Sermon for 8/18/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
49I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 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."
54He also said to the crowds, "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?
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
When I was in high school, I spent a Saturday along with another student from my school, at this event in Rochester, Minnesota. It was some sort of visioning thing, where people from the city and surrounding communities were invited to come and share. I think our principal had asked myself and the other student if we wanted to attend, and so I was there.
Now, I don’t remember much about our purpose, or what we were doing, other than there was a lot of those big easel sized legal pads and markers, with people spewing thoughts and other people, writing them down.
But, what does stand-out, is a woman in our little group saying that she hated the word “tolerance”, especially in regards to the people we live with. At first, I was a little shocked, but then she went on to explain. Tolerate she said, means that we are in essence putting up with each other, allowing others into our space, but not necessarily being real happy about it. Her point was, that rather then just tolerating people, we should instead, be moving towards acceptance, and community.
I think about this comment quite often, and it has taken on meaning for me in my journey of faith as well. You see, many people, at first thought anyway, like to think that we have a “tolerant” God. But, that’s just not true, and we hear about our intolerant God, as we hear Jesus’ words in our Gospel today, “ 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
This intolerant, divisive Jesus sure doesn’t sound like the same person who “loves me for the Bible tells me so”. As Jesus goes on to talk about turning family members against each other, we might have a hard time with some pretty harsh sounding words. At the very least, I don’t think we’re going to use these words as a means of inviting people to join us. “Come and experience Jesus, who will turn father against son….”
Yet, in the end, the Jesus who gives us these troubling words, is giving us Good News, and is doing so through his intolerance, through God’s intolerance. You see, Jesus doesn’t just tolerate us, and Jesus didn’t come to simply let us remain the people who we were before he got here. People who are mired in sin, constantly destroying ourselves and each other, living lives devoted to looking out for ourselves. No, Jesus didn’t come to this earth to give us the peace that is defined from merely tolerating one another. Instead, Jesus came to bring division to that type of peace, because that isn’t peace at all, that’s simply isolation. That type of peace would be like sending two squabbling siblings to their separate rooms forever, and really meaning it.
Ultimately, our God, Jesus Christ, isn’t tolerant. He isn’t tolerant of the sin that we are all captive to, because he loves each and every one of us too much. And, it is out of this, unending, intolerant love that we are not divided, but brought together. Jesus doesn’t come to us a person, a family, or a pew at a time, leaving us all the same as we were when we got here. Jesus comes to all of us at the same time, and makes us a body transformed in love, forgiving of each other, even offering gestures of peace with each other, so that we make experience his love through our love together, so that we may dine on his loving meal as a family. And Jesus us sends us out as that one body, to be as intolerant as he is, and bring the dividing fire of his baptism to all the world.
This is a fire that burns against the sin that so divides us. It is the fire that burns against the uneasy “tolerance” that we humans use not to bring peace and community, but instead use to divide ourselves over things like race, class, religion, and gender. This is the fire that finally overcomes our sin, overcomes our divisions, and makes all things new.
This is the fire, the fire of Jesus’ Baptism, that didn’t not leave three Lutheran denominations wallowing in their divisions 25 years ago, and instead, brought them together, to form something new, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. This is indeed the same fire that was present this last week in Pittsburgh, as representatives from ELCA congregations all over the country met at the Churchwide Assembly. This is the same fire that stirred up a seemingly boring, slam dunk to re-elect our exceptional Presiding Bishop, into a calling for a changing of the guard, and the election of our first, female Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton. This is the same fire that gave this particular assembly the theme of “Making all things new” and the same fire, the fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire given to us as we are washed in the waters of Jesus’ Baptism that is “Making all things new” right before our very eyes.
The fact that our God is so intolerant, is truly a blessing. Instead of leaving us be, our God has come and loved us with a love that is so powerful, it divides us from our sin, and in doing so transforms us into one people of God. This God, Jesus Christ is here with us today, and as we dine on his body and blood, may we be made new again, a rekindled people of God, burning for all people, and all of creation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,