Thursday, August 18, 2016

Division and Discernment

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches on 8/14. The text was Luke 12:49-56.

There aren’t too many things in life we can be sure of, but in the Holy Land, the weather is one of them. Here in New York, when we make plans for outdoor events, it is always with backup plans of what to do in case of rain.  However, in the Holy Land, there are distinct rainy and dry seasons.

If it is summer time, which is in the dry season, you can make definite plans for outdoor activities. It will not rain. If the sky becomes cloudy and dark, it just will not rain. That can be counted on! In the rainy season, if it clouds up, it will rain.

In the summer you are likely to experience that dusty, scorching wind from the south. These are givens that the average person knows and understands. As Jesus said, these are signs that can be read.

So, are you puzzled with the way Jesus portrays himself in today’s gospel lesson?

Most of us do not enjoy controversy and division, do we? We do not look back longingly on times of congregational, personal or family strive as “the good old days.”

And yet Jesus says come to bring division. That division is being brought to families, which we consider the basic building block of society. Isn’t harmony in or families God’s will?

Yet Jesus chastises his listeners who are intelligent enough to read weather signs, but miss the signs of the times. What are the signs that Jesus is talking about? He is talking about his ministry and the coming of the kingdom of God. The Jewish people could read the weather, but they could not recognize that Jesus was the messiah and his miracles were from God. Do you recall that at one time when Jesus performed some miracles that the Pharisees accused him of using satanic power? They just didn’t get it because they refused to accept that a carpenter from Galilee could do great things.

Jesus is asking us the same question. Do we recognize the signs of the times? Do we recognize that Jesus is the Son of God? Do we recognize that Jesus died on the cross to redeem us with the Father? Do we recognize that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the ransom of our sins to give us eternal life? To read and understand the signs of Jesus’ ministry sets us apart and divides us from those who do not. It’s not a matter that Jesus’ audience that Jesus’ audience could not read the signs, they refused to read the signs of Jesus’ life. God’s actions demand a decision.

As preaching professor David Lose explains:

Like dark clouds or a dry wind, the teaching and acts of mercy [Jesus] performs indicate what will come. Jesus is born for one thing: to herald the coming kingdom of God, and to establish this kingdom he will raise neither banner nor sword but instead hang on the cross, the vulnerable insignia of God's new reign. Those who recognize the signs and choose to follow him will not only need to forsake the trappings of power that adorn the lords of the present kingdom, but can also expect resistance, even opposition. (Working Preacher)

Jesus is calling us to make a decision. We are to follow him or not. If we follow Jesus’ call to the cross, we will meet with opposition. We will not think or live like those who embrace the status quo. Friends and family may not approve of our lifestyles as Jesus’ disciples. Wholehearted discipleship calls for a change of heart and mind, which is demonstrated by our actions. That’s what brings the division in families.

Does the fear of altered relationships deter us from giving our all to Jesus? God is drawing a line in the sand and asking us to make a choice. To quote Moses from the book of Deuteronomy:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors... (Deut. 30:19-20). 

This is what God is calling us to and yet, how can we respond in a way that pleases God?

Have any of you been watching the Olympics? Have you noticed how quiet the audience has been? We don’t hear a sound from them when their teams are competing…or do we? They are not mere detached spectators!

We too are being watched by “by so great a cloud of witnesses,” (Heb. 12:1). They are not detached as they watch us either. Like the audiences of the Olympics, these saints are cheering us on.

As we look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith, God enables us to choose to respond to God’s overture of love. The choice is ours. Amen


Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year C Katherine M. Bush, David E. Gray, & C. Shelley, Feasting On the Word: Year C, Volume 3

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