Sermon for Proper 15, Year C, August 18, 2019

Isaiah 5:1-7                         Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18                           Hebrews 11:29-12-2                        Luke 12:49-56

         If there was ever a gospel reading that challenges my belief that Jesus came preaching peace, love, and forgiveness, it was today’s passage from Luke.  Jesus says, “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.” 

          Jesus begins this passage speaking of kindling a fire, saying, “I came to bring fire to the earth,” – I’m okay with that.  We use fire to symbolize the Holy Spirit.  Fire is used to purify precious metals.  So, I can hear this as Jesus coming to prepare us to receive the Holy Spirit.  He will kindle within us the fire that separates and removes the impurities that cloud our judgement and he will ignite a passion within us to do God’s will. 

          Fire is also a symbol of the judgement which, it was believed, would usher in the kingdom of God.  I’m good with that too, since I understand God’s kingdom to be one of peace and compassion.  But then Jesus has not come to bring peace, but division. 

          What you cannot hear when this passage is read aloud, or see in the way it is printed in our bulletin, is that Jesus is quoting the prophet Micah when he speaks of the division within a house: “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.” 

          Jesus, like Micah, is frustrated. Jesus says, “how I wish [the fire] was already kindled.”  At the end of this passage, he asks the question, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky

          Understanding this reference is critical to understanding what Jesus is saying.  The chapter in Micah, where this verse is found begins with Micah saying, “Woe is me!  For I have become like one who, after the summer fruit has been gathered, after the vintage has been gleaned, finds no cluster to eat; there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger.”  Then, Micah speaks of the lack of faith and trust that exists among the people and even within families.  He is frustrated and speaking of the present time.  But, as is true for all the prophets, his lament over how things are, is followed by the promise that God’s love will change the course of history.

, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”  Jesus has been trying to help the people understand God’s will, God’s desire for them, he has spoken to them, shown them signs of God’s love, but they are not listening. 

          This passage, therefore, should remind us that Jesus is truly human.  Jesus knows what it feels like to us when, despite our best efforts to help someone, they continue to behave is a manner that brings pain and suffering to themselves or others. 

          Jesus understands what we mean when we say, “I feel like I’ve been beating my head against a wall.”  It is human to be frustrated.  The people can see by the clouds that it is going to rain, but they cannot see or understand the meaning of Jesus’ life and ministry and what God wants.  “Woe is me!” Micah says, “how I wish [the fire] was already kindled!” Jesus says.  “Let’s just finish this!” we might say.

          Like any scripture, there is more to it.  Jesus may be frustrated with us, but so is the fact that Jesus does not come to make us feel better in the present time.  What we call peace, may be nothing more than the absence of confronting the issues that need to confronted to do what needs to be done.  The prophets were known for calling attention to the injustices in society.  Often, it was in prosperous times that the prophets cried out the loudest saying, you are not doing what God wants, you are not caring for the least among us.  People are hunger, people are having to do without, and you are profiting from their suffering. 

          I don’t know of a generation that has existed throughout history when this wasn’t true – some live-in comfort while others struggle to remain alive.  This is our reality, but most of us feel powerless to change things.  The problem is simply too big.  Whether we’re talking about people who are so desperate that they risk everything to leave their country and enter ours illegally, people who are addicted to pain killers and seek relief from any means possible, veterans who are homeless because of PTSD, people who do are mentally ill, people who lack the skills and ability to find jobs that pay a living wage, or people who suffer from any combination of these – the needs of others overwhelms us.  We don’t feel we can make a difference, so we try not to think about the problems in our families, our community, our nation, or our world.

          Jesus says he has not come to bring peace.  Certainly, the prophets before him did not come to bring peace, if peace means accepting things as they are.   The word “peace” can mean different things, depending on the context is which it is used.  “Keeping peace in our household,” is often said to mean we don’t bring up what is important because it would only lead to an argument.  This is avoidance, not peace.  Jesus does not come to “keep the peace” in that sense.  Nor does Jesus come to make us feel better about our families and community ignoring the needs of others.  Jesus comes to open our eyes to the pain and suffering that fills our world. 

          Mass shootings have escalated over the years and each time, it creates a great deal of conflict over who is responsible and how we should respond.  In our recent history, we have settled for “keeping the peace,” until another shooting stirs up our discontent and the accusations and arguments resume.  I’m not going to stand here and give you my opinions on what should be done, I want only to suggest that “keeping the peace” by doing nothing and accepting inaction is not the same as working toward peace.  Agreeing to disagree is occurring more and more frequently as sides are formed and neither seeks to reach a consensus.  

          Jesus comes to challenge us, even if it means calling attention to the divisions that exist, divisions that will continue to exist until we seek to work together and protect the most vulnerable among us. 

          There is another definition of peace that Jesus does offer.  It is the peace that comes from knowing in our hearts that we are doing what God calls us to do, being the person God asks us to be.  This is the peace I speak of in the blessing at the end of our service.  It is the peace that passes all understanding.  It the peace we experience when hearts and minds are filled with the knowledge and love of God.  This is the peace that Jesus does come to offer.

Let us pray.

          Heavenly Father, you sent your son to live among us as one of us, to know and experience the frustration and pain we experience.  Help us, we pray, to see in his life the path we are to follow, the love we are to share, the life we are to live.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.