“Are You Serious?”

1. Are You Serious?     

            God’s guidance for my life is almost always beyond my plan and beyond my expectation so that it surprises me all the time. When I entered the seminary in South Korea, I was very interested in dating. So I tried to meet some beautiful women several times. However, whenever I tried to date with someone, some unexpected things happened so that the romantic relationship I had dreamed did not work out. After two or three years’ effort for dating, I gave up trying to meet someone, thinking God might want me to focus on something else. Thus, I decided to focus on self-improvement such as studying, working out, learning new language and so on. That year, I met the most beautiful woman in the world and fell in love with her. That is my wife now. When I came to the United States to study Theology at Boston University, my original plan was to go to one of African countries after graduation for missional work. However, after graduation from the school, I found myself in Wisconsin, which I did not know where it was before and was serving two UMC churches as a local pastor. God’s surprising guidance led me to say the following phrase to God often. That is, “are you serious?”

            When I was appointed to New Life UMC as a pastor, my original plan was to work little, focusing on building up the relationship with church members. Also, I planned to preach some comforting and somewhat mellow sermons. However, the current situation of the church leads me to work day and night and night and day to the point that my wife grumbles that she loses her husband. In addition, the lectionary, the chosen Bible passage, leads me to keep preaching the challenging sermon, dealing with some sensitive issues, such as money, possession, and life style. In particular, today’s Bible passage is a challenging one that I cannot help but say to God the following while I prepare the sermon: “Hey God, are you serious?” However, what can I do? As a servant of God, I should preach what I found from the today’s Bible passage regardless of my situation and preference. Yes, I warn you in advance that today’s sermon will be challenging because of today’s Bible passage.   

2. Fire and Division?

            From the very beginning of today’s Bible passage, Jesus says somewhat strange things. I will read the first three verses.

            “I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism to receive, and how distressed I am until it is over! Do you suppose that I came to bring peace to the world? No, not peace, but division.”                     – Luke 12:49-51

            Jesus says that he came to earth to bring fire and division instead of peace. It is strange because we, as Christians, believe that Jesus comes to earth in a form of human being to bring us peace. Thus, we call Jesus the prince of peace as the Bible witnessed. However, in this passage, Jesus says the very opposite thing to peace, fire and division. What do they mean? When we read today’s bible passage more, we can easily find out that this division is not simple division among people, but division even in the family. Family is the foundation for the society. When family is divided and broken, the foundation of the society was broken. In this sense, the division caused by Jesus is the fundamental division, which shakes the society from the root. In this division, it would be very hard for us to find peace. Why did Jesus say that he came to earth to bring this fundamental division? Did Jesus want to see the division and chaos among us? Didn’t he care for peace for the world? I firmly believe that Jesus came to earth to bring peace to us and to the world by redeveloping the intimate relationship between human beings and God. Then, why did Jesus emphasize fire and division in this passage? I believe, through these expressions, fire and division, Jesus wants us to know the real meaning of following Jesus, the real meaning of being disciples of Jesus.

            For Jesus, being disciples of Jesus, following the way of Jesus, is much more than simple joining some religious organizations. Being disciples of Jesus is to live out what Jesus teaches and shows in his own life. This life style takes cost. Being disciple of Jesus is risky. If you really follow the way of Jesus, you could risk division against friends, even against family members. I do not mean that following Jesus requires you to abandon your family members. Definitely Not. As a Christian and believer, you should take care of your family members as much as you can. I firmly believe that family is one of the most important ministries God has entrusted us. Furthermore, the Bible keeps teaching us how we serve our family members here and there. The reason why Jesus says about the division within family members is to emphasize the most fundamental relationship, the relationship between God and human being. The relationship between God and human being is more important that even family relationship. The real meaning of being disciple of Jesus Christ is to prioritize the relationship with God over any other relationship, even risking other relationship. God should be the center of their life and people try to live out according to the will of God. That is the meaning of being disciples of Jesus Christ. That is why we call Jesus and God as our lord. Whatever we do, wherever we go, we live for Jesus, live for God.

            This cost of discipleship is well revealed when Jesus talks about his baptism in today’s passage.

            I have a baptism to receive, and how distressed I am until it is over!”

            As you already know, Jesus’ public ministry started when he was baptized by John the Baptist. Through this baptism, Jesus became the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world as the book of John witnessed. (John 1:29) Thus, Jesus’ baptism wasn’t completed until he died on the cross as the Lamb of God. Jesus’ baptism led him to his public ministry and his public ministries led him to die on the cross. Through this crucifixion, Jesus completed his baptism and his ministry. This baptism, this way of life, was not easy for even Jesus to live. Thus Jesus says he is distressed until his baptism, his way of life, is over. In this sense, Jesus’ way of life could be seen the way of cross.

            Jesus invites us to follow this way of life, this way of cross.

            “If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me. 25 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it.” – Matthew 16:24-25

            When we become Christians, we are baptized. This baptism not only signifies the forgiveness of our sins by the death of Jesus on the cross, but also signifies our decision to follow the way of Jesus, the way of cross.  When we follow the way of Jesus, there is the high possibility that the world hates us and oppresses and persecutes us because we would be different from them. These difficulties and these risks are the cost of being disciples of Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus says about fire and division as the cost of being disciples. Before God’s surprising and unexpected guidance, we often grumble, saying “are you serious?” However, at the same time, God also asks us with the same question, but in another meaning, “are you serious?”

             I hope our church members will be real disciples of Jesus Christ who will follow the way of Cross, even risking our lives. Amen.