sermon on Delighting in God’s Welcome

ricLuke13:10-17; Isaiah58:9b-14

 

Here’s the story: religious leaders had excluded a person from congregational participation, claiming this person was of a category unfit for God’s presence. Later—unfortunately much later—through Jesus this person is welcomed to the community, which is met both by popular acclaim but also by lingering resentments from the authorities.

This week, as we’re preparing for the Pride Parade, I’m having difficulty not seeing this Gospel story as a pretty precise parallel for how the church has treated LGBT folks over the past decades. It’s not an exact analogy; the Bible story is termed an exorcism or healing, while very clearly particular sexual orientations or gender identities are not wrongs that need to be fixed.

Yet still, it seems sadly uncanny how people who are lesbian, gay, transgender, and all kinds of queer have been condemned and pushed out of churches for years and years, being told you are not welcome, that the Bible’s regulations are against you, even that “God hates fags.” Then gradually, much too long later, came reversal, as some especially open-eyed churches—those who were best-attuned to the need for and prevalence of God’s grace, prevailing amid all of our lives that are too quick to condemn others in order to call ourselves okay—some communities gradually began offering a welcome and bucking the trend and rejecting the dominant and domineering regulations. And the broader popular culture—including some who will be lining State Street this afternoon—cheered this reversal even as some church authorities sought to slow the process or dragged their feet and grumbled through the change, or simply were put to shame by those with richer faith and compassion.

I said I was having difficulty not seeing this Bible story through this lens, and I really am feeling it as a difficulty. It’s not in the least that I regret the welcome. I don’t have doubts about God’s grace or believe we’re doing the wrong thing. I rejoice that we are a Reconciling in Christ congregation and find it a faithful necessity to have that rainbow logo with our identity. I’m eager to keep pushing our synod to fuller inclusion. That’s all well and good (other, again, than the regrettable delay of “what took us so long?”).

My difficulty in hearing the Bible story this way is the risk of just being self-congratulatory, that we pat ourselves on the back as those who get it, and we shake our heads at the feet-dragging grumblers who continue in shame. We don’t come to church just to applaud ourselves for being so welcoming or for proclaiming that God isn’t a narrow-minded jerk.

Partly it’s because we still have work to do. “All are welcome” may be exactly true as a theological statement, of the doors being open and the good news offered to all, of the Lord’s Supper as gifts given and shed for all. But that blanket welcome on God’s part doesn’t yet mean we do it well on our part. Pastor Sonja pushes this better than I, that if this weren’t just my place but were for all, then my way wouldn’t get to dominate as if it’s “right,” whether that’s for race or gender or learning style or ability level or age or musical taste or whatever. It raises the question for us: if God’s welcome is broadly offered and only true when it is enacted for all, then how do our practices and attitudes join that, and how are we the foot-dragging impediments of religious institution?

That propels us actually deeper into the content of this Gospel reading, and even more so the reading from Isaiah. In the Gospel story, there clearly seem to be sides, with the woman and the crowd and Jesus on one side versus the congregational leader and others as opponents. Rather than just inviting you to pick which side you want to be on, though, Isaiah prompts it by confronting your behavior. Specifically, verse 13 begins with a pair of contrasting very big “IFs”: “IF you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; IF you call the sabbath a delight…”

Let’s come back to the IF in a moment, but first pause to notice something spectacular: according to this in Isaiah, the purpose of this day is for delight. It’s a beautiful description—sabbath is not identified simply for rest or to go to worship, but for the delight God created you to enjoy. This day is so that your soul may sing. This is so that you may know freedom. It’s to release whatever distracts you and exactly to cure today what confines you, even if for a time, so you can glimpse a vision of a broader and better life, and praise God for it. Today is so you can delight.

To be part of this godly delight is very obviously not fulfilling regulations or requirements you need to do just right. It’s not how you worship (like how well you sing or what you say in your prayers, much less the right clothes or amount of offering). It’s not try out where you need to fit in so well, as if your welcome comes at the expense of somebody else, as if you’re better than others in some holy quality or another. Your delight is not dependent on your behavior, or conditional on how you feel about it. The delight of being uplifted arises exactly because you are never excluded by anything you’ve done. Never. Any aspect, good or bad: “your quirks, your questions, and your queerness…In baptism, you were claimed as a precious child of your Creator.”* The value of the day is that precisely—each in our very own ways—we need it. We need this chance to delight, because we’ve been crippled for too long and held in bondage for too long and keep worrying we’re not good or worthy enough, or have been told we don’t measure up. So you need this sabbath day, whose point isn’t what you do but is what you enjoy, realize, and delight in!

