Sermon for August 18, 2019 – St. Matthew’s Church
Proper 15C – RCL Track 1
Jesus said, "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:and son against father,
and daughter against mother,
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?"
I have to be honest – I don’t like this passage from Luke! Every time it comes up I hope that I am not the one who is assigned to preach. This is not a feel-good passage about Jesus going after the one lost sheep. It is not a passage that talks about radical forgiveness like the parable of the prodigal son. This is a passage that makes me uncomfortable – and I bet it makes some of you uncomfortable too. And that is a good thing for me and for you. It is a good thing to wrestle with difficult passages. It is good because they make us think. It is good because they challenge us to look at our theology and see where it might be veering into hypocrisy or heresy.
This passage seems so out of character for Jesus…but is it really? We find it uncharacteristic, uncomfortable, because we have largely domesticated Jesus. We want to see the Jesus that we find in stained glass windows or in children’s Sunday School books. We try to domesticate God so that we are comfortable.
Our presiding Bishop likes to say that if it isn’t about love it isn’t about God. And this passage is still about love. Because the fire Jesus yearns to ignite is the refiners fire that leads to God’s reign of Love coming into our presence. A reign that is characterized by love of God and love of our neighbors. A reign that welcomes those who society would cast into the fire into the very embrace of God.
The reality in Jesus time, if only the people would look, is that most people do not want that kind of society. They don’t want to let go of their perks that have been given to them by a conquering empire. Humans have a propensity for taking what we find comfortable and worshiping that as an idol. We do it today.
In Friday’s Sacramento Bee Marcus Breton had an article on homeless folk and our failure to provide housing for people. He chronicled all the reasons that someone will likely die in the cold this winter. And he lays it at our feet. He points out that all the talk from our politicians about providing shelters runs into roadblock after roadblock. Anyplace that is proposed for a low barrier shelter – one that accepts all people, complete with their needs, their pets, and their partners, someone opposes. There are limited areas that have the space for a large 100 bed shelter. And none of the places are right. None are perfect – and all of them will be opposed by a set of Sacramento residents. It will not be the same set at each location but there will be opposition. Some of it is real and much of it is fear. Fear that “the others” will bring crime to the neighborhood. Fear that it will drag down the fragile improvements being made in areas that have the space and sewer and water connections needed for a large shelter. The idea of shelters causes division. Just a Jesus caused division in his community by eating with outcasts and declaring forgiveness to those who turn towards God.
We live in a country where division is so pervasive that we hardly even notice the headline anymore. We only pay attention when someone dies – and then only long enough for the bodies to be buried. This division is, in part, due to folks being fearful that if we let someone else have what they need – be that housing, asylum, medical care, a living wage, God’s love – if somehow we let someone else have something we will lose out on our privilege. Our society – indeed much of the world – subscribes to an economy of limitations. An economy of scarcity. And we put that economy on God.
However, God’s economy is one of abundance. An abundance of Love. An abundance of forgiveness. An abundance of welcome. And Jesus came to try and get those around him to see that economy. To see the need for radical healing. To see the need to change how we operate.
Jesus called us to stop worshiping the idols that separate us from God’s creation. And that kind of talk causes division because we don’t want to let go of our comforts. Jesus told the people that just like noticing the weather they should notice the need for change. And it is still just a true today. Too many people, many who call themselves Christians, cannot see the need to change. They continue to domesticate Jesus and God.
The good news is that there are people who advocate for the kind of radical change that Jesus calls us to make. The good news is that there are places in our scriptures that make us uncomfortable with how our world is behaving.
The sad part is that advocating for the kinds of change that God desires still causes division. The sad news is that eating with those society considers outcasts and unclean still causes division.
I invite you to continue to wrestle with the difficult parts of God’s word… because it is those parts that will call us to shake off our sins and to welcome God’s reign of love into our hearts and into our world. And when we do it will cause division – it will cause the refiners fire to melt our hard hearts and accept a different society. The society of love and forgiveness that is the dream of God.