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Sermon | August 18, 2019

Preached by The Rev. Tracie Little
August 18, 2019
At St. Jude’s Episcopal Church, Fenton, MI

Please consider the following questions as you reflect on the sermon. 

  1. What is the message you heard in the sermon?
  2. Were you able to make connections between your life and God’s story?
  3. If you could connect, what image drew you in?
  4. What else would you like to share?

Proper 15 – Luke 12:49 – 56

Jesus said, ‘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.’

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?

For the past five weeks we’ve been immersed in a multi-generational activity called “Peace Works.”  Each week I changed one of our lectionary readings to match the curriculum as we dove into one particular concept of Peace and learned a variety of words.  Remember what words we focused on?

Aloah, Ubuntu, Shalom, Agape, and Heiwa.  Each displaying a unique aspect of “peace.” Today we transition back into the Revised Common Lectionary.  It’s kind of like when a tv program is interrupted by breaking news and then rejoins the programmed show that’s already in progress.

Today’s Gospel seems to shatter the peace we’ve been focusing on during the Peace Works series.  It hits us like a ton of bricks, right off the bat with Jesus’ opening words. “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!”  And not just any division.  Division within families.  Families that we hold near and dear and close to our hearts.

Families are important today and it may be a challenge to hear today’s Gospel.  It’s within the family unit that we begin our learning and growing process.  Families were important in biblical times as well. It’s into this same reality that Jesus was born.  Families were the foundational building block of society.  Your family determined your identity, your vocation, your place within society, your allegiance, your status.  Family ties defined everything about you and family ties were forever.

There was also a darker side to this family structure.  Your status within society was determined by who and what your family was.  Powerful families were in control and they created a system that ensured that the weak and powerless kept their place and would never threaten them.  You would never belong to any class that wasn’t the one you were born into.

Luke paints a vibrant picture of what it means to live into God’s reality throughout his Gospel.  It’s all about love and belonging.

Ten lepers approached Jesus as he was moving between Samaria and Galilee in Luke’s 17thchapter.  Society considered them unclean and dangerous. They were forced to live outside of town, away from family, walled off from friends, unable to go to work and earn money to support themselves and their families.  Jesus saw them through eyes of mercy and compassion and he healed them.  It wasn’t just about physically healing them.  Jesus was providing the way for them to be reunited with family and friends. To once again find meaning in life. He provided a path to belonging again.

Over and over again Jesus confronts the systems that caused the kinds of divisions that were the status quo.  Sitting at the dinner table in chapter 11 Jesus speaks harshly to the Pharisees.  They saw that Jesus hadn’t washed before dinner – he’d broken one of the many rules that they were charged with ensuring people kept.  He tells them that they’ve neglected the love and justice of God because of the ways they’ve acted.  The lawyers, also sitting at the table, told Jesus that he’d insulted them as well.  Jesus’s response made it clear that they were complicit in keeping the status quo as well and they hear all about it.  Jesus isn’t one to mince words.

Jesus’s saw something in the world that could be completely different.  It was a vision that shatters the status quo.  His was a mission of mercy, justice and compassion.  He found the weak and powerful and helped them to reimagine themselves, perhaps to redefine themselves.  His teachings pushed against the system that was designed to keep certain people down.  He wasn’t trying to break family ties.  Jesus’s mission was to dismantle the entire social structure of society.

People’s identity wasn’t tied to any one particular family and the status that brought.  Instead all people were defined as children of God.  They belonged to a whole different family.  One that empowered them to live into a new reality where they belonged to God.  Jesus was teaching how we live into this reality of God’s family where love and belonging are always the focus.

Now, if you’re a part of a weaker class, one that is being held down and back by the powerful, that’s good news!  If you’re a person of power?  Not such good news.  Jesus’ message was one that threatened them and their place in society.

She was a member of a powerful family in town. She enjoyed all the benefits of holding the kind of status her family held.  One day a stranger came to town and she saw the crowds rushing out to meet him. She was curious.  What was going on that had everyone so excited?

There were people everywhere and the excitement in the air danced from person to person, weaving a web between them. These folks had raced out to meet this stranger and she didn’t recognize most of them.  As she got to the outer edges of the gathering, she asked what all the commotion was about.

Jesus is here!  I can’t believe he’s here, in this little burg.  But here he is.

She still hadn’t heard why there were so many people rushing out to meet this Jesus.  She’d never heard of him.  Slowly she worked her way into the center where she could hear what was going on. He seemed to be teaching.  In the sixth chapter of Luke we read Luke’s account of the Beatitudes.  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God….”

