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Pentecost 13 Proper 15C RCL August 18, 2013

 

Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Luke 12:49-56

In our first lesson this morning, God has lovingly created a vineyard, but the vineyard has borne wild grapes. The vineyard is a metaphor for God’s people, the Southern kingdom of Judah, who have strayed very far from God’ s call to take care of those who are most vulnerable. Unjust societies usually fall under their own weight. There will be tragic consequences for Judah.

In our gospel for today, we find Jesus grappling with some terrible realities. He is going to Jerusalem. The authorities are already after him. Fire is a metaphor for judgment. We know that the authorities of Jesus’ time were running a society that was far from God’s values, so the message of Jesus and the coming of God’s kingdom would mean a severe judgment of the world’s values and a huge upheaval. The baptism that Jesus is going to be baptized with is his death. The root word for baptism means a drowning, death. Jesus knows what he has to do. He knows that the authorities are going to try to stop him, and he just wants to get on with it.

So our Lord says these haunting words, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” He has come to bring his shalom, but, given the gap between how this world works and the kingdom of God, the birth pangs of the shalom of God are going to be wrenching.

The example that always comes to my mind when I read this gospel is the situation of a family of plantation owners in the southern United States in the Civil War. These people are devout Christians. Some family members, after agonizing prayer, have come to the conclusion that one human cannot own another. Other members of the family feel that they must continue as they have in the past. We know that then, as now, people could read the Bible and find that slavery was an accepted part of society in Biblical times. People could use the Bible to defend either side in the debate over slavery. Now, after many years, we have realized that one human being cannot own another. We are called to respect the dignity of every human being. This year, we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, during which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech, which describes God’s kingdom of justice and harmony. We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go on this journey.

All of us have seen families divided by difficult issues. A young man brings home his beloved, whom he has met in college, to meet the family. He is white; she is African American. The family cannot accept her.

A young man brings home his beloved, whom he has met in college, to meet the family. His beloved is a fine young man. The family disowns their son, packs their bags, and sends them away.

A father wants his daughter to take over the family business. But she feels deeply called to join a religious order and work with nuns who are helping young African women start their own businesses and work for economic justice. The father cannot understand this.

The kingdom of God has begun. It is not yet complete, but it is growing. How do we know whether something is part of God’s kingdom or not? The Church says that when we are examining challenging issues, we are called to consider them in the light of three areas: Scripture, tradition, and reason.

What does Scripture say about the issue we are thinking about? And here, we have to be careful to study the Bible in a responsible way. We look at the work of scholars as we examine the Bible. It does not take a very long time to realize that the Bible contains many contradictions. The Bible is not meant to be a compendium of facts. It is a library of writings inspired by God but written down by fallible humans. The Bible is full of truth, but not necessarily literal, factual truth. For example, the story of creation has much truth in it, but it is not designed to be a scientific article. When we are looking at very difficult topics and questions, such as issues of race or human sexuality or economic justice I think that it is extremely important that we place primary emphasis on the gospel, What did Jesus say about it? What are the actions of Jesus in relation to this issue?

The next thing we look at is tradition. What has the Church said about this issue over these past centuries? What have theologians and scholars written about this topic?

Thirdly, we look at reason. God has given us minds to be used. As one of the posters by our Church ad service says, we Episcopalians are not asked to check our brains at the door. So we read the research of scientists. We look at all the knowledge that has been gained on whatever topic we are studying.

For example, when I was in grade school, I saw well-intentioned teachers trying to help left-handed students learn to write with their right hands. Research happened, and we learned that, across all cultures and times, a proportion of human beings are created by God as left-handed people. What we are called to do is to rejoice in all their gifts, not try to change them.

Scripture, tradition, and reason. We research these three areas as we consider tough issues. But, if we were going to try to boil it all down, I think we could say that God has a big family. It includes everyone, and each person is loved and cherished infinitely. That’s why last week Jesus said that the master sits us servants down and feeds us. There are no masters, no servants. Everyone is infinitely precious and cherished in God’s kingdom, in God’s shalom.

We all know how gentle and caring our Lord is. Today we see his unflinching courage and his steely determination.

Lord Jesus, as we move ahead, surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, all the saints of God, we ask you to give us your grace, your caring, and your courage, so that we may build your kingdom of compassion and justice. Amen.

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