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Sermon for August 14, 2022 – Proper 15

Speaking of Life Script 4038 | Wrong-Way Drivers

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life Script 4038 | Wrong-Way Drivers
Greg Williams

Here is a funny story you may be familiar with:

There was a lady who called her husband while he was driving home from work. She worriedly told him, “I just saw on the news there’s an idiot driving the wrong way on the same interstate you’re on. Please be careful!” Her husband corrected her, “It’s not just one driving the wrong way. There are hundreds of them!”

It’s an old joke that still makes me laugh. But I want to add a new twist to the story. What if it wasn’t a joke. What if the man was correct and he was the one driving in the right direction on an interstate full of hundreds going the wrong way. In that case, it wouldn’t be a laughing matter.

I don’t think that has ever happened (outside of a Jason Bourne movie), but in another way, it happens every day for those who follow Jesus. The interstate that travels through this present evil age actively opposes Christ and his followers by treating them like “idiots” traveling in the wrong direction. Christians can identify with phrases like, “Swimming upstream,” or “Sailing against the wind.” It sounds obvious when said out loud, but following Christ comes with obstacles, adversity, and conflict.

Thankfully, for the believer, we are not on this journey alone. First, we have our Lord and Savior who has completed the journey ahead of us and is presently preparing us for glory by the Spirit, even in the face of opposition. Second, we have brothers and sisters who have either completed the journey or are traveling with us in the same direction. This community of believers—known as the Church—not only encourages and equips one another to keep our eyes on Jesus to stay the course, but they also become a witness to others who have been driving in the opposite direction. True to who Jesus is, even then he continues to draw all of humanity to himself. He includes us in his ministry, as others experience Christ in us, inspiring them to take a u-turn towards him.

The author of Hebrews used the metaphor of a race instead of driving on an interstate. Listen to this description of Jesus and his followers facing opposition:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1-2

No doubt there are challenges and struggles in the Christian journey. It can feel like an obstacle course as we move towards Christ. But please be encouraged that we are not driving alone. The great cloud of witnesses have gone before us. Jesus is before us, around us, and always with us. It is our joy to journey together with fellow believers and to invite others to come along for the ride.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 • Isaiah 5:1-7 • Hebrews 11:29-12:2 • Luke 12:49-56

This week’s theme is healing judgement. The call to worship Psalm is a call for Israel’s restoration who is likened to a ravished vine that was once flourishing. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah tells a parable of a vineyard with a message of judgement. The Gospel reading from Luke presents some sharp sayings of Jesus concerning judgement. The epistolary text comes from Hebrews listing examples of faith from Israel’s history as forerunners to Jesus’ faithful obedience.

Peace & Division

Luke 12:49-56 (NRSV)

Read or have someone read Luke 12:49-56.

As you heard or read today’s text, I suspect there was part of you that raised an eyebrow. You may have thought, “That’s odd, is Jesus promoting division?” On the face of it, that certainly seems to be the case. These are the words of our Lord and Savior. What do we make of what he is saying in a world that is currently being divided across a myriad of lines. It would seem a text where Jesus calls for division to be a poor choice to speak on. But, blame the lectionary if it helps. Because today, we are called to hear and wrestle with these seemingly enigmatic words that seem so out of place in a society in desperate need of unity, not more division.

To start, let’s get a feel for what Luke is trying to accomplish by including this section in his Gospel account. These words are recorded in chapter 12 which is a section of discourse that serves as both an urgent warning, and encouragement for the crowds and disciples alike. Jesus is helping the disciples and the crowds to discern how to live in their present time in light of Jesus’ soon coming kingdom. That gives us a little hint as to what Jesus may mean when talking about division. There is already a dividing line between the kingdoms of this world and his glorious kingdom that will be inaugurated with his death, resurrection, and ascension. And as we will see, there is a clear nod by Jesus to his baptism, which is a reference to his death and resurrection.

Speaking of division, our passage for today can be divided in two parts. Verses 49-53 comprise the first part and is aimed to correct misconceptions of Jesus’ ministry that are held by his disciples. The second part is the last three verses of 54-56 where Jesus pointedly condemns the hypocrisy of those who fail to “interpret the present time?” Both sections are a challenge to correctly read the signs of the times. The first is for the disciples by clarifying what following Jesus will entail; the second is to the crowds who only see what they want to see.

