Sunday, August 14, 2016

Father Riley's sermon from August 14, 2016

PENTECOST 13, PROPER XV - C- 16   LUKE 12. 49-56


“Can’t you read?” I sometimes hear myself asking that question out loud when another driver flies past me on the interstate obviously exceeding the posted speed limit. For some people it would seem, speed limits, do not enter, yield and other such signs are mere suggestions! Or else they choose to ignore them all together.
Our world is filled with signs. Signs tell us which way to go, or not to go. Signs tells us how fast we can go. Signs tells us when to stop. Signs communicate all kinds of things. But one has to be able to read and interpret the appropriate signs in order to understand them. Or we can be like some and simply choose to ignore them.
Today’s gospel seems a bit complex at the beginning. Jesus is talking about his coming to bring fire to the earth and he speaks of the baptism he is yet to endure. The fire he is bringing is the Word of God, echoing the prophet Jeremiah in today’s first lesson.
Fire is the proclamation of the gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It both enlivens the faithful and judges the faithless. The fire is God’s Truth, and the baptism Jesus is yet to endure is the crucifixion.
But God’s people just don’t seem to understand his kingdom message. They mis-interpret his message or else they ignore it altogether. How frustrating and disappointing that must have been for him knowing what lay ahead for him In Jerusalem.
So in the final few verses Jesus tries to bring it down to a level they will understand. “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘its 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 know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
What did he mean? What were the signs of the present time? The sign of the present time was simply Jesus’ heralding the coming of the kingdom. He was the “sign” of the present time.
The prophets of old had spoken of kingdom “signs” centuries before Christ. Elijah would come, the prophecy said, before the Promised One. Jesus proclaimed Elijah had come in John Baptist. Some of God’s people responded to John’s message of repentance, as a means of preparing for the coming of Messiah, and confessed their sins and were baptized in the Jordan. Others ignored the “sign.”
John’s ministry of preaching and baptizing was a prelude to that of Jesus. Jesus began his ministry by exercising demons, and went on to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, and heal one cripple after another, and even raised the dead all in fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Lord’s anointed.
But such divine actions only caused divisions among God’s people. Some believed, others doubted, and still others, who were in the know and should have recognized the “signs” planned to do away with him because of what he said and what he did.
The response of faith creates division, because not everyone wants to hear the Truth. Even the divisions Jesus spoke of in today’s passage are a fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy (7.6) written some 700 years before Christ. In our fallen world, divisions are necessary for Truth to be manifest.
Yet God’s people were blinded by their own expectations and thus failed to interpret the signs of the kingdom properly. Many thought that the Messiah would usher in a time of peace. But his presence and his words only seemed to inflame the people. The “peace” Jesus came to bring was the “Peace of God” which passes all of our human understanding; a peace that brings joy, and not the peace as we humans define it.
The difference being that human peace is basically a matter of “trade-offs. “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” As long as the arrangement is mutually satisfying hostilities will be avoided. It is a shallow harmony that results from ignoring the Truth.

The “Peace of God,” on the other hand, is basically a matter of Truth, Integrity, and Love. I’ll do this because it is the right and true and loving thing to do, not because of what I will get out of it.” The idea of peace, that is, the “Peace of God,” causes divisions because it means that we chose to avoid “trade-offs.”

Trade-offs seem to be the very stuff of human relations these days; our very identities are built on the trade-off of playing a role in exchange for approval and status. For people to suddenly claim that they can build their identity on another foundation namely, God’s love, shakes the whole system of human relationships to its roots. That is what Jesus did. His kingdom message upset the status quo.

Like Jeremiah before him, he spoke the truth. The fire he brought was the Word of God; a proclamation of the Gospel, and at the same time judgment and purification. The political and religious leaders knew he had to go. The fire Jesus brought threatened to burn up every false foundation upon which they and we try and base our individual and communal identities.

For casting this fire upon us, he was crucified. Neither then nor now can the powers that be permit the status quo to be confronted by the Truth because not everyone wants the truth. Division is a by-product. Yet divisions are also an opportunity to proclaim the truth.

The Church has from early on read this passage as a warning, and not as a suggestion. Each generation must read the “signs of the times,” that is, the great movements of people, governments, nations and policies, and must react accordingly.

If the Kingdom of God is to come on earth as it already is in heaven, part of the prophetic role of the Church is to understand the events of the earth and to seek to address them with the message of heaven. And if, like Jesus, we find that we seem to be bringing division, and that we ourselves become caught up in the crisis, so be it.

We can count ourselves in good company, the company of the Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs who in proclaiming the kingdom message brought “good news” to those who recognized the “signs” and knew how to interpret them and in doing so discovered, much to their joy, the Peace of God. AMEN+



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