We have been spending the past several Sundays focusing on what Jesus wants to tell us from the Gospel of Luke. And in today’s scripture reading from Luke chapter 12, Jesus says some unsettling things. Shocking things.
Jesus tells us that he has not come to bring peace on earth, but division. In fact, Jesus even tells us that families will be divided over who he is.
Jesus says how a father will be against his son and a son will be against his father. A mother against daughter. A mother in law will be against her daughter in law.
This would not be a good scripture reading to use on Mother’s Day so maybe that’s why this reading pops up in the month of August. If you just came back from a family reunion that didn’t go so well, maybe this scripture really resonates with you today. Hopefully not, but I think you see my point. This is just a really, really difficult scripture to hear.
Jesus often said some really comforting things, but this is not one of them. In fact, it makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Why would Jesus tell us that he has come to bring fire to the earth? And isn’t one of his titles, the Prince of Peace and yet he says that he hasn’t come to bring peace, but division?
This scripture is one of those examples of why we need to read the Bible in context. Yes, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. And yes, Jesus offers us comfort when we are going through difficult times. And yes, Jesus wants family members to get along as much as possible. Yes, to all of those things.
Jesus is using these shocking words about coming to bring division to emphasize that when we seek to be faithful in following Jesus in our daily lives, we’re not always going to have a cheering section. It will sometimes feel more like a jeering section at times.
Jesus himself experienced those times in his ministry when he was misunderstood, ridiculed, and rejected. Even though he was announcing the good news that God’s kingdom was at hand, not everybody was ready to embrace that good news.
Embracing the good news of God’s kingdom can be threatening. Think about it. It might lead me to change the way I view other people. It might mean that I change how I do business. It could disrupt my Sunday morning routine. It might force me to rethink my politics. Now, you’re meddling. And get this, it could even impact how I spend my money.
And when we make these changes in our lives, people are probably going to notice. And not everybody will be thrilled. That’s when we need to remember these words from Jesus to not be surprised if not everybody is over the top thrilled that you have made the decision to center your whole life around a traveling Jewish rabbi who said really off the wall things like “love your enemies,” “the first shall be last” and “take up your cross and follow me.”
It’s not always easy to stand for Jesus. That’s what the sermon title is all about this morning. Jesus is telling us, “stand for me.” I’m a little reluctant to preach on this text because some people have used this text as a license to rub people the wrong way.
There’s nothing worse than an obnoxious religious person who feels emboldened to be a holy pain in the backside. Jesus had plenty to say about that, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Jesus is referring to fire and divisions because when people begin to really live out the good news of their faith, it will disrupt the status quo. It will force people inside and outside the church to rethink their long-held beliefs and behaviors.
Maybe these words of Jesus are here to remind us to not let our fear get in the way of what it means to be faithful in our walk with Christ.
In Charles Swindoll’s book, “Living Above Mediocrity” Bruce Larson tells about his time growing up in Chicago. He writes,
“When I was a small boy, I attended church every Sunday at a big Gothic Presbyterian bastion in Chicago. The preaching was powerful and the music was great. But for me, the most awesome moment in the morning service was the offertory, when twelve solemn, frock-coated ushers marched in lock-step down the main aisle to receive the brass plates for collecting the offering.
These men, so serious about their business of serving the Lord in this magnificent house of worship, were the business and professional leaders of Chicago. One of the twelve ushers was a man named Frank Loesch. He was not a very imposing looking man, but in Chicago he was a living legend, for he was the man who had stood up to Al Capone. In the prohibition years, Capone’s rule was absolute.
The local and state police and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation were afraid to oppose him. But singlehandedly, Frank Loesch, as a Christian layman and without any government support, organized the Chicago Crime Commission, a group of citizens who were determined to take Mr. Capone to court and put him away.
During the months that the Crime Commission met, Frank Loesch’s life was in constant danger. There were threats on the lives of his family and friends. But he never wavered. Ultimately he won the case against Capone and was the instrument for removing this blight from the city of Chicago. Frank Loesch had risked his life to live out his faith.
Each Sunday at this point of the service, my father, a Chicago businessman himself, never failed to poke me and silently point to Frank Loesch with pride. Sometime I’d catch a tear in my father’s eye. For my dad and for all of us this was and is what authentic living is all about.”
In our Luke passage this morning, Jesus is telling us to stand up for him. What do we need in order to stand up for Jesus and be faithful to Him? One of the things that can help us is to feel more comfortable in sharing our faith with others.
For the past couple of days, several people in our church attended a “Faith Builders” seminar here at our church. It was an awesome, awesome event. My good friend, Jeff Motter who is a United Methodist pastor up in Findlay, Ohio led our two-day seminar. We had over forty people in attendance.
Jeff taught us many things and helped us sharpen our relational skills and increase opportunities where we might share our faith with others. Jeff taught us that relating to other people and sharing our faith are not meant to feel like a root canal but are meant to be natural ways for us in living out our faith, even for those of us who are introverts.
