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Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C Proper 15   August 15, 2010

O Lord, we pray: speak in this place!  In the yearning of our hearts and in the thirsting of our souls, by the words we hear and in the thoughts we form, speak, O Lord, and set our hearts on fire.  Amen.

I have to be honest.  Sometimes, I would just as soon show up for church, drowse through the readings, and give a thin, desultory sermon.  But when an urgent, edgy Gospel passage like this one comes along and I sit bolt upright, fully awake.  A reading like this means there is no drowsing and not to be anything casual about the sermon.

Jesus wants to set us on fire.  That’s how he puts it, right off the bat.  “I came to start a fire, and how I wish it were kindled right now!”  He came with the traditional biblical mechanism of judgment and purification.  “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” he says.  Do you think I’ve come to smooth things over and make everything nice?”  No way.  I’ve come not to bring peace, but division.  “From now on, when you find five in a house, it will be three against two, and two against three; father against son, and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother….

And if we try to pretend we don’t understand what he’s talking about, Jesus has a pretty strong rebuke for us.   “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you say, ‘Storm’s coming’ – and you’re right.  And when the wind comes out of the south and you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one,’ you’re right.  So if you know how to tell a change in the weather, don’t tell me you can’t interpret the present time.

What is the present time?  Well, it’s late-summer, back-to-school shopping time; it’s almost football and fall-TV-schedule time.  But above all it is God’s time.  In Jesus, God has come close. God has come into the world and entered human life, and from now on we are confronted with a daily choice: will we choose God’s way – the way of life – or will we choose death?  It may feel like a sleepy August morning, but this morning, God has a wake-up call for us, a summons to renew our commitment to Christ and his proclamation of the kingdom of God.  That may make us want the peace of simply withdrawing.

And I don’t want to suggest to you that when Jesus says that in a household of five it will be three against two and two against three, he means we are to make trouble for trouble’s sake, or to incite division for division’s sake.  From the beginning of his life (when Zechariah welcomed him as the one who came “to guide our feet into the way of peace”) until the end of it (when he responded to his disciples drawing swords in the Garden of Gethsemane and one of them cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest) by crying out, “No more of this,” Jesus’ life and ministry were formed by a deep longing and thirst for God’s peace – the peace that means well-being, wholeness, and reconciliation with one another and God.

And this is the heartbeat of our faith – an insatiable passionate yearning for God’s shalom.  Jesus makes it clear today that means being willing to be set on fire – to give ourselves completely to the quest for the wholeness and flourishing of all beings, even if it leads to division with those near and dear.

We all know what it is like to make decisions we know are God-led but that are costly in our relationships.  Most of us can remember being a teen or having one. We can remember the anger and resentment that flashes when a parent discovers that the teen is making poor choices and exercises parental care by setting firmer limits.  It is a hard thing for a parent to do, but setting those limits and abiding by them is the only way to stay true to the commitment to being a good parent – exercising wise stewardship over our offspring’s wellbeing.

Or perhaps we’ve reached a point of sensing that something in our life doesn’t ring true.  On the surface very thing may be placid, but underneath we feel restless and edgy, or as though we’re only going through the motions.  And we realize that inside we are hungering for a change that will help us live in a more authentic way.  We know doing that may create waves.  It may disrupt long-standing relationships.  But a fire has been kindled within and our only choice is to respond. When God speaks, we know we can’t pretend to not understand; we cannot simply go into our shells in the hope of finding peace – a peace that is not God’s peace; a false peace is no peace at all.

Those moments when we must follow God’s will without that false peace are what Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.  He knows the risk of paying attention to our passion, and staying true to the longing God has given us for the flourishing of life within ourselves, our families and our communities.  He knows that following that inner longing may mean we must go against the grain, provoke controversy, and refuse to do business as usual.  He calls us to a holy unrest.

Holy unrest is a good term for it, for our refusal to settle for a status quo in which the poor go hungry, the ill can’t afford medicine, landfills overflow, species disappear, and we kill one another at record rates.  That is the vineyard that Isaiah spoke of, the one on the verge of becoming a physical and spiritual wasteland – the one God wishes our help in restoring.

Jesus was willing to live and die and rise for us, stand with us and call us         that we might turn the vineyard around and find the real peace of a life devoted to God’s shalom.  The promise of Jesus’ resurrection as the Christ is that the prayers we say, and the sacrament we share will strengthen us for being a people passionate and fiery, full of holy unrest, moving steadfastly toward the peace that transforms the whole of creation.


This sermon was drawn from a sermon by my seminary friend and preaching colleague Margaret Bullit-Jonas.

delivered by the Rev. Dr. Fr. Richard Godbold

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