Sunday, August 18, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 12:49-56 & Hebrews 11:29-12:2
“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?” What a way to start a conversation! I imagine if I began a sermon like that I’d be asked to leave! Jesus however, wasn’t concerned about that. He told it like it was. He spoke in a way that was intended to wake people up. This question certainly does just that. “How do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Or in other words, “How can’t you see what’s right in front of you?” It’s no wonder Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” His words of truth did cause division, and they still do because it’s really hard to see things for what they truly are.
It’s hard to look at the facts when they’re upsetting. It’s hard to face the reality of our own sinfulness. It’s hard to face the consequences of societal racism, economic injustice, prejudice, sexism, violence, and the way we treat one another. It’s very difficult to admit what humans are doing to the climate to the point where it’s almost irreversible if we don’t act now. It’s much easier to just look the other way if it doesn’t directly affect each one of us personally. The truth, however, is that it does. We are all connected, and when one person suffers, ultimately everyone suffers.
We all want peace. Jesus wanted peace. Yet in order to have lasting peace, we have to listen to Jesus’ words and “know how to interpret the present time.” Jesus’ entire ministry was to help us interpret the present time, and to bring about the kingdom of God – a kingdom of love and peace. There can’t be peace if people are always at war with each other. There can’t be peace if we don’t have a healthy planet because of our greed. There can’t be peace if we keep treating all living things with such disregard and contempt. We need to interpret the present time for what it is, and find solutions.
This past Friday and Saturday, I attended the 21st Kateri Peace Conference. The programs focused around the climate crisis and what we can do. One of the speakers, acclaimed journalist and author, Dahr Jamal. In 2003, when the war in Iraq escalated, he decided he couldn’t just sit and do nothing. So he decided to go to places like Iraq and Turkey, and inform people of what was really going on. He risked his life to wake people up to the truth. He wanted to help us “interpret the present time.” He’s also written several books, including his most recent one, “The End of Ice: Bearing witness and finding meaning in the path of climate disruption.” It’s not an easy read, as it tells of some devastating realities of what humans are doing to the planet, and how before too long it may be too late, resulting in extinction if not corrected. These aren’t easy things to read or hear, but he is helping us “interpret the present time.” It’s his calling, and Jesus says it’s our calling as well.
In order to respond to this calling we need to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit for guidance. It’s what Jesus did throughout his entire ministry. The answers will be provided if we simply take the time to listen so that we can respond. This is exactly what Jesus did. He spoke the truth, and that’s exactly what got him killed. Standing up and speaking the truth is a dangerous action because some people are just not going to want to hear it, but Jesus loved us too much to keep silent. Our salvation was so important that he spoke the truth to wake us out of our complacency, even if it meant losing his own life. Our lives were that important to God.
Jesus did not come to bring conflict and division, but those things were the consequences of him proclaiming God’s kingdom because speaking the truth often means going against the status quo. The Roman government at that time wanted people to be afraid so they could control them. Jesus’ message of peace was different than the Roman message of peace. Their message of peace – called the Pax Romana – meant people could live in peace as long as they followed Rome’s rules even if that meant creating a system where some people held all the wealth and power, while others were kept poor and oppressed. Jesus’ peace, however, is a peace that is eternal, and leads to freedom for all people, and all creation.
It’s easy to want to give up when the obstacles seem too big, but we don’t have to rely on our own power. We have the power of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us through our baptism. That is the fire Jesus said he wished was already kindled. The fire of change brought about by the Holy Spirit.
So how do we keep that fire kindled? How do we keep that fire alive in ourselves and our congregations? We need to keep our focus on God. Every decision we make has to be made through a connection with the Holy Spirit as we wait for divine guidance. When we engage in practices that feed us spiritually – daily prayer, the study of Scripture, faith formation- our congregations will grow and flourish because we will be inviting the Holy Spirit to work among us and through us. We as a congregation are called to be the living presence of Jesus here on earth. That means we can expect conflict because change – the kind of holy change Jesus is demanding from each one of us – is not easy, but it’s what we need and what the world desperately needs.
We do not do this work alone. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – family, friends, ancestors, prophets and disciples of ages and decades past who showed us how not to give up, who showed us that God works through ordinary people to do great things. There are so many people who we look at and say, “Oh, I could never be like them. I could never be like Mother Theresa, or Nelson Mandela, or Deitrich Boenhoffer, Dahr Jamail, or some other great figure, but we are not called to be like them. We are called to be us – the best we can be. Jesus showed us how to do that. Our best is when we do as the psalmist says, “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.”
Those who have died in faith, and who have gone before us are still praying for us. They are cheering us on. Our help is not only from this world. Our help comes from God and all the saints who have gone before us. Because we have this Divine support, we can put aside any worry or discouragement we have about running the race of faith that is set before us. We can put aside any sinful thoughts of giving up and just letting the forces of evil win because we have a pioneer who has gone before us and has paved the way for us. When we feel like we’ve hit the wall, when we feel like we can’t go on for another day – another minute, when we wonder “what’s the use of continuing to try despite obstacles that come against us?,” we have to keep our focus on Jesus who has paved the way and promised to be with us always. Jesus promises a joy and peace that is beyond our comprehension.
This week, pray to be awakened in order to run the race of faith that is set before you. Don’t be discouraged. Sometimes it may seem like things are falling apart. It may seem like the divisions are tearing things apart – but some things need to be taken apart before they can be fixed. Old records – old habits may need to be broken, before new ones can be set. Death has to happen before resurrection. Don’t give up. Be brave and speak the truth in love. Listen for God and listen to each other. God is speaking, and calling us to be the change we wish to see in the world. Peace begins with us. Amen.