Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29–12:2
Luke 12:49-56

So I had a pretty tough parenting week, this past week.  As some of you know I took my two boys camping up at Cultus Lake for a couple days, as I took some time away in lieu of basically the no days off I’ve been taking the past few weeks.  My wife and daughter don’t like camping so they decided to stay home.  So it was just me and the boys, along with my siblings and their kids.  My kids are the youngest of their cousins, and so as you’d expect their life experiences and their way of handling new life experiences can’t really compare to their older peers, and I admit there are times when it was getting frustrating for me.

I would ask them to stop doing something in fear that something worse could happen, but in the fun of doing what they were doing they kept doing it, and… something worse happened.  I asked them to do something to prevent something bad from happening, and in their excitement of doing like the exact opposite of what I asked, they neglected to do that thing and… something bad happened.  And so forth, and so forth, and again and again and again.  So I guess by the second day, quite literally I was not a happy camper.

I mean, c’mon guys, shouldn’t you know better than this?  Shouldn’t you be able to hear the words that are coming out of my mouth and just listen to them?  Shouldn’t you just have the common sense to do this and not do that?  It was frustrating, it was aggravating, at times it was even infuriating. 

Until that afternoon, something happened between them, and I saw the way they interacted with each other.  That is, without any kind of patience, jumping to conclusions, and generally blaming the other for being a total jerk.  And man, they sounded a lot like me.  And to make matters worse I saw this post on Instagram about how when your kids act up, it is likely because of some bad habit that you’ve taught them somehow as a parent.

Oh dang.

So it turned into a sobering experience.  I mean, I know that my kids are like chips off the old apple that don’t fall too far from the cloth or however the saying goes, but to actually look at myself to see that I am the reason for my kids’ shortcomings?  And seeing as how my kids have like, a lot of shortcomings, what does that say about me and my parenting?

This isn’t easy, I don’t think, for any of us.  To look deep within ourselves and see how we can be our own worst nightmares, we can be our biggest annoyances, we can be our most heinous of evils but we just tend to point our fingers in the other direction to shift that blame away from us.

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!”  Jesus’ harsh words that we normally don’t like in this case, seem to bring comfort to me.  In that, “ok fine, I’m the one who is at fault for messing my kids up with my poor parenting skills, but that is what Jesus is saying he’s here for, right?”  I mean he even says that he sets father against son and son against father.  So it’s ok that I’m an awful parent and I can put the blame back on the kids?

Anyone in their right mind would know that even thinking of that notion is bananas.  I mean totally b-a-n-a-n-a-s.  We know we should take the blame when it is our fault, and we know we have a responsibility to care for our kids, and we know that it is actually Jesus’ mission to bring peace, seeing as how he’s the Prince of Peace and all.  So what is going on here?

Well, I think the division that Jesus is talking about isn’t about breaking relationships apart or destroying marriages, but rather it is about showing the division between the privileged and the not so much.  If we look at the entirety of Jesus’ ministry as explained to us in the gospels, we see that Jesus was all about tearing down the hierarchies of power and prestige, to humble those of influence and overbearing leadership, and to lift up the marginalised, the oppressed, the outsiders.

Still, we might say, we know that.  It’s pretty obvious if we really think about it.  Jesus came to take down those wayward governments, those evil dictators, those whose power has corrupted them, and those whose absolute power corrupted them absolutely.  Now if we were to just overthrow those systemic injustices then we’d finally be able to live a life in a community worthy of God’s Kingdom.  If we could just break down the walls of inequality that have been put up by those in power then maybe we can know peace.  If we could just humble those who sit in a place of privilege, then perhaps we can finally open our doors and openly welcome the stranger, the poor, the homeless, the ostracized, the LGBTQia2+ person, the ethnically other, the person with the criminal record, the prostitute, the addict, the mentally challenged, the handicapped, the migrant worker, the high school dropout, the socially awkward, the ones who are just different from us, the scarred, the broken, the needy, the this, and the that.

The more I go through that list, the more I add to it, the more I think about who it was that Jesus was hanging out with and ministering to, the more I realise that actually, I’m standing in a place of privilege and I, as a straight, able-bodied male, I’ve contributed to those systemic injustices that I’ve pretended to fight against myself, just by not recognising and inadvertently taking advantage of that privilege and assumptions about myself and others.

So talk about sobering moments.  So maybe when Jesus talked about bringing division and sword, he was talking about cutting out that part of us that we don’t even want to admit we have or want to own up to.  Maybe God was talking about taking a hammer to that stone of our hearts and showing us that hey, we’re not so great either and maybe we need to take some of the heat for how things are so messed up in our society now.  Maybe this is the fire that God sends down in Pentecost and in our baptism that purifies us like silver, getting rid of all the evil tendencies we have that not just cause us to do evil, but to deny that we even have the capacity to be a part of it.

Last week we talked about the mass shootings in the States that happened a couple weekends ago now, and how there were 7 more that happened that we didn’t even hear about.  Well, now the number has risen to 17.  Seventeen mass shootings in the United States since the shooting in Dayton, Ohio on August 4th.  Do the math, that is an average of more than one mass shooting a day.  More than one a day.

I saw a very powerful commentary in response to these shootings that aired on MSNBC where Princeton professor of African American Studies Eddie Glaude Jr. gave a passionate monologue about our condition.  Here it is in a slightly edited version for time:

Hit that nail right on the head.  This is us.  All this evil, all this injustice, all this privilege.  It is us.  So Jesus says let us divide this out of our lives, let us remove these tendencies from our minds, let’s learn to openly welcome and unabashedly love and peaceably care for one another, because that is what he has done for us literally to death.

As we continue in this season after Pentecost, may God’s fires of justice burn in our hearts, refining our faith, and humbling our souls, that we might see and feel and accept God’s most gracious love and mercy poured out onto us with great abundance and reflect that onto our neighbours, our communities, and our world.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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