I have a love/hate relationship with the Olympics.
As a child I ate it up. I dreamt of being an Olympic swimmer or runner or biker – or whatever competition I had just watched as I devoured every broadcast hour my sleepy eyes could endure.
While I still love the drama of competition, the arrogant humanism often spoils my enjoyment as “sport” is proclaimed to be the peace-bringer for all the discord that spans our globe.
How hollow such claims prove to be as corruption investigations plague international sports organizations, as doping scandals affix mental asterisks next to results, and as cameras spend little time focused on the crushing poverty of many in Rio who live a mere stone’s throw from shiny Olympic venues. Much to its own dismay, the Olympics quickly prove to be a microcosm of the world’s ills, not its savior.
Of course, wherever the true Savior, the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus, makes his presence felt, there we find nothing but unity and harmony. Right?
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” (Luke 12:51). So in next Sunday’s gospel Jesus pierces our big or little millennialistic dreams that all will live happily ever after this side of heaven now that the Messiah has come. That will not be true in our world, or within the visible church, or even within our families! “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (52-53).
No, the angels were not mistaken at Christmas to announce “peace on earth.” But Jesus is the Prince of Peace by his standards, not the world’s. Where stubborn hearts want to remain in impenitence, there his words will kindle “fire on the earth” (49). As man fiercely clings to the proud dream of his own goodness and the arrogant determination to pursue self-chosen ways, there no peace can dwell there. Human nature loves to unite around whatever promotes outward peace by stroking its pride and encouraging its freedom of self-expression, but to all such thinking Jesus and his message are a consuming fire. To all such facades of peace Jesus is a bull in the world’s self-inflated-ego-china-shop.
Are we ready to endure this fiery division Jesus brings? Even when it gets personal? Even when it shows itself not just on our TV or computer screens but in the all-too-live-streaming format of our congregational lives, our families, or even our own hearts? What in the world would convince us to love a Savior who longs for such fire to be kindled?
Because we know he willingly endured in our place “a baptism” (50) of fiery judgment that distressed his soul so as to provide for us the path of peace on which we can walk forever. Because we know that only as our sinful nature dies its own daily fiery death to its own ways can our feet walk safely on that way of peace Jesus opened. Because we know that Jesus is not the enemy of real peace for us, or our family, or our church family, or the world. He is the enemy of every uneasy truce our sinful hearts want to sign with sin (ours and others) – all of which block his true peace from winning and holding our hearts. Until heaven that often means that the fire is hot as it burns to purge from our hearts everything that hinders our resting in real peace with him and with one another.
So don’t draw back when that fire licks at your heart, or the hearts of your family, or the hearts of the people you serve. When Jesus longed for such fire to be kindled in the world, that remains preeminently an expression of his mercy that refuses to trade true eternal peace for temporary outward ceasefires. That fire will bring no real hurt to the repentant heart. Instead, it will yield for every heart purged by it a lasting divine peace that is no temporary human façade.
So, yes, Lord Jesus, let the fire begin! And let it begin with me.