"What Now Is and What Soon Will Be"
August 18, 2013, Proper 15C
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & Zion West Walworth United Methodist Churches
“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?
In pews across America and throughout the world
Parishioners are squirming this morning.
Indeed, more than one preacher is sweating out the sermon
Rooted in this twelfth chapter of Luke.
On the one hand,
We are bathed in sunlight that streams
Through stained glass windows
That paints a picture of a peaceful Jesus,
Gathering children upon his lap and surrounded by lambs
Or of angels announcing the birth and Incarnation with the words
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth, peace, goodwill towards all men.”
On the other hand
Jesus tells the crowds
He has come to bring fire,
A baptism of judgment,
And division to households.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus preaches to one crowd
And “I’ve come to divide families and create civil war,”
he seemingly tells another.
How is the modern day disciple of Christ
Going to make sense of this apparent contradiction?
In many ways Jesus is creating an invitation
To the curious member of the crowd;
An invitation to reexamine the world
With much more attention
urged to using the prophetic eye.
Granted, not everyone is endowed with the gift of prophecy.
Some are given great insight;
Others, not so much.
To this crowd,
Jesus is saying
“It doesn’t take much more effort than predicting the weather.”
If one can feel the southern wind and know it’s going to be hot,
Or look at the gathering clouds in the sky and know it’s going to rain,
Then one should be able to look at the signs of the time
And know that civil war looms.
Let’s think global,
Then, let’s make this personal.
One would have to be blind not to see the fact
That just as many people have been killed in the name of organized religion
As there have been killed in the name of territorial rights, ethnic cleansing, greed, or brutal aggression.
“Go make disciples of all the nations,” Jesus commands;
Not just some of the nations,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus teaches,
“no one comes to the Father but through me.”
Yet, there are faithful Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and many others
In their house of worship this weekend,
Who are true to their sacred texts, traditions, and experience;
Who are fundamentally opposed to the ways of Christ and the Cross.
Though most religions practice peace and nonviolence as fundamental values
We are at civil war with people of other faiths.
We disagree in our beliefs,
But we are disciplined
by limiting our disagreement to words.
It is only the undisciplined
And the disrespectful
who allows civil disagreements to become violent.
Oh, how I would love to see the entire world
come to Christ and his kingdom!
To invite others to turn away from
Or delusional dictators
And to come into the fold of Christianity;
Disciples of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
The purifying fire of Christ,
His baptism of judgment,
And his division of wheat from chaff, of goats from lambs,
Is a clarion call to stand against assimilation.
We can talk peacefully and respectfully
with those who believe differently than us.
We can visit their houses of worship and rejoice in our mutual beliefs.
But let there be no misunderstanding of the Gospel:
We belong to Christ, and to Christ alone.
The simple fact that God sent us his Son,
Into a world populated by other faiths and beliefs,
With the purpose of redemption and salvation,
Tells me that it is God’s purpose to divide the world.
Jesus came to bring division,
Not a zero sum game like extremists or fundamentalists would have us believe,
But separation none-the-less.
Our revelation is Christ, his Cross, and his kingdom.
Because of this, we will be divided.
Let us exercise our prophetic minds
To examine our local environment.
Greed, ambition, power, and authority
Motivates human behavior in ways
that are often completely opposed to Christ and the Cross.
What is the standard of success in America?
How much you earn,
How much you have,
And how fast you can grow it.
We strive after higher paying jobs,
Purchasing bigger houses,
And fancier cars
Because this is what the world tells us to do.
As one earns more and grows their net worth
Money begins to play a lesser role
While, at the same time,
the role of power and authority begins to grow.
The difference between one million and one billion is relatively insignificant
To the politician, the judge, the large corporation CEO.
The goal is all about how much one can command:
How many people one can employ,
How many lives are in the palm of one’s hand,
Even wielding the power to decide between life and death.
Yet, Jesus tells us to not be enslaved to greed or wealth.
It is his most popular topic!
One can seek first the kingdom of God
One can build bigger barns and try to push a camel through the eye of a needle.
You can’t do both:
God and mammon are mutually exclusive.
Follow Christ or follow your net worth.
If you are a disciple of your net worth,
With your dying breath
Tell me how that has worked out for you.
Just as is the case with money and wealth,
So too, is the issue of power and authority.
The call of Christ and his Cross is to servant leadership,
Not command leadership.
This separates the corporate or political leader
From the Christian leader.
Jesus divides the world between those who control by willpower alone
And those who lead by the will of Christ and the power of his Word.
Do not sit at the head table, sit with the least.
Do not be first, become the last and serve the last among you.
Do not reach out to the healthy, the privileged, powerful.
They can afford the best healthcare,
the finest country clubs,
and the best perks.
Instead, reach out to the last, the least the lost; just like Jesus.
Reach out to the poor, the widow, the orphaned; just like our master.
Bring the love of God and the invitation of Christ to the prisoner, those suffering disease or illness, and to the demon possessed; just like our Lord.
Be the Christian leader by being the servant of all.
Just as we look to the sky to determine the future weather
Let us use the same prophetic eye to look inward,
Into the personal,
To examine the division,
And the need for a personal purifying fire,
That Christ speaks about in today’s Gospel.
The will is a battlefield where
The desires of Satan and the will of God are fighting it out;
With the prize being the eternal disposition of our soul.
“Thy will be done,”
While at the same time
Our will listens to,
And is tempted by,
The sinful, evil ways of the world.
“Why follow Jesus when you can chart your own path,
Be your own master,
Make your own decisions?” we think to ourselves.
Some personify this voice as Satan;
I see it as sin and evil.
Yet, softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Come to me, ye who are weary and heavy laden,
And I will give you rest.
“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)
In one ear is the whisper of evil.
In the other ear is the voice of God.
This is also the division that Jesus speaks.
The choices are diametrically opposed.
Will I submit my will to the will of God or to the will of sin?
The purification of fire and the judgment of Christ
Is not so much about what God does to you,
Rather, it is all about the personal decisions we make
And the impact they have upon our lives.
We rain judgment upon ourselves
When we choose between following Jesus
And submitting ourselves to his will,
Following someone or something else.
In a jolting case of Gospel splashed in our face,
Jesus brings fire, judgment and division
To our surprised attention this morning.
The ways of Christ are not the ways of the world.
The will of Christ is not the will of the masses.
The pathway of the Cross is not by means of self-determination.
Is this not the challenge:
Purification, but not by capitulation?
Peace, but not by concession?
Unity, but not by submission to anyone or anything other than the Lord, Jesus Christ?