Sunday August 18, 2019 The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

The Rev. R Allan McCaslin
Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

From the Gospel according to Luke,“(Jesus asked) Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” I speak to you in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Every time the Lectionary presents today’s scripture lessons I struggle. I struggle because there is such a contemporary feel to each one that I think it possible to focus on that alone and miss out on a deeper message and challenge for us as people of God.

     Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear this morning’s words from Isaiah that God expected his vineyard, his people to uphold, “… justice, but saw bloodshed; (to uphold) righteousness, but heard a cry!” I can’t help but think of recent events here at home: the bloodshed from mass shootings of innocent civilians because of their perceived national origin, and the ambushing of police officers simply trying to do their jobs are just a few examples. Then there are the cries in the streets of those suddenly separated from their families, as well as the cries of political rhetoric that continues to divide not just communities and communities of faith, but whole families – pitting us against one another. In the context of those events, there is a sense of urgency to Isaiah’s words.    

     In these days when it seems that Mother Nature is calling out to all humankind to pay attention to what is happening with our climate, Jesus’ words about interpreting the weather, the present moment, take on a contemporary feel. The words in the Letter to the Hebrews to a soon to be horrifically   persecuted church at the hands of the Emperor Nero, “don’t give up, don’t lose sight of who you are in Christ (paraphrase)” urge us to join in the cry of the Psalmist, “… Shepherd of Israel … Stir up your strength and come to help us.” Such words echo the prayers of many today who crave divine intervention to rescue our families, communities, and nation from what appears to be a path to self-destruction.       

     Yes, indeed, there is a contemporary message in each of today scripture passages and we would do well to ponder each one and ponder them deeply. (There’s your homework assignment for this week!) Yet, I think there is an even more urgent message for us here. 

     In today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, our Lord says that committing our lives to him has consequences. Peace has a price. Inviting Jesus Christ into our hearts is more than a single moment of conversion. It is an invitation for God’s redeeming work of love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace to begin its lifelong process of continuous change and renewal within us. And that redemptive process will continue to reshape our priorities, our goals, our desires, and our values until we, too, become like Christ in allt hings. Jesus says committing ourselves to him will have an affect on everything in our lives from a renewed sense of seeking God’s justice and righteousness in all things, to a shift in our relationships not only with our neighbor, but even with those we hold most dear.

See, the gospels warn us that committing one’s life to Christ will and must change who we are, how we choose to live and relate to others, and do so with a renewed sense of urgency. When we commit our lives to following Jesus and that means seeking to be as Christ in this world, like Isaiah proclaimed we, too, begin to hear the cries in the streets and then seek righteousness by speaking up and demanding justice from those in authority. Yes, like our Old Testament ancestors named by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, as well as the martyrs of the early Church, we face the future secure in our faith in the redeeming love and power of God. Yet, that love and power has consequences. As we are changed from whom we once were, we experience for ourselves that friends and colleagues will probably choose different paths. Some choose to follow Christ while others reject him because, the truth is beloved, wherever the Word of God is heard, division always occurs among its hearers – the gospels are full of such stories. And what I find fascinating is that those gospel stories reveal just how deeply the religious and political establishments felt threatened by Jesus’ words then and are still threatened by those words today. Jesus says those who commit their lives to him should expect division and strife even within their own homes. Why? Well, as Rev. Anna said in her sermon last week, “Christianity is not a religion of comfort … it is the most difficult way of life.” It demands a committed and constant focus. It requires that we love both God and neighbor regardless of who they are. And I don’t know about you, but loving my neighbor is not always that easy. Following Jesus requires, as we heard in the Letter to the Hebrews, perseverance, and forever looking to Jesus Christ and keeping everything he taught us as foremost in our hearts and our minds, so that the redemption, forgiveness, mercy and grace of Christ is proclaimed in how we choose to live our daily lives.  

     I think many tend to hear what Jesus says about strife in our gospel lesson and say to themselves, “We know following Christ has a cost and we accept it. We get it.” And there is the danger of developing a self-serving piety in such a response. But lest that happen, Jesus jolts his hearers back to reality with these harsh words, “hypocrites, why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”  

     Certainly in these days of political strife, of disagreement over immigration and asylum, and yes, climate change let alone how we should respond, it would be very easy to interpret each reading and especially Jesus’ words simply as a commentary on the externalstorms brewing around us. Lord knows there are plenty of them! But his question causes me to wonder this morning what physical, emotional or spiritual storms are brewing withinus, perhaps within this parish, or within our own personallives that we are choosing to keep secret or outright ignore? What is getting in the way of our relationship with God and one another, or causing us to shy away from a deeper commitment to Christ and ministry in this parish?

     You know, Isaiah reminds us that God has given us everything we need to be fruitful people of God. We are fortunate here that our facilities are debt free and we have not one, but two beautiful churches that enhance our worship together. Even more important, God has raised up in our midst people who are strong in faith, fervent in prayer, and gifted as teachers and healers, just as God has instilled in us an incredible sense of responsibility to our neighbor and to uphold our baptismal promises to do everything possible to not only seek but serve Christ in all persons. We are truly blessed.

Nevertheless, our lessons invite us to stop and reflect on where we are in life right now- to interpret this present moment and confront whatever is right in front of us – again, spiritually, emotionally, and physically - and resolve to address it so that, as our Collect prays, we will follow daily in Christ’s blessed steps and be filled with God’s grace. To those this morning who are struggling with grief, loss or troubled relationships, I urge you to seek out the help of gifted professionals. To those beset by unconfessed sin or guilt: seek godly counsel. The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers absolution and peace. For those who are simply tired, worried or burdened by the complexities of daily life and all the stuff that is going on in our nation today, recognize that none of us is immune from hardship, fear, or doubt. Invite others to pray with you, to converse with you and wrestle with these issues, and share in your journey. We need to always remember that we are a community, that we walk the Way of the Cross together.

     I find it interesting that these lessons come to us today as summertime draws closer to its end, as our Stewardship Appeal kicks up a notch, and our plans for our fall programs and the Valle Country Fair begin to solidify. I say interesting because each of our texts urge us to stop for a moment and reflect inward; to listen deeply to what God is saying to us as individuals and as a parish in the context of our contemporary lives, and then move forward with all the confidence and hope of God’s transforming power and grace. But that can’t begin until we are willing to ask, “Why? Why do we not know how to interpret the present time?” embrace the answer, and then recommit ourselves to truly following Jesus Christ.

May God grant us the courage and the grace so to do. Amen.