Jeremiah 23:23-29 Psalms 82 Hebrews 11:29-12:2
A pastor and his female administrative assistant were returning from a conference when his car broke down. The small town they were towed to had only one motel, which had only one room available. He said, “Angela, I believe the Lord will understand these awkward circumstances. I will sleep on the couch and you can have the bed.” As it turned out, the heat was broken in the room, and Angela was freezing. “Pastor, I am freezing over here.” The pastor went to the closet and got her an extra blanket. About ten minutes later came the same complaint. Again, the pastor got up and got his secretary another blanket. This was not enough to warm her up, and soon she said, “Pastor, I can’t stop shivering.” The pastor replied, completely out of character, “You know, Angela, I think the Lord would understand and forgive me if I acted as though you were my wife tonight.” Angela was shocked, and she began protesting just as the pastor continued, “Why don’t you get up and get your own blanket this time?”
Hear the Gospel reading from The Message - I’ve come to start a fire on this earth—how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything right side up—how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront! From now on, when you find five in a house, it will be— three against two, and two against three; Father against son, and son against father; Mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; Mother-in-law against bride, and bride against mother-in-law.” Then he turned to the crowd: “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.
We gather together each week, here in this place for prayer and worship and communion with God. Holy Communion is not communion without “two or three gathered in my name” (Matthew 18:20). It does not rest on an individual; it is not the priest’s magic act. Communion is a communal activity. It is meant to be done together; it has to be done in community. We can pray alone, fast alone, even go on pilgrimage alone. But we can’t take communion alone. More than any other spiritual practice, taking communion forces us to be with others, standing side by side, or kneeling at the altar rail when COVID allows. We are with friends and family, we are with strangers and people we may not agree with, with people with different needs, all presenting themselves to God. Communion is a humbling experience – it is us and them and the other joining together to receive – to become one. Jesus’ life becomes a part of us, we are all a part of God’s body.
In today’s Gospel, we hear another challenging saying of Jesus - Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. It directly confronts the image of Jesus as “Prince of Peace.” As he makes his way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ teachings seem to intensify. We hear Jesus’ declaration that his passion for the reign of God burns within him, and he wishes that it had already consumed everyone else. His mission is not complete until the gospel has reached the whole world.
If Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, then he wasn’t going to be the conquering Messiah-King they expected. He didn’t emphasize power, he emphasized faith, and faith is hard to hold on to. But for Jesus, there is no middle ground, no half measure of faith. He asked the disciples to pay attention, not to weather conditions, but to the condition of their soul – the conditions of their heart. Jesus was not trying to repel people with his teachings. 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. He was trying to wake them up, so that they would become – honest seekers who wanted to understand more. Faith and unbelief mark the great division among his followers.
Jesus encourages us to know where we stand, where we sit, where we kneel – at God’s altar or world’s throne. We are called to grow in our faith and as we grow, we learn more about who God is in our hearts, in our relationships and in our lives. Perhaps in our seeking, we should ask God to show us what the teachings mean and how they apply to our lives. Then have the courage to act on God’s truth. When we acknowledge our desire to be God-centered and not self-centered, we stand together as honest seekers.
What about the weather? 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 do you know how to interpret the present time? For most of recorded history, the world’s principal occupation was farming. The farmer depended directly on the weather for his livelihood. He needed just the right amounts of sun and rain – not too much and not too little – to make his living. He developed skills in interpreting the signs of nature. Jesus was announcing an earthshaking event that would be much more important than the year’s crops – the coming of God’s kingdom. God has provided a live weatherman in Jesus. Like a downpour or a sunny day, there were signs that the kingdom would soon arrive. But Jesus’ hearers, though skilled at interpreting weather signs, were intentionally ignoring the signs of the times. They, we, can do a good job of ignoring the obvious, ignoring the obstacles in their lives.
We, as a community of faith are to hold each other in prayer, and to hold each other accountable as the hands and heart and feet of Christ. Your strengths compliment my weaknesses. I have come to bring division. Is this a prophecy of red states and blue states? I don’t think so. I see it clearly as a message to us on how to get along. We don’t have to be cookie cutter Christians – all with exactly the same beliefs. But, we do need to respect the beliefs of others. How do we make that connection, between God, ourselves and others? How can we be a part of God and God be a part of us?
The Holy Spirit equips us! Without the work of the Holy Spirit we can’t even see our need for new life. All spiritual renewal begins and ends with God. God reveals truth to us, lives within us, and then enables us to respond to that truth. We need to listen with our hearts and our heads to what is important to people. Part of our connecting with God and with others comes from our knowing and experiencing God’s mercy and compassion. When we have experienced it, when we know what mercy feels like, we can pass it on to others in acts of empathy, compassion, understanding and heartfelt prayer.
In following Jesus, some of the disciples came to recognize that Jesus was the Holy One of God, who alone possessed the words of eternal life. Sometimes the last choice is the best choice – it just takes a while to see it. We are experiencing some of that in the difficulties we face each day. There is that temptation in the busyness of our lives to turn away from church and look elsewhere for answers. These readings today speak to our uncertain hearts. God is present. God’s hand is shaping the future of Grace Church and our individual futures. Our job, our calling is to open our hearts to God and to pray patiently. The mercy of God will comfort us and the grace of God will cover us. We know, we all know that we have had moments in our lives when we were better than we knew how to be. God is at work!
Our Baptismal Covenant says that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. And that we will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. To embrace diversity means to see Christ in everyone, those who are not like us, those who think differently, look differently, act differently - we are all children of God and heirs to God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ teachings were difficult to understand. We are called to grow in our faith and as we grow, we may be tempted to turn away from Jesus’ lessons, or to choose the cafeteria approach – a little of this and a little of that, but not the full meal deal. Instead, perhaps we should ask God to show us what the teachings mean and how they apply to our lives. Then have the courage to act on God’s truth.
In a wonderful book, The Four Things that Matter Most, we are reminded that living and loving others involves continually being willing to say four things: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. And I love you. Jesus’ message to us today is one of awareness. Are we aware of what is going on in our hearts, in our heads, in our family, in our community, in our nation? Are we aware of the storm front moving in? Do we see and acknowledge the rainbow? The question continually rests on our lips – where is God in this situation? We need each other for clearer vision, we need each other to experience, to celebrate, to mourn. We need each other to learn and grow and love and understand…to be a community of faith. Amen.