Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan
by The Reverend Vicki K. Hesse, Associate
The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15, Year C)
14 August 2016
Oh, God, take our minds and think through them,
take our lips and speak through them, and
take our hearts and set them on fire. Amen.[i]
Raise your hand
if you have seen enough division
in recent news to last a lifetime?
I know! So why does Gospel text
seem to encourage more division?
As we unpack this dense text, we can find
– albeit somewhat elusive –
good news of God’s work in all realities.
Situated as it is inside this teaching section of the Gospel,
we hear Jesus set the stage
for his ministry’s outcome and
what his ministry means for his followers.[ii]
Let’s first talk about fire.
That fire that Jesus brings is a cleansing fire.
That kind of fire reveals our own
inability to save ourselves.
That kind fire Jesus announced,
heard in a historical context,
was meant to destroy the pagan religiosity –
the one the crowds followed.
The crowds believed that
the more you prayed to the pagan gods,
the more you offered burnt sacrifices
the more pious you acted
Well, the more you guaranteed your salvation.
The crowds believed it was all about
their own work, their own power.
That way of thinking, that religiosity, however,
moved people’s hearts away from God.
Jesus knew that they counted on
their own human strength.
So, with fire Jesus challenged this
human need for security
(and institutions that promise security to people)
instead of relying on the security found in God.
That’s the fire that Jesus
wished was already kindled.
That’s the fire that Jesus kindles in baptism.
Often, Baptism is seen as joyous occasion –
a promise, a happy day.
But for Jesus, his baptism meant sure death
– on the cross –
so that we might have eternal life.
Jesus’ death and resurrection brings us
entry into the life of the church, with our baptism.
But that is just
the beginning of our spiritual journey.
That is why Fr. Drew
began experimenting last the week
by placing the baptismal font
at the entry of the church nave.
The font’s placement symbolized our entry into
the church through the waters of baptism.
Through baptism, we begin to stay tuned
to the many ways that God calls us.
Our baptism means we are given grace
to rely on God’s promises and
to live out our callings.
It’s not our work, but God’s work in us.
In today’s text, Jesus reminds us
that baptismal work
is not always going to be pain-free.
It is stressful to live into God’s call!
Sometimes, I think we ought to wrap
the baptismal font round and round
with “caution” tape.
This would give a warning that lives begun
as disciples will not be comfortable.
Because when we are baptized,
we take on the baptism that Jesus proclaims.
His stress will cling to our bones
and course through our veins
until his baptism is completed.
And that changes everything, does it not?
For in our baptism,
we cannot separate his life in us
from our life in him.
And so in the text, Jesus reminds the crowds –
and you may already know this –
That living into the gospel will not always bring peace
– at least not initially.
In Jesus’ time and since then,
families were torn apart by a grace of Baptism,
this grace of God’s love (not human actions)
that guaranteed salvation.
Whether it is a newfound decision
to go to church, or
to take on a social justice cause, or
to reach out to others who are different from you, or
– the effect of the gospel can create division.
and division is not the problem,
it is how we respond that stresses us.
But we know from our baptismal covenant
how to respond to division:
with respect for others’ dignity,
and by seeking the face of Christ
with generosity, patience and forgiveness,
seeing or wondering how God is at work
in all sides, in all positions, in all realities.
With baptismal humility
we can respond to division,
realizing that only God has the whole truth.
A friend of mine use to say,
“the trouble with Christianity
is that you have to do it with other people.”
And Jesus emphasizes here that
no matter how hard we work toward unity,
it is God at work that makes us one.
Any divisiveness and stress
is a signal to let go and let God.
Our need for control
may be why Jesus brings up
the last point in this text,
talking about the weather.
We know the signs, but do we really know
what is happening at a spiritual level?
The hypocrite label might apply
to those of us who believe in Jesus’ grace,
yet who continue
to depend on our own power
to earn a place in God’s kingdom.
This causes me to wonder about
our lives (mine, too) as baptized holy ones.
Do we hear God’s call
through the ears of our heart?
Or do we
rest in our comfortable places?
Why do we
– as individuals, as community, as society –
Why do we pretend we don’t see injustices around us
(racial or economic, for example)
and not respond
when our baptismal covenant calls us to strive for
justice and peace among all people,
and respect the dignity of every human being?
Why? I don’t know. Or maybe we do know.
Maybe we don’t want to be stressed.
Maybe living into our baptism creates division.
Maybe it’s just darn hard.
BUT! out of this discomfort,
we can open a conversation about injustice
we can bring light to an issue
we can join others in the struggle.
That light may be just the gospel event
that changes everything –
for you and for those in the conversation.
When we open a conversation
that brings division,
the crack in our hearts
allows the light to come in.
And that division allows
God’s slow work of love
To weave wholeness around a situation
like an invisible cloak to mind our life.[iii]
See, God claims us in our baptism
– not because we have been perfect Christians.
God’s love transcends the divisions.
God’s love encourages us to love recklessly.
God’s love offers us grace
to risk living into our call.
These are the marks of following Jesus.
“When we submit to the fire of our baptism,
we can trust the master welder
to forge us together
into a new kind of family, divided no more.”[iv]
[i] William Sloan Coffin, cited at http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/view/18268/the-collected-sermons-of-william-sloane-coffin on August 13, 2016
[ii] Inspired by Erick J. Thompson “Commentary on Luke 12:49-56,” at https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2951 on August 8, 2016