Let’s start with the first part of our reading:

“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.” (Luke 12:49-53 NRSV)

These verses indicate that Jesus’ followers had interpreted Jesus’ ministry as bringing a certain kind of “peace to the earth” that is in contradiction to what Jesus was sent to do. This can be seen in Jesus’ direct challenge, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” The disciples had something wrong in their “thinking” regarding the “peace” Jesus was to bring. To talk about “peace” for the disciples would fall under the backdrop of Roman occupation. Peace for them would be to escape the tyranny of Roman control so they could return to being the nation of their past. Peace under these constraints could only be imagined as coming by an uprising that would overthrow the current power structures. So, these verses comprise essentially three warnings Jesus gives as a response to correct this mindset.

First, he states his mission is to “bring fire to the earth.” This is an image of judgment where a sifting and sorting out takes place. And Jesus lets us know he is ready to see this judgement take place with the words, “I wish it were already kindled!” So, from Jesus’ perspective, this judgement by fire is a good thing for the “earth.”

We often think of judgment as a negative that should be avoided. But righteous judgement brings peace by sorting out what is right and what is not. The two cannot live together in peace, they must be divided and set in their proper place. So, judgement in this understanding is not a peaceful process, but it does ultimately result in peace. This is part of what Jesus needed to teach his disciples. We may also confuse the process with the result in our world today. Many of the divisions we see in our world are not so much a case of people not being able to see eye-to-eye and get along. We may think that with just a little more education or a little more communication, we can usher in peace and stop the divisions. But this misses the root of the many divisive events of our day. Divisions on the earth run much deeper than that. In fact, it’s far too deep for human intervention to solve.

There is something fundamental to our divisions that must be dealt with if any unity is to ever take place. The root issue is sin. It is our determined resistance to the Father and his grace. We want things our way and we believe peace will come when everyone agrees with me. We could say, peace will come when I’m god. That is how the Roman emperors saw it after all. They saw themselves as divine peacemakers. The only catch is, if you did not agree with them, they would kill you or put you in slavery. So much for bringing peace to the earth. If the disciples wanted Jesus to be the next “emperor” – only this time on their side – you can see why Jesus would need to correct their thinking. That would be a continuation of the same problem, only tyrants and victims would have traded places. There would still not be peace on earth.

Second, Jesus gives a warning by hinting at the cost of his own suffering that the process of bringing peace will entail. Jesus’ reference to “a baptism with which to be baptized” is a nod to his soon coming death and resurrection. He tells them that he is under stress “until it is completed!” This has implications for the disciples they will need to wrestle with. Jesus seems to want them to understand that following him will not amount to a straight-line path to victory without any suffering. We often need this same warning in our times as well.

Following Christ doesn’t mean that now we can expect all our dreams to be fulfilled. This warning speaks directly to ministries that invoke a prosperity gospel. But it also speaks to our surprise of having to suffer for the sake of Christ. We may be tempted to think Jesus wouldn’t call us to suffer. After all, didn’t he come to bring us peace. And there it is, confusing the process with the result. It’s a way of avoiding the cross. Jesus is clear that he will not avoid the cross, and he doesn’t minimize his suffering as if it’s not really that bad. As his followers, if we are discerning the times from a perspective that doesn’t include suffering, we may miss what God is doing in and through the suffering we see in our world, as well as the suffering we experience in our own lives.

We often go through life trying to avoid suffering at every turn instead of discerning our present sufferings in light of Christ sufferings. In our sufferings, we can trust that Jesus is purifying and bringing us into his peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). He has assumed all our sufferings, and he is now working his redemptive work through them. When we encounter suffering, we can discern them as a participation in the sufferings of Christ.

