Lectionary blog for Aug. 14
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 82;
Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
Some years ago a man I knew in one of my congregations had a badly bent arm that pained him greatly. He went to several doctors, none of whom could help him. Finally, he went to a specialist, who told him good news; he could help him; he could fix his arm. It was good news, but it was not pleasant news. He could fix his arm, but first he would have to break it.
Jesus comes to us today with the gospel, with good news, but it is not necessarily pleasant or welcome news. Do you know the old expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? The Rev. Woodie White, one-time United Methodist bishop of Indianapolis, tells of being in a bookstore and seeing a book titled, “If It Ain’t Broke, Break It!” It was a business leadership book by a couple of corporate types, but the book got the bishop to thinking about the world, about the church. What needs to be broken in this world? What needs to be changed in the church? Break it!
It’s a different message than we’re used to hearing, but it is an important one. Jesus came into this world with a message and a mission, both of which were good, but neither of which was pleasant. His message was a message of love, and as we all know, love can be very, very unpleasant at times.
You see, the opposite of love is not hate, not anger, not unpleasantness. The opposite of love is apathy, uncaring, being uninvolved, which can often be very quiet and pleasant.
Love, on the other hand, is often noisy, and nosy, and very involved. Love will get up in your face and in your business and will not let you slip away unchallenged into nice failure. Love will confront you with unpleasant facts about yourself; love will sometimes break you in order to heal you.
Jesus had a message of love, a message of love that disturbed communities and families because it refused to allow people to coast along in a pleasantly unhealthy and unhappy slide into death. Jesus, the living word of God, broke into the world demanding that we to get beyond the roles handed to us by our society and its norms: “I’m the father and this is what I do, and you’re the son and this is what you do, and this is the mother and this is what she does, and you’re the sister and this is what you’re allowed to do.”
Jesus has called us to get beyond roles and to get into relationships—real, messy, involved relationships. And the sometimes unpleasant but ultimately good truth is that kind of love is disruptive; it breaks what isn’t really working in order to create a new family, a new community of truth and love—to bring into the world the realm of God.
Jesus came with the message that God’s kingdom, God’s realm, God’s new community, was coming—indeed was, in Christ, already here. And he came with a mission. His mission was to break the power of the evil one through the power of selfless love. When Jesus says, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized,” (Luke 12:50) it is to this mission that he refers; the cross is the thing that must be completed. Jesus came to complete what was begun many years ago in the parting of the Red Sea. Jesus came to rescue God’s people. Jesus came to fight the good fight of faith and break us free from our bondage to sin, death and the devil. Jesus came to be the capstone, the final chapter, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
After talking about how his message and his mission are disruptive to the world as it is, Jesus encourages us to “read the signs of the times.” The Rev. John Ortberg told this story in a recent book: “A man is being tailgated by a woman in a hurry. He comes to an intersection, and when the light turns yellow, he hits the brakes. The woman behind him goes ballistic. She honks her horn at him; she yells her frustration in no uncertain terms; she rants and gestures. While she is in mid-rant, someone taps on her window. She looks up and sees a policeman. He invites her out of her car and takes her to the station where she is searched and fingerprinted and put in a cell. After a couple of hours, she is released, and the arresting officer gives her her personal effects, saying, ‘I’m very sorry for the mistake, ma’am. I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, using bad gestures and bad language. I noticed the WHAT WOULD JESUS DO bumper sticker, the CHOOSE LIFE license plate holder, the FOLLOW ME TO SUNDAY SCHOOL window sign, the FISH EMBLEM on your trunk, and I naturally assumed you had stolen the car (When the Game is Over, It all Goes Back in the Box).
Reading the signs of the times is tough isn’t it? When I read that bit in the Gospel about families —“From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided.”—I thought of our recent political conventions, our current presidential campaigns, and the way folks on Facebook have been pleading for other people to keep a civil tongue. Some have gotten angry and unfriended each other; still others have sworn off politics, pledging to post only pictures of cute cats and silly grandchildren (or is it cute grandchildren and silly cats?)
What are the signs and what do they mean? The political parties often agree on the facts, on the signs. What they cannot seem to agree on is what the signs reveal. They cannot even agree on what is wrong. No wonder they can’t agree on what is to be done about it.
In the midst of tough times, we tend to look to our political leaders for answers. And, as citizens of a democracy, it is both our right and our duty to participate in the governance of our country. But the Bible often reminds us that in the long run it’s not about us—it’s about God. Hebrews points us to look at what it calls the “great cloud of witnesses” who went before us in the faith.
We are not alone sisters and brothers, and we are not traveling down roads previously untrod. Where we are, others have been before, and they held on to their faith and God held on to them. We are encouraged to look to them as a sign—a sign, a seal, and a promise of God’s presence, of God’s protection, of God’s provision. We are called to look to them and then, to look beyond them to the God in whom they placed their trust and their hope. And we are called to follow their lead and place our trust, our lives and our future, in the hand of God who will carry us through.
Amen and amen.