Jesus’ Mission Statement
Sermon at St James, Trinity 9, 14 August 2022
Luke 12: 49-56
To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:
It has become a requirement nowadays for any company, institution or sizeable organisation to have what’s called a mission statement. A mission statement should summarise what is their main purpose, their aim. So, for example, McDonalds fast food outlets are there “to make delicious feel-good moments easy for everyone.” Perhaps we ought to try them!
So what about the Church of England? It has lots of long sentences about vision and strategy but the key sentence is this, written in bold: “to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ afresh in each generation”. How does that tally with Jesus’ mission statement in our Gospel which we have just heard? Does it tally?
Jesus did not mince his words in his mission statement. “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled ... Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division … Households will be divided; father against son and son against father” … and so on. This is harsh talk, hard for us to take in as we sit here in church on a summer morning, practising our faith without fear.
Yet the effect of the coming of Jesus was division. Families were divided because of him and he himself suffered a horrible death because of who he was. After the resurrection appearances of Jesus his followers were overcome with fear only to come out of their shell on Pentecost and then their teaching provoked violent reactions. Most of the orthodox Jews of the day were horrified and within weeks were trying to stamp the movement out picking first on Stephen and accusing him of blasphemy against God. The only penalty for blasphemy was to be stoned to death and perfectly respectable citizens of Jerusalem took him outside the city walls and threw stones at him until he was dead. Horrific. Imagine what his wife and family felt—absolute despair and grief.
So, the first persecution of Christians began, the persecution by the Jews, but this was soon taken up more widely by the Roman authorities. The emperor, Nero, blamed Christians for the fire of Rome and his successors then persecuted them for bringing an alien cult into the empire. Thousands and thousands of Christians were tortured and killed in sometimes the most hideous of ways until Constantine recognised the Christian faith in AD 313 with the edict of Milan. Historians estimate that by AD 325 there were 7 million people who were Christian in the Roman Empire, especially in France around Lyon and Carthage in North Africa and Rome, of course. They also estimate that perhaps as many as 2 million had been killed for their faith.
Therefore, as we sit here this morning, we must be aware that the blood of those early martyrs was the seed of our church. Just as the sacrifice of men and women in the two world wars brought us peace and security so the sacrifice of those heroic Christians has given us our faith and our church. Jesus’ coming brought fire to the earth.
And it still does. Christians are still being tortured and killed for their faith and the two worst offenders are the authoritarian regimes like North Korea and China, which will not tolerate anyone straying from the state orthodoxy, and then there are the many forms of Islamic fundamentalism despite the fact that Mohammed taught toleration of other faiths. Certain charities, like Open Doors and Christian Aid, monitor the fate of believers throughout the world and Open Doors has calculated that last year in 2021 5,898 Christians were murdered for their faith. There are many horrendous accounts of children and their parents being tortured and beheaded because they would not renounce their faith.
Jesus knew that his coming brought pain, pain for himself and pain for his followers. This is his mission statement—that the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness and a life of faith and charity risks the anger and derision of those who fail to understand.
Our Lord’s mission statement proved absolutely true. We are the heirs of those Christian martyrs, and we are the colleagues of those who at this moment are being persecuted and killed.