By Lucy D'Aeth

Luke 12:49-56

“I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!

We still have a fire at our place and I really love the ritual of laying the paper and the kindling and the kouka leaves and trying to get a lasting warming blaze from as few matches as possible. I know Environment Canterbury won’t like me saying it, but a fire warms our house more evenly and more cheerfully than the heatpump.

And over the past 25 years, my father-in-law has taught me plenty about storing and stacking wood, making sure it’s well dried before you use it – why manuka is his favourite and why some woods like elder are never really worth the effort. In this city, we’ve got more responsible about the kind of woodburners we allow – we know that unchecked particulates in the air kill people. And we also know that fuel poverty is a huge issue in this city – most of our houses are too cold, too poorly insulated, too expensive to heat. And I’m acutely aware, as I speak about the comfort of a safe hearth, our brothers and sisters in the North are experiencing terrifying fires across Europe, and incapacitating heatwaves, and we are facing the judgement of our treatment of our mother earth, as she groans and struggles in the face of our abuse.

As usual, when Jesus grabs the imagery of fire, he is speaking to  universal human experience – the need for warmth, the fear of too great a heat, the knife edge between mastery and loss of control.

I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!

For several weeks now, our readings have come from Luke Chapter 12. Luke has 24 chapters so we’re right in the middle of the story. The first chapters tell of Jesus’s birth, then his ministry in Gallillee ( close to his home) and from Chapter 10 to Chapter 18, Jesus and his companions are on his way to Jerusalem. Then the last 5 chapters are about the culmination of the crisis, the arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. Actually Luke is half a book – Acts of the Apostles is the other half, drawn from most of the same sources , recording the development of the early church.

Luke Chapter 12 is full of images about being mindful – living in the moment – Jesus asks those around him to compare their situation with the ravens, with the lilies of the field, with sparrows –  he didn’t labour over powerpoints – he was on a journey and je just keeps pointing to what everyone could see. There’s lots about harvests, and the risks of storing up wealth. The risks of kidding yourself that riches can protect you, or that God favours the rich. Quite the opposite in fact. The God Jesus keeps pointing out is present and active in the everyday – cares for the tiniest and least powerful creatures, sees beauty in the unexpected and ignored.

As the chapter progresses, it’s clear that there’s a lot of followers and hangers on accompanying Jesus. He’s got his mates with him – the 12 he called to be his special crew in Chapter 6. These include boyhood friends, a tax collector Matthew, a religious extremist Simon, and a guy who’s later going to dob him in to the authorities. This core group certainly includes women – close friends and confidantes – Mary, Mary, Martha, Susanna and Joanna are named. This was a community – a whānau – travelling  and growing together.

Some of our work as a Christian community is to try piecing together the fragments which have been handed to us over the generations – being faithful inheritors of the gospels. But another part of our collective work is to be free with the tradition – make sure it is not weighing us down, oppressing us, leading us to exclude or feel elite. Jesus and his companions were a work in progress and so are we.

“I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to  turn everything rightside up— Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!

To be honest, this is a pretty disconcerting passage, which is why I want us to reflect on it. The Gospel of Luke was written to be read aloud, in the assumption that many could not read, could only access the word through communal reading and discussion. The expectation was that these stories would be read in groups, as people gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper – the commemorative meal which is at the centre of Christianity – the shared feast which we celebrated here last week. The implicit message of Luke is not to tell us what happened, but to invite us to reflect on what this means. If the Messiah longs for a fire, for everything to change, for everything to be turned over, disrupted – what does that mean for you and me in 21st Century Ǒtautahi?

I’ve believed many different things about Jesus over the years, as I’ve been shaped by the Christian tradition and by the communities I’ve been part of. This week I’ve been thinking about Jesus the man – a human being in a human body , with all the biological, neurophysical implications which come with that.

Jesus lived in scary times, and his beliefs and teachings were already drawing the attention of a ruthless Empire. Any human would be scared in this situation. A couple of times in Luke 12, Jesus stresses that he is predominantly offering his stories and teachings to his followers – the crowds of strangers hear them, but at this stage the message is for those close to Jesus. I wonder how much Jesus is thinking out loud, still trying to work out what the message is and how best to share it. It feels like a work in progress. Some of the elements keep repeating – it’s about the littlest ones, it’s about the outsider and the weak, it’s about now – this precious sacred moment. It’s not about wealth or security – these are illusions which hurt people. It’s about being truly ourselves, warts and all, together in this moments – seeking out God, joy, the fullness of existence as the miracle it is, freely given and to be cherished and shared.