That also brings us back to the IF of Isaiah and the conflict in the Gospel story. The critical question in both is IF we’re just using this day for our own self-interested advantage. That can be hard to judge, if we’re delighting selfishly or more communally. For example, it’s supposed to be a day of rest; so if you get a weekend break with your family or a few moments of quiet amid the hectic week, is that delight worthwhile? Does that fit Isaiah’s criteria? Or, again, if you really enjoy singing Tom Hind’s liturgy in worship, is that delight for praising God, or is it that the tunes are catchy and choral singing releases endorphins that make you feel good and harmonious? Would that still count, since it remains far from Isaiah’s warning against “trampling on the sabbath”?

Maybe for more clarity we could ask this: Do we say we are so welcoming and loving, open and supportive because we like the old familiar faces of friends, or are we really ready for strangers and people who don’t look or act like us?

See, the delight is this broad, shared experience that is an engagement communing with who God created you to be and also in relationship with others as God created them to be. That’s bound to push you and make you open up some fresh edges. Again, this is the shape of things when we say that “all are welcome.” It doesn’t mean they’re allowed in if they look and act like you and know what you know and vote how you vote and keep quiet when you want them to. All are welcome means all, and it means a welcome from God, but also insists on welcome from us. Jesus sees you and reaches out to touch you, to offer you life. But you can’t block his vision or interrupt him reaching out to others who also need him. It’s impossible to secure more blessing by pushing aside or trampling others down, since we receive delight from God as we are receiving each other with delight.

Still more, this isn’t just embodied as we huddle amid a friendly little group at church, not just one hour a week we’re nice to each other, not just a shelter and refuge from surrounding nastiness. The delight of this gathering for God’s sabbath spreads out from here and across the world as the consummation of creation. For the brokenness and fractures that divide us in condemning each other, for sorrows that burden and devastations wracking and attempting to destroy our spirit, this godly delight is on the loose, the abundance of life, the fullness encountered in relationship, with Jesus and with each other. This is perhaps summarized in one of my favorite lines from the whole Bible. I even happened to reference it last week before noticing the verse would be included this week. It’s Isaiah 58:12: “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” Wow. Could there be a better title for fostering shared delight?

This is a gathering where all are welcome, because God created all for delight, so you should have access to inspiration and rejuvenation and joy, and so should all others. But it doesn’t rest in this gathering alone. If you’ve missed church, you miss something wonderful and important, but you haven’t missed out on God or lost a ticket to some belated heavenly bliss. Rather, this is simply where we begin to live into God’s vision for our very present world, where delight isn’t confined to the worthy few, but spreads and is recognized by popular acclaim. This delight will march up State Street to reconcile the breach we have caused and felt. And then godly delight must continue on to the troubled streets of Milwaukee and charging through the closed doors of politicians-for-hire and is a deluge of repairs for Louisiana homes. And such delight must sweep away the rubble around a small, stunned Syrian boy and it resounds on the breeze with cicada calls and purges us like a baptismal rain and renews after raging fires. And, yes, all too often God’s delight has needed to bowl over shameful religious people exactly like us who have preferred to squander it or imagined it could be bottled up in individual serving sizes for your self-interest and pious-pretending pursuits. But there’s a cure for that, too.

The fullness of God’s blessing is for you, because you are part of God’s good creation. You are welcome here. Let’s sing it, better than I can say it.

 

Hymn: All Are Welcome (ELW 641)

* Thanksgiving for Baptism, http://www.reconcilingworks.org/ric/ricsunday/download/

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a funeral sermon

IreneWith Thanksgiving for the Life of Irene Josephine Rasmussen

September 1, 1919 + July 13, 2016

Exodus 20:9-12; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 14:27-28

 

“How long?” is a familiar question amid the Bible’s Psalms, a repeated refrain, even a persistent demand. I’ll come back to the Psalm later, because it takes a different tone, but let’s stick with the phrase “How long,” as it’s been on my mind in these weeks and months for Irene and since her death.

“How long!” might well begin as an exclamation for Irene. Her nearly 97 years made her the second-oldest member of this congregation, and well above most any expectation for life.

