Sermon for August 18, 2019
Will you join me in prayer? Our God who created us, who redeemed us and who continues to sustain us, bless the hearing of your word and our understanding of the same. Amen.
My oldest son Joe, who is about 35 now, went to a summer camp when he was about 7 or so. The camp was on the Cape in Sandwich and it was called “Camp Good News”. They had staff there who were pretty young…seminarians and college students and it seemed like a warm and kind place and I dropped him off every day for a couple of weeks to have a fun time and then of course I picked him up at the end of the day and asked him how his day had been. One day his response to my question was rather surprising. He said, “Mom, the grownups there aren’t very nice.” I asked him to elaborate and he said in a hushed tone, “You aren’t going to believe it. They say ‘shut up’ and ‘Oh my God’! I think they should call it ‘Camp Bad News’!” Now, we didn’t allow those things to be said in our home way back then and I suppose it made sense to him to see it as the opposite of what he understood the ‘Good News’ to be…the story of the love of God for God’s people and Jesus who had been sent to teach us how to love each other.
I thought about this idea of ‘bad news’ when I read our scripture lessons for today. They are certainly challenging, aren’t they? Isaiah tells us the vineyards the vineyard owner has planted will be laid to waste since they did not produce the grapes for which he waited. Of course this is a prophet speaking the word of the LORD to the people of the house of Israel who did not follow his laws and it will be God’s job, as it was the vineyard owner, to sort the good from the bad. The Psalmist tells us that this unproductive vineyard will be burned clean and the people will beg for God’s restoration. The writer of Hebrews reminds us both of those who are saved from calamity because of their faith and those who chose some pretty terrible fates as he notes in v 35, “in order to obtain a better resurrection”. And then, our gospel reading has Jesus asking his disciples and a larger crowd who had gathered, 51”Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Not really sounding like the ‘good news’ we are used to hearing, is it? I think it sounds on first hearing more like ‘bad news’.
Can you imagine, just for a moment, that someone has come to church today for the first time? And by this I mean, not just to All Saints for the first time, but coming for the very first time into a church at all, hearing the gospel for the first time today and these words as the first from Jesus’ mouth. I wonder, what in the world would they think about this “king of peace” Jesus we all speak of or that they had heard he came to bring the good news of God’s kingdom. A rough place to start, I think.
Well, I imagine those who heard him that day, the thousands who gathered to hear him speak, might have had a similar experience. They had heard about this miracle worker Jesus, whom people said was the Son of God. They flocked by the thousands to hear him as they often did. Maybe some were there to hear him for the first time that day. Without the fuller understanding of the entirety of Jesus’ teaching (as we have), without the references we have been given to the prophets speaking and the psalmist writing and even the author of Hebrews to explain it, these people hearing his words today might have been quite startled.
I imagine if I were with the crowd that day or a disciple of Jesus, I would be thinking, “What is he talking about? We have heard of and some have even watched him heal, and raise people from the dead and be compassionate to those who are outcasts and talked about the kingdom of heaven? What is he saying about dividing families from within and how we are all hypocrites?” There is plenty more from Jesus on that in the 13thchapter of Luke but we will save that for another day.
This is a difficult aspect of Jesus than many are not interested in hearing about. We would perhaps prefer the ‘always nice Jesus’, the ‘cute baby Jesus’, the Jesus who called the little children to come to him. But this ‘always nice Jesus’ is not the entirety of Jesus, the Son of God. He had come to bring God’s kingdom to fruition and as he said in Luke 12:49, “I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled!’ That’s a rough Church School lesson!
Or is it?
We just heard about vineyard owner burning the unfruitful vineyard to make it ready for a healthy crop of grapes, we heard the psalmist describe the people cry to be restored and our Hebrew’s author encouraging us to stay strong; to stay faithful in our lives. So are these words from Jesus “bad news”? Is he intentionally going to bring fire to the earth and try to divide families?
I don’t believe that is what he meant.
Division has been a part of the story of God’s people from almost the beginning of time. Those who have turned their back on God’s law, chosen not to follow him, to persecute God’s people, to prevent those who seek God from finding God. So, yes, perhaps Jesus will watch and witness those things amongst the people and ultimately make a final judgment about dividing those who have chosen the way of love, the way of truth, the way of God from those who have not. But instead of fearing this potential division of mother from daughter and father from son and so on, how would Jesus want us to live out our faith TODAY?
The thing is, living like Jesus, being a follower of Jesus, will ultimately CAUSE division. Division with those who do not share what we value, or do not want to sacrifice their comfort for the welfare of others. The closer you follow Jesus, the more division you will spark. The gospel of Jesus is uncomfortable. To be a follower of the one who accepted and even honored the disreputable means that we need to do the same, rejecting the easy temptation of judging others and instead inviting these people into our lives. To be a follower of the one who preached love and forgiveness was to practice the same, particularly when it comes to those who differ from you or from me and even, and maybe especially, in terms of what they believe.
It is remarkably tempting, I believe, to try to be neutral in areas that cause division between family members, friends, parishioners, Facebook friends and Twitter posters. Even if this brings a temporary relief to the situation, if you or I or we are followers of Jesus, it is necessary that we live as he did. I wonder if we might also find ourselves thrust into conflict and division with those we care about if we welcomed into our lives and homes, parishes and social circles those whom society shuns. What would be the reaction of our family and friends and co-workers if we really acted like Jesus did?
And so this is the real question. Is it worth it to you to have to navigate those divisions in order to live out the gospel message or is this too much of which to conceive? It’s OK if you struggle with this, there is always room for improvement and growth in our witness to the gospel and Jesus understands your family and friends better than even you do! His disciples walked and talked with him and still struggled with the reality of following him. As you walk along with Jesus on your path, I encourage you to seek out others who are doing the same work, pray for strength from the Holy Spirit and remember the communion of saints cheering you on. And in that there is no ‘bad news’ just the good news of the gospel and being a true follower of Jesus.
Kathleen O’Donoghue, Family Minister