13th Sunday after Pentecost—Lectionary 20C—Aug 18, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
There are some very strong images and harsh words in the reading this morning aren’t there?
As I talked about with the kids, the image of fire can be both positive and negative. Fire can destroy, but it can also sustain life, refine, and bring forth new life. If you watch the news, you cannot help but hear about the massive wild fires burning all over the western part of the United States. People are being evacuated, houses are being destroyed, and firefighters are working hard, putting themselves in the line of danger. When it is on a massive scale, out of control, and coming near homes, fire is a negative thing.
But we also use fire to kill germs, to cook food, and to stay warm. You can also see the life giving properties of fire in the new growth that rises through the ashes of a forest fire. There are some seeds that need to experience intense heat before they will grow. So although, forest fires destroy, they also bring forth new life and restored balance with the destruction of dead and dying plants and the unleashing of new seeds.
But fire is not the only strong image we have this morning. The author of Hebrews using the image of running a race as a metaphor for life. There is happiness, glory, accomplishment that comes with this image. Imagine running many miles and entering a stadium for the final lap like they do at the Olympics and being cheered on by friends and strangers alike as you continue to the end with perseverance. The image of a race’s finish line can be one of glory.
But it can also one mixed with negative connotations, especially here in Boston after the tragedy a couple of months ago. Boston’s understanding of a finish line will never be the same, and it the same is probably true for most of the country and world. The triumphant image of a marathon finish line has been tainted by hate and violence.
Both the images of the fire and running a race this morning, are reminders the life is not perfect. Not that y’all really need a reminder that bad things happen in life, even for people of faith; I’m sure you have plenty of strong images yourselves that remind us of that reality.
God works faith in us and promises us life and love, but unfortunately, those promises are not realized to the exception of continued sin the world. Along side the grace of God, bad things still happen. As God works to bring about peace and justice to the world, through our work, resistance is met, judgments have to be made, un-just behavior and beliefs must be condemned.
If you are honest with yourselves, positive change, work for peace and justice cannot be moved forward with some conflict. That is the reality to which Jesus is speaking this morning.
Thankfully in this country, family strife and martyrdom due to one’s faith and worship in the name of Jesus Christ are not as prominent, but it still happens sometimes. And there are still countries in the world, where people of faith are not able to freely practice—live out their faith.
Although you might not be disowned or killed for your faith nowadays, there are still divisions that result. It could be as simple as divisions between priorities: when two events overlap, do I choose the faithful one or the secular one, do I disappoint my church family—my brothers and sisters in Christ—or another group?
Jesus’ words should not be heard as wanting division or wanting fire to be kindled to judge and purify, but he realizes that there must be division before there is harmony, there must be some death before there is new life, and there must be judgment before there is justice.
If the whole world just decided to get along, believing whatever you wanted to believe, acting however you wanted to act, there probably would never be peace, but if there was it would be no real peace at all, but as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it in his letter from Birmingham Jail (1963), “a negative peace which is the absence of tension” is different from “a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” The former is fake and temporary, the later is the kind of peace that Jesus calls for, and so he warns of the hardship that will have to proceed the restoration of right relationships across the earth.
It is not that God wants bad things to happen, but realizes that they will happen on the road to eternal life, and so out of compassion, warns us. A prophet that only brings good news, is no prophet at all. Jesus warns us of the trials that will be part of our lives, but along with it reminds us of the love and new life that God promises to each of us. Life might be hard now, with simple glimpses of the kingdom of God that is being ushered in, but God promises that one day, the former will pass away, and one day, through our God inspired work of justice and peace, we will live out eternal life with no more destructive fire, painful divisions, or the sting of death. Amen.