That time stretches back to the kind of farm life that hardly exists anymore and a Norwegian identity that has mostly been melted and blended into American culture. “How long” was such a length for her that it involves the increasingly rare trait of being shaped by the Great Depression, with thrift and endeavoring after careful and wise living. Irene could remember when their large garden produced almost all of her family’s food and that she didn’t have store-bought clothes for years, but only those made by her mother. She could recall when her father traveled to have a job with the Works Progress Administration, and—maybe even more remarkable for its contrast to this current culture—the overwhelming sense of optimism that went with hearing a speech from FDR. It sure feels like it must be a long time ago for somebody to say they were inspired positively by a politician!

The “how long” isn’t only a distance in the past, though, but also a duration. We can certainly celebrate that Irene and Paul’s marriage lasted for 65 years, which likely didn’t feel too long at all. And we can celebrate all they enjoyed through the course of those years, especially in travels to camp: Maine, the Black Hills, Montreal for the Expo, and much more. A couple weeks on the road each summer, and almost a month of the year spent camping out. That’s a lot, a long time to be outside. On those voyages, following after “are we there yet,” “how long” may also have been a question from a son in the back seat.

Those camping trips inspired a couple of the hymns (How Great Thou Art and Beautiful Savior) and Bible passages we heard this morning. The Exodus reading is actually part of the 10 Commandments given to Moses while the people were camping in the wilderness at Mount Sinai. I like the part about honoring father and mother because it offers an encouragement, a blessing: “so that your days may be long in the land.” It’s such a good biblical phrase for the “how long” of life and enjoying the world.

And the previous commandment about honoring the sabbath with rest also seems to fit with the recreation of those camping trips with Irene, of pausing to enjoy the world around you, of breaking from regular routines of life, and observing nature and the glories of creation and life around you.

Similarly, the vision of Revelation isn’t a description of the heaven we are destined for, but is a grand assurance and broad insistence that in spite of all that goes wrong, we share the blessings of life with a multitude, humans from all times and places, and all creatures, on earth and in the skies and under the earth and in the seas, as it says. A beautiful notion of praise, I expect it is part of the worship that Irene found on camping trips.

It’s also a vision that fits this occasion, of being brought back together with those who have been through ordeals and suffering, of God’s ongoing striving for redemption and to wipe away tears, of the baptismal springs of resurrection to new life. Good words, carrying us into the “how long” of eternity that stretches out in front of Irene and awaits us.

But before we get there, we also need to pause with the Psalm’s sort of “how long,” asking “How long shall I have perplexity in my mind and grief in my heart, day after day?” (13:2) It’s not a cheery question, but that “how long” was more the sense that I knew in my brief months with Irene, and which she had been headed toward over the past several years.

Sometimes “how long” is a lament, a prayer to God, a question of yearning. That certainly must have been the case for Irene at the tragedies of death, for her son David, and grandson Jonathan, and when she lost her husband, and her siblings, and so many friends. That is certainly a hard down-side to longevity.

And we wondered the question for Irene, too. How long will dementia worsen? How long until she isn’t able to recognize me? How long before a worse fall? How long will she be able to last? How long will this life go on?

Asking those harder parts of “how long” isn’t to say the situation was desperate. “How long” also meant important time of care from Paul and Maria. Irene did remember family and longtime friends. She remembered her childhood. She delighted in the visits from her church circle and could relate very well. She eagerly welcomed me as her new pastor, often over and over again during our visits. She continued to be eager to receive communion.

And maybe that’s part of our answer to the question, that in some ways we don’t know “how long.” We don’t know what will last or what’s coming next. Besides good times, we have plenty of anxieties that surround and lurk after us. Yet this faith turns us continually back to God and repeated assurance of hope, inspiring us perhaps with patience, but also promising the peace that surpasses all understanding, such as the world cannot give.

So that is for you now, for the “how long” of these ongoing days without Irene and for the rest of life: the peculiar assurance that your hearts need not be troubled or afraid. Somehow, in spite of it all, your “how long” is held in the promise of God’s embrace, that Jesus is with you forever and always.

I want to conclude with a couple words about our next hymn (When Memory Fades, ELW 792). For “how long,” we could’ve sung Amazing Grace’s notion that “when we’ve been there 10,000 years…we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.” Instead we’ll sing this hymn with its strong text, perhaps almost too strong. In that, there’s some yes and no of how these words do and don’t apply to Irene and for our gathering today. I’m hoping that you find value in them for what they do say, perhaps even in spite of the hard honesty of the laments of “how long.” But if it doesn’t exactly make you feel like the resurrection praise we heard about from all creation in the Revelation reading (and our opening and closing hymns are probably better for that), still this one is a great tune, and for Irene’s love of symphonic music, it’s worth singing with gusto.

