Saturday, August 17, 2013

I came to bring Fire: Proper 15C

Luke 12:49-56

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?"

All too often this Gospel is used to scare people into thinking that the End Times are coming.  I am not sure that Jesus was that concerned with the Parousia.  But I do think he lived in a time when life around him was foretelling what was coming, and it wasn't going to be good.  And this is one of those passages that disturb us because it doesn't sound like the 'Jesus, meek and mild' image many of us have of him.

I don't think I have ever been drawn to the meek and mild version of Jesus.  And while it is nice to know
people who are meek and mild, I find it difficult to be around them for too long.  I don't find in meek and mild a place where I want to stay in my relationships.  Often such relationship are not peaceful in my experience.  They are often filled with fear and torpor.  I appreciate relationships that have some spice in them.  

From what I read in the Scripture, I think that Jesus was an intuitive man.  I do not believe he had Divine insight.  I believe that he was a human who was deeply in tune with what the humans around him felt and knew.  On the Meyers-Briggs I would guess that he was a strong NF, one who felt deeply the needs of those around him and could intuit what was going to happen in his world if something seriously didn't happen in the society around him.  He was a prophet.  

In Jesus' world there was an understanding that when the people failed to live up to God's law of love, bad things would happen to the whole people of God.  There was also an understanding that if the populace repented and returned to God's law, the bad things would not happen.  It is the reason that both John Baptist and Jesus preached the way of repentance.  But there were also the wonderful tale of Jonah that told that such repentance could avert the kind of destruction.  Also the history of Judah told of a return to God's law under Josiah that brought cohesion to the nation.  

But in Jesus' day that national unity had been lost when it subjected itself to the Roman Empire.  Almost 100
years before Jesus, the warring parties of the Sadducees and the Pharisees had invited the Roman Republic to administer their government and to bring peace because they could not bring peace in any other way.  But in that 100 years the Roman Republic had become an Empire, no longer the somewhat republican form of government that once made it so attractive.  By Jesus' day it was difficult to become a Roman citizen and the Roman Army became the arbiters of Roman justice that was more of a bully-boy form of government.  The taxation of the Empire was heavy and left the small nations that were under its thumb stripped of their own cultural dignity and customs.

The peace that Jesus claimed was a peace that was not one that was enforced by an alien army.  The peace that Jesus proclaimed was a peace that demanded that people treat each other with respect, that all people were equal, that neighbor was to be loved simply because he was a neighbor and that there was to be care for those who were poor, widowed or orphaned.  But Jesus also saw that this kind of peace was not going to be developed without a turning around of the values of the present day culture.  In some way those prevailing cultural attitudes of greed, selfishness, and power grabbing had to be faced full on.  It was not going to be an easy change and it would demand not just a change in government.  It would take a change in the heart of a people.  And these changes would not come easily.  This kind of faithfulness would create division even in one's own family.

If you do not see some similarities between then and now, you haven't been listening to the Scripture.  There are those who compare America with the Roman Empire.  I don't know about all the political or economic similarities but there is enough similitude to make stop and take notice.   And there enough pundits in media to call for repentance.  But that repentance will not come easily.  A god who is meek and mild will not lead us, we think. We want a strong God who will make His will known.  And yet that is precisely NOT what Jesus offers the world.   

The kind of peace that God offers us today is the same as in the day of Jesus--one that is generated in honesty, integrity and goodwill.  It is a peace that cannot be rooted in violence or maintained by armies or drones.  It is a peace that is rooted not in what is best for the individual or corporation.  It must be rooted in what is best for the commonweal with enough mercy to take care of exceptions.  It cannot be based on 'trickle down' theories, or 'God helps those who help themselves' (not Scriptural, BTW).  It must radically implanted in the fabric of the world that all are created equal before the Creator.  

In my lifetime I have seen the ideal of the commonweal be totally excluded from the basic mindset of the last 2 generations.  And I have also seen my nation become the Empire it never was in my childhood.  I have watched the world come to revolve around incredible wealth rather than around national or ethnic pride. The loss of any local control of basic community activities has isolated us more and more.  And social media, while it allows us to make our ideas known, does not shape our common lives so that common ethics or morality can be worked out.  

The Peace of God is not meek and mild.  The peace of God is hard work.  It requires diligence and willingness to engage the world with all its desires for greed and power and show it what real peace is like.  It demands a willingness to look at ourselves without averting our eyes from the advantages we have simply because we live within the Empire and demand that we live 'outside' of that Empire--the empire of power, greed and position.  We must begin to call of ourselves to return to the soul of our faith.  We need to allow ourselves to bring the divisions in our lives that help us separate us from Empire living to a type of living in the Kingdom of God.  It is only there that we can know that peace.  

An Additional Note:  As I was trying to illustrate this sermon from Google Images, I could not find a picture under the heading of Peace with more than one person in it.  It is as if we understand peace as being alone.  But the Peace that Jesus spoke of was among us all.  It is food for thought:  How do we find peace with others and where do we go looking for peace?

1 comment:

Terri said...

Interesting about the Google image search....your reflection reminds me a lot of the discussions we had in Jane Redmont's summer retreat/course on Dorothee Soelle and her love of liberation theology. Not a meek and mild Jesus at all. Peace is hard!