Pentecost 13 August 14, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 13 Proper 15
Jeremiah 23:23-29; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
Christ Episcopal Church
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
Sunday, August 14, 2016
In today’s Gospel
we heard some of the sayings of Jesus
that belong to the category called:
“Things we wish Jesus hadn’t
Who is this bringer of fire and division?
the “prince of peace”
we proclaim at Christmas,
the “good shepherd”
who calls us each by name,
the “gentle Jesus” of
“Let the little children come to me . . .”
[Mt. 19:14; Mk. 10:14; Lk. 18:16]
“Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you . . .” [Jn. 14:27]
“I came that [you] may have life,
and have it abundantly.” [Jn. 10:10]
as he continues his journey toward
what he calls his baptism
(his crucifixion and death)
the desire to fulfill his mission
presses hard upon him
it’s a stressed-out, frustrated Jesus
We also encounter
the great gift
of the church’s lectionary,
the three-year cycle
of assigned Sunday readings
the Episcopal Church, follow,
as do other liturgical churches.
We don’t choose just
the convenient parts of the Bible
that are comfortable, reassuring . . .
we also have to grapple with
the inconvenient parts
that are uncomfortable, unsettling,
hard to take.
Because they are all part
of the vast, astonishing,
comfortable and uncomfortable story
of God and God’s dealings with us,
and our dealings with God and one another,
from our very first ancestors
until this very minute . . .
We need to hear the story
in all its dimensions
to know our own place
to tell the story truthfully,
live the story faithfully.
Especially difficult sayings
“I came to bring fire on 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!”
Something was rotten in Palestine:
the corroding effect of
the oppressive and cruel Roman occupation;
the gulf between the wealthy few
and the many poor;
ostracism of the sick, the needy, the stranger,
the ritually unclean;
religion distorted to serve human agendas
rather than God’s.
Could no one see the decay
eating away at the soul
of God’s chosen people?
Could no one read the signs of those dangerous times?
For three years
Jesus had been a countersign,
the revelation of the abundance of God
as he went about
healing the wounded, the sick, the grieving,
feeding the hungry,
gathering in the rejected and destitute,
challenging the callous and heedless and hypocritical. . .
proclaiming and enacting
God’s love for all God’s people,
God’s generosity toward all God’s children.
He was the embodiment of
the way of justice, reconciliation, and peace
from which everyone
would benefit . . .
(as anyone with eyes to see
and ears to hear would understand)
a counter-kingdom that would subvert
the kingdoms of this world.
Could no one read the countersign?
In the kingdoms of this world
those at the center and those on the margins,
those above and those beneath;
the haves . . . and the have-nots;
the powerful . . . and the disenfranchised;
the economically privileged . . .
and those with no safety net;
the dominant race and culture . . .
and the so-called “minorities.”
Should the world go the way of God’s
the structures that support those inequities and iniquities
would be overturned:
the privileges of the few
would give way
to the well-being of the whole.
And for those with the most to lose,
it would be like a wildfire scorching the earth.
Wherever God’s Kingdom manifests itself
in Jesus or in his followers . . .
when justice, reconciliation, peace
to become the way of life . . .
there will be a
radical reorienting of values and priorities
embraced by some,
resisted by many,
with struggle and contention
and division the result.
Families may come apart over it . . .
friends fall out because of it . . .
alienation and frustration come of it . . .
society itself may fracture
along its fault lines . . .
We may even be divided among and within ourselves:
the Kingdom’s call to live for others
the many attractions
of living for ourselves.
So while Jesus does not wish
for “fire” and “division”
and “no peace” on the earth,
he knows without a doubt
that fire and division and “no peace”
will be the
of his coming.
For those who would follow him
there will be baptism
into the death of
what must die
before there can be
new birth into real life.
Baptism . . .
it does all come ‘round
to baptism . . .
that complete re-ordering
of our selves and lives
to the values and priorities
of God’s Kingdom.
Not simply the adoption
for an ethical, moral life,
but a radical transformation
of our inner self,
a dying of the old life
for the birth of Kingdom life,
and the beginning of
an ongoing, never-ending
process of transformation.
Some promises made,
some prayers prayed,
water and oil
liberally applied . . .
and a sea-change
a dying and a rising,
a weaving into one-ness,
with Christ and each other
in the Body of Christ)
the seeds of Kingdom life
sown and watered
to germinate and grow
and bear fruit all life long,
nurtured by God’s Word
and the very Body and Blood
The Kingdom itself is being birthed
through those waters.
The celebration of a baptism is lovely, joyful,
full of sentiment and smiles . . .
family, friends, sponsors,
the Body of Christ
in celebration mode . . .
but it is also solemn and serious . . .
As a result of our baptism,
in that painful, frustrating place
of division and “no peace,”
on fire for God’s Kingdom
in a world which will not heed
the warning signs of its own madness.
So, welcome, all you baptized,
consequences of baptism:
a way of life over against
the established patterns,
priorities and values
of the kingdoms of this world,
that to the world seems un-reasonable . . .
that to the world is non-sensical . . .
that to the world is inexplicable . . .
Welcome to the way
of the God who fills all heaven and earth
and spans all time and beyond,
to dwell on earth,
to the smallness
of one particular human body
in one particular place and time:
Welcome to the way of Jesus, who,
“for the joy that was set before him
endured the cross, disregarding its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right hand of God.”
Welcome to the abundant life
Jesus came to give us,
an abundance that looks nothing like
the world’s notion of abundance,
but is life in the pattern of Christ,
prodigal self-offering, service, sharing,
caring, giving, loving . . .
doing good for goodness’ sake.
Welcome to the way of faith,
challenging journey into the unknown
travelled by so many before us . . .
to step outside
of what can be known
and by faith
entered the unlimited possibility
of God . . .
Led onward by faith
crossed the Red Sea on dry land,
brought down the walls of Jericho,
traveled to foreign lands,
won strength out of weakness,
endured mocking and flogging,
even chains and imprisonment,
marched in the civil rights movement,
demonstrated for Gay Pride,
fed the hungry,
opened their doors to the homeless . . .
By our baptism,
we join them,
that great cloud of witnesses
praised for their perseverance and endurance
by the author of
the Letter to the Hebrews:
different from us
yet just like us,
who faced opposition
from the entrenched way of things,
who had doubts and struggles
yet with faith in God’s promise
We have been baptized
into the journey
that leads us we know not where . . .
to wonder about God’s Kingdom
about fire and division and no peace . . .
God give us the courage
to see and not to ignore
the signs of our own dangerous times:
the racism embedded in our systems and culture,
the pervasive fear, anger, and violence poisoning
our public life,
the incivility and irresponsibility
tainting the current political season,
the greed of corporations
and the despoiling of the environment,
religion as an excuse for intolerance . . .
God give us the courage
to stand over against what we see.
Let us look toward Jesus
the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,
praying in a grove of olive trees,
on the night before his death,
like us even to the point
of wrestling with division within himself . . .
“Father, if you are willing,
remove this cup from me,
yet not my will
be done.” [Lk. 22:42]
Let us dive more deeply
into those dangerous waters of baptism . . .
into the baptism
with which Jesus was baptized . . .
drink more deeply
the cup which he drank . . .
for the sake of the difficult joy
that is set before us,
proclaiming and living
the subversive Kingdom of God.
Let us continue.