Jesus Says The Darndest Things! That’s my working title for a sermon series where we’ll explore all the really weird things Jesus says in the gospels. Anyone interested Let’s face it, not everything we read in the gospels is easy to understand.
Listen again, and see if this sounds like the Jesus we know and love: “I came to bring FIRE on earth and how I wish it were ALREADY KINDLED! 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 will be DIVIDED.”
What in the world is going on here? Matthew’s version of the text is even more ominous: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Mt 10:34]
Jesus says the darnedest things, indeed! Here we thought he was all about love God, love neighbor and love self! So who is this “evil twin” Jesus who speaks of setting the earth on fire, and bringing division instead of peace? I don’t like this Jesus at all! Yet both Luke and Matthew thought our gospel lesson was an important teaching to preserve. They believed it came from Jesus. The challenge is for us to do the same.
The way we get there is through Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the text as found in The Message. It’s one of many English translations I examined at the beginning of the week, desperately trying to understand what Jesus is saying in these verses. When I read the second part of our gospel lesson in The Message, it leapt off the page at me! It was a Holy Spirit moment. So we’re going to begin at the end. By the time we’re through, I think we’ll agree with Matthew and Luke that this IS the gospel of our Lord, the Good News of Jesus.
The Message paraphrases verses 54-56 was follows: “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.”
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! Light bulbs should be going off in our heads. Perhaps we can catch a glimpse of the Holy Spirit flapping its wings and flying across the room. At least that’s what happened to me when I read the words: “Don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.”
WOW! Jesus is saying “It’s rather obvious what I’m up to these days! It’s as easy as forecasting the weather. [Unless you’re trying to forecast the weather in Asheville which is wrong 90% of the time. But I think you get his point.] Jesus is telling us to pay attention to the God-season we’re in and respond accordingly. So, the question we need to answer this morning is “What God-season are we in now?” As we begin to explore this question, the rest of the text makes sense.
As I thought about the concept of “God-seasons” in our lives, in the Church, and in the world, I came up with four of them. They are a reflection of the the seasons we observe in creation. These four God-seasons are Growth, Harvest, Release and Rebirth. I’m certain we’ve witnessed all four seasons in our lives, time and time again. Let’s look at them briefly:
GROWTH is the “green season.” which corresponds with summer. It’s a time for…new ideas to take root and grow, hard work and productivity, and utilizing our talents and abilities. In terms of our walk with Christ, it’s a time for…”growing up” spiritually, learning and insight, and feeling “rooted” in our relationship with Jesus.
HARVEST is the next season which corresponds with fall. It’s a time for ideas to come into full fruition, enjoying the fruits of our labors, and life to be ablaze with color and vitality. In terms of our walk with Christ, it’s a time for…our witness to be powerful, our service to be passionate, and our love of God to be set ablaze in our lives and world. [There’s that fire reference from our gospel lesson!]
RELEASE is the next season which corresponds with winter. It’s a time for us to let go of things that no longer serve a useful purpose n our lives, rest and introspection, and facing dead ends and the death of dreams. In terms of our walk with Christ, it’s a time for… healing and mending wounds of many kinds, meditation and drawing close to God, and wilderness wandering and waiting for God to move.
The last God-season we look at is REBIRTH, which corresponds with spring. It’s a time for…creativity and trying new things, planting new ideas, and new beginnings and new journeys. In terms of our walk with Christ, it’s a time for… resurrection of body, mind and spirit, new ways of thinking about God, and planting “kingdom dreams.”
As we look at these four God-seasons, the question arises: “What God-season are we in right now?” We need to ask this question as individuals, as a congregation, and as the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus, in our gospel lesson, believes we should be able to discern a change in God-seasons as easily as we discern a change in the weather. So, are we up for the task? Can we discern what God-season we are in as individuals? As a congregation? As the Church of Jesus Christ?
That’s a big question! But for the remainder of our time I want to explore the God-season we are in as the Church of Jesus Christ. This season is affecting all of Christendom simultaneously. It’s a direct reflection of what is happening in the world around us.
