Sermon: “If Not Now…” (Luke 12:49-56) [8/18/19]


We talk a lot here at FCUCC about acting the world into wellbeing.  The phrase comes from Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison, who described love as “the power to act each other into wellbeing.”  I confess that, until I read that description, love didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  It just seemed so sugary and emotional.  But Beverly’s description invited me to see that loving someone means having profound respect and compassion for them…enough that you will do whatever you can to make sure that person has everything they need to survive…and to flourish.  The call of the Gospel is to extend that kind of love to the whole world.

There are many ways the FCUCC community has and does act the world into wellbeing.  Several years ago, when I lived in Georgia, I was inspired to read about some upstart church in Asheville that was working for marriage equality.  Our ministries with refugees, school children, folks without permanent housing, the women out at the prison, the conversation we’ll be having after worship about healthy eating and how that impacts us and others, too…those are all ways we have of acting the world into wellbeing through this community.  All of that’s good.

But “acting the world into wellbeing”—as good a sound bite as it is—isn’t going to mean much if we don’t get into specifics.  And even if we do get into specifics–like I need to be at the prison at 6:00 tonight to preach for the women–if we’re all going off in different directions, then it’s not really our FCUCC community that is acting the world into wellbeing, but individuals who just happen to gather here once a week for worship.

When there’s an issue so big and obvious that everyone is on board with it–like marriage equality was–it’s clear what the community can, and even should, be doing to show love.  When there isn’t one single glaring issue like that, though–or when there is an abundance of glaring issues, as there are these days–it’s hard to know where to start.  As individuals, each of us acts on issues we feel called to address.  But how do we do that as a community?

As a community, will we address– climate change?  Immigration?  Healthy food?  Housing the homeless?  Income inequality?  Peacemaking?  Racism?  Sexism?  Homophobia?  As a community, how do we decide where to expend our resources in acting the world into wellbeing…especially when so many people are so desperate for healing and wholeness?

The first thing we have to do–even before deciding where we’ll use our resources–is figure out what those resources are.  That’s what we’ve been doing this summer.  Since June, we’ve been considering many of the resources we have here at FCUCC–the gift of God’s Spirit, our humanity, the lessons of mentors, each other and our sense of community, we have the great commandment to love our neighbors, we have the gift of singing together, the gift of hospitality, prayer, material resources, and children and teenagers.

Are these the only resources we have?  This list doesn’t even scratch the surface.  It does contain many of the gifts we receive from our faith, though.

The next step is to identify specific resources within the community.  The Ministry Fair on September 15th will help us discern some of the specifics of acting the world into wellbeing.  The Ministry Fair planning team and Ministry Area Captains have been working on the fair since May.  Each ministry area will have a display with lists of opportunities for service, as well as people to answer questions about them.

Here’s one way to approach the Ministry Fair.  As you stroll through the displays and learn about opportunities for service in each area, take stock of how you feel when you pass by.  What sparks your fancy?  What tugs on your heart strings?  What repels you?  Paying attention to what’s going on inside you as you make your way through the Ministry Fair will help you discern what parts of the FCUCC community and the world you’re feeling called to act into wellbeing.  Discerning our individual gifts and sharing those gifts with the rest of the community will help us–as a community–to discern with greater clarity where and how we’ll use our resources to act the world into wellbeing.  Oh, it’s going to be fun!

Have you noticed how assiduously I’ve avoided talking about today’s Scripture?  Here I am on p.3 and haven’t even mentioned it yet!  Oh, I’m good.

Image result for picture Luke 12:49-56

“I’ve come to light a fire on the earth.  I wish it already had been lit.”  Then Jesus says: “Do you think I’m here to bring peace on earth?”  Um, yeah, Jesus.  That is what I think!  The angels sang it when you were born:  “Peace on Earth, good will to all.”  But no.  “I tell you,” Jesus says.  “The opposite is true: I’ve come to bring division.”  Then he names every possible familial relationship there is and says he’s come to split them up.

