On Sunday 18th August I preached at both Trinity United Reformed Church in Upminster and then at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Emerson Park Hornchurch.
As an introduction and mainly for the younger people in the congregation we had looked at Folk Lore and weather sayings, and interestingly one of the more popular weather sayings was even known in Jesus’ day see Matthew 16: 2 – 3.
Luke 12:49 -56
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”
There are many ideas about Jesus, his personality and his mission.
Once on holiday we heard a Methodist minister start a sermon with these words “Everybody has their own ideas about Jesus and everyone is right!” So I guess if you think that Jesus is the tooth fairy then according to that minister you are right.
But if you read your Bible you’ll find the truth.
Lots of folks don’t get beyond their childhood Bible stories or Sunday school ideas of gentle Jesus meek and mild. And so can’t understand or believe that Jesus said he came to bring division.
There is a picture on the way out of the East Chapel at the South Essex Crematorium showing Jesus as a white man with ginger hair and a ginger beard. Clearly the artist hasn’t thought about the characteristics of people from the eastern Mediterranean area.
Or folk think that if you are a Christian you have to be all fluffy and woolly minded, speaking in a hushed religious voice sounding like the archetypal TV vicar!
And yet if you look through the gospels you’ll find that Jesus talks more about judgement and hell than he does about heaven. That is uncomfortable for many people.
And what did Jesus do about the traders in the temple?
He didn’t turn a blind eye because it was a good source of income for the temple and proved employment for many people. Neither did Jesus call a conference with the temple authorities and the traders to see if there was a mutually agreeable way of peacefully resolving the issue. No, we read this in John 2:14 – 16 “In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle, he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said “Get those out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
In our reading from Luke 12 Jesus asks his audience “Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth?” You may well say that as Christians we should seek to be at peace with people. And that is what the Bible tells us in Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone.”
However as the Bible tells us, mankind is in rebellion against God and there will naturally be a struggle between God and men. Also the devil is determined to not easily let go of the souls of men and women.
The good news of Jesus is not universally accepted joyfully. There is often apathy or even downright hostility. And yet many Christians are surprised at this.
In John 15 Jesus warns his disciples in v20 “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Also in v23 “He who hates me hates my Father as well.”
The only way you can be at peace with non believers is to not tell them the gospel, to keep your light under the proverbial bucket.
Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. Its as simple as this. As Christians we believe that Jesus is the only way to God. Followers of other religions may be nice, sincere people but they are lost.
Just as not every plane leaving Heathrow airport will take you to New York, only those destined to go to New York will get you there, so not every philosophy or religion will get you to God. Many folk find this offensive and dismiss Christians as intolerant people, as most other religions will happily go along with each others’ views.
A few days ago I was speaking to a young lady minister who was very excited about conducting her first funeral service having recently been ordained. I asked her which church she was from and she replied that she was an Inter Faith minister. She may have been a nice person but she had her feet in so many spiritual and philosophical camps its hard to know really what she believed. Also if you are not a Christian, how can you lead Christian worship and say the Lord’s Prayer as God clearly is not your father.
We read in John 5:23 “He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him. “ So if you do not acknowledge Jesus for who he truly is, then you are not obeying and honouring God.
In our reading Jesus states that he will cause division. Families will be split by the gospel. I am sure we can all think of families where there is great hostility to those family members who have come to faith in Jesus.
I know of one elderly couple where for years the husband has tolerated his wife going to church as long as Sunday dinner is on the table at 1 o’clock. Which of course made it very hard for her if there was anything going on after the morning service.
I’ve known of families where family members have been disinherited or “sent to Coventry” for becoming Christians.
Maybe we don’t face the extremes that people in Muslim countries face if they come to faith in Jesus Christ, where they face being thrown out of their families or even killed for bringing dishonour on the family. Or being prosecuted and imprisoned as Islam is the state religion.
Over the last few days there have been reports on the news of Christian churches being attacked and burnt down in Egypt . Also in Nigeria many Christians have been attack by Muslims in the north of the country.
We should not be surprised at the hostility to the gospel and to the discord it can make between believers and non believers. Jesus says in Matthew 10:34: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”.
Primarily the peace that Jesus brought is what we can have on an individual basis between ourselves and God when we come to faith in Jesus. Having said that there should then be peace between fellow believers.
Except that sadly divisions do occur sometime over things that really don’t matter ie which side of the choir pews the piano is placed or even worse which side of the church the tea urn is sited!
Other times arguments and divisions happen over more drastic problems ie people straying away from the truth of the Bible.
Having pointed this out to his listeners, Jesus turns to the crowd and talks to them about common weather predictions.
People know how to read the sky and predict the weather and and yet Jesus says you can’t see what’s really happening. Jewish people knew their scriptures and so would know the prophecies about the Messiah. They would have seen and heard Jesus and seen that he ticked the boxes on the job description for the Messiah.
And yet they could not see the wood for the trees. For the Jews this was fatal, bringing upon them the destruction of the Temple and indeed the City of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people.
What about us? Do we read the signs of the times and know how to interpret them?
Are we surprised at what we see in the world?
This is what Jesus warns us in Matthew 24: 4 – 8 “Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ, ‘ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
It is a great assurance that whilst we must see and experience these things, all these are under God’s control. And the end is certain, even if only God himself knows that day and time of Jesus’ return.
So today lets pray that God through the Holy Spirit gives us the confidence and the courage to spread the good news of Jesus to the people we meet. Also we need to ask for God’s guidance so that we can safely and faithfully interpret the signs of the times and trust in God who is working out all things for the good of those who love him. Amen.