Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Proper of the Day: Pentecost XII

On this the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, we continue to hear from the Book of Isaiah, and today it's God comparing Israel to a grape vine that he carefully cultivates, but to no avail; when God expected justice, he instead "saw bloodshed, righteousness, but heard a cry." The reading from Hebrews continues the discussion about faith from last Sunday, and culminates in the wonderful passage, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." I was struck by that in light of today's Gospel reading:

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?"

In my sermon today, I tried to note that Jesus, on the journey to Jerusalem, knows what he is getting himself into. Hence, the urgency and stress under which he labors. And He has been warning the disciples - and us - these past several weeks about how our relationships in the world need to be rethought in light of the Good News of God's forgiveness. Relationships with possessions (the Rich Fool), money (the birds of the air), time (watch and be ready!) and today family may all be impacted, Jesus says. The division that Jesus is talking about here - the separation, if you will, is that which arises because the world, and even members of our own families at times, will not want to hear the Good News and act on it and will in some cases actively prevent us from doing so. The division that happens is not anything that Jesus does - for he is indeed the Prince of Peace, the One who says "Peace be with you!" - is when other people, especially those who are close to us, may separate themselves from us when they see how we are beginning to internalize the Good News and allow it to permeate our own actions and behaviors. Jesus is not telling us here to forget the Commandment to honor our parents. Rather, he is pointing out that even our families may reject us when we begin to act out the Good News toward them. No one is forced to accept the Gospel, and many people are comfortable in their old unreconciled lives. They don't want and don't welcome the challenge of the invitation to live differently, to live a life reconciled to God and to enact that reconciliation in our relationships around us. That's a threat, and sometimes, unfortunately, those who feel threatened will retaliate. That's my sense of Jesus is getting at here. He's not dividing anyone, but nonetheless, divisions will happen.

What to do? Today's Collect calls God to give us grace to "follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life," and the author of Hebrews exhorts us to "run with perseverance the race set before us." Before we set out or continue on that journey with Jesus, each of us can come to the Table and be nourished with true Bread and the true Cup that strengthens us for that journey, one which may well result in division and rejection by others. And then we can go out into the world, prepared for that division, knowing that our traveling companion is Jesus himself, who will never leave us no matter who we might meet along the Way.

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


PS - anyone know how to do paragraph formatting in blogger?


Anonymous said...

Woe to those who have potential but bear no fruit. Surely they are cursed here and in the hereafter.


RFSJ said...

Trog -

You think so? Really? I'm not so sure. Yes, clearly we are warned about not bearing good fruit. But the harvesting of that fruit is always left to God, not to us. See Matthew Ch. 13 - the farmer tells the workers to leave the weeds be and they will be separated at harvest time from the wheat. And it's the angels - God's direct agents - who will sort out the good fish from the bad. It's not up to us to do the judging about the worthiness of other people. Cursed here and in the hereafter? I'm not sure it's our place to say. I try hard enough to ensure my own place in God's realm; I don't have time, and don't want the responsibility, of trying to figure that out for others. That sort of task is above my pay grade.



Troglodyteus said...

More and more I really do. Jesus Christ died for my sins. However, He did not die for the consequences of my sins. Those are mine and mine alone. I am cleansed even though I came late to the table. (God bless the Bishop for saying it so well!) But I am also reaping a bitter harvest of past plantings. It’s funny. Many of my fields were gathered by others but none of the bitter ones.

I was not aware that angels sorted fish.