Looking East from Hilltop Farm towards Gladstone South Australia

Time for Freedom

Gospel: Luke 12:49-56

49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided:
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.’

54 He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Sermon: A First Draft

A lecturer at Agricultural College told us he had once casually asked a student if he was going back on the farm after university… to take over from Dad. The young man replied, “Well, Grandpa hasn’t let Dad have a go at running the farm yet.”

Family is at the centre of our lives. It is where begin. For good and for ill, our family is part of us, written into our genes. The doctor who delivered me at birth became our family doctor when we came back from the desert. He always used to call my daughter "Kathy."  Kathy is actually the name of my younger sister, for whom he also cared, and she and my daughter, twenty years younger, are like peas in a pod. Sometimes I even call her Kathy.

Every now and then my son comments on something, and I am pulled up short because he uses the exact language and the tone of my father. If I were outside the room, I would have thought it was Dad.

This centrality is sometimes good and sometimes bad. At one Christmas dinner my dad made an inflammatory political statement. Instantly, his three grown up kids were after him, and the old man ducked and weaved, revelling in the fight. The two grandchildren listened with delight, not necessarily understanding all the argument, but enjoying seeing their aunties wind Pop up. I realised later that he had said it on purpose. And he led us on a merry dance. We were never going to win, as he was cleverly changing his ground all the time.

The fun stopped quickly because my horrified wife told us to stop, or she was walking out! An argument like that in her family, would have been full of danger. And my mum was almost white. Mum would never have answered her Dad back; it was not done! What was a wild rollicking argument for us, enormous good fun because of Dad's essential peacefulness and gentleness, would have been full of danger for many other people.

We forget how central family is to our very being. In our culture we are able to leave home, and leave the village. We can get far away from our family, even to the other side of the world. It seems very different to the world of Jesus, where family and village was all you had. To be outside your family- offside- was a disaster. You would lose all your social connections. It would be difficult to survive without your family.

If you had a good loving family, then this was excellent. You were set for life! If grandpa was a tyrant, then your whole life would be coloured by him, tainted by him, ruled by him. It could be a misery, with very little chance of escape.

It’s in this context of an ever present family, that people began to follow Jesus, seeking peace and justice… glimpsing the kingdom as a new way of living. And it is clear from the words in today’s reading in Luke that they were finding something else. Not peace, but 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.’

Jesus’ vision of a kingdom of compassion, living under the mercy and justice of God, was a far cry from the rigid rule of the patriarchs and matriarchs of some families. These tyrants were outraged that some interloper, claiming to know the will of God, was intruding into their little kingdoms.

Jesus vision was a far cry from the rigid structures of the village, which held you for life. It was against the structures of the society which dominated people’s life and held them in poverty for the benefit of Rome and the rich.

Of course, we can just leave, can’t we? Go and get a job in different town from where we grew up. We can build our own lives in freedom… except that the family always goes with us.

I have not lived at home for nearly forty years. I have not lived within 100 kilometres of my parents for nearly forty years. But I stretch as I get up from the couch, and sound just like my Dad. I tune out from conversations like he does, and live in my own world. I react to things with an instant desire to “do the right thing,” and avoid embarrassment. The propriety and good manners of my grandfather, and his strict attention to duty, are a large part of me. I lack the good temper of my Dad and the gentleness of Grandpa, which makes it all worse. In many ways, on too many days, I have not left home at all.

Life is about taking the best of our family with us; all the good gifts. And growing up is about leaving behind the bad, and being healed of the damage our family inflicted on us… and seeking not to pass it on to our children, and the people around us.

The church does not have a monopoly on this. It is the human task, which all people face, Christian or not, religious or not. It is the gift of God that we humans have the option to grow and to change. We are not like the animals, which seem so much more bound by unconscious instinct of their inheritance. We are at a point in our evolution where we can grow.

What the church does have, though, is the example of Jesus. In Luke’s tradition he wades right into the middle of all the family tensions.

Did you notice that the divisions are between the generations? He calls us to change, to make our own choices, to shift our allegiance from the family to him.

Our Christian faith is that his example of compassion and justice is freedom-creating, and life-healing. Following his choices, and making him Lord of our life, is what frees us from the tyranny of family, and society, and also lets us recognise and pass on the best family has given us.

And our faith brings division- even a sword. The patriarchs and the matriarchs of our lives do not want to be overthrown. They consider that they rule. Their being and survival is not rooted in God, but in running their own little kingdoms, and running us. Jesus’ way of life does not only claim us, it confronts them, and tells them they are not their own little God.

So be ready. Now is the time. It is the only time we have. If we will not follow Jesus, then we will follow something else. Someone else, or something else, will be our God.

Luke says

‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens.

It’s just like family. You can tell what will happen; certain events always lead to a blow up, or a conflict. Other events guarantee that someone will get the sulks. If we don’t have Christmas at Auntie Jane’s there will be hell to pay… family can be torture.

Luke had Jesus saying some hard things about the weather.

You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

You know what’s going on, he was saying. You know how the world is not right, and you know you can be part of putting it to rights, by following me and living my way. Why don’t you do this?

That’s good news… even if it’s not easy news. Lots of the world won’t appreciate it if we act on it. And perhaps the first place we will stir up bad weather, will be in our family. But it will be the beginning of being set free.

Jesus’ life is not just about the big issues of society and politics. It is about our growing as a person, and our painful wounds from home, which we can never show anyone. Risking the division is the beginning of our healing.

It sounds trite to say, “Live like Jesus did to get healed of the hurts from home.” But it’s true… profoundly true. It’s not easy, and it risks everything. But it is the beginning of healing… and it is always the right time. Amen

Andrew 2010
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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