Monday, August 15, 2016

Jesus the Divider

Luke 12:49-56
August 14, 2015

Aww. Jesus was so nice last week.
Don’t be afraid little flock.
God wants to give you the Kingdom.

And then we get this.
Jesus has come to bring division to this world.
We think of Jesus as the one for peace, love.
I said Jesus said “do not be afraid” 21 times
second only to the imperative to
“love” which I didn’t tell you he says 125 times.

But not right now.
Jesus final objective is love, but Jesus reminds us
that doesn’t always mean quick peace.
Not at first. At first, Jesus brings division.

Really, in this reading today, Jesus sounds stressed out.
He even says he’s stressed out right at the beginning.

I don’t know if I’m completely comfortable with
the idea of a stressed out Jesus.
Jesus most often seems calm as a cucumber, above the fray.
In control of things, but right now he’s
telling us he’s stressed.
Let’s get on with the whole thing, because it’s stressing me out!

We have no trouble remembering that Jesus is divine.
But sometimes we forget that Jesus was human,
and he felt all the emotions that we feel.
And the human side is facing some
scary stuff, Jesus has a good reason to be stressed.
So, we’re in chapter 12 of Luke right now.
In Chapter 11, Jesus is invited to dinner at the house of a Pharisee
and while he’s there, Jesus neglects the,
religiously mandated hand washing ritual to prepare for his meal.
The Pharisees see this and start grumbling about it.

And Jesus starts to berate the Pharisees
“You are worried about how clean the cup and the dish are,
but your insides are corroded”
Which would have been enough to get his point across,
but Jesus proceeds to go on for 20 verses
(which is really a long time in terms of scripture )
“Woe to you”, Jesus says, “You give money,
but you neglect justice and the work of God.”
He criticizes them for their hypocrisy
and tells them that they’re not doing their job.
And he’s doing it pretty loudly and forcefully.

And then when the religious lawyers in the room said,
“Well, Jesus, when you say that, you’re insulting us too.”
Then Jesus starts in on the lawyers

“Woe to you lawyers too!”
“You load people with burdens and don’t’ lift a finger to help them.”
And “you are responsible for killing God’s prophets.”
Then apparently, Jesus left the dinner party.
Right at the end of the last chapter,
Jesus just took on a group of the most
powerful and influential people in Jewish society at the time,
and then just dropped the mic and left  without
even eating with them or making nice.

Then in Chapter 12, Jesus goes out to a crowd of a thousand people
and tells them, to “Watch out for the hypocritical Pharisees”.

Jesus is pushing the prophetic envelope here.
He’s stirring the pot. He’s creating division with the wrong people.
Basically, he’s just set into motion
the things that will eventually get him crucified.
No wonder he’s stressed out.

Then after he warns the crowd about
the Pharisees, he starts this monologue
Marc Chagall, 1966
that we’ve been working on for the last few weeks
He says:

Don’t be afraid of the Pharisees
don’t fear those who kill the body,
but can’t do anything else to you.

Don’t store up useless treasures on earth.
Don’t waste the time you have.

Don’t worry about your life
The lilies in the field and the ravens are fine
and they don’t worry.

And then, what we read last week,
Don’t be afraid little flock.
Just be prepared when God needs you.

Then we get the stressed out Jesus we read today.
No, I’m not here to make nice.
I’m here to stir some things up.

It’s almost as if chapter 12 is Jesus talking to himself,
like he’s trying to convince himself and deal with the sudden
realization of what he’s set in motion at that dinner party.
He’s getting a picture of what his destiny is,
and he knows that his life is not going to end well.
There will probably be a lot of pain involved.

Remember, Luke is the same gospel that has Jesus
sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane,
asking for God to take away this cup that
God wants him to drink.

Now, Jesus said those things to the Pharisees and lawyers
because he has compassion for the people
they were taking advantage of and not serving.

Jesus is love incarnate,
the love of God come down to earth.
But this love is not the happy, puppies and kittens kind of love,
This is the hard, difficult love.
The love that comes in the form of truth, and honesty.
It’s the love that comes through justice and change.
This is the love that comes through the cross.
As Frederick Buechner wrote,
“The Gospel is always bad news before it is good news.”

Just the presence of Jesus can cause division.
Now, no one likes division.
When we see people arguing,
Our response to it often is to try and stop it,
make nice, shake hands and make up,
even if nothing is resolved.
Even if the underlying problem is still there.

I’ve seen brothers and sisters who spent years
keeping the peace putting on their happy faces
for the sake of their parents,
and after their parents died it got mighty ugly.
That happy face is cheap peace.
If you’ve ever had a quietly tense Thanksgiving dinner
with your family, you know what cheap peace feels like.

But real love, doesn’t stop at cheap peace.
Real love -- the transformation and reconciliation
that God is intent on -- requires real truth and change and
that often causes real pain and real division to get there.
We always have to go through Good Friday
to get to Easter Sunday.

When we look for God’s work in the world,
Lots of times, we only look at the good news.
The reconciliation, the people hugging, and helping.
But when we’re in the middle of God’s work it
doesn’t always look so beautiful and sweet.
God’s work can look and scary and stressful.
Even Jesus was stressed and even scared
when he was in the middle of it.

And Jesus wants us to see those signs today,
And understand God’s presence in them,
Jesus wants us to be able to interpret the present time,
just like we do the weather.

In the present time, this country,
and lots of countries actually, are dealing with racism.
Many of the issues with the police, the justice system,
crimes, terrorism, immigration, refugees are,
at their root about racism.
A problem that has repeatedly come up
in each generation and has caused
a great amount of suffering – mostly for non-white people
during the history of the United States.

I’m sure a lot of us would just like the division
to end, for the protests to end, for the whole thing to go away
and for everyone just to get along,
shake hands and have one huge hug and go home.

But the problem of racism in the US is deeper than
just a few protests or just a few campaign speeches.
The problem of racism has been there
since the foundation of our country.
Since Americans justified taking land from Native Americans
and started selling African Americans as property.
Protests and riots and speeches aren’t the heart of the problem
they are just one of the many symptoms.

The heart of the problem needs to be aired out,
it needs to come into the light,
it needs to be confronted, confessed, repented, forgiven.
And all that will most certainly cause
anger, pain, discomfort,
and stressful arguments at Thanksgiving dinner tables.
it will certainly cause division.

But this is still God at work even though it might not look like it.
It’s God making a transformation in our country and our world,
Through the cross, not around it.
No cheap peace for God.

And we can see the signs,
just like we can see the weather changing.
This issue, and a hundred more issues, are not over.
Every time we put a band aid on it and make nice,
it just gets worse and worse.
There is more division coming.
More strife, more unrest, more discomfort,
God’s work is not done in our hearts or in our world,
not by a long-shot. We see the signs.
We know what’s coming.
And this causes us stress too.

But do not be afraid little flock.
Don’t worry about your life.
The lilies in the field and the ravens
are fine and they don’t worry.

Don’t store up useless treasures on earth.
Don’t waste the time you have.
And don’t fear the powers that be.
They can’t take what’s really important.

So let us continue to be Jesus in this world.
To bring justice, truth, light, and hope to this world.
and to share the love of Jesus .
The love of the cross,
the love that sometimes divides before it heals.

The cross that brings true peace.

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