S. Pentecost 10.19 “If There’s A Flamethrower In A Story…” Luke 12.49-56
Sometimes I think Jesus could really have used a good PR Director. And I say that as someone who’s heard from more than a few friends/editors over the years: “You can’t say that! We can’t print that!” I’m pretty sure any modern PR person would have reviewed this little discourse of our Lord’s in our Gospel this morning and had some issues. I think the conversation might’ve gone something like this…
“Uh, OK Jesus. I like the energy here in this little thought-piece of Yours, I really do, but this whole thing needs some pretty drastic revisions.”
Jesus goes: “Uhm?”
PR Director: “See, saying you’re bringing fire on the earth is just a red line we don’t want to cross. Have you heard of Terrorism, the War on Terror? Been going on for a while now. When people hear that You’re bringing them under fire, well, they get jumpy. SWAT teams get called, people get arrested, or worse! You can’t say that. You really can’t.”
Jesus goes: “Uhm…” PR Director: “No, no; hear me out, Jesus, this is important! You not only promise to bring fire on the whole earth, but You say you just can’t wait to see it kindled! Amazon, for one, will sue us for saying “Kindle” in a sentence like this, ‘cause Bezos has the word trademarked, IP’d, and he’s lawyered up to the max, You know what I’m saying? It’s like walking around with that shirt with a rifle on it, a zombie’s head exploding, and the caption “The only thing about the Zombie Apocalypse, when it comes, that will be difficult for me is pretending I’m not excited.” See, You’re not even pretending! You can’t wear that t-shirt, BTW. You can’t be happy about fire consuming the earth!, You really can’t, or at least You can’t say that You’re looking forward to it. I’m going through Your closet this afternoon, whether You like it or not.”
Jesus goes: “Uhm..” PR Director: “And another thing: You’re supposed to be the Prince of Peace, right? Isaiah said so. Honestly, this is your best Look: Prince of Peace, Savior of small, helpless creatures, champion of the environment, Really Nice Guy, Gentle Spirit, Great Soul, Redeemer, Reconciler, quasi-Hippie. You’re a Uniter, not a Divider. This is what people like about You. You ask: “Do you suppose I came to bring Peace on earth?” and that’s exactly what everyone supposes! That’s the only reason anyone listens to all Your weird little stories! If You say: “Uh, that’s a Negative on the Peace Project. We’re going in hot…!” Well! I promise: You will turn a crowd of thousands into single digits in seconds. Hey! You’re pro-family, so that long list of all the ways You will divide family members and turn them against each other is, basically, the worst Look You can put out there…”
Jesus says “You’re fired.” PR Director, “No, hear me out! Maybe the worst, and I’ll be honest, the whole first part about the fire on earth, Divider not a Uniter talk is terrible, but You cap it by telling everyone they’re Stupid Hypocrites? No go! Jesus! The bit about “you can tell clouds and lightning usually mean rain and south wind warmer temps, so how come you’re too stupid to read the signs of the end times?” Just, just… just: No, Jesus!”
Or something like that. Seriously, how did you feel about this Gospel reading? Were you like, “Oh, excellent! Fire! Division! Bring it, Baby!” OK. Not so much, maybe? You’re wondering “Is this really in the Bible?” Right? If not, good on you!
This is the trouble, I’ve discovered, with reading the Bible, the whole thing at least. There’s so much in there that just goes against the general picture we form about what Christianity is all about, what Jesus is aiming at. There’s just so many things in the Gospel alone that most really wish Jesus hadn’t said. At best, you’re confused a little, by the reading. Because the Bible really does say, Isaiah 9 that He’s the Prince of Peace. Jesus says “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” John brands Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, freely, by faith alone for any and all who struggle. And John and Paul both say many times that God is Love. So why all the “I came to send fire on the earth, and I can’t wait till it’s kindled! Do you supposed I came to bring Peace on Earth! Thing again, bub! Not at all! I came to bring division…”
Well, there’s a fairly simple answer to this apparent conundrum. There can be no peace with those who only want war. There can be no love for those who live only for hate. There can be no negotiations with Terrorists. The Holy God cannot tolerate sin, because sin kills and He comes to give Life. Jesus says “Whoever is not with us is against us”. Those who do the devil’s business will find a strong enemy in Jesus. Now, we need to be clear: God’s hatred of sin is no mere taste thing—like some of us don’t like kale. It’s not just aesthetics. It’s that: sin kills. Sin wrecks everything. Sin destroys God’s House, makes us run from Him in the Garden, makes us nail Him to the cross, makes us flee His House to go feed pigs in Samaria. You can’t receive the Bread of Life in your hand when it’s wrapped around a spear you’re jamming in God’s side. You can’t have your mouth filled with His Praise when you’re shouting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” It won’t work like that…
Jesus says the devil is a liar, a murderer, the original Terrorist. He has captured us all and we all suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, loving our kidnappers (like Pattie Hearst!) which makes our rescue tricky. Jesus says when a strong man has hostages, there is peace (of a sort!) in that evil house: the peace of a tyrant lording it over his captives. Real Peace requires subduing the Terrorists—who don’t give up without fighting!
That Jesus brings fire on the earth sounds like bad news. And it is!—for the murderous, devil-worshiping, hippie hordes. I tried to figure out how to do this without plot spoilers, so if I fail I’m sorry, but Quentin Tarantino makes this point beautifully (unintentionally?) in his latest heart warming family film “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”. After a harrowing evening defending his home from murderous Manson family hippie invaders (with a flamethrower), Rich Dalton’s neighbor, hearing the commotion asks “Is everyone OK?” And Rick says “the hippies aren’t.” Jesus trains His fire on the hippie hordes of Satan who would slays us. Bad news for hippies. Great news for the faithful.
Jeremiah makes this clear in our OT reading. The prophets who tell Israel they can worship according to the dictates of their own heart, turn their backs on the ’41 hymnal, just make it all up as they please, sin all they want, because God just luuuvs sinners are… liars. They’re the real Terrorists! The mark of the Faithful is that we sincerely appreciate being rescued. We’ll want to live with Jesus in His Peace—not this world’s temporary cease fire under tyrants. We’ll want to be like Jesus, in every way!!! If He says “don’t commit adultery, honor parents, don’t lie, murder, covet; worship Me, My Way, alone”, the faithful say “Grant it Lord, unto us all!” And if there’s some fire, some fighting, some dying even, that’s necessary to get to that Place where Jesus is all in all, the Faithful say “Bring it!”
By Word and Sacrament, here, and now Jesus brings IT—the Fire that consumes our sin, that Divides from our old pal Satan. By faith in Christ alone, we know the Peace surpassing human understanding that guards heart and mind Christ Jesus, our Savior. Amen.