She listened as Jesus painted a picture that was so new to her and it made her soul smile as she watched how people were reacting. Instantly she knew she was listening to a message that could change the world.  All of these people she hardly recognized were no different than she was. Their lives were important.  It all made perfect sense.

When the teacher was finished speaking, she ran home as fast as she could.  It was almost dinner time and she couldn’t wait to share with her family all that she’d heard and the difference she saw it making.

Her excitement bubbled over into her story and it met a wall of resistance so sturdy that she was sure it was unbreakable. Her family, her own family, didn’t want to listen to the dream she’d caught onto as she listened to Jesus.  It seemed as if the close ties that had bound them as family just a few short hours ago were ripped apart.  Division weighed heavy on them all.

Jesus’s mission to bring compassion, mercy and justice for ALL people wasn’t always received well.  His message did tear families apart.  Today’s Gospel is a description of what can happen when the status quo is threatened.  Jesus didn’t come to validate our flawed, human social constructs which are often meant to make sure that the powerless are kept powerless.  He came to draw the world into a new reality.  God’s reality.  Every single person was, is and always will be a child of God.  Part of God’s family.  Everyone belongs!  And that makes all the difference.

They live in El Paso.  As you might imagine, the town has changed over these past few weeks. Draped in grief and fear, the people of El Paso are in a new place.  An 11-year-old-boy noticed the change and he wasn’t okay with it.  He knew something needed to be done.  He wanted to make El Paso a better place and he wanted to honor those who had lost their lives in the Wal-Mart shooting.

An 11-year-old-boy, Ruben, set out to change an entire city.  By himself. He sat down at the kitchen table, yellow-lined paper ready to receive his examples of what a random act of kindness might look like.  Somewhere in the midst of imagining what this might look like, words appeared on his paper. “How to convince everyone to join the El Paso challenge.”  He didn’t just want to change El Paso.  Somewhere in there a larger dream emerged.  He wanted the people of the world to know that the people of El Paso are kind and care for one another.  He wanted the people of El Paso to know they belonged and he wanted to incorporate all people everywhere into his vision of caring.

It took one day.  One day.  1,400 people were responding on Twitter and 3,000 people had shared his mother’s Facebook post.  People across Texas and beyond started pledging 20 random acts of kindness and as the death tole rose to 22, the challenge responded.  Now people are committing to 22 random acts of kindness. It seems people everywhere want to belong.  They yearn to be a part of something bigger and better than themselves.

Scrolling through Twitter, the feed details what some people are doing.  Each of the activities notes the twitter hashtag and names that they are sharing this act of kindness in memory of someone from the El Paso shooting that is no longer able to share an act of kindness themselves.  I believe that God is working through the El Paso challenge, bringing good out of horrible tragedy.

$5 bills are attached to gas pumps, gift cards for a free movie and popcorn are appearing on windshields in parking lots, weeds are being pulled in the yards of strangers and strangers are becoming friends.

Ruben has challenged the world to join in, to become a part of a giant human family that deeply cares for one another.  His love is reaching out across social media. And it’s meeting people face to face in a Taco Bell restaurant.  He’s challenging other diners to accept the El Paso challenge themselves and to get the word out on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.[1]

Ruben, like Jesus, is able to see a different reality. Ruben, like Jesus, sees this as his mission to shatter the status quo.  To replace fear and grief, injustice and hate with love, mercy, compassion and justice.  He knows he belongs to a bigger family, one that accepts him for who he is.  One that responds with love.

Human beings are, well, human.  And we tend towards creating social structures that limit people’s ability to belong.  Jesus came and lived among us to show us another way.  God’s way that expands the concept of family.  In the 8thchapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus defines his vision.  He was inside a house around which crowds and crowds of people gathered, blocking the way for his mother and brothers to reach him.  When that was pointed out, Jesus replied.  “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”  Family isn’t restricted to blood lines and the definition that society sets.  Family is much bigger.

As we start living into this reality, not everyone is going to like it.  We, like the young girl who listened in to Jesus teaching the Beatitudes, might find our families and friends pushing back.  Then we have a choice.

Go back to the status quo?  Or continue to partner with God as God brings about a new reality.

It was a difficult choice in Jesus’s day. Today’s Gospel makes that plain. It’s still a challenging choice and one we have to make over and over and over again.  Today we’re left with a choice.

What world do we want to belong to?

[1]Caitlin O’Kane, “11-year-old boy and mom start “El Paso Challenge” to encourage random acts of kindness”, CBS NEWS, August 6, 2019, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/el-paso-shooting-11-year-old-boy-and-mom-start-el-paso-challenge-to-encourage-random-acts-of-kindness/.