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a funeral sermon

With Thanksgiving for the Life of Joyce Jeanette Anderson Joyce

October 8, 1936 + August 11, 2016

Isaiah 48:12-17; Psalm 23; Galatians 5:21-25; John 14:1-10

 

Near and not far off.

Known and not unknown.

Lo, I am with you.

And, you know where I am going.

These are theological terms, statements our scripture attributes to God. But these are also personal terms, identities we knew in Joyce.

We’ve heard loving descriptions of this mother and grandmother, with stories and characteristics you almost certainly recognize also for sister, aunt, and step-mother, friend and teacher. Again, with the stunning summary statement that “God is love,” in Joyce, we similarly knew deeply invested care.

She was devoted to you, to your wellbeing, which is another stunning statement because it’s true for all of you gathered today, and for so many more people, as well. She loved to learn what was happening in your life, caring in both joys and struggles, with an amazing memory to hold all those details. I know this, because I also experienced it. Joyce was one of those rare people where in these past weeks I could walk into her hospital room for a pastoral care visit, and walk out of the room feeling more like I’d been cared for, and also more in touch with others, like hearing the latest ins and outs of Jenny buying a new house.

Though I’ve only gotten to know her a bit in these past months, that feels representative of the care you knew from Joyce, whether for your whole life, or in a brief encounter. Five daughters knew the care and love of this mother, the one who could discipline you for wrecking the car as a child by making you help prepare potato salad for a family gathering. That’s a remarkable kind of love, as you know, and as your friends were occasionally jealous of. It’s the kind of care that persisted and was apparently unflappable even after your father’s death, and the care and love that expanded to more family when she met Eldon, and as you were choosing partners, and as grandkids arrived, and on and on. You got to know best this very present and invested love of Joyce.

Others experienced it from her in innumerable fleeting moments. This is that central identity of Joyce as a nurse and—maybe even more—as a nurse’s nurse. She not only tended to sickness but to the whole person. She didn’t just hand on knowledge as a teacher, but valued the whole shape of life for her students. Still around UW Hospital in these weeks were those who either had known Joyce through the years, or were getting to know her in this way still. Even those who had never met her received from her, perhaps most vividly in her efforts on behalf of hospice care. In precisely this moment of confronting death with comfort and dignity, she appreciated the full circle of receiving what she had helped offer to so many others.

For those of this Advent Lutheran and Madison Christian Community, I should pause to say how Joyce valued you, though you almost certainly still can say it better than I can. She identified herself here, and amid many groups, in worship or at breakfast. She cherished the prayer shawl in these weeks and was showing off the card fashioned by the quilters. And Joyce was still looking forward to more reading with book group, to the wide variety you’d choose, even if it weren’t what she would’ve picked herself.

That’s another mark of her personality: the teacher was always also a learner, eager for new connections, to explore new places and discover new things. That’s true in her travels near and far, right up to that last voyage to Alaska with Carol, when she got sick enough that they needed to come home, which led to more and more medical investigations and finally the experience of hospice and the end.

At this point, I should say something about God. After all, I’ve said lots about Joyce. More than I usually would say about a person in a funeral sermon. But that isn’t because you needed me to describe her or say nice things about her. Rather, I said so much about Joyce because I also wanted you to hear that about God, a God invested in you (as Joyce was), caring for you (as Joyce did), never out to punish but to redeem you, close to you and knowing you in all kinds of ways (as Joyce lived right until the end), always seeking more for you.

This has been the language of our Bible readings. The verses from Isaiah aren’t a typical funeral reading, but are chosen for the Joyce/God pairing. it described God as “first and last,” meaning present before our birth and through it all and beyond death. Isaiah declared God’s love for and investment in the people, with a persistent will on their behalf—on your behalf—that would not be subverted, in those times by armies or calamities, or in our midst today by sickness and death. Isaiah proclaims God to be near, not hidden off in secret. God is with you, calling to teach and guide. So as we knew that in Joyce, we know it in God.

David’s reading from Galatians gives it a clear explanation, that we were able to know these good things in Joyce because they were gifts from God, these fruits of the Spirit. The love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, and more that Joyce shared with us came not as something Joyce had to strive after, but arose in her so naturally and directly as the blessing from God.

