Tenth sunday After Pentecost: August 18, 2019
Year C, Proper 15: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2 ; Luke 12:49-56
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“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?”
You know I was really glad to read as I was preparing for this sermon that the twelfth chapter of Luke is a lot of sentences that don’t necessarily connect easily with one another. That was certainly my experience of it.
I finally concluded that today’s Gospel lesson continues in the vein of the passage we heard last week. Last week, Jesus said, “You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Now he is criticizing people who don’t know how to interpret the present time. On the one hand, we can’t know or predict and on the other, we are supposed to know how to interpret the present time. So, which is it?
I think that in both passages, Jesus is telling us to pay attention, to be vigilant. In the first, Jesus is calling out people’s tendency to be complacent—people love to use their assumptions about God to lay out expectations about what God will do. They feel like “nothing’s going to happen to me. I’m good, I’ve got no reason to be concerned about all this stuff happening to other people because God will take care of it.”
Human beings can see things happening in the world. Long before weather satellites and Doppler radar, people paid attention to what was happening with the weather. It was always important to know when to take cover from an impending storm, or when to get ready to plow a field on a good day with calm and dry weather. Our advanced technology measures things accurately and records lots more information than an individual can see. But people in earlier times were sensitive to what was going on; they needed to pay attention to things like the direction of the wind, the color of the sunset, the smell of the air. So, when Jesus mentions a cloud rising in the west, or a south wind blowing, people knew what he was talking about because that’s what they did. They noticed these things all the time and understood what they meant.
Jesus is using this to point out that we can see what is going on in the world if we pay attention. Yet, how many manage to not see the things that are before their eyes. Jesus knows that some people will not only resist the message, they will kill the messenger.
He is bringing fire to the earth, the fire of judgment, and the result for him will be a baptism, or literally an immersion, in stress and conflict. (By the way, this is probably the closest to a fire and brimstone sermon you’ll ever hear from me.)
Arguably, Jesus brings a message of peace, but Jesus knows it will cause division, which is why he says he hasn’t come to bring peace to the earth. Jesus knows that the transforming power of God’s holy love certainly has been met with hostility and, in fact, murder. The disciples of Jesus, then and now, should be not surprised by this. Peaceful strategies provoke conflict and hostility.
It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that my grandmother was nine before women had the right to vote. When suffragists were trying to get the vote for American women around 1917, a small group of women regularly stood in front of the White House. They simply stood there, day after day, but their presence aroused enormous rage. They were heckled and attacked. They were jailed and silenced.
Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists led peaceful demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 to protest Jim Crow laws. Unarmed marchers were attacked with fire hoses, dogs, and billy clubs. Those protesters were also jailed and silenced.
Think of what is happening around us in the world today. Billionaires in Hong Kong, who have benefitted from their “understandings” with Chinese officials and have also benefitted from the relative freedoms previously enjoyed in Hong Kong, want protestors to stop protesting.
In our own hemisphere, children are separated from their parents and courts have to order soap and beds be given to the same children.
And somehow people use the Bible to justify all this. All we have to do is look to the letter to the Hebrews to see the injustices that Jesus spoke about. And Jesus says you can see the rainclouds, you can feel the south wind, or the red sunset: why can’t you see what is happening in this world?
Because people are blind to what they don’t want to see. People find rationalizations to explain away the truth when they are more comfortable by not acknowledging it. It takes courage to look at the present time, to see it, to stand up for truth.
Standing in Jesus’ love, being his compassion, is not a passive or a convenient thing. Being Christ’s Body isn’t some simple program. Because it involves being Christ’s Body all the time, in all parts of our life, seeing the truth that is before us. In the Gospel, Jesus says,
“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.”
It is not about starting fights, or violence—it’s about seeing the truth and living the truth in a world in which so many cling to darkness, rather than be illuminated by the compassion of Christ and see the truth that is before their eyes.
Jesus brought a message of empowerment and encouragement to those who were oppressed. That is the double edge of judgment. Jesus was trying to straighten out a world that valued power and money. The world did not want to hear this kind of judgment, and Jesus was crucified.
As I say at every funeral though, death did not have the last word, though. The despised was exalted. Jesus was raised. God was doing a new thing.
The side of Jesus we see here is of one ready to let God’s Spirit have its way on the earth, calling each person to make the costly choice: the way of the world or the way of the kingdom.
At the end of the day, how do we read our present time? This isn’t simply a rhetorical question. I want us all to think about it as we leave today. We must ask of ourselves: what are we saying and doing as a church that is healing, generous, compassionate, just, and righteous?
In the end, will we have the courage to listen and respond to the present time?
 Luke 12:54-56
 Cf. Luke 12:51 Jesus asks, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Many argue that Jesus brought a message of peace that Jesus knew the world would ignore.
 My maternal grandmother. My paternal grandmother was 39!
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