The third aspect of warning follows up more pointedly on challenging the disciples understanding of “division.” He tells them in no uncertain terms that he brings division. This may be disturbing to us as it undoubtedly would have been for the early disciples. Remember, Jesus is trying to deal with how people are discerning the signs of the times. How do we understand and respond to all the divisions we see playing out around us in our times? The disciples apparently were thinking peace was just around the corner. That’s how they understood all the signs of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was performing miracles that indicated the Messiah had arrived. That was true, but they misunderstood what this Messiah was going to do to establish peace. He broke into our sinful and hostile hearts with the proclamation of his reign of peace. That proclamation would be a word that would divide. Jesus came as the Word of the Father. He came to proclaim the soon coming kingdom that he would establish. It is naïve to think that this proclamation would go without challenge. There are other kings and authorities that will resist such a proclamation. Our own self-crowned hearts will also have to be divided by this word. Hebrews 4:12 tells us as much.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NRSV)

This doesn’t sound like the peace of which Jesus’ earliest disciples were thinking. Jesus goes on to make it personal by speaking of divisions in one’s own household as a result of following Jesus. Jesus begins this by saying, “From now on…” This tells us that we should not expect to see all our relationships magically dissolve of all divisions. On a larger scale, it also tells us that we should not expect some worldwide movement of unity in our times. Division will continue from now on until Christ returns. When there are movements to establish world peace by human authorities, by Jesus’ word, we know it’s an idealized pursuit at best or a sinister lie at worse like we see with the Roman emperors. Divisions will continue because the word of Jesus goes forth. And this word will not be taken away but will return to fully establish the reign of Christ. In this way, we can take some comfort when we see all the divisions springing up in our world. Division can be understood as a direct result of God’s kingdom breaking into the world. The evil in the world is resisting, and it gets manifested in many divisions among people and people groups. The division reminds us that God is at work purifying and sorting out. Like a rock thrown into an undisturbed pond, when Jesus breaks into the world, he creates waves.

This doesn’t mean we cheer on divisions or don’t take measures to alleviate division when called to do so. But we are to rightly discern these divisions in light of the gospel. Otherwise, we may think divisions should be avoided at all costs. As if they represent a failure of God’s word in the world. When we think like this, we may avoid times of division by compromising the gospel. Maybe we think we should not take a stand on Jesus’ claims of authority, or the ethical implications those claims present. We don’t want to offend, we may reason, or that would only create division. But, as Jesus is saying here, there is a type of division that is a necessary part of the process that leads to the true peace he is bringing with his kingdom. In that way, we are not being divisive, but the gospel certainly is. Jesus didn’t come to pat everyone on the back and say “I’m ok with you not knowing me and not wanting anything to do with me. Now, let’s go have a drink together and hang out.” Jesus will purify and burn away all the hostility that exists in order for there to be peace in our relationship with him, and by extension, with each other. And thank God, we see in this passage that he is committed to that end.

Luke reserves the last three verses to record Jesus’ address to the crowds.

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?” (Luke 12:54-56 NRSV)

In these verses, Jesus is chastising the crowd for being experts at determining weather patterns while at the same time ignoring what is taking place in their time. Jesus, the Creator and author of life, is standing right there speaking to them, and many can’t discern what’s going on. By calling them “hypocrites” he is obviously not chiding them for being wise on small matters but dull on important ones. It is more of an accusation of ungodliness. These people are clearly intelligent and capable enough to discern what Jesus is saying. But they are not interested in that as much as they are interested in determining their day-to-day practicalities, like what to wear tomorrow. The analogy Jesus gives involves discerning the signs of an approaching storm, either a rainstorm or heat wave. But when it comes to discerning signs of God’s soon coming kingdom, they would rather continue in a lifestyle that avoids suffering and seeks peace by any means necessary. Such avoidance is to be completely unprepared for a much larger storm that is coming. Jesus’ reign will be on the wise and the foolish. There will be no option to remain divided on the issue.

For us today, we are once again faced with the decision to follow Christ. Every day, we are called to follow him. Following him will involve suffering and it will involve division. But it ultimately leads to Jesus’ complete healing and lasting peace. We can trust Jesus to bring about his purpose and his will – in our lives, in our relationships, in our culture, in our world – even in the midst of division and suffering. That’s what Jesus is doing in our time today. May we grow in trusting him and in discerning what he is doing in our own hearts and in the world around us.

