Sunday, August 15, 2004

Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost
Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.

It is hard to believe, but my daughter is beginning High School in just a few days. It seems like just yesterday that she was going into kindergarten. I wonder where the time has gone. I don’t want to return to those days because each and every stage of life has been a joy and pleasure. The hardest part of letting grow up, however, is letting go.

When our kids are young we can help guide their decisions. We can say no when we think the thing they want to do is inappropriate. We can explain the problems with their plans and explain what can go wrong. Young children trust what we say and they are obedient without question. The older they get the more they seek their own independence. The time comes when we, as parents, must let them make the wrong decisions so that they will learn how to make the right ones. We still have some control in their teenage years, but we have to let them have the freedom to fail occasionally so that they will grow and mature.

There comes a day, however, when there is nothing we can do. They are going to make choices that go against our wishes and dreams for their lives. We can’t choose their career or their spouse. We can’t force them to live under our noses. We can only hope that we have taught them well and that they will make the right decisions. And we have to realize the right choice might not be our choice.

What father wants his daughter to move to the other side of the country to attend college? What mother wants her son to join the army and go to war? Are any daughter-in-laws good enough for their sons? Sometimes the choices we make seem to be in direct opposition to the expectations of those around us. Bruce and I have chosen to make our home far from our family. I am certain that there are those who see this choice as a rejection of our past, but that is not why we have made our decision. We live in Texas because it is a place of opportunity for our family.

There are times when such decisions cause families to divide. Family feuds have started over the most trivial situations. Children have been disinherited because their parents did not approve of their choices. Brothers and sisters fight about the most ridiculous things. Many family gather at reunions with the understanding that certain topics should never be discussed. No one mentions politics or religion because they don’t want to offend one another. Conversation remains inconsequential; we talk about the weather or gossip about the neighbors. Passion is not acceptable because we might make someone uncomfortable.

However, we are called to be passionate about our faith. We are called to speak God’s word in the lives of those around us, even our families. Jesus expects us to be passionate about our faith, so much so that it just flows out in our everyday experiences. The fruit of the Spirit is not something that should be quenched for the sake of family unity. Unfortunately, not everyone will agree with our passion and this will bring division.

Today’s Gospel lesson is one of the most difficult that we deal with in the Church. We generally define Jesus as someone who broke down walls and who built bridges between peoples. He gave them a new perspective through which to see the people who they considered worthless and insignificant. He brought down the oppressors and lifted the humble – not to make one greater than the other but to make them all equal in the eyes of God.

And yet, we read this passage and we are shocked by the violent nature of what Jesus is saying. “Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: for there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law.” Why would this man of peace speak as though there is no peace?

There are different kinds of peace. There is the peace between people, the peace we try to accomplish in our families, neighborhoods and the world. It is a peace that is not lasting. Eventually someone says or does something to upset and disturb others. The peace that makes one person happy makes another angry. You need only spend a few minutes reading the news from the Middle East to see that to be true. Peace means one thing to one nation and another thing to another.

Jesus was a man of peace, but the peace He brought was a peace that passes all human understanding. It is a peace in heart, a peace with God. It is a peace that is not visible in the world, except through the lives of Christians who are living their faith in this world. Their lives do not always look peaceful. As a matter of fact, those who live in the passion of Christ often have lives that look like His own Passion.

What would your mother think if you told her you were going to live a life like the faithful in the Bible? Oh, you might find a few examples of men and women who followed God who lived a long, peaceful life. However, the passage of Hebrews gives a much different picture. “…who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens. Women received their dead by a resurrection: and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and the holes of the earth.“

This isn’t a life I would choose and it is not one in which I would expect to find peace. However, over the history of the Church, the stories of martyrs often include descriptions of faces filled with joy and peace as they were burnt or beheaded for their faith.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus told the crowds that they were good at recognizing the signs of weather. They knew that when the wind blew from the Mediterranean Sea, they would have rain. They knew that when the wind blew off the desert it would be hot. We also know the signs of our own weather and the other climates of this world. We gage our actions on the climates in our world. But Jesus is calling us to act according to our faith, not according to the ways of the world. He asks, “How is it that ye know not how to interpret this time?”

In Jeremiah God asks, “Am I a God at hand, saith Jehovah, and not a God afar off?” The problem with the people in Jesus’ day is that they no longer recognized the Lord God Almighty. They were following the words of men and had forgotten all that God had done for them. In Jeremiah God says, “I have heard what the prophets have said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies, even the prophets of the deceit of their own heart? that think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers forgat my name for Baal.”

Jesus stood before them, presenting the Kingdom of God and they could not see Him as He is. He was calling them to see the signs that pointed to the truth of His character and to repent, to turn back to God and follow Him as those who walked in faith throughout the ages.

Isn’t it interesting that the men and women who have been lifted up by the writer of Hebrews, and elsewhere in the scriptures, as being faithful are not perfect? Rahab was a prostitute. Gideon tested God. Samson was easily deceived. David pursued Bathsheba. If we were to point out similar people in our world today, I doubt we would ever expect that they would be commended for their faith. And yet, God accomplished great things through their lives because they believed in Him.

In Hebrews we read, “Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We are being called to repentance, to live the life of faith in peace that might not be so peaceful. Our passion for Jesus Christ might bring discord among our families. Our mothers and fathers might not approve of the choices we make – to enter ministry, to witness our faith to others, to go forth into persecution for the sake of Jesus Christ. We might suffer. We might die. But we are being called to take our faith into the world no matter what might happen. This means acting as Jesus taught us to act, doing what Jesus commanded us to do.

The psalmist writes, “Judge the poor and fatherless: Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the poor and needy: Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” This is what Jesus came to do and He calls us to follow in His footsteps. Such a life is not always acceptable to those around us, including our families. It might bring division between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. But such division is not can not take the peace we have in Jesus Christ. We might suffer persecution, even persecution from those we love in this world, but let us walk in the passion we have for Jesus and let our faith flow into the world. He has called us to speak His Word to those who are dying so that they might have eternal life in the family of God. Thanks be to God.

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