Not an Easy Peace (Luke 12:49-56)
"Paul makes it clear in his letter that people following Jesus still suffer. They can do everything right and still be destitute, persecuted, and tormented. It’s not a personal fault, it’s just something that can happen when we give our lives to Jesus."
The Bible is full of amazing stories of people being in trouble and God stepping in to save them in incredible ways. It’s no wonder that the Bible has been such a good source for musicals. Last year I saw Prince of Egypt in the West End and the special effects were fantastic. As the sea split actors were lifted into the air with blue streamers unfurling below them, while a whale was projected onto the backdrop. Then when the Egyptian army followed after the Israelites the stage started to tilt up, a gap opened in it and the Egyptians fell through the stage. We’d never have got such a good show if the Israelites were able to simply sneak away and the Egyptians not be able to follow them.
There is a touch of the dramatic about the way God sometimes chooses to help people, which I think shows us something of God’s wonderful personality. How often does God choose the most incredible way to save their people. Why not need a procession to go around a city seven times for the walls to fall? Why not make it the disadvantaged prostitute who ends up saving the day? God is in charge and God can do these awesome things.
To the people suffering persecution under the Roman Empire, Paul’s retelling of these stories is comforting. It reminds them of how powerful their God is and that ultimately everything is in God’s control. There are too many stories of God’s power for Paul to even list them all and God’s work is not finished yet.
But I wonder if any of the original readers of this letter had a moment of annoyance. If God saved all these people why wasn’t God acting now to save the people being persecuted? We’re even further away from these great stories Paul lists and perhaps the same thought has crossed our minds. If God can do all this why are people of faith still suffering today?
We can even make this personal and question our own faith: surely if I had the faith of Moses or Rahab, if I trusted God just a bit more I wouldn’t be suffering. Perhaps this is a message you’ve heard from someone else, blaming your situation on what they believe is a lack of faith. The church hasn’t always been good at thinking about suffering, and too often we’re quick to put the blame on the sufferers rather than facing the need to question our understanding of God.
If you are someone who has doubted yourself or been blamed by others for your suffering know that you are not alone. But most importantly know that it’s wrong. That your faith and your suffering are not related.
Paul makes it clear in his letter that people following Jesus still suffer. They can do everything right and still be destitute, persecuted, and tormented. It’s not a personal fault, it’s just something that can happen when we give our lives to Jesus.
Now I’ll be honest, this doesn’t exactly sound like the best advert for Christianity. We don’t tend to use this passage to encourage other people to join us. If Harley creates new posters saying come along and you could be mocked or tormented would we have people rushing in to sign up to this religion? Perhaps not. But I still think this would be better than the alternative.
If we made false promises that everything would be okay, and that if you’re a Christian you will have an easy life, we might attract more people, but what a lie we’d be living. Because the sad fact of the world is that everything is not okay. Not for us as individuals or for us, locally, nationally, or globally. Things are not okay. And it’s only when we make that acknowledgement that we can start to do something about it.
I love the depiction of Jesus in this passage from Luke, because we see a Jesus who is all fired up to change the world. He said “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” What a statement! It’s not the sort of quote that’s perhaps usually associated with Jesus. Perhaps when some people think of Jesus they picture him like those twee portraits, gently holding a small lamb or smiling at an inquisitive child. But here Jesus is calling for fire and division- that's not the sort of Jesus we’d tend to find quoted on a bookmark or embroidered and hung up at home. But maybe it should be.
I love this depiction of Jesus who is so desperate for change to come like purifying fire that he cannot wait. He wishes it were kindled already. Do we have this same desperation to see things change? Are we filled with the need to share God’s radical love? To get to the root of all systemic injustice in our society and overturn anything we need to in order to build a world based on God’s love?
Hopefully we can all see that there is much wrong with our world, but actually taking the step to change it can be difficult, because the risk of division that Jesus spoke of is all too real. Sometimes doing the right thing requires us to speak up against those who are close to us, even against family members. God doesn’t want us to just go along with everything that’s happening in the world. We cannot simply be bystanders who only look for peace without acting.
Jesus’ words in this passage could be surprising because he is often called the ‘Prince of Peace’, but this passage reminds us that peace is a process, and not an easy one. It does not simply require an end to all fighting, but it requires an end to the injustice, greed, and hatred which cause that fighting in the first place.
Even Paul’s incredible list of God’s mighty acts reminds us of how fleeting an easy peace can be. The achievements Paul lists speak of a time of war and division: beating a foreign army, escaping slaveowners, capturing a mighty city. All of these feats helped the people of God, but what was their lasting effect? The people still faced new battles, new slaveowners took control, their own holy city was captured.
Each of the victories these people experienced was huge to them, but they didn’t stop the endless cycle of violence, exploitation, and death.
For a true peace we need more than the peace brought about by a military victory or by one human life. We need something deeper and more long-lasting. And Paul assures us that we have something better through Jesus. Because of his death on the cross and his reign in heaven, we are promised a better future than that of any of these Biblical people who experienced God’s mighty acts. Something better is coming.
And we can be part of that. We can join with Jesus in bringing this purifying fire now, sharing his passion for others and not being prepared to wait a moment longer for change. It may bring division, but like any social justice movement throughout history, change cannot come without it. The sort of transforming fire Jesus brings is one that uproots our comfortable way of life, that forces us to confront the many ways we are not reflecting God’s love, and that challenges us to act to bring God’s kingdom of justice and mercy on earth.
It will cause division as those who benefit from the current system find themselves threatened. It will cause division as some wonder why it needs to be us doing the work instead of someone else. It will cause division as some think present inequalities are all part of God’s design. But if we’re not prepared to act because we have a comfortable peace ourselves, we cannot achieve God’s true peace for everyone. Do we want to look just to ourselves or do we want to join with God in creating something better?
Challenging the wrong in the world is never easy. Paul reminds us that this has been true for as long as we have a written record of God’s people. But we know that it is necessary if we are to bring God’s kingdom on earth. A world where God’s justice reigns, where each person can flourish, and true peace can exist. I think that’s worth working towards right away.
God of the impossible, we pray for lasting justice, peace and reconciliation. When challenges seem too many, remind us of your resurrection power. When the task seems overwhelming, remind us of the miracle of love. And when apathy threatens us, remind us of your vision of a world made whole. Help us to hope that the impossible can happen, and live as if it might do so today. Amen.‹ back