“Interpreting the Signs”

Luke 12:49-56

August 14, 2022

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Luke 12:49-56

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 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; they 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.”

He 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. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

| Centering Prayer |

Buckle in.

Pull tight your restraining belts.

Like strapping on a fighter jet

Or stepping into an extreme rollercoaster

The Gospel of Luke is taking us for an uncomfortable ride.

Last Sunday, Jesus gave us a pail of cold water to the face

With scriptural contradictions about behavior

And God’s scandalous, amazing, revolutionary, upsetting grace.

Jesus continues the scandal today.

If Jesus doesn’t upset you,

You may want to check your pulse,

Because, when he says

‘I came to bring fire!’
‘I bring division!’

Many of us may have flatlined,

Asystole cold as ice,

Seized up like an engine that ran out of oil.

Jesus has us riding this bucking bronco,

his Gospel directives and teachings,

for the next couple of months.

Jesus seeks not our comfort.

Jesus seeks our faithfulness;

Our complicit effort to overturn

The current world order anchored in evil and sin.

Jesus is seeking for us to enter into a divine collaboration to create

God’s kingdom new, on earth as it is in heaven.  

Jesus disrupts our routine and

Leaves us holding the bag of responsibility

To continue his work.

Getting routine disrupted is uncomfortable at best,

Life threatening, life ending at worst.

With every step Jesus makes towards Jerusalem, time is running short.

It is the same urgency he intends to instill into the heart of every one of his disciples.

With every beat of our heart,

With every breath we take,

Time is running out.


What are we to make of Jesus preaching about

Burning down and dividing households?

Juxtapose what he says today with his prayer for Christian unity in the Garden of Gethsemane.

(Take an aspirin and call me in the morning.)

What are we to make of interpreting the signs?

A few thoughts.

1. Passion.

The intense passion of Jesus

Communicates to us his deepest desire

For the transformation of the world.

The current order is flawed and unsustainable.

The world must be turned upside down.

Repair or replace?

Isn’t the question we ask when a major appliance breaks down?

Prophetic tinkering just didn’t get the job done.

Judges and Kings just couldn’t stay the course.

Either they couldn’t keep hand to plow, or, despite best intentions,

Were unable to fulfill God’s will.

Jesus is in the business of full stop renovation,

Out with the old,

In with the new.

A God in the business of continual re-creation

Is One to get passionate about.

A God with the open invitation to join in this effort

Is One to praise and thank.

Got passion?

If not, where has it gone, and

More important, how can you get

The passion of Jesus back into your spiritual life?

2. Choices.

For the world to be transformed into the Kingdom of God

Choices must be made.

Hard choices.

Jesus isn’t talking superficially about

What kind of cookies to supply coffee hour after worship

Or weather to bring a casserole, salad, or desert to our picnic in the pavilion.

Jesus is talking about family splitting decisions,

A willingness to divorce ourselves from

Anyone and anything

that destroys, obstructs, or distracts God’s will, efforts, and progress.

Church isn’t play and

Discipleship isn’t kindergarten.

Divorce is painful, but

Choices must be made about what is to be left behind.

Divorce means some things, not all things, must be ended with the same finality as wood on a campfire.

Like our parking lot sorting shed,

Some church relic’s need to be tossed,

Others must be allowed to sunset and fade away,

To make way for what God is creating new

Right here in our midst.

Divorce means making the hard decisions,

Painful decisions sometimes.

Walking away and leaving yesterday behind frees us to live today and face tomorrow.

Choose to journey with Jesus.

Accept our new roll and responsibility

For the transformation of the world.

3. Interpretation.

Reading the signs and

Making an informed opinion of what the signs mean

Is not simple or easy.

Nor is it for the faint of heart.

Pity the fool whose conclusions are made in haste or undisciplined emotion.

Our brightest and best have trouble reading the present times,

What makes you or me think that we can do better?

“Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Jesus asks.

It is essential for disciples of Jesus to maintain situational awareness

Of what is transpiring in the world

To make the best-informed decisions.

Be alert.

Be awake.

Gather every ounce of information possible.




Resist the temptation to judge.


Watch and listen for the Holy Spirit to respond.

The need for interpretation is not an invitation for the preacher

To create policy or legislation, or

For the layperson to abandon scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.

Interpretation doesn’t shape the facts to fit the opinion.


Cut each other a little slack.

Recognize the fact that we are all questioning.

Each of us struggle with the question, “What does it mean?”

Interpretation is hard work and the risks of getting it right or wrong are enormous.  

Take the risk, anyways.

4. Urgency.

When the house is on fire there is an urgency

To get out of the door.

Jesus is bringing the fire,

Meaning we must get it into high gear.

You and I see the storm clouds approaching,

The wind and the rain marching across the field,

Meaning its past time to take cover.

The time to take cover was yesterday.

Get in the storm cellar.

Hunker down in the bathtub.

Get going.


What is Jesus in such a hurry about?

Jesus is in a hurry for our repentance.

Recognize our faults, seek forgiveness for our sins, make changes to amend our ways.

You and I only have a limited amount of time,

A limited number of breaths and heartbeats

To get it done.

Do better, and

Bring the world along with you.

Likewise, Jesus urgently is in need for the Church to bear fruit.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Prune the vine and burn the branches.

Harvest what God has sown, nurtured, created, grown.

The Church bears fruit when it lives out its mission:

… to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

… to share the body and blood of Christ when we gather in Christ’s name.

… to love the Lord our God, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.


If the Gospel offends, good;

You’re paying attention.

Better to be offended and saved from the fire.

Where’s your passion?

Got any passion in your spiritual journey? If not, why not?

If it’s gone, what are you going to do to get it back?

You’ve got choices to make.

Time to put on the big-boy pants and decide

What gets left behind and what doesn’t.

What needs to get done to prepare for God’s current and future creation?

Interpret the signs.





Then, and only then,

Act urgently and decisively.


Bear fruit.

Live the mission for the transformation of the world.


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