According to Phyllis Tickle, in her book, “The Great Emergence: How Christianity
—Is Changing and Why,” every five hundred years, the Church cleans out its attic and has a giant rummage sale. In other words, the Church goes through a time of massive transition and renewal. The bad news, as well as the good news, is that we are in such a time of change right now. In terms of God-seasons: We’re somewhere between RELEASE and REBIRTH.
To be honest with you, this is the hardest change of God-seasons for the Church to navigate. It’s a time of facing dead ends, and embracing new beginnings. It is a time of letting go of things that “don’t work” and planting new “kingdom dreams” and see what happens.
The rest of our gospel lesson makes perfect sense when we see it through the lens of the God-season the Church is now facing. Jesus said in verse 49: “I have come to bring FIRE on earth; how I wish it were already kindled!” When we hear these words, we immediately think of the destructive force of fire: We picture someone’s house burning to the ground with the loss of their valued possessions. We think of terrorists whose bombs tear people limb from limb. We imagine a forest fire raging out of control, destroying everything in its wake.
But I don’t think this is the kind of fire Jesus is talking about in our gospel lesson. As we face a change of God-seasons, fire is the force that refines us, burning away impurities. Fire clears the underbrush of a forest so that new growth can appear. Fire is the spirit-wind-breath of God filling us with creative energy.
This is the kind of fire Jesus is talking about. As the Church faces this change of God-seasons, we need to trust that the fire of the Holy Spirit will get us ready for rebirth and new life. This is not an easy process. Jesus’ reference of fire reminds us that a change in God-seasons can be painful sometimes.
Jesus also tells us in our gospel lesson that this change of God-seasons can cause hostility and anxiety among God’s people. The NRSV says “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Here is where The Message brings clarity to the text once again: “Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!”
As we face this change of God-seasons, Jesus is reminding us, it’s not going to be easy. People will get anxious. Some will be down-right hostile. We see this happening in Christianity in America as two very different versions of Jesus compete with one another in 2019. These very different understandings of What Jesus Would Do have caused deep division within the body of Christ. And I’m sorry to tell you but this division is far from over.
Whether we like it or not, a change of God-seasons is upon us and upon all of Christendom. We have a choice as to whether we will trust Jesus to refine us, and lead us into a season of rebirth, OR we will let fear get the best of us, refusing to acknowledge the change of God-seasons we are in.
The first choice is not an easy one. But I believe Abiding Savior is up for the task. We are in sync with this change of God-seasons. We are not afraid to let go of what is not working and embrace new ways of doing ministry. As we continue to move from RELEASE to REBIRTH, I have every confidence that Christ will lead us. We can navigate this change of God-seasons together, in spite of our fears of change, and our anxiety over letting go of some things we hold as precious and holy.
The only other alternative is to ignore the change of God-seasons which is so evident in the world around us. We can simply refuse to RELEASE anything. Do everything the way we’ve always done it, and watch the Church of Jesus Christ wither and decay like it’s been doing for the past 40 years.
Friends in Christ, like it or not, we live in the most crucial era of the Church since the time of the Protestant Reformation. It’s going to be a time of change and transition, in our lives, in the Church, and in our world. Some days, it may feel like someone’s lighting a fire under us. But we have to have the faith that the Holy Spirit is leading us in this change of God-seasons.
While we are facing the difficult process of RELEASE, We need to keep in mind that REBIRTH is just around the corner. We have before us a “holy opportunity” to REBIRTH the Church of Jesus Christ, just like Luther REBIRTHED the Church 500 years ago. If we can successfully navigate this change of God-seasons, we will ensure that the Church will be healthy and vibrant for the next 500 years.
I know we can do this! Trust me to lead you. Because the good news is that Christ is with us as we journey through this change of God-seasons. And if Christ is with us, who or what can possibly be against us! Amen? Amen!
Copyright ©2019 by David Eck