August 18, 2019

The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

Traditional Service:

Scripture Reading: Luke 12:49-56

Jesus the Cause of Division

49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 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.”

Interpreting the Time

54 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. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 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?



Sermon: “Disturbing the Peace

We all have hobbies, things we do to pass the time. One hobby we all share is the fine art of complaining.

Here, from the website “Thought Catalog,” are a couple of things that people complain about too much—along with the website’s comments.

  • How about long waits in drive-throughs? “You’re going to sit in the air conditioning with music for a bit, then a hand is going to pop out of a window with a bag of hot food and you’ll be on your way. How is this not treatment fit for a king or queen?

 

  • The list shows no mercy when it comes to hangovers. “I poisoned myself, now everyone please listen to my whining and give me sympathy.”

 

  • Then, of course, there’s the weather.

We love to complain about the weather but, even more, we love to complain about weather forecasters. This even though five-day forecasts are now 90 percent accurate. Even so, things can go wrong, as this clip shows.

Bloopers

 

In Jesus’ time, a cloud from the west meant rain was coming in from the Mediterranean Sea. Wind blowing from the south came off the Negev Desert, and brought scorching heat with it.

“Any fool knows those signs,” Jesus said. “How can you all be so clueless about what’s going on around you?”

“I’ll give you a forecast,” Jesus told them. “It’s going to be hot—really hot—and a storm’s brewing the likes of which you’ve never seen.”

“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’m under until it’s completed! Do you think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! (Luke 12:49-51)

 

Jesus himself doesn’t necessarily divide people. But his word, and the challenge it brings, does.

  • When John the Baptist announced Jesus’ coming, he said, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17).

 

  • In the early days of Jesus’ ministry, when he visited Nazareth and preached in his hometown synagogue, everyone spoke well of Jesus until they understood what he was really saying. Then they tried to toss him off a cliff. (Luke 4:16–30)

 

  • In John’s Gospel, Jesus is talking to a crowd at the Festival of Booths in Jerusalem about living water. Some who heard decided he must be the Messiah. Others doubted it. “So,” John says, “there was a division in the crowd because of him.” (John 7:43)

 

  • And let’s not forget Matthew’s version of today’s reading. There, Jesus says, “I haven’t come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

 

According to writer and activist Lisa Fithian, “Crisis is the edge where change is possible.” I can’t help but wonder if that’s what Jesus was getting at when he talked about bringing fire on the earth.

Maybe what he meant was, “I’ve come to bring crisis, because business as usual means injustice and death.”

Karl Höcker, the adjutant to Auschwitz’s final commander, Richard Baer, took these pictures between May and December 1944.

They show officers, guards, and other workers at Auschwitz relaxing and taking a break from torturing and murdering thousands.

The photos were in an exhibit at the United States National Holocaust Museum in Washington called “Laughing at Auschwitz.”

The Museum’s Judith Cohen said no one looking at any of the photos would have a clue where they came from or what the people in them did. “That,” she said, “is precisely what makes them so horrible.”

The picture of lighting a Christmas tree at Auschwitz especially boggled my mind. How could anyone running a death camp celebrate Christmas?

The sad answer is that when business as usual is injustice and death, it’s hard for us to see anything else.

That’s due in part to what psychologists call the “backfire effect.” We become more set in our ways when others challenge them, even when our ways are dead set, sure for certain, wrong.

That’s why pictures of a round earth taken from space can’t persuade flat earthers they’re wrong, and why anti-vaccers refuse to budge even when confronted with reams of scientific evidence showing vaccines are safe.

That’s why Nazi officials could sing Christmas carols with the stench of the Auschwitz crematoria in their nostrils. That’s why supposedly Christian people can stand by in the face of injustice or, worse yet, become part of that injustice themselves, sharing in the prejudice and hate of their time.

Jesus said that those who follow him have to pay attention to more than just the weather. They must first see that things aren’t the way God intended, then do something about it.

We still have trouble, as Jesus put it, “interpreting the present time.”

Do you think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! (Luke 12:51)

 

When anyone has the nerve to say, “This isn’t right,” it divides people. Those who profit from the way things are will fight those who bring challenge or change, doing anything to keep from seeing how they profit from the injustice of which they’re a part. 

Theologian E. Earl Ellis said, “The call for decision is a call for division.” When division comes, even division brought by the gospel, peace is hard to find.

In John 14:27 Jesus tells his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I don’t give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled, and don’t let them be afraid.”

The first century followers of Jesus didn’t lead very peaceful lives, at least not as we think of it.

  • The apostles suffered persecution and death because of their preaching.

  • Paul endured beatings, stoning, and imprisonment before facing crucifixion in Rome.

  • Peter died in Rome as well, crucified upside down because he said he wasn’t worthy to die in the same way that Jesus had.

Christians today still go through painful, upsetting times that are anything but what anyone would call “peaceful.”

The peace of God is more than a life without struggle or pain, more than a life spent comfortably cruising along the status quo.

The peace of God is instead an anchor that keeps the storms of life from sweeping us away, the calm center to which we can return when we lose our way.

Frederick Buechner wrote that, for Jesus, “Peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.”

May we lean on that love as Jesus did, especially when, because we follow him, peace is hard to find.