The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r187.htm
s187g98 Somerton Park 16/8/98 Sunday 20
"I have come to bring ... division" Luke 12:51
This is another of those Sundays when the gospel ends on a distinctly threatening note and we all dutifully and presumably happily say: "For the gospel of the Lord ... praise to you Lord Jesus Christ". Not getting out of prison until you have paid the last penny doesn't sound like gospel to me. Perhaps it is only me that is weird?
There are four messages I get from todays reading. The first is a message that God is already acting, we don't have to look for God at work, under each bush, as it were. The second is that Jesus didn't come to bridge the generation gap - quite the opposite - since he causes it. Thirdly it is our own prison that we put ourselves in if we try to live a life repaying God. But I'll leave you in suspenders for the last.
The first message - that God is already acting. We often think - if only God would do something to relieve us of whatever disturbs our serenity. And because our serenity only comes in small portions in proportion to the rest of the time when our persons and emotions are assaulted continually, we think God is proportionately not working most of the time. And so we have a picture of God essentially inactive. We can't see God, let alone God at work. But if we look at all of the examples of today's lessons, we see Jesus picking examples where God's activity is present not in the future.
So in verse 50 Jesus says: what stress I am under until it (my baptism) is completed! Jesus baptism is not the cross. Jesus baptism was happening there and then, and ends on the cross. In verses 50-53, we are all painfully aware that sons and daughters are pitted against parents and in laws - and vise versa. Jesus brings about that conflict, and therefore God is active, right at the centre of that which most concerns us. If we only are looking to God to fix it - to stop the conflict - we are failing to see God caused it in the first place. God is right there from the very beginning, God doesn't have to be called in from the sidelines. We do not have to remind God or bring the matter to God's attention. God can hardly be unaware of that which he (or she) caused. In verses 54 and 55 Jesus turns to the weather. Again it is already happening, a present reality - the cloud rising, the south wind blowing - whatever the weather happens to be, it is an ever present reality. And in verses 58 and 59 those at loggerheads are travelling together going to the magistrate ... God is there already and at work.
So God is already active, right at the heart of that which concerns us. Indeed God may have actually caused it to be. God doesn't always bring difficulties and unmitigated disasters however. I am reminded of the phrase in the new marriage service when the priest says: "(God) has called N and N to marriage ..." APBA p657. Sexuality and desire are God's design - not human perversion - as I think the world so often assumes the Church to be saying. That is of course assuming that marriages are without difficulties??
Secondly - Jesus causes the generation gap, he didn't come to bridge it. We should note that it is the generation gap which is being described here. Not sibling rivalry, relations between married persons or relations between neighbours. How often is it assumed that the Churches solutions to the problems of this world is when we all obeyed the ten commandments and children honoured their parents ... and did everything parents say, when parents say it. Hardly!
The words make it quite plain - the generation gap is God's doing. Heaven forbid if children simply replicated the failures of parents! In this sense God is behind the "prodigal" son as he goes off to the far land to spend his half of the inheritance on loose women, as much as God is with him when the very same son comes to himself and realises the predicament he is in is unnecessary and his own doing. This does not however mean that you can give up drying the dishes at home - boys! :-)
It is of course the relationship between parents and siblings for which grace may well be needed to cut the ties. Brothers and sisters can drift apart fairly naturally. But if we are products of our environment, then our parents have a big part to play, for good or for ill.
If we have moved on from simple obedience to the 10 commandments, there are of course endless variations on what the Church thinks others should do. The problems of the world would indeed be fixed (we think) if everyone came to Church (like we do), and was generous (like we are) ...
The third lesson follows on from this, that we determine our relationship with God. If we are determined to continue to think that God is someone who wants to be repaid for all the goodness around us, then we put ourselves in a prison ... But God is not like our human imaginings. God is ready to forgive and forget and remit any debt. We can also be free, if we but choose to be so. The rub is that God is as ready to forgive and forget and remit any debt, not just to us, but to everyone else as well. We cannot ask God to forgive us and let us live freely, yet expect God to not do this for others - particularly those with whom we disagree. We ourselves choose how merciful God can act towards us - by how merciful we act towards others - which leads me to that final point I promised.
The final point is that we are all on our way to the magistrate. We are all pilgrims on a journey, and for better or for worse we travel not alone, despite all our efforts to be independent. We are all dependent on a huge number of people - parents, brothers and sisters, peers, teachers, spouses, children, neighbours, friends, acquaintances, bosses, employees, community officials, even to the gentlemen who take our garbage away...
We don't have to manufacture a community, the community is there, despite our denials, despite hiding away in our little corners (which I try to do as much as anyone else) ...
None, not even one of these people God has put around us, is morally pure and thoroughly ethical, and neither are we. If we related to these people in the same way as our parents did, the world would still be condemned to "an eye for an eye". God calls us to live our own lives, to make our own mistakes and have our own successes also. I am sure that my boys can manage a better job of life than I did.
At the end of our journey, our job is not to tell the magistrate how often we have worshipped God or upheld the law throughout our lives, or rely when we get there to be able to cajole or bribe the magistrate - our job is to get on with our accuser - now. At the end of time, no matter how many times we come to Church, no matter how many times we criticise those who don't come to church or do the wrong thing, we are bidden to make an effort to settle the case with the brother or sister who has some (legitimate) quarrel with us, now.
Of course the essence of most quarrels between people is that one person feels that another owes him or her something. That sense of being owed might be actual and it might be illusory. It would be foolish however to try to repay someone when we actually didn't owe them anything at all - just to keep them happy. Keeping others happy is not what God is about, therefore it is not what we are called to do either.
But just as we would be foolish to try to keep others happy, so others would take on a life of slavery trying to keep the Church happy with them - endlessly trying to live up to expectations (however well meaning) that the Church might place upon them. Reflecting back - is this what we, as the Church, want the Church to do?
I strongly suspect that most people outside the Church think that the Church demands attendance, expects instant and complete obedience, and then that they are happy and are prepared to pay (even to a tithe) for the privilege to perpetuate the cycle - upon pain of eternal damnation. How far have we moved from the gospel of Jesus!
My text for today is the words of Jesus: "I have come to bring ... division" - so our task is to appreciate the division which Jesus has brought. We are bidden to see and learn from the way other people complement ourselves, for if people are different from us by God's design, then that difference is good, and to be acknowledged not eliminated.
If we do as Jesus says and "make an effort to settle the case" we might find that in fact, no one owes anyone anything, and that all are free, and not just us. And that is good news for us and for all.
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