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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
Tacoma, Washington
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 said.”
Who is this bringer of fire and division?
Where is
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 encounter.
We also encounter
the great gift
of the church’s lectionary,
the three-year cycle
          of assigned Sunday readings
which we,
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
                    in it,
to tell the story truthfully,
live the story faithfully.
Especially difficult sayings
like today’s:
“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
there are
those at the center and those on the margins,
those above and those beneath;
there are
          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 Kingdom
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
threaten 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
competing with
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
inevitable by-products
          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
          of guidelines
                   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,
          (mystical union
                    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
                             of Christ.
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,
we may,
we will,
find ourselves
with Jesus
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,
to the
consequences of baptism:
          a way of life over against
          the established patterns,
                    priorities and values
                             of the kingdoms of this world,
Welcome to
a way
          that to the world seems un-reasonable . . .
a way
          that to the world is non-sensical . . .
a way
          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,
                   yet chose
                             to dwell on earth,
                             infinity confined
                                      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,
that life-long
challenging journey into the unknown
travelled by so many before us . . .
who dared
to step outside
the confines
          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:
real people,
different from us
          yet just like us,
who faced opposition
          from the entrenched way of things,
who had doubts and struggles
          and temptations,
yet with faith in God’s promise
          they continued.
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
          but yours
                   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.