If you weren’t able to attend, here are some of the helpful things he shared with us to be better faith builders in how we relate to others and share our faith.
I’m going to quickly go through these and I’m sure any of the several people who attended the training would be happy to share their notes with you if you weren’t able to attend. It was a wonderful time of instruction, singing, fellowship, great meals, and sharing together.
Jeff led us through four teaching sessions as part of our two-day training. In the first session, we talked a lot about the importance of being a good listener when having conversations with people. Jeff also shared some great thoughts on how we can have more meaningful conversations just in the the types of questions we might ask people.
Finding out a little about where they’re from, their family, what they do for a living or volunteer work, if they like to travel, what ideas that might have, if they are facing any problems, frustrations, or concerns, and dreams they may have. Jeff gave us time to pair up and have these types of conversations with each other. We discovered by doing this that even though we all attend the same church here at Athens First, we really didn’t know each other so deeper relationships in Christ were formed.
In the second session, we learned that building relationships are what is at the heart of effective ministry through the church. We learned that in order to have any effective ministry whether it be a small group, a Sunday School class, a children’s program, or a community project outside the church, we need to be aware of the challenges that people are facing and what they are seeking in dealing with those challenges.
One of the takeaways from that session for me was that our programs and events are meant to be opportunities for us to connect with the people who are attending, especially new people who come seeking a loving, caring, authentic, non-judgmental, and hope-filled community of faith.
And that led us to think a lot about what we as the church, and specifically here at Athens First can uniquely offer people that they many not be able to get anywhere else outside the church. And that’s what led us to a deeper understanding that relationships truly are at the heart of effective ministry.
For the third session, we focused on what it means to be the kind of person that others want to be around through our words of affirmation.
We affirm others by letting them know of the positive qualities that we see in them. And we also learned seven principles in sharing our faith with others. These include prayer, initiating a conversation, affirming and encouraging others, inviting people to share about themselves, sharing a little of who we are with others, looking for opportunities to share our faith, and being willing to invite people to go deeper in their faith.
And then the final session before we left yesterday afternoon was on how we might be a blessing to others. Jeff left us with two important suggestions for our church moving forward. He encouraged us to know your faith story and be ready to share it and be willing to pray with someone.
One of the reasons we held this seminar now is because it is right before the college students come back and it’s also a time when people are more inclined to be seeking a church home. This is a great time for us to stand for Jesus in reaching out to the people in our community, share our faith with people through our conversations, and invite people to church.
During 1857-1858 revival broke out in Philadelphia, PA. A young preacher, Dudley Tyng, one day preached to 5000 men using Exodus 10:11 as his text: “Go now ye that are men and serve the Lord.” About 1000 responded to his invitation that evening.
On the following Wednesday, he was involved in a terrible farming tragedy. The doctors did not believe he would live. While Tyng lay in great pain, he entreated his doctor to accept Christ. With a room filled with other preachers he asked them to “Sing, sing, Can you not sing.”
His last admonition to his friends was to “Tell the people to stand up for Jesus.” George Duffield witnessed his friend’s death that day and heard his dying words. That week he wrote the words to the hymn, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.”
And what an incredible coincidence! That’s the title of our prayer hymn. As you’re able, please stand and let’s sing together.
License Plate Sightings: STAN4ME
Sermon Discussion Questions
August 18, 2019
During our summer sermon series on vanity license plate sightings, we’ve been asking people to share interesting ones they have seen.
Have you seen an interesting vanity plate recently?
Our vanity license plate message this week is STAN4ME. It’s based on our Gospel reading where Jesus says that he has not come to bring peace but division. The reason Jesus said this is to help us understand that not everybody will be receptive to the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself was often misunderstood, ridiculed, and rejected. This was because he often said unsettling things like “love your enemy.” He also spent a lot of time with people who were not viewed as important in society. It’s been said that if we have never been offended by something in the Bible, we have probably not read it carefully enough!
When have you been upset or unsettled over something that Jesus said or did? How did a new biblical understanding lead you to change long-held beliefs about something or lead to a change in how you live your life?
One of the reasons that we don’t change our opinions and behaviors is because we are afraid of what our friends will think of us. This is known as “tribalism” where we do not want to leave the “tribe” and embrace a new truth for fear of what others might think of us. This is why we tend to stay in our comfort zones and we don’t experience positive spiritual transformation in our lives.
What helps you to be open-minded and receptive when you read the Bible or feel unsettled by something Jesus said or did?
Sharing our faith with others is one of the ways that we “stand up for Jesus.” Our church recently held a “Faith Builders” two-day seminar in which we were invited to step out of our comfort zones and sharpen our skills in sharing our faith and relating to the people around us. In the sermon, Pastor Robert shared a brief summary of what we learned together because of this seminar.
Which of these faith sharing/relational skills from the “Faith Builders” seminar are you willing to implement in order to stand up for Jesus? Pray that God would bless your commitment in becoming more open in sharing your faith with others.