“I have come to bring fire”

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Watching for the Morning of August 14, 2016

Year C

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 15 / Lectionary 20

It hardly seems like the world needs more fire as cities like Aleppo crumble and drought stricken regions in the west are ablaze. Fiery rhetoric incites political violence. Weapons fire echoes through our cities and nations.   We need Jesus to say he is bringing peace, not more conflict. But here are the words: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

There is challenge in the texts for this Sunday: Jeremiah cries out against false prophets. In the psalm, God sits in judgment of the nations for their failure to do justice. Hebrews bears witness to those faithful who “suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment,” calling us to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” And Jesus declares “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they 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.”  The most important social bonds of the ancient world will be torn asunder because of Jesus.

But we need peace and reconciliation. We need an end to war and division. We need words that heal and bind up not rend and tear. So what can you possibly mean, Jesus?

File:Diwali Festival.jpgJesus is talking about discipleship, about living the kingdom in a world that is not yet redeemed, about being agents of peace in a decidedly unpeaceful world. Those who take up the cause of peace will be cannon fodder. Those who work mercy may well inherit cruelty. In a world scrambling for the seats of honor, those who invite the lame and the poor to their banquets are betrayers of their social class, breaking barriers the elite do not want to see broken.

The world will divide over this Jesus. But the hate of the world will not last. Read the signs. The empty tomb is on the horizon. The one who “endured the cross, disregarding its shame…has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The Prayer for August 14, 2016

You call us to faithfulness, O God,
in times of trial and in times of peace.
Grant us courage to speak your word boldly
and to live with daring your teaching,
until that day when all the earth is ablaze
with the fire of your Holy Spirit.

The Texts for August 14, 2016

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:23-32
“Am I a God near by, says the LORD, and not a God far off?” – God challenges the false prophets who claim to speak for God but speak only their own hopes and dreams.

Psalmody: Psalm 82
“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” – God gathers the ‘gods’ of the nations and speaks judgment for they have failed to protect the weak and the needy.

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:29-12:2
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
– The conclusion of the great recital of those who put their trust in the promise of God and the call to model their faithfulness

Gospel: Luke 12:49-56
“”I came to bring fire to the earth.” – The message of Jesus will provoke division, even within families.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADeerfire_high_res_edit.jpg By John McColgan – Edited by Fir0002 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADiwali_Festival.jpg By Khokarahman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

With eyes raised

File:'Looking Up' at Withybush Hospital - geograph.org.uk - 925250.jpg

Watching for the Morning of August 7, 2016

Year C

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 14 / Lectionary 19

Sunday’s Gospel contains a stunning and unexpected reversal. The servants who are “dressed for action” with “lamps lit” waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet are suddenly brought into the joy of the wedding feast. Instead of serving their master when he comes, they become the recipients of his banquet.

The readings Sunday are filled with promise and joy. Abraham is brought outside and promised descendants like the stars for number. The psalm sings of the providential care of God and the joy of those for whom the LORD is their watchful, caring god. Hebrews sings of Abraham’s trust in God’s promise – a trust, the first reading tells us, God acknowledged as true righteousness (fidelity). And Jesus’ followers are assured that God delights to give them the kingdom. God’s reign, God’s new creation, God’s healing of the world does not have to be extracted from him as justice wrested from reluctant politicians; God is eager to give his Spirit. God is eager to breathe upon us his grace and life.

We live in eager expectation not just for that final day when the trumpet sounds heralding the coming of the king, but for every taste of the banquet to come, for the breath of the Spirit, for surprising mercies, for stunning majesties and every small and unexpected act of kindness. We live in expectation that kindness shall prevail, hate shall perish, and reconciliation triumph. We live with open hands and generous hearts. We live with lamps lit and eyes raised. The master is bringing the joy that has no end.

The Prayer for August 7, 2016

Gracious God,
you promised to Abraham and his children a wondrous inheritance
and called them to live trusting in your word.
Grant us confidence in your promises
and courage to live as children of your kingdom;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 7, 2016

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-6
“And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” – God renews the promise of descendants to Abraham and his trust in God’s promise is recognized as righteousness.

Psalmody: Psalm 33:12-22
“Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,” – A hymn of praise at the providential care of God.

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” –
For whatever reason, the reading of Hebrews is divided between the end of year B and August of year C in the lectionary, so this Sunday we resume readings from Hebrews, beginning with the great recital of those who put their trust in the promise of God (whose fulfillment we await with confidence).

Gospel: Luke 12:32-40
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” – Our reading continues Jesus’ teaching on wealth/possessions from last Sunday, calling us to live for and trust in God’s dawning reign of grace and life.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A’Looking_Up’_at_Withybush_Hospital_-_geograph.org.uk_-_925250.jpg ceridwen [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Death and Life

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“Be on your guard…for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Watching for the Morning of July 31, 2016

Year C

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

Death haunts our readings this Sunday – the power of death to render all our striving meaningless. It is the heart of the reflection in the book of Ecclesiastes from which we draw our first reading. It ripples through the Psalm. It makes mockery of the rich man’s attempt to store his abundance to live out his days in peace: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” Even the reading from Colossians speaks of death – but here, it is the death of our inward-turned broken humanity, for there is a life available to us, a true life, a divinely redeemed and resurrected life, a life turned towards God and neighbor.

The rich man of our parable is a ‘fool’. He fails to understand life’s most fundamental truths: we are members of one another. The bounty of my fields provides for those whose harvests were poor so that, when my harvests are poor, their bounty may provide for me. Life, true Life, divine Life, the life for which we were created, the Life that does not perish is life connected, life in communion with God and others.

