When A South Wind Blows
A meditation on Luke 12: 49 – 56
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Presbytery of Sheppards & Lapsley August 15, 2019
We have a serious division in my family…it’s over vegetables. There are two distinct sides in this debate: the right side (mine) and the other side. My sister is on the lima bean, lady pea, field pea, black eyed pea (who wants to eat a vegetable that gets in fist fights??), butter bean side of this debate. While, I stand firmly on the Brussel sprout side. Let me just say, what a cruel, cruel trick to take a food that has a consistency and texture that makes my whole mouth extremely unhappy – butter beans – and then have the audacity to name them after a delicious flavor like butter! The injustice of it all…I couldn’t trust my parents for months after that experience. (Peanut butter is good…butter on bread is good…so butter beans must be good! But no!!)
Brussels sprouts: you know what you’re getting when you eat those! No deception here: they are so cute. They look like little baby cabbages. After years of sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner tables laden with all of those aforementioned vegetables that need not be named again, I rebelled. I brought Brussel sprouts to my sister’s house. She didn’t have to eat my vegetables and I didn’t have to eat hers!
A silly division, but a division none the less.
Division is just part of life. It is part of our everyday experience. You have already been divided simply by where you are sitting in the sanctuary. It wasn’t based on vegetable preferences, obviously, or any preferences at all. Simply a matter of where you prefer to be. Separations and divisions help us organize, help us move through the world. They aren’t all bad…but division is a reality. And the difficult divisions are an especially deep reality. They are the reality we heard Jesus name this morning. This division is Jesus’ world and he brings in to focus the truths that divide us. His essential nature, his presence is divisive. Sometimes we simply can’t bear the light of his truth. We see this in his interactions, we experience in our own hearts. This division hits our families, it hits our churches…we can’t avoid it.
Jesus makes three claims here: He has come to bring fire, to be baptized, and to bring division. (David Lose, Working Preacher). Another way to approach this is break it into three parts: a summary of Jesus’ ministry (bringing fire, being baptized into new life), the after effects of experiencing the Gospel (division), and a warning to open our eyes to what is taking place around us. (Eric Thomas, Working Preacher)
I get a little uneasy when I hear Jesus say that he wishes the earth were ablaze. Especially this week. Tuesday I was walking across the parking lot with one of our food pantry guests. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon and the asphalt was threating to turn to liquid. As we walked along, she said, “You know we’re in trouble!”
“Uh, oh! Why are we in trouble?” I asked.
“Well, if it’s this hot up here, we better be ready for Jesus! I couldn’t take much more heat than this! I don’t want to go that place!” Can I get an Amen?
But I don’t think the fire of hell is what Jesus means. I do believe that he spoke these words knowing that he didn’t have much time left and there was still so much work to do. What if he spoke these words in reference to the fire that cleanses, that purifies, that redeems? The fire that sets us free from the world’s priorities, the world’s way of being. The fire that Jesus casts upon the earth is a fire that clears away the brush and debris so that the earth might thrive. He says all this knowing that his baptism awaits him, the baptism that began at the Jordan River and which would be completed with an empty tomb. His time his short, and his words are fierce.
Though we call him the prince of peace, he disagrees, he says he is the prince of disunity. We don’t sing hymns about that. We’d rather not even read this text. We want our churches to be harmonious places. And while conflict can be healthy, it always hurts when someone leaves. It isn’t something we ever want to see. But I’ve seen people leave because I wasn’t the pastor they hoped for, or because of a merger they didn’t want, or because we are willing to be a sanctuary church for undocumented immigrants. Two notes. First: There will always be a reason to leave; we are a human institution, and there are a boat load of churches within five minutes of our doors. (Just remember those are human institutions, too.) Second, it always hurts when someone leaves. Always.
Jesus knew this truth. It hurt him too. He experienced it on a daily basis. The people who turned away. Jesus caused division everywhere he went.
Think of the not so pretty start to his preaching career…back in his hometown, reading from the scroll of Isaiah,
He has sent me to
preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
“Beautiful! Poetic! Powerful,” they said. But after greeting everyone at the doorway, and hearing them say, “That’s our boy!” and “Aren’t we proud?” he realizes he forgot a really important line of his sermon. He turns to the crowd and says, “One clarification: this message is for ALL people, and not just a chosen few.” The crowd goes from pride to anger in about 5 seconds and then they try to throw him off a cliff. (Luke 4)
It wouldn’t be the last time that people turned on him, the last time that Jesus caused division.
When he healed a paralyzed man, saying, “your sins are forgiven,” he caused division.
When he went to a tax collector’s home for dinner, he caused division.
When he healed on the Sabbath, he caused division.
Just about everything he did, upset somebody. It wasn’t doing for the sake of upsetting people. He was merely preaching the truth of God’s grace. People walked away then. They walk away now.
This is hard news, and people love to quote statistics about mainline denominations dying. What do they know? We are called to preach good news for all people, and we will be here as long as God needs us to be here. Fear must not prevent us from being the church God calls us to be. Even if it causes some to turn against us…a hard truth.
There is, however, a flip side to all this division.
There is a possibility for division to open a door to healing.
When we acknowledge our role in the history of prejudice and discrimination in our country, a history whose impact is still keenly felt and painfully visible, we allow God’s fire to purify us by uncovering these sins that we have committed against our own family. What happens when we imagine Jesus being attacked by a police dog? Being sprayed with a fire hose? Being beaten with a baseball bat? Will 11:00 on Sunday morning always be the most segregated hour in America? Christ have mercy.
When we acknowledge our role in discriminating first against women, and then against the LGBTQ+ community both within and beyond the walls of our churches, we allow God’s fire to purify us by uncovering these sins we have committed against our own family. Dare I say it, if Jesus were gay would we want to be the church that excluded him? Too many youth, too many young adults continue to look to us and say, “Is there a church for me?” Lord, have mercy.
When we acknowledge that we have allowed predatory lending to flourish in our state while knowing that these practices prey on the poor, the elderly, the uneducated, we allow God’s fire to purify us by uncovering these sins we have committed against our own family. If Jesus’ own mother could not pay her light bill, what would happen to her? Is this how we care for the vulnerable in our midst? Christ, have mercy.
When we acknowledge that we have placed not just immigrant children in cages on our borders, but by doing so we have placed the infant Christ in a cage, we allow God’s fire to purify us by uncovering these sins we have committed against our very own family.
Lord, have mercy.
What if we could be divided from these things that cause God pain? Wouldn’t that be the holy division?
Wouldn’t that hot fire be the fire of purification that we need? That hot fire carried by a hot wind…the Spirit is blowing.
Then he turned to the crowd: “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, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now. (The Message. Luke 12: 54 – 56)
It is a hot wind blowing through this “God-season.” Can we open our eyes to the signs around us? Let us ride this wind into the future. Together, let us not fear the wind, let us not fear the fire. Bring it on God. Bring it on. Amen.