Inside Jesús’s brain, there would be all the normal human responses – the threat responses which drive us to fight or run away or freeze. Most of us learnt during the earthquakes which of these responses drive us – the ones who swore, the ones who froze, the ones who moved so fast to get out of there! I wonder if the Jesus who wants to start a fire is the ‘fight’ Jesus, who can sense the danger and kind of wants to bring it on! At the start of Chapter 13, the author of Luke casually mentions that the Roman ruler, Pilate, has killed a bunch of Gallileans and mingled their blood with temple sacrifices. Systematic, terrifying state cruelty is always the backdrop to these stories Jesus is telling. He is trying to work out, with his followers, how to do this strange work they feel compelled to do, but everywhere there are interested crowds – some curious, some desperate for hope and healing, and some looking to make some political and financial gain.

Jesus wouldn’t be human if he weren’t anxious. In Jesus we see a human who has a remarkable spiritual practice, a moment by moment relationship with the one he calls Abba – Dad – but the gift of Jesus is that he is very like us, and we all know how we are in relationships – sometimes insecure, sometimes uncertain, sometimes less articulate than we would like to be. Relationship is by definition a work in progress and I think today’s passage we see something of Jesus’s frustration that he won’t be understood, his fear that people won’t ‘get it’, his desire to stress the urgency of the changes we all need to make if we are to live well, in relationship with God, each other, ourselves, creation. Today’s Jesus has lost patience with calling us a little flock, with pointing out lilies and ravens, telling cryptic stories. Today’s Jesus is reminding us that this work is urgent and messy and we’re going to upset people.

As I write, Salman Rushdie is in surgery.  Salman Rushdie is a deep thinker, a provocative writer who has challenged conventional thinking and upset powerful regimes. The fire he lit with the Satanic Verses has burned for decades, and killed many. Ideas and words are dangerous – they illuminate, warm,  inflame, enliven,. They feed us and they can destroy us – get ready, get ready. The Jesus of today’s gospel is fired up, hyper alert, with all the nuero-physical drivers that sets in place. We know how we respond when we are under threat, when we feel a sense of urgency – it’s heady but it’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating but it’s risky. Is this how Jesus wants us to live? Constantly in an adrenaline -fuelled state of hypervigilance?

I don’t think so, certainly not all the time. I think this passage is a helpful encounter with Jesus the human – a kind, driven, loving, passionate friend , who longs for justice and a more equitable way of living, a work in progress, trying to negotiate with himself, his friends, and God, what to do with his ‘one wild precious life’. As humans, we all have times when that fight/flight/ freeze response kicks in. For those of us who have much experience of trauma, this might be a constant challenge. The science teaches that to move out of this primal fear state we need to actively move from our lizard brain ( the oldest bit – the bit which means our ancestors were fast runners and good fighters) and into the frontal lobe where there’s more calm and reasoning. While he wouldn’t have neuorobiological language, Jesus knew this – he is always proposing mindfulness as the way – consider the lilies, look at the raven, be in this moment – here now, in this space. Ground yourself in this moment. Breathe. God is here now – don’t fret. Right here, right now – there is love.

God is in the space between us. Connection is a scientifically validated pathway to move out of adrenaline fuelled panic. At the heart of all Jesus’ action is connection – his friendships, his working things through with his companions, his deep understanding that the message is held not in him alone but in his relationships with other. God is the verb we unleash when we are in relationship with each other – love is liberated and generated through connection.

Yesterday Maggie phoned me to tell me her brother Stuart died on Tuesday, only a month after receiving a serious diagnosis – what a shock – what a loss. Through Maggie in a short conversation, I have some sense of Stu – a Vietnam veteran, a man who supported young people throughout his life, whose death sends shockwaves of sadness through a global network of companions and loved ones. A helluva guy who made the world a better place. Stu liberated love into the world and does so now, as we mourn him.

The writer of Luke Acts begins the Gospel with this explanation – I, as one having a grasp of everything from the start,  have decided to write a well-ordered account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may have a firm grasp of the words in which you have been instructed.

We are the God lovers into whose ears these words are poured this morning – the gospel was made to be read aloud and for us to ponder together. We are part of the fire Jesus started, 2000 plus year ago – we are both warmed by this fire and we are the fuel which feeds it, which carries it into the future.

Like those first Christians, we also live in precarious scary times. We have been instructed to bring love and hope where there is hatred and fear. We have been instructed to care for each other – those we find it easy to love, and those we have not yet learnt how to love. We have been instructed to live God’s Commonwealth now – to build an economy of love and justice, to call out greed and waste. We are called to be the good news, the fire which warms people’s hearts.

“When will the wronged by righted? When will the kingdom come?

When will the world be generous to all instead of some?”

That’s what our next hymn asks but it’s the last verse which I love, which describe so wonderful the friend we have in Jesus

Amused in someone’s kitchen, asleep in someone’s boat,

Attuned to what the ancients exposed, proclaimed and wrote,

A saviour without safety, a tradesman without tools

Has come to tip the balance with fishermen and fools.

May God bless us, the motley crew, the fishermen and fools, as we seek to do this work together over the coming days.


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