Jesus Isn't Fluffy: XIII Pentecost (Proper 15C)

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-- who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented-- of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

Luke 12:49-56 (My Translation)

 

49 I came to bring fire upon the earth, and what I wish [is] that it were already kindled. 50 But I have a baptism [with which] to be baptized, and I how I am distressed until it is finished/accomplished. 51 Do y’all think that I arrived on the earth to give peace? No, I say to you, but rather division! 52 For from now [on] it will be [that] five in a household have been divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her [son’s] bride and bride against mother-in-law.

 

54 And he said also to the crowds, “When y’all see [[the]] a cloud is rising in the west, immediately y’all say that a thunderstorm is coming, and so it happens. 55 And when a south wind is blowing, y’all say that it will be a burning heat, and it happens. 56 Hypocrites! Y’all know to examine the face of the earth and the sky, but y’all do not know how to examine this appointed time?

 

 

  • “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No I tell you, but rather division!” (12:51)

    • This is an unfamiliar Jesus. This is in many ways an unfamiliar God whom we encounter in the Gospel story today. Our God is perfect peace and perfect love. How can Christ be an agent of division and fire?

  • “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.”

    • Egypt was a nation of power, wealth, and privilege. They conquered and domineered their neighbors in pursuit of that wealth and power. They were an ever expanding empire and their influence was felt all over the known world.

    • Jacob and his family came to their land in search of food and water. At first they were welcomed warmly as immigrants and travelers. But when they decided to stay things got uncomfortable for Egypt.

    • First, the Israelites were asked to live in a special neighborhood by themselves, segregated from the rest of Egyptian society. There they could practice their customs and worship their God in peace.

    • But eventually that segregation turned into vilification and fear. When the Israelites grew as a population and threatened the cultural dominance and purity of native-born Egyptians, the society at large turned against their immigrant neighbors. The Israelites were forced into slavery in Egypt.

    • The slavery continued for hundreds of years. Society was broken. There may not have been war in Egypt, but that national “peace” was a lie. Oppression became the norm, the foundation of a militant empire.

    • The people of Israel wondered whether their God had abandoned them. But God did not. God sent a prophet to deliver the people out of bondage. The Holy Spirit spoke through Moses and cried out to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”

    • Pharaoh responded, No, my Servant, our society works well. Everyone has their place. There is peace in Egypt. Why do you wish to disturb that peace? Why are you trying to change our great nation? Why are you pitting races against each other? Don't all lives matter the same?

    • But a fire from the Lord was kindled within Moses, and that class peace would not stand. God sent plagues to the Egyptian oppressors. God sowed division in a land of injustice.

    • Eventually, the Israelites were separated completely from the Egyptian military complex. They fled from Egypt in the middle of the night. They crossed the Red Sea. They narrowly escaped Pharoah’s army. They reached the other side, turned back to look at their pursuers, and the army was no more.

    • Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we’re free at last!

    • “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No I tell you, but rather division!” (12:51)

  • The question before us is not whether our God is peace or not. We have to ask, what kind of peace does our God bring? What kind of peace dwells in God’s heart and overflows from God’s being?

    • Is it the kind of peace that forces minority groups to conform in order to make the majority more comfortable? Is it the kind of peace that tells oppressed people to wait around while the rich and powerful drag their feet to make changes? Is it the kind of peace that sits quietly while people are injured and killed by law enforcement’s illegal use of force and abuse of power?

    • By no means! In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “they have seduced My people, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace” (13:10)

    • Jesus doesn't start wars and interrupt just and verdant communities. But the love and justice of God confronts the wicked powers of the world that build false peace on the blood and backs of the weak.

    • Christ came to a world already rife with chaos, war, violence, and atrocity. God is not the author of these things. But a violent world forms violent people, and to resist that violence with peace and righteousness will anger the powers the uphold the status quo.

    • Dr. Teresa Berger, a Yale theology professor, puts it this way:

      • “If our world were nothing but a place of created goodness and profound beauty, a space of flourishing for all, just and life-giving for all in God’s creation, then Jesus’ challenge would be deeply troubling. If, on the other hand, our world is deeply marred and scarred, death-dealing for many life forms, with systems of meaning that are exploitative and nonsustainable, then redemption can come only when those systems are shattered and consumed by fire. Life cannot (re-) emerge without confrontation. This is the basis of the conflict Jesus envisions. He comes not to disturb a nice world but to shatter the disturbing and death-dealing systems of meaning that stifle life.”

  • “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No I tell you, but rather division!” (12:51)

    • Christ comes to confront the powers that kill, harm, and destroy. To these sensibilities, God comes as a consuming fire, a scorching heat, a thunderstorm. But to those who walk the way of the cross, to those who won't back down in the face of violence and oppression, to those who raise their voices and call out the world’s evil no matter the consequences… To these we say:

    • “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2). Amen.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Teresa Berger, "Disturbing the Peace (Luke 12:49-56)" The Christian Century, 10 August 2004, http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3116. 

 

 

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