10 Pentecost C—8/18/19
Jer. 23:23-24,29; Psalm 82; Heb. 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
Pr. Scott Kramer
Does anyone here this morning know what the weather forecast is for this afternoon? Many of us do have an idea. But, how do we know? Well, of course it’s because we’ve watched the news, or read the newspaper, or, most likely, checked our phone app!
What would we do modern folk do without these things? Can you imagine forecasting the weather yourself?
June 18th, 1974, started out as a beautiful Midwest summer day. I remember being outside with friends and enjoying a perfect blue sky and ideal weather. Later that day, my parents went out to eat with some of their friends, leaving me at home in charge of my two younger siblings. The skies grew dark, the tornado siren sounded, and at 9:35 p.m. a powerful tornado roared through the city as the three of us huddled in the basement. When we finally emerged, our home was mostly undamaged but across the street a neighbor’s garage was completely smashed, and nearby homes were severely damaged. Two people in town were killed, and 50 were injured. All this, after a beautiful day. We hadn’t seen it coming. We couldn’t read the weather.
In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus delivers a judgement against his audience:
“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
If we “modern” folk are unable even to predict the weather, how ready are we to interpret the present time?
Surely, you’ve heard one of the most disturbing news stories of the past week. On Tuesday in the state of Rhode Island, a Jewish youth organization called Never Again Action gathered outside a detention facility to protest American detention of immigrants. A detention officer drove a pick-up truck into the crowd. One of the protesters suffered a broken leg and internal injuries. But such an incident is not surprising, really…unless we’re unable to interpret the times in which we live.
How do you interpret the present time?
There are some who have said, “Well, it’s just a rogue officer—just one person.” Others, sadly, may think to themselves, “Well, those protesters had it coming.” Both of these perspectives demonstrate a failure to understand and interpret the times in which we live. This incident is nothing less than the advance guard of evil, testing the waters to see what it can get away with—and, as we’ve seen over the past three years, finding great Presidential support and encouragement!
Lutherans are among many Christians over the years who have developed the bad habit of valuing calm and stability, loyalties to nation and party and race, over obedience to God (or worse, thinking they’re the same thing). The contempt that Jesus has for such priorities is palpable:
51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
It’s not the message we want to hear!
If we think that Jesus’ prophecy is only about family members under one roof, we are mistaken. If we imagine that Christian faith is a private matter, disengaged from the hard issues that demand a public response, we are sadly mistaken. Such attitudes invite judgement from the one we profess to follow: You hypocrites! he says.
How do you interpret the present time?
The gospel at its core is God’s love for all people. God’s love is for all people—this we profess! And, love is not neutral. God’s love for all means that God takes sides. When God takes sides, it is not for the sake of those who value power and comfort and privilege and tradition above all else, even if we are baptized and attend church every Sunday! Instead, as we hear week after week, God will take sides against even God’s own people, dividing households and churches and nations.
How do you interpret the times in which we live, and what is your public response?
Everyone takes sides, even those who choose silence in the face of evil. As the prophet Jeremiah puts it,
23Am I a God nearby, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. 29Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
How do you interpret the times in which we live? More importantly, on what basis do you make your interpretation? Is it the Word of God?
We may not be able to predict the weather. But the “hammer” and “fire” of God’s Word—including the stories of God’s people–give us everything we need to interpret the times in which we live, and the public response that is required of us. Here’s how the psalmist puts it in today’s reading:
2“How long will you judge unjustly, and show favor to the wicked? 3Save the weak and the orphan; defend the humble and needy; 4rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.
Of course, we can choose silence. But public silence is not neutral; silence…is violence.
In today’s reading from Hebrews we hear a stark description of what following God has meant for many of God’s people over the centuries:
35[Some] were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—38of whom the world was not worthy.
The author of Hebrews calls these a “great cloud of witnesses” who give us their example to learn from. But we don’t need to turn back the clock 2000 years to be reminded of where faith in God sometimes leads. That Jewish youth group that made headlines, for example, is called Never Again Action. Their web page leads with this message: We’ve been taught the signs by our ancestors. As our government runs concentration camps, and rounds up and cages our neighbors, we are called to speak out, it reads.
To ignore or ridicule the alarms raised by a people who have experienced genocide reflects a special kind of spiritual blindness.
Closer to home, people of faith are also speaking out. Yesterday, for example, I stopped to pick up a book at the Skyway Library. On Renton Avenue South I noticed a number of African-American men holding signs that read, Stop the Violence. I walked up to one of the men and introduced myself. I learned that these young men were Christians, from the Jesus Center just up the hill! While I was speaking with them, fortunately many passing motorists were offering honks of support.
These young men’s public witness may seem fairly safe. For now, maybe it is—but for how long? If a detention officer in Rhode Island can run a pick-up truck into a peaceful crowd of demonstrators, what’s to prevent someone from running down peaceful black men on Renton Avenue? Nothing, as we learned from El Paso. (See the article on local courage in this morning’s paper.)
How do you interpret the present time, and what is the basis for your interpretation?
Not one of us escapes taking sides in this life. Silence is violence. We may not be able to predict the weather, but we have everything we need to interpret the present time. The hammer and fire of God’s Word–more powerful than any tornado, hurricane, or any weather–divides households and churches and nations, forcing each of us to answer the question: Whose side are you on?