Pentecost 13C, 2013
Luke 12:49-56

A Liturgy is also available


“The greatest problem facing civilization is not merely religious extremism:
rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.
Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs
provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence
can never be adequately opposed”
(Sam Harris. End of Faith/45)

When I first told this Lucan story out loud – that is, really heard the words –
I admit I got a bit of a shock.  This isn't the gentle
and long-suffering
and peaceful
and approachable Jesus
many of us have traditionally come to expect.

This sounds like a harsh, despairing outburst
from someone near the end of his tether.

And now having heard this story again, I also feel somewhat anxious,
because it paints such a dark picture, and because
history has proved it true in so many ways.

Let’s take the ‘peace and conflict’ bit of the story.
The scholars belonging to the Jesus Seminar write in their notes on this story:
“Jesus is the kind of sage that did introduce into family relationships, for example, in his suggestion that followers should forgo obligations to parents in order to become disciples” (Funk & Hoover 1993:343).

While, West Australian theologian Bill Loader says:
“This is not a text one would choose for a sermon on ecumenism…”.

But Loader is not finished.  He goes on:
“…or is it?  ‘Harmony’ is one of those soft words which people sometimes use to plea for peace.  The peace is often a shallow calm of suppressed fears and conflicts which are bound to emerge from under their marshmallow captivity.  Orderliness and harmony were great Stoic themes.  At worst it meant everyone in their place, an unchanged and unchanging status quo.  For many people Christian peace is still seen as that kind of harmony, if not achievable outwardly, then at least achievable inwardly.  The gospel then takes up its stall beside all the others offering serenity of life and ‘feel good’ spiritualities” (WLoader.Loader web site, 8/2010).

Now that’s some challenging thinking!


Religion has been the cause of many wars and conflicts, and has divided families.
In Northern Ireland, the country of my father’s birth,
it still goes on, breaking out again
as recently as a couple of months ago.

And yet in another way I find this story… comforting.
Comforting that Jesus not only knew what stress was,
but that he responded to it in exactly the way
human beings have always responded to it.

Despite his regular habit of going into lonely places to pray
and to restore his own space and equilibrium,
he still experienced stress and tiredness
and perhaps a degree of depression, and he reacted to it.

And I also know some of you will find these words difficult to hear…
Because we often tend to see Jesus as not really a real human
and so it isn't always easy to realise how
his chosen way of action, must have got Jesus down at times.

We often tend to think of Jesus as some superhuman being.
But here in today's story is a very human glimpse
of a very human being.
Someone who's exhausted, frustrated,
and who suddenly erupts in an angry outburst.

Even if it is a fictional story made  up by the storyteller we call Luke!


The world we live in, like the so-called ‘biblical’ world
of the prophets and apostles, can be an angry and violent one.

Moreover, our world at the moment, it seems, is one
that is rocked with religious violence.
People bomb and kill other people all in the name of God.

And while much of the present religious violence
that catches the media’s attention 
are acts of terrorists claiming to be Muslim,
we know that Christianity also has a tradition of violence
against others (infidels, heretics) all in the name of God.

So, for instance, Susan Nelson asks an important question:
Is there something in our religious traditions
that encourages acts of violence?. (SNelson. P&Fweb site,12/2003)

Do we really want to think, for instance,
that it was God’s will for hundreds (88 of them Australians)
to die in the bomb explosions in Bali eleven years ago?

Even though we may interpret this act of violence, and
the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York which preceded it in 2001,
as a wake up call for Western nations
to confess their responsibility in the miseries of the world,
do we really want to say this violence is from God?

Do we need to have the violence of God
in order to hear the ‘good news’?

Does it make any difference if the ‘fire’ or ‘conflict’, is for
the so-called ‘bad blokes’ rather than the so-called ‘good blokes?
Or can the ‘good news’ itself be a lure to see the inadequacy
of our ways, whatever they are, and change them?

Continuing the questions of Susan Nelson, fellow
process theologian Rick Marshall, asks:
“Why do many Christians, pastors, and churches support the use of violence?”

Why indeed!  Marshall goes on:
“… is it that the King of Peace is not as appealing as a King of War who uses coercion and violence, revenge and retribution to do God’s will?  Maybe the image of Jesus the Messiah embodying persuasive power is not ‘strong enough.’

And then the important issue of ‘power’:
“The fundamental issue is this: What kind of power does God have?  Is it coercive and manipulative, or persuasive and loving?  Another important question is this: What kind of power should the church emulate, embody, and deploy in service of the Kingdom of God?  Another question: What does it mean to win or conquer?” .(RMarshall.P&Fweb site,8/2010)


We don’t need to be university historians to know of
the triumphal Christian church behind Constantine’s sword
“the bloody Crusades in which Roman Catholics slaughtered Orthodox Christians and Jews as well as Muslims, and the use of Christian just war doctrine to rationalize countless conflagrations, including [politicians] justifications of the war in Iraq” (McLennan 2009:115-16).

So how can we hear the words of Luke’s Jesus, today.
Perhaps a couple of suggestions.

First, we need to hear them in context.
And that context seems to have been an expectation, wrongly,
that the world was coming to an imminent end.

So people were required to live ‘in the proper way’
even when parents or friends or one’s spouse may have held
a different religious orientation.

Second, we need to hear these words within
the dominant Jesus message, usually
summon up in what we now call the Sermon on the Mount.

Third, we can listen to the critics of religion.  And listen well.
Sam Harris says there is ‘good religion’.  He writes:
“We must find ways to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity – birth, marriage, death – without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality…  Jesus and the Buddha weren’t talking nonsense when they spoke about our capacity as human beings to transform our lives in rare and beautiful ways.” 
(Harris 2006:88, 90).

Meanwhile theologian Sallie McFague in her book Models of God,
has suggested that each age must look at how its images for God function.
And if some images work for death, it is appropriate,
even necessary, to find the new ones
that work for life.  All of life.

Thinking theologically, then, means more
than just interpreting our given ‘orthodox’
biblical tradition and creedal statements.
It also means being willing to think differently now than in the past.
reconstruct, rather than just restate.

May we have the courage to go on that (reconstruction) journey.

Harris, S. Letter to a Christian Nation. New York. A. A. Knopf, 2006.
Harris, S.
The End of Faith. Religion, terror, and the future of reason. New York. W. W. Norton, 2004.
Wm Loader. “First thoughts… Pentecost 12C”.
McFague, S. Models of God. Theology for an ecological nuclear age. London. SCM Press, 1987.
McLennan. S.
Jesus was a Liberal. Reclaiming christianity for all. New York. Palgrave/Mavmillan, 2009.
Rick Marshall.   <>
Susan Nelson.  <