View today's sermon on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ixozL0W8Gc.
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. 10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; 11 it sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River. 12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? 13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven and see; have regard for this vine, 15the stock that your right hand planted. 16 It has been burned with fire; it has been cut down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance. 17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. 18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
49 “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what constraint 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?
Our passages this week speak of the pain of separation.
The Hebrew people are feeling cut off from God, expressing their despair at the turn of events in their lives. One can easily imagine the psalmist lamenting the terrible state of the world, lamenting devastation and destruction from wars, lamenting persecution at the hands of oppressive governments, lamenting whole nations suffering from hunger or exposure due to inequal distribution of resources. Why have they fallen out of favor with God, they wonder. They blame God for whatever desperate situations they find themselves in. They cry out to God, insisting that God turn back toward them, insisting that God again smile upon them, promising their abiding and steadfast faith in return.
In Luke’s Gospel, painful though it is, Jesus is speaking of the need for separation. He warns that parents and siblings will be divided, that families will be torn asunder. Why? Jesus saw the world for what it was, rife with an unjust power structure that placed net worth over human worth. Societal and familial structures were ingrained and were not going to be easy to change. In order to flip the paradigm, there would need to be social upheaval, and it would cut families to the core.
Jesus teaches us that true peace does not come easily. True peace comes after the hard work of naming wrongs, admitting faults and failures, vowing to cease causing harm, making amends, finding a path forward that honors the innate worth and dignity of all.
What did Luke mean by saying that Jesus was going to cast fire upon the earth? Why did he call his listeners hypocrites, accusing them of not knowing how to interpret the present time?
I am going to ask you to sit with some uncomfortable truths from our recent past, and from our present reality, as well. Perhaps you have wrestled, or are still wrestling with the injustice present in our world, in our country, in our state, and yes, surely even in our counties and towns.
Think back a couple of years to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. (May 25th, 2020.) His death was cruel, unjust, racially motivated, and worst of all, not unprecedented. His death at the hands, or more accurately at the knee, of a Minneapolis police officer sparked worldwide rage and worldwide protests.
In the United States the flames of injustice were already kindled but the outrage of his murder set the world on fire.
Activists leading the charge for change could have easily been citing this scripture. There will be division: parent against child, mothers-in-law against daughters-in-law, and I would add, sibling against sibling. All familial relationships were at risk when it came to talking about long buried racist attitudes and norms. If family members were not on the side of justice, did we remain silent or did we opt to keep the family peace? What about us? Were we, are we, on the side of justice? Or are we more interested in keeping the peace that we know in our little corner of the world?
Jesus called his listeners hypocrites and asked, “Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” We see what we want to see. The racial inequalities in our country and in our world need to be upended and equalized. Until we breakdown and rebuild our flawed and unjust social systems we will not know the promise of heaven on earth. We see, but do not desire the work of meaningful change that would assure this promise for all, not just for some.
Jesus was aggrieved that he was teaching and healing and preaching and yet people were continuing to ignore his message, continuing to fail to interpret the signs of the present time. Jesus was coming to baptize with fire, coming to cause disruption in order to bring about a new day of healing and restoration. His mission was to disturb the unjust systems of the status quo.
Perhaps you, like me, wrestled to the point of exhaustion and then quit wrestling before any lasting change was made. Justice awaits. I urge us to continue paying attention to the present times. Not only have we not fully acknowledged or repaired the racial injustices in our country, but we are continuing to see injustices to women, LGBTQ+, and religious minorities. The proliferation of these injustices continues to create deeper and deeper divides between us as evidenced in our partisan politics, our inflammatory rhetoric, and our increasingly worsening gun violence.
Our Hebrew ancestors blamed God for their dire straits. Do we also seek to blame God for the wars, the famines, the injustices, the divisiveness all around us? Rather than blame God we can turn toward God and seek reconciliation. Rather than placing net worth over human worth we can put the power of love ahead of the love of power.
We must not let divisiveness be the end of the story. From our divisions we must cultivate compassion and understanding for the other. From our divisions we must seek meaningful and lasting reparations. From our divisions we must imagine what heaven on earth looks like for all, not just for some, and then begin living into that reality. For all and not just for some.
We are broken, but we are not hopeless. Ultimately, the two scriptures we heard this morning speak to the work of restoration. We are part of the restoration. We do know how to interpret the present time. We do know how to name past and present harms and heal divisions. We do know what heaven on earth can look like. We do. We will. We must. We must begin again. We must begin with all our heart, soul, mind. And we must do it together. Now.
Rev. TJ Mack – August 14, 2022