Sermon on August 18, 2019.
On Division, Actions and Change.
Just recently I was at a dinner and as we were talking about churches and sermons, a nice lady asked me: “So what Sermon Series do you preach this summer?”
And I answered as truth is: “I do not preach a specific Summer Sermon Series with a Specific Theme. I give my sermon according to the Lutheran tradition and Liturgy, following the Lectionary for the Sundays and Seasons. “
And I explained how it works in our church. The Revised Common Lectionary of ELCA provides a three years series of readings for Sundays and Seasons. A collections or selections from Scriptures, arranged and intended for worship. Lectionaries were known and used in the fourth century, where major churches arranged the Scripture readings according to the schedule which follows the calendar year of the church. This practice of assigning readings to each Sunday and festival has continued through the history of the Christian Church. Here in our church these readings a printed on the Bulletin each Sunday – and a lectionary provides whole churches and denominations like ELCA a common pattern of biblical proclamation. A guide, a resource, and a source of historical relationship.
I enjoy doing so, following the Lectionary and not my own private specific Series of Themed Sermons, - and I have experienced through my years in US that the Lectionary of the American Lutheran Church is somewhat different from the Danish Lutheran church. In Denmark we have 2 years of Lectionary, here we have 3 years. Some of the selections of readings are the same of course, but many of the selections have been surprising, uplifting, and demanding for me as a preacher.
What I do like about following a Lectionary, is first and foremost the conformity and unity of our church body – but I also firmly do enjoy that I cannot just pick and choose. Even if some of the readings are more difficult – I will need to face them. As we are reading them together as a congregation and a church, we need to read and face them too.
The gospel today is one of those readings that you might not voluntarily pick! For a nice Summer Sunday in August, in the end of Vacation Season, where Students are heading back to School, families are organizing their time and as a church we are getting ready for a new Fall program with services, activities, fundraisers, meetings, and confirmation classes.
And then we come to church and listen to the harsh words of our gentle savior Jesus Christ: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?”
I do think that a lot of us actually do think that Jesus came to bring peace, don’t we… just like the angles sang that first Christmas Eve? How do we reconcile Jesus, the bearer of God’s Peace, and these passionate words about divisions even in our sacred families: “ father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother in law against her daughter in laws and daughter in law against mother in law. “
This doesn’t sound as words from our Gentle Soft-spoken loving forgiving reconciling Jesus, who told us to love our God and our neighbor, to forgive each other and to reconcile.
These words sound more like some families of great division and enmity. It sounds like a Family Lunch were all the bad blood, all the anger, all the misunderstandings and bitterness finally resurface and explodes right during dessert!
Even if we have a really hard time, reconciling the image of the harsh angry Jesus, with our image of the forgiving loving embracing Jesus for baptism, communion, worship and Gospel, - we sadly do recognize the harsh words about division.
We are a divided country. Matters of political affiliation, of religious denominations, racial and economic matters divide us.
Climate change. Immigration. Tax. Healthcare. Gun politics. We are so divided and even worse this division seem to have complicated simple conversations and discussion which should be the basis of every civil relationship.
We have always differed in opinions and politics, but what seems to be the new norm is that we are so set in our opinions that we tend to believe our opinions more than simple facts. Scientifically proven data, historical truths and years of statistical material so often gets dismissed as fake news, or political agendas. If we cannot even agree on facts, statistics and science and history, we are on a dangerous path.
“When you see the 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.” The signs, the scientifically and statically evidence, leads us to certain conclusions that we should all be able to agree upon. Otherwise we have left any common ground and any common agreement on basic facts.
Facts, statistic, history and science matter. But as opinions seem to matter more and more than facts, truth and science, - all kinds of conspiracy theories and alternative truths have free range.
ü There was no actual landing on the moon, it is all a hoax.
ü The Holocaust did not happen. It is just a historical hoax.
ü There was no Russian Interference in our Elections. It is just a hoax.
ü Elvis never died. He lives somewhere in disguise.
ü Secret Groups are controlling the World. Illuminati.
ü President Obama wasn’t born in us and is secretly a Muslim.
ü the attacks on 9/11 were an inside job orchestrated by the US Government
ü JFK Assassination was Lee Harvey Oswald really the shooter?
ü FDA is withholding the Cure for Cancer
“Our Lord Jesus Christ is not tame, not nice.” One of my colleagues once said, when he was to preach on today’s Gospel. Jesus is certainly not lukewarm. He is passionate and compassionate, he is caring and interacting. He is opposing the rulers and the wealthy, and looking after the stranger, the alien, the poor, the widowed and the orphans.
“I have come to bring fire to this earth’” Jesus said and today we listen to the gravity of Jesus worlds. What kind of savior would bring division instead of peace, would deliberately separate family members? What kind of God world bring fire to earth?
Yet Jesus anger at the community is right in line with the tradition of the Old Testament Prophets and John the Baptist, who called people out for worshipping God with their lips while failing God with their actions. The Old Testament Reading from Jeremiah rails against the false prophets who lead the people astray and it aligns with Jesus harsh words: “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces”
Just like John the Baptist prophesied about the coming of Jesus “ One how is more powerful than I is coming… his winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granny; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. Luke 3.16-17
Fire, fork, hammer, - the words of God are powerful and strong. The words of Christ are powerful and strong – and they call for action.
Action of justice and righteousness. The promise and the hope for Gods’ peace for the people has always come and still comes with an expectation that the we the people participate in making peace.
In making that peace and that change, there might be division among families, in churches and in society. Passion and compassion, justice and righteousness are warm and burning actions, not just lukewarm words.
So, Jesus did come to bring peace and reconciliation to the earth, - but that will only be established if we like the Prophet Mika urges us “ to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.”
Jesus brings passion and action into our faith. And even if it would be nicer, easier to preach a Summer Series over Jesus Love and Forgiveness, - we also need to listen to, read and preach over the more challenging readings and words from Jesus. Faith is a call to act, to love and to walk humbly with God.
The word of God is a refining fire. Jesus himself because the great divide in human history. He wants our undivided attention and devotion. So today we pray:
God, you gave us your word. Like a fire, kindle its flame within and among us. Empower us for the work of breaking down walls, reconciling the divided and building unity and faith.
“Divided we fall and united we stand.”
Let us remember the beautiful prayer of Assisi, who confronts our divisions, despair and darkness with a call to act:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love with all my soul.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.