Sermon Proper 15 C 2019
Deacon Otto Anderson
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
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.”
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?
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Two weeks ago, Jesus warned his followers about focusing on earthly things when he told the story of what happens to those who store up earthly treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. (Luke 12 13-21)
Last Sunday we heard him tell us: “Sell your possessions and give alms. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. He also told the: “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Luke 12 32-40)
And today we hear: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12: 49-56)
Over these three weeks and three readings from Luke Chapter 12, Jesus’ message to his followers and, yes, that means you and I, is getting sterner and with a sharp focus, as he presses forward on his journey to Jerusalem and to his baptism at Calvary.
How many of you are uncomfortable with Jesus’s statement about fire and division? I know I am.
Today’s readings from Isaiah, the Psalms, and Hebrews, are, also, not very comforting. These readings are a reminder that life on this world is tough, especially when we stray from and even when we keep to God’s purpose for us.
Fire, destruction, and separation are not the final answer. God’s love-song to us continues, in spite of our actions and inactions.
Our Isaiah reading, and the Psalm are a set of bookends with God on one side and with our sometimes clueless and hardheaded selves on the other.
Isaiah, summons an 8th century BCE audience to hear the legal complaint of a would-be vintner against, of all things, his own vineyard. The vineyard owner has tenderly cared for the vineyard, but it has yielded only bitter wild grapes. That audience soon realizes that they are the vineyard and God is the vintner.
We see God’s lament over Israel turning away from the right and good things that would nourish the world, that beautiful and pleasant creation. The vineyard was good. It was built on fertile ground but, has not produced. The solution is to remove the hedge and wall protecting it and let it become an overgrowth of briers and thorns. Let the vineyard return to the wild thing it wants to be.
Israel and Judah have ignored God’s call for justice and righteousness. God will allow them to continue down their wild path, knowing where it leads and knowing that Israel’s right path is repentance, forgiveness, and living righteous and just lives.
The Psalm is the people’s response, their recognition of the destruction of the vineyard. In the Psalm, Israel, like the vineyard is now in ruins and is suffering. The Assyrians have conquered and destroyed them. We hear the cry of a people, a society, who find themselves broken down, ravaged and burned like rubbish.
Like the child who hasn’t done any of the homework or studied for the test, they cry out to God for help. The people of Israel, the ones who ignored God’s call for justice and right living, call to God for mercy, restoration and salvation. I do not see in the Psalm any acknowledgement of their responsibility for the jam they are in.
And God the Shepherd of Israel, continues to sing the love-song. God restores Israel.
Despite ourselves God seeks to continue in relationship. And like that student praying to God for help, the one who barely passes the test, the one who continues with their poor study habits, a restored Israel will, again, return to their old ways, ignoring God’s call for righteousness and justice.
And God respond’s by sending Jesus.
In Luke’s Gospel we are caught up in the increasing passion of his ministry and what awaits him. In his words about fire and division, Jesus challenges us to see beyond our expectations and recognize the conflict which is part of being his followers – a conflict between God’s reign and this world. It is a call to follow something greater.
Our own expectations are not so different from those of Jesus’s original followers, who were hoping for a Messiah in the form of a great conquering warrior who would at last restore the kingdom of Israel and usher in an era of peace and prosperity.
Today that vision of Jesus is as a benign, peaceful, and loyal friend who comforts and defends us. While he is all that, he is more than that. His reference to bringing fire to the earth, and to bringing division rather than peace, tells us that crisis, judgment, and of commitment awaits every believer who intends to take Jesus seriously.
Fire does not always mean destruction. I think of Handel’s Messiah that contain the verses from Malachi Chapter 3: But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire. And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
Christ’s fire refines us. It creates in us a new being. In this lesson, we, also, see part of Jesus’s own baptism of fire, that he is under stress to complete on the cross. Christ’s fire can be a turning point in our own lives when we are called to choose a path of discipleship that may bring with it, some form of pain as well. Ultimately, like all of Jesus’ teachings, this lesson points us toward God’s kingdom and calls us to live in hope.
Now living in faith and hope is where our Epistle fits in. In our Hebrews reading, we hear about people of faith who had followed God’s call to them. By earthly standards, some of those had glorious lives, while others suffered and died shamefully. By Godly standards all of them are part of that great cloud of witnesses.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews encourages us to persevere in our life of faith, no matter what difficulties, what fires we face. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
When I tire of the race and the fires, I think of that great cloud of witnesses. I think of those whose stories we hear about in the bible. But equally important are the other witnesses in our lives, the parents, siblings, friends, mentors, and teachers who have helped us along the way.
These witnesses have cheered us on, not just as spectators, but as people who have gone through what we struggle with, people who can testify to the strength of God given to them, who can give us strength and courage. We have witnesses rooting for us, in the here and now on this earth, they are weeping with us when we stumble, they are cheering when we get back on our feet, calling to us when we wander, and urging us to continue the race.
Through these witnesses we hear God calling; God singing that love song to us. God loves us and has very real expectations of us, and how we act. Life’s race is ours, but, remember, God and that great cloud of witnesses are rooting for us to persevere.