Year C, Proper 15, The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 14, 2022
Year C: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
In today’s Epistle lesson, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews encourages us to persevere in our life of faith, no matter what difficulties we face. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
We don’t have to think very hard to name people we can add to this list in our own time. There are, of course, the famous ones: Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Michael Curry. But there are also the ones who aren’t renowned, those who have been our mentors and teachers, those who have taught us to be faithful. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who help us grasp Jesus’ message in many ways. I think of the friend who dropped everything to come with a birthday cake and change cat litter when Marty was having chemotherapy, and I was off doing church things. I think that friend was the image of Jesus at that moment.
I’ve spoken of the faith of others in my life. Indeed, I have my own great cloud of witnesses, people who went before me through hard times and endured – like the saints we heard about in the Letter to the Hebrews.
We, too, should count ourselves as part of that great cloud. Don’t forget to consider every day the ways you are an example of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. It’s critically important for us to accept God’s gift of the Spirit and to know with absolute certainty that we are bearers of God to the world, and we’re called to do that even in hard times and challenges.
Today’s gospel is also about hard times and challenges.
Speaking to his disciples, the ones who would have to take up his mission and message and make it known to the rest of the world, can you hear Jesus’ frustration, even anger? “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” This is definitely not the Jesus we tend to prefer.
Jesus knew he would not be among his people much longer. So he’s telling the disciples not to be afraid, not to worry about what they’ll say to defend themselves when they are hauled before the authorities. Unfortunately (or fortunately), he was only too keenly aware of those religious leaders who had lost their sense of faithfulness and were already wondering how to get rid of him. Their fire had gone out long ago, and their hearts were set on their own glory, not God’s glory.
He’s on his way to Jerusalem and on a mission. He’s come to establish that Kingdom we heard about back in the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel, the Kingdom his mother envisioned when she talked about bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly – filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty.
And Jesus is a bit impatient with people who can’t see this. There’s an urgency he feels as he walks toward Jerusalem. The time for change is now. The time is here.
And that fire he talks about isn’t about blazing destruction. It isn’t like the wildfires in the West that race along, destroying everything in their path. This is a purifying fire. It burns to change things, to change people. To change the world.
Jesus wants to know who’s ready to follow him. Who will submit themselves to the kind of change he’s asking for? Some will and some won’t – and the world will be divided between them. Mother against daughter, father against son, as he says.
You have to decide on how you’re going to live. And commit to it.
The time for change is now. Some will follow Jesus, and some won’t.
I could be talking about those people who gathered around Jesus in crowds numbering in the thousands. Or I could be talking about now.
Jesus told his followers that the time for change is now, and there was an urgency. And we are divided. We are so divided. We are set against each other, neighbor against neighbor. And sometimes even family members are set against each other.
Jesus wasn’t saying that he wanted division to come to God’s people; he was saying that he knew that there would be those who would turn their backs not only on him but on those who followed him.
Jesus’ frustration may well have been that he dearly wanted God’s people to live out the two great commandments, to be happy and at peace, to love, to care for the poor and needy; and, as he didn’t see it happening, he cried out in anger.
The Gospel of Luke wasn’t necessarily written for our ears. Instead, it was written for the people, time, and context of that place and time in the biblical world, for those who were just beginning to learn about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.
Then again, maybe it was written for our ears.
The need for change is so urgent.
This Jesus who cared about people who were poor and sick and powerless, this Jesus who did not come to found a Christian nation but who came to establish the Kingdom of God, this Jesus would be on us to do something about the world around us because the time for change is now.
Many hard things are happening in our world, and there’s a lot of division and anxiety about what will happen next.
I often need to remind myself that my parents and grandparents lived through tough times; your parents and grandparents went through hard times and got through them. Likewise, people of Jesus’ time lived through tough times, and they got through them, but it doesn’t make the need to live out the commandments of love any less urgently.
And I need to remind myself that my faith, our faith, will us, as it was for the cloud of witnesses who went before us – as it was for Jesus who kept walking toward Jerusalem when he knew what would happen there.
Jesus trusted that whatever happened in Jerusalem, in the long run, all would be well. Jesus trusted that by standing in his Father’s power, in God’s power, Jesus would bring the Kingdom to the world.
For us, standing in Jesus’ love is not a passive thing. It’s about seeing and living the truth in a world that clings to darkness. Jesus brought a message of empowerment and encouragement to the world. Jesus was trying to straighten out a world that valued power and money.
What about our present time? This isn’t simply a rhetorical question. I want us all to think about it as we leave today. But, first, we must ask ourselves: what are we saying and doing as a church, as an individual, and as a community that is healing, generous, compassionate, just, and righteous? What are we trying to do to straighten out a world that values power and money?
In the end, will we have the courage to listen and respond to the present time?
We are called to live in faith and hope, trusting that we are in God’s hands. That whatever happens now, God will have the last word.
In the meantime—not that this is a small thing—we must live our lives as people of justice and mercy and be faithful to Jesus.
Being faithful to Jesus is not complicated. It’s the opposite: see what is there, and don’t be worried or try to figure out complicated ways not to see and explain reality away. We are God’s people, part of that great cloud of witnesses in every generation, so be awake to what you see.
And run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
 Hebrews 12:1, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)
 Luke 12:49, NRSV
 Cf. Luke 1:53, NRSV
 Cf. Luke 12:53, NRSV