August 14: Proper 15:
Draft text of the homily, please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.
How many of you really don’t like this gospel passage?
It’s hard to hear, isn’t it?
“I came to bring fire to the earth!”
I come to bring not peace, but division!
What happened to gentle Jesus meek and mild? What happened to “Buddy Christ?” What happened to “Don’t worry. Be ready?” This week it’s all “three against two and two against three.”
It’s hard to listen to this, maybe now especially, when there is already so much division in the world. Do we really need more? Isn’t the church supposed to be about wholeness and reconciliation?
Well, yes. And growing in faith…growing into the fullness of Christ means growing into the fullness of ourselves…it means growing up into the people God has always intended for us to be. And that actually requires some division.
Our world is so riven with factions entrenched in their own echo chambers…and defending their own turf…and we so long for peace and stability…that we hear this, and think, “not again!” “Not you too, Jesus.” And we forget that division is a natural, normal process…even beneficial…if it doesn’t get out of control.
At the cellular level, division is essential for life and growth and health, as cells differentiate and adapt themselves to differing functions…this one becoming part of an eye…this one becoming part of a foot…
Divisions within families are also a normal part of growing up as well, and necessary if we are to grow into fully formed adults.
Becoming an individual and an adult means at some level dividing the family unit.
You don’t have to be the Son of God, or even a very perceptive prophet to know that in families sons are going to push back against fathers…and fathers against sons. That mothers and daughters won’t always see eye to eye. And that in-laws—need I say more.
Jesus’ own family story shows this. There was division and dissension when he left his family at 12 to go to the temple by himself…
Remember the division he caused when he went to his home town synagogue, sat down and read from the scroll of Isaiah. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.” Then declared that those words had been fulfilled. They wanted to throw him off a cliff after that, remember?
Then there was the time his mother and brothers wanted to see him, and he said, “my mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
And think about when he told the disciples about what would happen in Jerusalem, about the cross. He had to rebuke his closest confidant, Peter, who was trying to talk him out of it.
This morning in our collect we prayed to “Follow daily in the blessed steps of Jesus’ most holy life.” Please, don’t imagine that trying to do this will be all daffodils and sunshine. Following Jesus will cause division. What kind of division is something we can choose to work on.
Growing up means making choices AND living with the consequences of them. It means doing the hard work of accepting ourselves and others for who they really are—and what they can and can’t be.
It means becoming aware of, and even being grateful for, all of our limitations—that blessed finiteness that defines our being.
Growing up as followers of Christ means making choices that will set us at odds with those around us.
Saying “no” to the fearful, death-dealing demands of success, and security, and endless consumption…
And saying “yes” to the harder, but life-giving, disciplines of generosity, and openness, and compassion.
The choice Jesus sets before us today in this difficult-to-hear passage is the same choice that God sets before the Israelites at Sinai.
There God said, “See, I have set before you…life and death, blessings and curses.
The great cloud of witnesses listed in our reading from the letter to the Hebrews today is a roster of those who have chosen life. Not always perfectly, but humanly, who have done the work of growing up, and who have decided for the rule of God. Who have chosen to live their lives as if God were in charge, and the rulers of this world were not. That’s what we’re being asked to do: To live our lives as though the God of love and mercy and and peace and justice and hope is in charge. (Because he is.)
Living this way will cause division. And we will not always make the right choices. But God is a loving parent who wants us to learn how to make life-giving choices, who wants us to grow, to do well, to live, to thrive, and who will let us make our own mistakes, and live with the consequences, but who longs for us to return and is always, always, ready to welcome us back when we do.
It’s that time of year when many young people are preparing to go off to school and to college.
Leaving home is a significant milestone that we maybe don’t give the weight it often deserves.
One of the most important divisions we all must make—one of the central paradoxes of our lives—is that we must leave home in order to find home.
We must leave home in order to become full individuals…we must leave home if we are to find a home of our own…and if we are to return home as adults.
This journey of leaving home, is the journey of our faith.
In the beginning we lived in a home of love with God, but we turned away—as we must—we left…but not on the best of terms. We wandered far in the wilderness. Became enslaved to many temptations and powers of this world—the Pharaohs—the Emperors. We sowed some wild oats (or wild grapes as Isaiah puts it).
Where God desired and expected justice; we produced bloodshed.
Where we should be righteous and merciful, we continue to be responsible for the mournful cries of others.
By following in the steps of Jesus we are slowly making our way back. Prayer by prayer…Eucharist by Eucharist…neighbor by neighbor…
“Our hearts are restless,” said St. Augustine, “until they find their rest in God.”
For God is our origin and our goal.
The way is often painful, and full of decisions made with limited information, or out of emotional need, or fear. And we live with the consequences of our choices.
But the end of our journey is our homecoming with God. So we live by faith,
We live by faith through the divisions we have created. We live by faith in seeking and practicing the reconciliation that we long for.
and by faith we will make our way back to home that we have left.