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Jeremiah 23:23-29 (NLT)

23 Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
    “No, I am far away at the same time.
24 Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
    Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?”
    says the Lord.

25 “I have heard these prophets say, ‘Listen to the dream I had from God last night.’ And then they proceed to tell lies in my name. 26 How long will this go on? If they are prophets, they are prophets of deceit, inventing everything they say. 27 By telling these false dreams, they are trying to get my people to forget me, just as their ancestors did by worshiping the idols of Baal.28 “Let these false prophets tell their dreams,
    but let my true messengers faithfully proclaim my every word.
    There is a difference between straw and grain!
29 Does not my word burn like fire?”
    says the Lord.
“Is it not like a mighty hammer
    that smashes a rock to pieces?

Luke 12:49-56 (NLT)

49 “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning! 50 I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished. 51 Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! 52 From now on families will be split apart, three in favour of me, and two against—or two in favour and three against.

53 ‘Father will be divided against son
    and son against father;
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother;
and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’ ”

54 Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, ‘Here comes a shower.’ And you are right. 55 When the south wind blows, you say, ‘Today will be a scorcher.’ And it is. 56 You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.


Today will be a scorcher! A rather apt reading for a Sunday where temperatures are predicted to reach 31 degrees centigrade. But it isn’t just the weather that is uncomfortable. Today’s readings are challenging in the extreme. Why on earth is Jesus – the one whose birth was announced to the world by angels saying peace be with you; the one whose first words to his beleagured disciples that Easter Sunday evening were peace be with you – saying that he has come to bring division and strife?

To enter into the fullness of faith, we have to learn to live with paradox. A paradox is when two seemingly contradictory things co-exist in the same situation. We have one at the start of our first reading:

23 Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
    “No, I am far away at the same time.

God is full of paradoxes: our dearest friend and an unknowable deity; absolutely almighty, yet gentle and vulnerable; King of the Universe, but willing to serve creation; a God of justice while full of scandalous mercy and grace. It can all be a bit much to get our heads around, and that is a good thing – because God is GOD! We don’t want a God we can understand or put in a box. What sort of God is that? What we have instead is an awesome God who is constantly inviting us deeper and deeper into a life of faith and mystery and wonder. What a gift.

And so it is perhaps not surprising that Jesus, who was God made flesh, also said some puzzling and mind-stretching things. Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest, he says, then take up your cross and follow me! Those who are not for me are against me, he says one time and then, those who are not against me are for me, he says another. Peace I give to you, he says, then I have come to divide people! It can be confusing at times, and again, if you expect following Jesus to be straightforward or easy, you are in for a shock.

The author CS Lewis once said to a reporter: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” And yet, Lewis became a Christian. Not because it made him comfortable, not because it was easy, but because somewhere in the soup of all the things he didn’t understand was a story that was true, a power that was good and a love that was beyond all telling.

So back to today’s puzzling, unsettling reading. Why might Jesus be talking about bringing division. One of the resources I read preparing for this sermon suggested that we need to discern when Jesus is being prescriptive and when he is being descriptive. What on earth does that mean? Well, when Jesus is talking prescriptively, he is talking about what God or the Kingdom of God is like. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God”. This is a truth of the Kingdom – something that is true because God makes it so, something that will always be so. On the other hand, when Jesus talks descriptively, he is saying “because the world is this way, this is going to happen…”. He is describing not how God wants things to be like, but the natural consequences of the values of God’s Kingdom bumping up against our world’s broken sinfulness. He is warning us of what being a disciple might mean. So the reality is that, until our Lord Jesus returns again, whenever we stand up for the values of the Kingdom, whenever we take seriously our call to follow Jesus, we will find ourselves in conflict with others, even those closest to us.

Some of these conflicts might be quite minor – maybe you want to buy Fairtrade coffee, but a family member prefers their Nescafe? Or perhaps they are a bit more risky, perhaps calling out a friend for a racist, sexist or homophobic remark? Perhaps loved ones resent the time we give to worship and service, or it might be our commitment to climate justice or welcoming refugees which means those we love misunderstand or mock us. And so on – we can all perhaps imagine situations where our commitment to the truth, love and justice of God have made us think or act differently to others we love. If we are truly following Jesus, it will happen from time to time. It should happen. And when it does happen, have courage, because Jesus knew it would happen. Sometimes following Jesus is hard not because we are doing it wrong, but because we are doing it right – and Jesus saw then and sees now. Your faithfulness will not be for nothing.

I have come to set the world on fire and I wish it were already burning! Difficult words for us to hear in a world that is literally on fire due to the climate crisis. Homes, livelihoods, health all put at risk because of global warming brought about by our greed and exploitation of creation. Lord have mercy. But Jesus is talking of a different sort of fire:

Bishop Barron writes: Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” What is that fire? His forerunner, John, gave us a clue: “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3: 16).

Jesus came in order to torch the world with the heat and light of the divine Spirit, which is none other than the love shared by the Father and the Son, the very inner life of God. Jesus is a prophet because he teaches; he is a king because he leads and shepherds; but he is a priest because he is the spreader of the sacred fire. (From The Word on Fire Bible, by Bishop Barron, Luke 12: 49.)

As we watch our world burn, we long for that different fire – the fire of God’s love, the sacred fire which is the gift of the Spirit through Jesus. One fire is born out of selfishness and greed and brings only heartache. The other is born of self-giving love and brings only hope. But the two can be linked. What does the fire of God’s love look like in a world experiencing a climate crisis? What does the fire of God’s love look like in a world where the poorest and most vulnerable are most affected by global warming? It must and can only look like the persistent and determined and generous action to halt climate change.

Over the coming months, I am hoping that our church will begin to work towards being an Eco Church. This scheme, run by the Christian environmental group A Rocha, helps churches to look at all aspects of its life and make changes – some big, but many small – to become a more environmentally conscious and climate just church. It might not be easy and we may not always agree on how best to move forward. As we become more environmentally aware as individuals, and live out what we learn as disciples of Christ, it might bring us into conflict with people around us. But it is our calling not to see our world on fire because of climate change, but only to be alight with the sacred fire of God.


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