Summary: We agree that we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, but this is not easy, nor is it painless. God therefore will use any means to achieve this, even our own families to agitate and root out an imperfection in us.
This sermon was delivered to St Oswald’s, Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland on the 15th August 2010; St Oswald’s is a Scottish Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Glasgow and Dumfries.
“Please join me in a short prayer from Psalms 19:14, and ” Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen.
Many years ago in the West Parish Church here in Maybole, I remember a visiting minister once preaching a real fire and brimstone sermon of condemnation; fully letting rip into the congregation.
My father still speaks of this sermon, well more so of the reaction of some of the congregation, who went on to thank the minister at the door, telling him how they had felt much better after such good mouthful.
Now this always bothered me; because I was at school back then, and it was common place for all teachers to rip into me on a regular basis; and I can assure you, that never made me feel any better; … so it was less reassuring to know that some people actually like such abuse from a minister during a sermon.
However, many year later to my great relief, I discovered what the New Testament really meant, and how it was full of love and grace and peace and things of hope and encouragement; and not any of those nasty fire and brimstone things of the Old Testament.
In fact I began to understand that I was accepted by God because of Jesus, and not because of anything I had; or had not done. God loved me because of the death of Jesus on that cross; and God loves us all of us in exactly the same way. …
None of our actions will ever change that, and I call that good news. In fact Romans chapter 8: verse 1 says “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Is that not good news; no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus?
However, today’s readings do not fit into that mould. They’re all full of hard sayings, of demands for faithfulness, and the promises of judgment.
In the two readings this morning, and in the Psalms, God is basically saying that our behaviour is very important, and that God has very real expectations of us; and that what we do really does matter; and all that talk of discipline, and judgment, and division is certainly very disconcerting.
It is then made worse by Jesus saying that He, "came to bring fire to the earth, and how he wished it were already kindled!;” and he was very impatient to get on with it; saying “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!”
All in all, this is not our usual Sunday message. No gentle Jesus, meek and mild. No easy yokes or light burdens, no kind words about love and forgiveness. This is the other side of the Gospel, the other side of the good news; the side that we don’t embrace quite so willingly; but there it is and it is very much a part of the whole Christian message; and we need to hear it; as we cannot simply take the bits we like; and throw out the rest. We must therefore embrace the whole message no matter how frightening it may appear.
In the Gospel message this morning we also hear Jesus say “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 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."
Now that is conflict. What do you think would happen to this Church if we put that message on our notice board outside? It is pretty strong to say the least.
Now I could go into reasons of spiritual warfare here saying things like it is God and Satan are fighting here on earth, and they are using their people here on earth to fight their battles, but this is not the message in this gospel reading.
The gospel mentions family here; it does not mention sects nor religions nor Jews nor Gentiles; it mentions families, and families to me tend to have similar beliefs and values; so it is not a conflict between good and evil here.
The clue to this message is where Jesus said that he came to bring fire to the earth. Now as you will recollect, fire in the Old Testament was Judgement where God brought the flames of heaven to support Elijah and destroy his enemies in 2 Kings Chapter 1.