mind, tells of sharing his faith with a college student at the University of Vermont.  The student was a believer in ethical relativism.  For those not familiar with this concept, here’s how a believer in ethical relativism would express their faith: “Whatever is true for you is true for you, and whatever is true for me is true for me . . . But no one should force his or her views on other people since everything is relative.”  In other words, believe whatever you want.  No need to pick a side.

Moreland writes, “I knew that if I allowed him to get away with ethical relativism, there could be for him no such thing as real, objective sin measured against the objective moral command of God, and thus no need of a Savior.  I thanked the student for his time and began to leave his room.  On the way out, I picked up his small stereo and started out the door with it.  ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ he shouted . . . ‘I am leaving your room with your stereo,’ [Moreland said].  “‘You can’t do that,’ [the student] snapped.” 

Moreland retorted, “I happen to think it is permissible to steal stereos if it will help a person’s religious devotions, and I myself could use a stereo to listen to Christian music in my morning devotions.  Now I would never try to force you to accept my moral beliefs in this regard because, as you said, everything is relative, and we shouldn’t force our ideas on others.  But surely you aren’t going to force on me your belief that it’s wrong to steal your stereo, are you?”  You see what Moreland was doing.  

Moreland confronted the student’s desire to believe in ethical relativism in certain areas of his life and ethical absolutism in other areas.  He went on to say, “Believe it or not, the student honestly saw the inconsistency of his behavior and, a few weeks later, through the work of the Holy Spirit, he yielded his life to Jesus Christ.”  The student committed wholeheartedly and as you can imagine, there was some tension in his life.

This brings us to the second consideration: wholehearted commitment isn’t as common as we’d like to think, therefore it usually creates tension.  People who make a difference in the world are always controversial.  Back in 1910, a dreaded epidemic of infantile paralysis was spreading across the Western world.  Some of you may remember when polio was the number one fear of parents in this country.  My mother was a victim of polio.  Polio strikes its victims quickly, starting out with painful muscle spasms and can end in partial or total paralysis.  Back then, doctors had no idea how to treat the disease.  But in a remote area of Australia, a young, self-trained bush nurse named Elizabeth Kinney had found a treatment that worked.

When a friend’s child showed signs of developing polio, Nurse Kinney ignored all the best medical advice of her time and tried a different treatment on the child.  Standard practice at the time involved placing the polio affected limbs in a cast.  Sister Kinney instead used heat packs and passive exercise.  Her controversial treatments would later become the basis of a new field of medicine called rehabilitation medicine.  By morning, the child improved.  So, Nurse Kinney began treating other patients successfully and published her medical research on the disease.  However, doctors all over the world ignored her success because they refused to believe a nurse could have come up with a better treatment than they could.

Finally, in 1950, Nurse Kinney’s treatment for polio became the standard treatment worldwide.  Before her death in 1952, Elizabeth Kinney was recognized by the American Congress of Physiotherapy with its Distinguished Service Gold Key.  She was the first woman to ever be awarded this high honor.  But what if Elizabeth Kinney had never gone into nursing?  That’s what almost happened.

When Elizabeth was just starting out in school, her fiancé didn’t want her going into medicine.  He told her she had to make a choice: marriage to him, or her education as a nurse.  Pick a side.  Elizabeth chose nursing.  Imagine how hard it was to lose the love of her fiancé.  But millions of people all over the world were healed because of her choice.  Oftentimes in life we must choose.

Let me give one more example of how total commitment can cause tension and even division:  Ron Luce’s parents divorced when he was a child.  When he was 15, he moved in with his father.  His father was not the kind of father most of us would hope a Dad would be.  His dad encouraged Ron to smoke pot and party.  For a while Ron thought he’d found the perfect life.  But then, a friend invited Ron to church.

This little church was alive with joy, and the pastor’s message connected with Ron, and by the help of the Holy Spirit, he chose to become a follower of Jesus Christ.  The joy he discovered changed his life.  He stopped smoking pot and partying and began sharing his faith with all his friends.  The result of that was that not long afterwards, his father and stepmother kicked him out of the house.  They said they didn’t want a Jesus freak living with them.

So, at sixteen years old, Ron was temporarily homeless and living out of his car.  Ron’s pastor took him in.  As Ron would later write, “Being a part of my pastor’s family was the most incredible experience of my Christian growth.”  With the support of his new family, Ron Luce graduated from high school and college and went into the ministry.  Today, he is the co-founder and president of Teen Mania Ministries where he devotes himself to spreading the message of God’s hope and love to teenagers.

