(Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82, Hebrews 11:29-12:2)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/dyk6hnXghmQ)
[Jesus said:] 49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
Perhaps you’ve heard the classic Aesop fable about the ant and the grasshopper but allow me to retell it for those who haven’t. The story goes that in a field one summer’s day, a grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.”
It is a simple enough tale about the importance of planning for the future. If we don’t plan for tomorrow with some of our time from today, then tomorrow just might become unbearable depending on how events play out. In the ease of that summer day, the Grasshopper didn’t think the winter would be harsh and food would be scarce. Or perhaps more accurately the Grasshopper chose to ignore the impending harsh winter and instead reveled in the ease of that summer day. But whether he knew or not, the Grasshopper suffered nonetheless. And his suffering could have been easily avoided if only he had listened to the Ant and taking the time to plan for the winter by storing up food in the summer. The Grasshopper had to learn a hard lesson the hard way. It is hard to deny ourselves the joys of today when we have to plan for the joys of tomorrow. But the suffering of tomorrow is even harder to endure knowing it could have been avoided though. And the Grasshopper learned this lesson the hard way.
Of course, many of us only learn the hard lessons of life through the hard way. We didn’t listen to the ants in our lives that tried to teach us the hard lessons in the easiest possible ways. Our foolishness or stubbornness or pride or arrogance kept us from heeding the wisdom of those around us. We did stupid, preventable things because we thought we knew better than those around us. We thought the lesson didn’t apply to us, that we were above it. This only made the lesson that much harder to swallow when we had to. If only we had listened the first time around…
Denying ourselves the joys of today to plan for the joys of tomorrow is one of many hard lessons to learn in this life. We could go around the room and lift up any number of hard lessons that each of us has had to learn in our lives. Life isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to endure situations and relationships that we don’t want to. We have to learn lessons we don’t want to learn; hear words we don’t want to hear. Why? Because it is in the difficult words and lessons that we tend to grow the most. They stretch us and challenge us into trying new approaches to situations and relationships. They broaden our perspectives on any given situation or relationship and help us understand the world better. The hard lessons of life teach us the most about each other and about God.
Our readings for this morning are filled with hard lessons and words. In Jeremiah, we heard a difficult encounter between God and the prophet. God was angry with his people for listening to the lies of false prophets. The people had become so enthralled with the prophets’ dreams that they were beginning to worship false gods. They were being led away from God’s sustaining word and into deceitful, sinful ways. This had angered God, understandably so, and caused Him to switch up his approach with his people. As a precursor of his wraith to come, God asks Jeremiah, “Is not my word like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” God loves his people with words that not only comfort and encourage but also hurt and destroy when needed. Jeremiah had the unenviably task of reminding God’s people of this. God’s words can either build up or tear down, delivering justice in its truest form. God’s words are easy words for some, difficult words for others, depending on how they are received. But God’s words are always just and right and holy.
To illustrate the power of God’s words as conveyed by Jeremiah, Jesus speaks surprisingly difficult words in our passage from Luke. He says, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Those around Jesus had expected his words to be nothing more than words of comfort and consolation. And they were…to some. Remember, God’s words both build up and tear down. They tear down false teaching and false hope as given by false teachers but they also build up with true hope and everlasting joy. Jesus went on to give hard words: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” This is a hard lesson to hear! We don’t want to hear Jesus destroying the very foundation of our lives, our families. But it is precisely because we place such a strong value on our families that Jesus speaks these words. Jesus wants to be the one, true foundation in our lives. Jesus would destroy any foundation that undermines his foundation. For some, this is good news. Some of us have families that we’d rather not be a part of. They’d gladly replace the so-called “foundation” of their families with the foundation of Christ. For these people, Jesus’ words are easy words. For others, this is disheartening news. They love their families and the foundation they provide in their lives. They don’t want to lose their familial foundations. For these people, Jesus’ words are hard words. Thus is the power of God’s words. They can both create and destroy.
Last week, we explored the importance of faith in whatever situation or relationship we find ourselves. This can be an easy lesson for some, a hard lesson for others. Some of us need to be put in bad situations or relationships to teach us the importance of faith. Some of us don’t need such situations or relationships to teach us this lesson. I tend to sit in the former group rather than the latter. However we learn this lesson, we can take comfort in knowing that God is ultimately the one in charge of perfecting our faiths. God places us in situations and relationships that challenge and strengthen our faiths. When we are in right relationship with Jesus, he is the true foundation of our lives. Let us be glad that God’s words are more than words of comfort and consolation. Let us be glad that God’s Word is not only an easy word but also…a difficult word.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.