Well, this isn’t the Jesus I learned about in Sunday School!  What are we to make of this?  Sounds like the exact opposite of acting the world into wellbeing.  What’s going on here?

It might be helpful to look at this statement in the larger narrative context.  The big pivot point in the Gospel of Luke is 9:51. There, we’re told that Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem.”  To that point, he’s been preaching and teaching.  He’s stirred things up enough that he suspects when he goes up to Jerusalem for Passover, things aren’t going to go well for him.

So, when Jesus “turns his face toward Jerusalem,” it means he’s now fully prepared to meet his fate.  It doesn’t mean he’s not distressed about it.  He says as much in today’s passage.  It does mean, though, that he understands that challenging the status quo as he has done in his ministry is likely not to end well for him.

If we consider today’s words from chapter 12 in the context of Jesus already having “turned his face toward Jerusalem,” things get clearer.  Let’s say Jesus had planned to bring peace…just like the angels proclaimed.  But creating peace for everyone….when you get down to the logistics of that, it’s going to make very powerful people very unhappy.

We see it in our own world.  The power of a few often depends on disempowering the many, particularly the least of these.  If you go around saying God loves everyone and that everyone should have enough food to eat, a place to live, access to healthcare and a living wage, the people who profit–literally–from denying those things to others are going to get mad.  And when people with disproportionate power get mad, the folks who are challenging their power get shut down.  And worse.  Jesus could see the handwriting on the wall for himself.

It also sounds like he was getting clear about what living the gospel was going to be like for his followers after he was gone.

Acting the whole world into wellbeing means working to ensure that every person has what they need to live healthy and whole lives.  For that work to be effective, systems have to change, power structures have to be altered.  It is the nature of power that those who hold it do not want to let it go.  People in power will go to great lengths to hang onto that power.

So, when Jesus says he’s come to divide, it’s not so much prescriptive, as in, “This was my original plan.  Let me come to earth and see how much damage I can do.”  It’s more likely Jesus meant these words to be descriptive.  “If you follow me, if you care for the least of these, if you act the whole world into wellbeing…if you’re effective in this work, current power structures will be disrupted.  When current power structures are disrupted, those who hold the power won’t be happy…which means they will not be on your side.”

Dividing people wasn’t Jesus’ intent.  But following Jesus–because of all that entails–cannot help but to divide people.  That’s what happened with marriage equality.  That’s what’s happening with activists at the border.  I suspect you’ll hear more from Hillary in a couple of weeks about some of the resistance The Steady Collective faces, as well.

There’s a sense in which, if you’re not divided from somebody, you’re probably not following Jesus….or not wholeheartedly.

After Jesus talks about dividing up all these family relationships, he talks about being able to predict the weather by looking at the sky.  Then he asks:  “If you can interpret the portents of earth and sky, why can’t you interpret the present time?”

You feel Jesus’ urgency here.  He’s already turned his face toward Jerusalem.  He likely senses he’s not going to be with them much longer.  His followers have to wake up!  They have to wake up NOW.  They have to look at the world as it is.  They have to watch what’s happening with their eyes wide open.  There is no time to make excuses.

All of us have exactly what we need to read the times…and we need to read them.  Jesus isn’t here to do that for us.  We have to do that for ourselves.  So, let’s do it!  Let’s read the times.  Let’s open our eyes wide to all that’s going on around us.  Now that we have identified all these resources that come from our faith, let’s figure out—as a community—how to use them to act the world into wellbeing.  How are we going to use the gift of God’s Spirit, our humanity, the lessons of mentors, our sense of community, the commandment to love our neighbors, the gift of singing together, the gift of hospitality, prayer, our material resources, the children in our midst…How might our community use these myriad resources to act our broken world into wellbeing?  And what other resources might we have to use in this important work?

The summer theme is ending today…but our work has just begun.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2019

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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