Such an understanding strains against the modern western notion of the individual. But the wise understand it is a deep and profound truth of all human existence. We are dependent on one another. We do not come into the world able to stand and flee from the predatory wolves. We cannot feed ourselves. We cannot protect ourselves. We are deeply and profoundly communal creatures. What helps the tribe helps me. What hurts the tribe hurts me. No man is an island. And the only meaningful question is who is our tribe? How big are we able to see? The rich man in Jesus’ parable cannot see beyond himself. He cannot see that his neighbors are his tribe.

And Jesus has already spoken to us about who are our neighbors.

The Prayer for July 31, 2016

O God, from whom all good things come,
you have called us to live with open hands,
sharing what you provide with those who are in need.
Grant us humility to receive your gifts with thanksgiving,
and the wisdom and compassion to share them freely with others;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 31, 2016

First Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
“Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” – The poet reflects on the meaningless of life in the face of death that renders all human striving vain.

Psalmody Psalm 49:1-12
“When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.” – The poet is not troubled by the threats of the wealthy and powerful, for their wealth cannot deliver them from the grave.

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-11
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” –
Paul writes for us to put to death the deeds of our fallen nature and clothe ourselves in Christ.

Gospel: Luke 12:13-21
“Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
– asked to arbitrate and inheritance dispute, Jesus warns about the corrupting power of possessions.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AL%C3%A1mparas%2C_Djemaa_el_Fna_–_2014_–_Marrakech%2C_Marruecos.jpg By I.Barrios & J.Ligero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Blessings

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Saturday

Psalm 67

1May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.

We all want God to bless us. We want God to bless our homes and our children. We want God to bless our tables and our jobs. We want God to grant us prosperity and peace. We want God to protect us from all evil.

And when we are generous, we want God to bless every table – though the truth is we are more concerned with our own than those neighbors far away.

We think blessing is an end in itself, that it is good to be blessed, that it is good to have safety and security and abundance. We have a much harder time thinking of blessing as a means to an end. God intends to accomplish something through it. God is not just giving us an overflowing pantry. God is giving such a pantry that others might know God’s grace and power.

And it’s not this strange American perversion: “Look at me. I’m rich because of God. You can be rich, too.”   It’s rather, “Look at the abundance of God that there is plenty to share.”

There are two types of wealth in scripture. There is the wealth that comes from rich fields and timely rains. And there is the wealth that comes from profiting at the expense of others. The first is regarded as God’s blessing; the second as “unrighteous mammon”. But the wealth that comes from the fortune of good weather and land – wealth that is gift from God – is meant to be shared. If my fields prosper, I have the obligation to aid those whose fields did not. This is the failure of man in the parable of the rich fool. When his barns overflowed, he thought only of himself and not his obligation to his neighbors. He was at ease, but no one else. This is also the problem of the rich man with Lazarus at his gate.

So the psalm is a harvest song, calling upon all creation to recognize God’s goodness, God’s abundant generosity. The harvest is meant to bring joy to all – and give rise to praise from all. God’s blessing has a purpose: “that your way [God’s generosity and goodness and care for all] may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.”

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“I came to cast fire on the earth”

Thursday

Luke 12

(Photo by David K. Bonde)

(photo credit: dkbonde)

49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Fire destroys.  Fire cleanses.  Fire purifies.  Forests are ravaged, homes demolished, lives lost.  But the soil is replenished, and new life springs forth.

Fire is also power and heat and light.  It drives our cars, warms our homes, lightens our darkness.

And by fire dross is consumed and gold and silver made pure.

What does Jesus means when he says he has come to cast fire on the earth?  Is there not enough suffering and purging already in life?  There are 1.8 million homeless in Syria from tyranny, rebellion and war built on ancient hatreds.  There are 600,000 homeless and 17.2 million “food insecure” households in this, the land of plenty.  On the beaches of Normandy, in the fields of Flanders, beneath the earth of Gettysburg, in the ashes of Nagasaki, in the frozen ground of Siberia lie countless graves – and these only a few of the many from just the last few generations.

What fire does Jesus cast upon the earth?  Is this the fire of revolution, peasants rising up against the wealthy? The powerless rising up against the might of Rome?  The nationalists rising up against their foreign invader?

Such talk of fire makes us all nervous – at least those of us who profit in some way from the way things are.  We linger with the meek and mild Jesus who everyone would like to have as a neighbor, a source of endless good deeds and kindness whose lawn is always trim and poses no danger to property values.  But Jesus did suffer the punishment reserved for rebels.

“I came to cast fire on the earth.  How I wish it were already ablaze.”

What fire would you bring, Jesus?  What purging of the human heart?  What cleansing of our public life?  What transformation of our cities?  What smelting of our churches?

Would we rise up to put it down?  Gather the brigades to drown that transformative flame?  Is that what happened in Jerusalem that fateful night when soldiers came to seize you?  Silence the prophetic voice!  Silence the call to do justice and mercy.  Silence the claim that God had drawn near to the poor and outcast.  Silence the voice that broke not the bruised reed.  Silence the voice that shamed the righteous elders and freed the shamed woman.  Silence the indecent voice that spoke to the outcast woman at the well – a woman not his kin! – and alone!

Would we silence this voice that would feed all with shared bread?  Would we silence this voice that violates ancient religious tradition and law, healing on the Sabbath those who could well wait a day? Would we cast out the blind man who said this Jesus made him see?

What fire do you bring, Jesus?

We want to be warmed, not purified.  We want to be comforted not driven to new life.  We want you safely in the ground or at the right hand of the Father, not here pushing and challenging and cleansing and sending, claiming this world and our lives as your own.

What fire do you bring?