Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 18, 2019
Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56
Looking to Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our Faith
Central America… Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala - much in our minds these days – countries of grinding poverty, political corruption, gangs, and climate change; and now the news that the ELCA has become a sanctuary denomination for those seeking refuge from this especially tormented part of the world…
The faith of Jesus, the faith that Jesus is pioneering and perfecting in us, compels us to be bold about welcoming those fleeing from violence and destitution. The faith of Jesus is about running the race of life with perseverance knowing that many attractive distractions will rise up to tempt us to veer off the path of mercy and compassion. The faith of Jesus, the faith he is instilling in us, the faith that enabled him to endure the shame of the cross, gives us the grace and courage to spend our lives standing by and for those whom the psalmist names as “the weak and the orphan…the humble and needy…the weak and the poor.” [Psalm 82:3-4]
The Gospel reading for today is surely jarring and unsettling.
Jesus said: I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
What? Is this the Jesus of whom Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied would “guide our feet into the way of peace”? Is this the Jesus who after his resurrection stood among his disciples and said “Peace be with you”?
Of course it is the same Jesus, but he is the One who teaches us that true peace is not cheap. The peace of God comes only through sacrifice. For Jesus it comes through his humiliation, his endurance of shame as a mocked and naked criminal dying on the cross.
And true peace in our lives is likewise costly. It means sometimes to stand alone. It means to take unpopular stands that threaten the status quo, that threaten the comfortable, seemingly secure way of life for the privileged at the expense of the lives of the weak and the poor.
Costly peace means to say to the CEO’s of this world and to governmental authorities, that (as the Spirit of Jesus gives us the words) neither we nor they can be faithful, obedient children of God when we and they turn our backs on the weak and the orphan, the humble and the needy, the weak and the poor.
I think Jesus is saying that to speak out in this way will inevitably bring division, even in, maybe especially within our own families. How many of us have not experienced discord in our own families in very troubled, polarized times such as we are now experiencing as a nation? How often have we shied away from talking about “politics” because we know it will trigger hostility and alienation?
So I hear Jesus in this Gospel teaching us that to be true to whom we are becoming as his disciples, as his sisters and brothers in whom he lives, means to know that the peace for which he was willing to be crucified, the deep and true harmony and love he willed for us to experience with our sisters and brothers, will only come when we acknowledge that division comes and must be faced before the blessed gift of true peace can be realized. I think this is what it means to take up our cross each day, a willingness to let go of our relatively insular, safe, and comfortable life and give ourselves, our words, and our actions so that the weak and the poor have a chance to truly live.
Without trying to soften his words in this text, it is important to remember that Jesus is our grace, Jesus is our courage. In the sense of the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, we look not to our own strength and wisdom but to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. We look to him for grace so that we would always speak with love. We look to him for courage, so that with words given to us by the Holy Spirit, we are bold to speak for mercy and justice whether or not members of our families like or accept what we say.
I think of Martin Luther King Jr. who preached, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We might say that at the end of the day love will win, justice will triumph, and peace will reign. Knowing this and mindful of all the graced and emboldened saints who have gone before us let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…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.