Monday, August 15, 2022

Disruptive Jesus: A Sermon for the 10th Sunday After Pentecost


What a week in American history! 

I touched upon just some of the craziness that was hitting the fan in this sermon, which seemed only right given that the readings were all about the disruptive...even destructive... power of God. I reached out to one of my seminary friends and we both agreed: the readings were challenging. This is where I went with it.  

Text: Luke 12:49-56


If you’ve ever owned a cat… you know how fickle they can be.

They’ll jump in your lap… looking at you with loving eyes. Maybe they’ll head butt your chin to get you to start petting them… scratching behind their ears… the scruff of their neck… perhaps that spot between their shoulders.

All is well.

All is purring and happiness.

And then—rrrrROW—they’re biting that hand that was petting them…slashing your flesh with their claws… jumping to the floor with their tail thrashing about and looking at you as if you’re the worst offender of their personal space ever!

I feel as if Jesus was a little bit like a cat in our Gospel reading this morning.

Most weeks… we hear and experience a man who wants us to love one another,

He demonstrates what love in action looks like.

He uses parables and stories to make a point about how to behave.

He heals people of their illnesses.

He comes alongside the person overwrought with worry.

I think it’s fair to say we all love the gentle… placid and purring… Jesus.

Now he’s talking of fiery baptism… bringing division to families… and calling out people as hypocrites for failing to interpret what’s happening right in front of their eyes.

This is demanding Jesus.

Just as cats are complicated creatures that we don’t always understand…Jesus will bite us if we get lulled into a place of complacency… and just doting on him.

Whenever Jesus enters the picture… any old set ways of doing things will get disturbed and disrupted.

That includes the familial structure of the ancient world.

The son… usually the eldest son… was expected to inherit the property of the father.

The daughter-in-law would be expected to move in with her husband’s family but often would remain more on the periphery of the family until she gave birth… and especially to the birth of a son.

Even though affectionate love could be present in these arrangements… they were still more duty-bound relationships formed by the culture of the time.

It’s such duty-bound rigidity… and unquestioned norms that Jesus predicts will crumble with his arrival.

The in-breaking of God incarnate turns everything upside down.

Or…from a Godly-perspective… it right-sizes things by placing God at the center and not self.

Given that Luke’s Gospel is written in a time of post-resurrection… we know that there was a lot of division that occurred in societal structures.

The original hearers of this would have been a people who had seen their temple… the center of their worship… destroyed by the Romans.

Once very solidly Jewish followers of Jesus are discovering that his message resonates with their Gentile Greek neighbors.

All of this poses tensions between the religious and ruling authorities… and intrareligious conflicts that would contribute to the development of Christianity as a separate sect.

Conflict… division… animosity within families and friend groups is nothing new. We see it on the macro level with war… and on the micro level with divorce.

It seems weirdly providential that we have this lesson about conflict after a week in which we have seen unprecedented things happening in the country.

A warrant to search a former president’s home… uncovering top secret documents…and now we  

have threats leveled at federal agents.

There was a video I saw posted online from a man who identifies himself as a pastor in Tifton, Georgia… encouraging those watching him to take up arms against the government and law enforcement.   

A man lost his life because he went to an F-B-I field office in Cincinnati and fired a nailed gun at people.

The author Salman Rushdie is in a Pennsylvania hospital fighting for his life having been stabbed in the neck and abdomen before a speaking engagement.

Rushdie has been living with a death threat hanging over his head for his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses.”

His speech was to praise the United States for being a safe haven for exiled writers.

The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend is marking the sobering moment five years ago when white nationalists marched and rallied in their otherwise-quiet college town.

A weekend that ended in a young woman getting killed by a man who ran her over with his car.

To our west… my colleagues from our diocesan Racial Justice and Healing Ministry are in Alabama this weekend to join with that diocese in remembering the death of Jonathan Myrick Daniels.

Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian from New Hampshire who had been arrested as he attempted to register blacks to vote in 1965.

Mysteriously… after almost a week in jail… the group arrested was released.

Daniels and a Roman Catholic priest…both of whom were white… accompanied a black teenager named Ruby Sales as they walked around the corner to a package store for a soda.

A man stepped out onto the porch of the store and aimed a rifle at young Ruby.

Daniels pushed her away… and took a bullet in the chest… killing him instantly.

That man was never convicted of the crime.

These events… these clashes which fuel anger and hatred… provoke the demons within us rather than the better angels of our nature.

They’re the eruptions coming from the disunity that’s been with us for a very long time.

It stems from that sin of “othering” which has its roots in the centering on the self.

And when we become self-centered and not God-centered… we see “others” as a potential threat or danger.

Self-centeredness has led to the “othering” of native people’s… Africans… Asians… Jews… Italians… Irish.

Throughout history… we’ve engaged in some practice of “othering” of people that has denied freedoms and limited their humanity.

It makes the words of the psalmist so poignant and true:

“Restore us, O Lord God of hosts, show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.”

It’s this type of human-imposed hierarchy and stratifying of people that Jesus’ fire has come to destroy.  

No one person… no one group… is better than another.

No one gets to confer greater rights and privileges based upon race… or wealth… gender… or identity.

The mission and message of Jesus is one in which he is always endeavoring to lower mountains and lift up valleys… and to have everyone on an equal level.

There are no “others” in God’s society.

Jesus is about liberating us… and getting to see each other as beloved children of God.

And as he looked around that crowd listening to him in this Gospel lesson… he knew his words were falling on some deaf ears.

Some either couldn’t grasp his message or maybe didn’t want to hear it because it threatened that sense of self.  That need to “other” in order to feel important.

This is the tension that eventually would lead him to the cross.

And it’s really not that different than the tension before us in our own time.

There are forces that benefit in keeping us apart… fighting with one another… turning away from each other… and refusing to do the work we need to do to heal and mend the many breaches in our society.

These are the forces that perpetuate the violence which stems from that self-centered rather than God-centered approach to society.

Our challenge… as we look at the times we’re in… is the same one that has been with us forever:

Will we choose a path that leads to death or life?

Will we live into our Baptismal Covenant… resist evil… turn in a God-ward direction… and work for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of every human being?

Will we only pay attention to nice Jesus… or will we follow the disruptive one who laid down self for a greater good?

In the name of God… F/S/HS.










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