Humble Hospitality w/ Chris Breslin W2

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August 14 – Proper 15
Luke 12:39-56 “Be Ready”

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Program Transcript

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage, which is Luke 12:39 – 56. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 15 in Ordinary Time, which is August the 14th.

Chris, would you read that for us please?

Chris: Sure.

“But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 You too, be ready; because the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not think He will.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are You telling this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will take a long time to come,’ and he begins to beat the other slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 then the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect, and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accordance with his will, will receive many blows, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed acts deserving of a beating, will receive only a few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. 49 “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I came to provide peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; 52 for from now on five members 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 And He was also saying to the crowds, “Whenever you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. 55 And whenever you feel a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way56 You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how is it that you do not know how to analyze this present time?

Anthony: Wow, that’s a mouthful. A big pericope, and what is going on, Chris? Jesus just told us not to be afraid. And yet we’re reading about unfaithful servants being cut into pieces, banished, and punished severely. Whereas faithful servants will be rewarded. It’s easy in our fallen imaginations to go to this place of, “Oh man, am I out? Am I getting beaten or not?”

What’s really going on here?

Chris: First, I love Peter’s question. And I think it’s notable that he says he calls Jesus Lord because every time in Luke’s Gospel, Lord is an identity for Jesus that kind of shifts and changes in terms of their understanding of what that actually entails.

But Peter asked Jesus is this parable for us or for everyone. And Jesus is like a method actor here and stays in character. I always think of Daniel Day Lewis, when I think about method actor and answers him like, (and I’ll spare y’all that there will be blood voice), but he says that you must be wise, faithful, and that you must serve food, which is, really fascinating. Robert Farrar Capon, who is one of my favorite commentators, especially for the parables, because he makes sense of these really kooky parables and sometimes violent and disturbing ones. He applies those three things to the preacher saying that in addition to becoming faithful people, like people cultivating faith and fidelity, and in addition to also not just acquiring info, but wisdom, he says Jesus expects preachers in their congregations to be nothing more than faithful household cooks. He says, not gourmet chefs, not banquet managers, not caterers to thousands, just he says, gospel po rattlers, who can turn out a decent nourishing meal once a week, not even a whole meal, perhaps only the right food at the right time.

So, if you come on this passage, you’ve been working through Luke and you can’t skip to the other lectionary passage, just be a gospel pot rattler, and turn out a decent nourishing meal.

Anthon: Capon’s the best.

Chris: Yeah. Oh, he is the best. Yeah, to answer your question though, man, I think when whenever I feel disturbed or stuck, I try not to move through that too fast because that might actually be part of the point.

I think parables are meant for play. And I think that also means that they should be interpreted with more than one person present. So, what do you think, Anthony?

No, I’m just kidding. No, but so especially passages like this and in these parables if you’re just sitting in your study just churning over and over, it’s like bouncing a ball off of a wall instead of like the kind of sparks that happen when you’re interpreting with others and coming at it from a different angle or even experiencing different triggers and problems or seeing different images as operative.

And I think that’s a helpful hermeneutic tool is reading with others. We do this a lot. We have midweek morning prayer on the front steps, and we chew over these passages and it’s amazing the sort of group insight you get to a passage like this.

I think here though, I think Jesus is channeling Flannery, O’Connor telling serious and grotesque stories to wake us up and remind us of the weight of things. It takes different things to wake different people up. I have four kids and my eight-year-old is awake at 5:50 asking to watch baseball highlights. And my six-year-old needs me to turn on the lights and rip her sheet off and maybe even pour cold water on her to get up.

So, it takes different things. So that’s not to say Jesus doesn’t mean it or that we can just dismiss it as hot rhetoric, but Jesus is saying serious stuff in a serious way and in doing so I think he’s probably channeling the prophets. the prophets aren’t just like purely future fortune tellers; they’re not like crystal ball-type people telling determined features, but they are like truth telling go-betweens. They are calling people back to God and making plain consequences for actions that may happen. And so, like in a prophetic imagination there’s almost always time to change. The best prophets really hope they’re wrong.

