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10 Pentecost - Luke 12:49-56

Every now and then, when Scripture is read in worship, people listen closely enough ... to

laugh.

It happens sometimes in Advent, when Luke wraps up his report of John the Baptist.


John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of

vipers!"

Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"...


On and on he goes, preaching repentance and fire and fear, which may be why no

one ever called him John the Lutheran.


"One who is more powerful than I is coming, he thundered.


He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.


His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat

into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."


So, with these and many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.


Ha ha ha.


It's the same joke I told earlier, after reading Jesus's words: the gospel of the Lord.

This terrifying craziness is the good news.


Those paying close enough attention to laugh will hear the echoes immediately.

Jesus' words today sound like the promise of John coming true, and so they are.


He is bringing the fire and baptism and division; he even insults his crowds.

He is everything John promised, or warned, he would be.


So why do Luke and the pastor name this good news?


It doesn't feel good at all, and it isn't news.


Destruction and division are the same, tired, old story; nowadays we are daily

adding names to history's enormous scrap heap of powers dividing people from

each other, whether virtually on Twitter or literally in Mississippi.


We don't need Jesus to separate families; we're doing just fine on our own, thanks.

The Romans called it divide et impera—divide and rule.


We know it so well we're desensitized to it, so the shock value is lost on us.

But why is this mundane poison spewing from the lips of Jesus?


Jesus knows what is coming, and he knows what the reaction will be.

What's coming is hard for the human brain to comprehend, much less trust.


He calls it his baptism, which is a terrifying passage into a completely new identity, like

adolescence on spiritual steroids.


He has set his face to Jerusalem, and the journey is long and stressful, like getting on the

101 during rush hour to go to the dentist.


He is now on his long, slow climb to the cross to crucify the system that will crucify him.

He is walking into the teeth of violence to do violence to violence itself.


He will win by losing, by changing the game instead of playing it.

He will overpower the bullies by forgiving them.


He will steal a thief into paradise.

He will face the brunt force trauma of death and kill it with new life.


He will not baptize us with water until he has been baptized with our wood and nails.

In doing so, he divides division itself, as the author of Colossians explains:


In him all things hold together...