Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, August 14, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 10

Pentecost 10, 2022
Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, as you may have noticed, all of today’s lessons sound absolutely terrifying!  But, they are actually all good news if we look at what is there, as opposed to what we think might be there.  Let’s take them in order, starting with Jeremiah.

God jumps right in with asking, “Am I a God near by . . . and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?”  And also says, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?”  Here we see that God is bigger than the biggest thing, and yet as close as the closest thing.  Theologians call these characteristics the transcendence and the immanence of God.  God is both huge and also tiny, is one way to put it.

And we acknowledge this every single Sunday right out of the gate:  Almighty God, [un]to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.  We remind ourselves every week that God is with us.  Right here with us every moment of our lives.  Sounds scary, if we’re honest with ourselves.  I mean, do we really want God to know us that well?  To know all our secrets?  To really know our hearts?  I think we do . . . eventually.  But we’ll get to that in the gospel reading.

And then in Psalm 82, we get what sounds like condemnation.  God asks, “How long will you judge unjustly, and show favor to the wicked?”  And then adds, “Save the weak and the orphan; defend the humble and needy; Rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.”  It sounds a little threatening, doesn’t it?  Like I better get out and start doing these things.  And, indeed, I should.  And you should too.  But, God is not talking to you and me here.  Notice how the psalm starts:  “God takes his stand in the council of heaven; he gives judgment in the midst of the gods.”  This is our God speaking to the “other gods,” whatever that might mean.  And, as we heard, those “other gods” “shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”  Nothing scary in there to you and me, since we know full well that we too shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.

And then let’s jump to today’s gospel reading, from Luke.  There’s a lot of frightening language coming at us in this reading, right?  In our current divided times, where we can’t seem to agree on much of anything, is Jesus promising to bring even more division?  I mean, that kind of feels like the last thing we need around here.  Not to mention all the talk of fire and calling people hypocrites and all that.  Like I said at the start, these readings sound pretty terrifying.  But let’s take a closer look.

Fire.  We generally think of fire as being destructive, and of course, it usually is.  We never want the words “house” and “fire” to be close together in our daily lives.  Not to mention forest fire, or—where I grew up—chemical fire.  We prefer fire prevention and fire fighters.  Usually, fire we can’t control is bad.  And here Jesus is in this reading saying, “I came to bring fire to the earth.”  Bad enough, but then he adds, “And how I wish it were already kindled!”  Yikes!  That all sounds like the kind of fire we don’t want, right?

But here’s the thing about fire.  We also use it to purify things.  That’s how we get iron from slag, and how we purify gold, and how we clean rusted metals and remove old paint.  We purge things with fire, which is where we get the word purgatory.  Paul writes about purifying fire in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 3).  And when God calls Isaiah (Is. 6), the angel presses a hot coal against his mouth to purify his lips.  So, when Jesus says he has come to bring fire to the earth, I think this is the kind of thing he is talking about.  A cleansing, purifying fire.  A fire that will burn away what is unclean and tainted and needs to be removed.  Still sounds scary, but it’s actually a good thing.  Restoring things to what they were always meant to be.

And then there’s that business about bringing division instead of peace, and dividing family members from one another.  I think this is a related thing actually.  But it’s only related because of our distorted view of peace, thinking that peace means the same thing as being nice, or not making any waves.  If “peace” means not rocking the boat when we see something wrong, or if peace means we ignore injustice and allow things to remain the same, then it’s not peace.  It’s a distortion and a coverup.

A great example of this is slavery in the United States.  We could imagine the abolitionists of the 1800s saying the same thing Jesus does.  In a world where some children of God can be enslaved because of the color of their skin, we have come not to bring peace but a sword.  Or, as our collect for social justice says, we ask God to “Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression.”

And then, what are the results of this sword Jesus brings?  “From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.”  Sure sounds similar to what Abraham Lincoln once said about a house divided (though that came from something else Jesus said).  When Jesus brings a sword instead of peace, when Jesus brings purifying fire rather than a fresh coat of paint . . . well, some feathers are going to be ruffled, right?  

It is in some people’s interest to let injustice roll down and oppression reign free.  It is some people’s interest to make a profit off other people’s suffering.  But that is not what Jesus came to do.  He did not come to endorse a broken system and say it’s all okay.  He came to purify this world, and remove all that would prevent things from being what they were meant to be.

And that same work goes on through his Church.  At its best, the Church continues the work that Jesus began, as we heard in our Psalm today to “Save the weak and the orphan; defend the humble and needy; Rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.”  Deliver them from the power of the wicked—the ones who will be upset by this sword of justice.

But how?  How do we do this work?  Where do we even begin?  The answer is that we don’t do this work.  Not on our own.  It is the Spirit of God working through us that accomplishes any good in this world.  And you know what prevents us from letting the power of God work through us?  All that stuff that needs to be burned away.  Our selfishness, our greed, our panic over scarcity, our choosing to ignore the cries of those around us.  All those things are what needs to be cleansed out of us, so that we might get a clearer glimpse of the world as God sees the world.  

Yes, there is injustice and oppression all around us.  And we are the ones God will use to make things right.  But in order to make any progress, we need to have those selfish distractions burned out of us with the cleansing fire of God.  And there’s the good news in all of this.  Because it is God who does the refining.  It is Jesus who brings a sword to cut the weeds of blindness from our eyes.  And little by little, day by day and week by week, one sip of wine and one piece of bread at a time, we are being shaped into the people who can turn this world upside down.  Because God is slowly making us into what we were always meant to be, so that we might help make the world what it was meant to be.


No comments:

Post a Comment