And so, I wonder too, if that’s maybe a little bit of what’s going on here, that Jesus is putting it in stark terms. So, they have time to recalibrate and repent and return, like his goal is not necessarily to scare them but to bother them. So, I think you can be bothered inside of “be not afraid.” Yeah.

Anthony: I appreciated what you said about the community coming together around scripture to read it and how enriching that is, because that’s how it was done. It was read in community. And so, there’s that safeguard. And also, I think Jesus himself on the road to Emmaus said to the brothers, that what you’re talking about, that’s about me.

When we come to a passage like this, at least I have found it helpful, when I don’t always understand is, “Okay Spirit, remind me who God is, who is the Father? Who is the Son?” And we’re included, humanity is included in that Father-Son relationship in the Spirit.

And so, he’s not opposed to us, but just like a good parent, like you would do with your own kids, you’ll warn them if they’re about to do something that’s going to cause harm to themselves or others. You’re going to shout out. And then that may feel pretty rough when it comes. But we know his heart because it’s been revealed in Jesus Christ.

And so, this will feel like a silly question after just stating that, but my question is this is: is Jesus the great divider? He’s the Prince of Peace, full embodiment of peace, but daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. What’s going on here?

Chris: Again, I think this is Jesus with this prophetic voice and office. And I think of the prophet Jeremiah saying, decrying the people that cry, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace” so maybe Jesus’ identity in this instance is the Prince of, not the Prince of Peace, where there is no peace.

I don’t have a great answer here, but I know my own impulses. I’m a 9 in the Enneagram, which I guess is like a very sympathetic person. And so, I have these impulses towards peacemaking and non-confrontation, and even those things can get weaponized. And yeah, I think trust Jesus when he is dividing or setting people on different sides of the room to look at this from different directions.

I also, again I think it’s really important to hear echoes from other parts of scripture. I think he’s definitely using language—I’m pretty convinced he’s using language from Micah 7: that says, “The day that God visits you has come. The day your watchman sounds the alarm, now is the time of your confusion.” And then further down in that chapter, he says, “A son dishonors his Father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.”

And so, he’s talking to and about a divided group in his midst, and I’m not even necessarily sure he’s the one doing the dividing. He’s just revealing the divisions that are already there.

Anthony: Nobody wants to be called a fool, especially by Mr. T or Jesus, in this case.

Chris: And yeah, I think again, it’s always important that Jesus is our rubric here for someone who—even though in this passage, he is dividing—in his very body he’s putting the world back together.

He’s making it whole. And in doing so, he’s repelled. Not a few people—he disappoints a lot of people. He meets opposition. Ultimately, they kill Jesus. This is a reminder that every time we gather around the table and share in communion—which is a whole-making meal that remembers us, that puts us back together and draws us into God’s shalom—it has come through the taking, blessing, breaking, and gift of Jesus’ body that was broken apart and puts us back together, every time where we’re gathered around him.

So, we should, in some ways, have a level of understanding and comfort whenever there is this breaking apart because Jesus has shown us how a breaking apart is involved in a putting back together in a rending for a mending.

Anthony: A rending for a mending; that’s well said. And I love the way that you said the communion table, the Lord’s table, it’s a re-membering of all of us together. And I’ve heard it said a recognition, a re-cognition, a reminding of who he is and who we are in him. It’s a, oh, what a beautiful thing.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Does following Christ sometimes feel like being the man driving the “wrong way” in the funny story?
  • What are some examples of opposition that Christians face today?
  • Did you have any reflections on the Church from watching the video? Anything stand out or seem new to you?

From the sermon

  • Did the initial reading of the text strike you as strange that Jesus said he was bringing division?
  • When we think of peace, what do we picture that looking like? Are there ways we may be thinking of peace that Jesus needs to correct?
  • How is Jesus’ judgement of “fire” a good thing for the earth and for us personally?
  • Can you think of ways we may avoid suffering that amounts to avoiding what Christ is doing in our lives and the world around us?
  • How do we understand Jesus’ words that he brings division?
  • What are ways we may compromise the gospel in an effort to avoid creating division?
  • What did Jesus’ words to the crowds say to you? Why do you think he called them “hypocrites”?

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