At sixteen years old, Ron Luce’s father and that community rejected him because of his commitment to Jesus and it changed his life radically.  What if he had refused to accept Jesus as his Savior . . . what if he had been lukewarm in his faith . . . what if he hadn’t listened to the leading of the Holy Spirit and let the gospel of Jesus change his lifestyle . . . what if he hadn’t tried to share his faith with others?  The answer is simple; none of the blessings of his new life would have happened.  “Do you think I came to bring peace on the earth?”  Jesus said. “No, I tell you, but division.”  Jesus warns us, wholehearted commitment will usually create tension.  Being made in the image of God means more than simply combing your hair and counting your calories. 

There’s one more thing to consider this morning, wholehearted commitment also creates passion.   Jesus uses the imagery of fire to explain His mission on earth.  “I have come to bring fire on the earth . . .”  Usually we think of fire as a destructive force.  But fire can also mean a couple of other things that are very positive.  Fire can symbolize passion.  Wholehearted commitment creates passion as well as division.

Kusum is a young woman who grew up in central India.  Kusum was born into a Hindu family, but when she was 11 years old, she secretly attended a Christian church service and converted to Christ.  Since the election of Prime Minister Modi in India in 2014, persecution and violence against non-Hindu believers has increased in Kusum’s town.  Kusum and her husband had two sons.  Soon after the birth of their second child, Kusum’s husband died.  The people in her village blamed her for his death, saying that her Christian faith had brought a curse on her family.  When employers discovered that Kusum was a Christian, she lost job after job.  One employer told her that she could keep her job—her only means of providing for her children—if she gave up her faith in Jesus.  She refused. 

A few years later, Kusum’s younger son died, and the villagers refused to let her bury him in the town.  She had to carry his little body miles outside of the town and dig his grave by herself.  A few hours after Kusum returned from burying her little boy, her father-in-law burst into her house with an ax.  He blamed her Christian faith for the death of his son and grandson and announced that he would kill Kusum for following Jesus.  As Kusum cowered in fear, she prayed.  She said, “I had only one certainty.  I would not betray Jesus.  Despite all the tragedies, he has never disappointed me.”  To her surprise, Kusum’s father-in-law left without hurting her.  In spite of the persecution and threats of violence and loneliness that she endures, Kusum remains faithful to God.

“I had only one certainty;” Kusum vowed, “I would not betray Jesus.”  That’s passion.  It’s the kind of passion Jesus means to engender in all His followers.  “I have come to bring fire on the earth . . .”  But fire has another benefit.  Fire brings new life.Jesus knew that the fire that was kindled by Him would be kindled in His followers after His resurrection.  He also knew that everyone who had this fire burning within them would find that this fire would burn away their old life, their old priorities, their old vanities.  Fire destroys, but it also purifies.

Rev. Meghan Feldmeyer knows the devastating effects of fire, particularly wildfires.  Sometime back, fire swept through her hometown of Colorado Springs, CO.  However, while researching wildfires, she discovered that they also serve a useful purpose in creating new life.  She writes, “A forest that is affected by fire experiences something called plant adaptation.  In this, plants and trees often adapt to be more resistant to fire . . . they become stronger and more resistant in the face of future danger.  Also, there’s increased growth in the forest after a fire . . . the heat from the fire triggers the dormant pinecone seeds to pop open and land in the charred and ashy soil, which is a mysteriously rich soil for new life to burst forth.” 

Fire releases new life.  Why do you think the cross, a symbol of suffering and death, represents the followers of Jesus?  Because death is essential for new life.  And willingly laying down your life for what you believe is the ultimate commitment.  We want the church to be a beacon of peace in our society.  We want our faith in Jesus to bring greater peace and unity and understanding to our families, our towns, our world.  But committing to Jesus as Lord and Savior means giving up all other gods.  It means putting God above everything, including our love for our family or our love for our own life.  

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus bring peace to our hearts.  But it also marks the greatest dividing line in human history.  Either you’re a faithful follower or you’re not.  Either you’re seeking a world of righteousness, justice and love or you’re simply looking out for yourself.  Jesus had St. John write to the church in Laodicea, “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  The bottom line is, we are made in God’s image and that means we must commit our lives to the One who created us no matter the personal cost.  We must wholeheartedly commit, physically, mentally and spiritually.  We cannot be lukewarm: we simply cannot have it both ways.  


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