Here are my thoughts for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, 15 August 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 5: 1 – 7, Hebrews 11: 29 – 12: 2, and Luke 12: 49- 56.
There is something about the Gospel reading for today that has always bothered me. I can’t remember exactly where I read the comment but I seem to recall someone using this passage as a justification for war. And while most of the translations of these verses from Luke use the word division, I can see how people might see such justification.
But even with Jesus saying that he has come to bring fire to this world, that doesn’t necessarily mean complete and total destruction. For those who heard those words two thousand years ago, the words would have meant referring to refining, the separation of the good metal from the ore.
But, for many, especially those who live in the western states of this country, fire is a necessary part of life; it is the thing which causes many plants to germinate. To bring fire to the prairie was to insure that life would go on, refreshed and renewed.
But I suppose that there is a portion of the population today that would have a problem with that analogy. We are, in this country today, divided when it comes to the Bible and what is written in the Bible.
There are those who will tell you that it is a complete work of fiction, with no truth or merit to it that those who believe in the Bible are fools and misguided, ignorant individuals who fantasize about a world that doesn’t exist. Then there are those who see the Bible as a fixed and unchanging document, a perfect description of the world around us and one that is not open to debate. It is, to these individuals, a book handed to them by God and the one true source of knowledge. It is, of course, interesting to note that other religions say the same thing about their Holy Scriptures as well. It speaks to our ability to think that we can say that about one set of writings and yet not accept the notion that someone else might have the same thought when it comes to their particular writings.
If Jesus did anything in creating a division, it was to create a division between those who found their place and the future in the status quo and those for whom the status quo was a barrier that denied them health, jobs, housing, and true freedom. I don’t know how one can find their future in the present or why one would want to keep in place a situation that divides people by race, gender, economic status, or creed but there are those who think that it is possible.
And what further confounds and confuses me is that many who call for the maintenance of the status quo or a return to better days of yesterday are those oppressed or denied opportunities by the status quo. It is almost as if they say we will support those who oppress us because there is a slim chance that they will set us free. We have been denied so much for so long that even the slimmest of hopes that we might get a slight taste of the “good life” is enough for us to support them.
I have never understood how one can say that they need to work inside the rules when those rules are designed to prevent them from succeeding. Such individuals are either among those who Jesus pointed out can interpret the earth and sky but are unable to interpret the present time. They see the future and would like to be a part of the future but they also are unable to see that in the present, they are unable to obtain the future.
When I read the Old Testament reading for today, I wondered who are the “wild grapes” in the passage today. Would they be the young, rebellious youth who do not see that the church has the answers to their problems? Or would they be the authorities, those that seek the maintenance of the status quo?
Some of the commentaries point out that this passage is an indictment against the people for failing to follow God. And those that hold that the Bible is fixed and infallible would probably say that this passage is speaking about me. But I would argue that the wild grapes are those who created laws and regulations that basically prevented people from finding God.
To me the wild grapes in the passage from Isaiah are those who would choke off the good growth, the creativity that is needed to reach the future. Those who hold to a fixed, unchanging view of the Bible don’t want the people to see the world around them except as they, the authorities, decide it should be viewed.
Who is it today that is preventing many people from finding God? Is it those who have truly followed God and lived by His Words? Or is it those who have created rules which choke and stifle individuals and said that the only way to God’s Kingdom is through the door they will open?
Who is to blame when God expects justice but blood is shed instead? Who is to blame when God demanded righteousness but only heard the cry of the forgotten?
The passage from Hebrews for today speaks to those who held to the faith, who walked with God in spite of the troubles that it would bring. There is no doubt that in choosing to hold onto the faith, to walk with God, that they were separated from their friends and their family. It may be that our choice to walk in faith will also cause such divisions.
There is no doubt that when Jesus spoke of the divisions, those that heard His words that day totally understood what He was saying. They had left everything to follow Him for an uncertain future. They had watched many people begin the journey but stopped when the pressure from home and society to maintain the status quo became too great. It is the same today; there are those who say that the status quo is the best that it is ever going to get and we should not even bother trying to change things.
But we see the world around us and we know in our hearts and minds that we cannot continue to live in this world as it is today. The division that comes about is not the division of parent and child or sibling and sibling; it is the division that comes between God and each one of us. We know that those who let Christ into their lives began to change the world. Perhaps the change was seen as quickly as people would have liked but the world did change.
And when we leave this place today, we have to decide what we are going to do. Is the outcome of this all to be that the status quo remains and nothing changes? Or is the outcome to be that we will make the commitment to follow Christ and make a change in the world. If we choose the former, the division between God and man will grow larger; if we choose the latter, the division will close. We must make a decision today, in this place and in this time.