The familiar words of Psalm 23 lead us to see this presence in various settings. Sometimes you knew Joyce in the moments of providing, in preparing a table, even as she did for funeral services like these, or in times of quiet reflection like book group and Bible study, or in nourishing meadows of teaching, or in dark valleys, like those who knew Joyce during medical care or from hospice. This says God, too, is amid all those times and places.

And, finally, Jesus explains this whole premise in the gospel reading: as you have seen me, you have seen God. In some way, we can claim and believe that line of Jesus for Joyce.

But we also know there are limits. For all of her travels and explorations and curiosity, there are places she couldn’t go, not only for completing the Alaska trip, but that she is not with you now. For all of her past care, she is no longer able to be that. You have amazing memories and plenty to share, and you can also go on to embody some of that care and compassion that Joyce had been, but she won’t be present to be that for you anymore, and so finally, we need this word of God that proclaims something more, that isn’t only accompanying you in times of dying, but that will go beyond death and bring you to new life. This is the promise of resurrection that we look to in Jesus, a promise for you to live into, and the promise for Joyce from a God who is known, who is near, who is with you, and who will bring you home with Joyce forever.

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Is Jesus Divisive?

sermon on Luke12:49-56; Hebrews11:29-12:2
I’ve been practically giddy all week about this Bible reading.

Which I know sounds odd since this won’t rank among anybody’s favorites. But I relish the chance to struggle with Scripture, to wrestle with it until it releases a blessing for us.

In contrast, a month ago we heard the Good Samaritan, which is both so familiar and also almost self-explanatory. Be nice to each other, including some new people—it seems to say—or accept help from unexpected sources. You almost inherently can understand that, and barely would need a preacher.

With this passage, however, you’re left with two choices. Either you can claim that the Bible and religion are filled with too much nastiness and try to ignore and reject the whole spiel, or else you can hear these hard words, face the confusing dilemma, and exclaim, “Aha! This is why we pay Pastor Nick the big bucks!” So now we’ll see if you’re getting your money’s worth.

That comes with the immediate disclaimer that I don’t have a definite answer or resolution for you, but do have several possibilities to try on.

First, we may hear these words from Jesus simply as descriptive: there are divisions on earth. We may even find that on occasion to be a good thing: night and day, the weekend, our atmosphere separating air from outer space.

Other times, we sense division not necessarily as beneficial, but still at least as reality. Across the globe, we don’t all speak the same language. We don’t have the same skills or interests. And while Jesus may be indicating the individual differences or denominational disparities or interfaith turmoil that religion has caused, of arguments and separations in our families on up, still, stepping back from emotion, we are at a point in history where we might be able to recognize that there are real reasons we wouldn’t all have the same understanding of God, that our unique circumstances and upbringings and lot in life play a role.

That’s a fundamental distinction already in Jesus’ words. He was part of the monotheistic Jewish faith, but where they’d said the only, the sole, the mono- connection with God was in the Temple, Jesus was relocating the divine, taking away the hierarchy that made some closer to God and pushed others out of the perimeter. Simply by proclaiming the undoing of a central authority and enacting radical welcome with unconditional grace, Jesus was causing division and disrupting the old system.

That may point us toward a next step of reflection. Beyond description, is this word from Jesus prescriptive? Does he seek to cause divisions?

I have to say, this is mainly what makes this passage uncomfortable for me. This version from Luke, where Jesus says he brings division, is a notch gentler than Matthew’s version, where he says he brings a sword. But still, when Jesus declares he has not come to bring peace on earth, that disappointment is the exact opposite of why I usually turn to Jesus and what I expect from him. Some of the first things that grabbed me about Christianity when I was in middle school were words like “blessed are the peacemakers,” “turn the other cheek,” and “love your enemies.” These shaped my passion for nonviolence and even pacifism, to be against war and militarism and the death penalty. But here, Jesus seems to reverse his core message of love and healing and life, and—indeed—peace!

But that very reversal is the cue that we need to struggle with these words. Certainly there are some who employ this sort of message to reinforce violence or oppression or division or use of force. But the fact that they have to turn repeatedly to this passage or to an apparently angry Jesus cleansing the Temple or a single line about swords at the Garden of Gethsemane says that these hard passages are the exception and not the rule of Jesus.

So I would argue—and will argue—that Jesus isn’t stoking fires of hatred and fanning the flames that make us burn against each other. This isn’t a sort of division that lets me see myself as good and other races or religions as bad, much less worth-less and able to be excluded or exterminated or deported. Those have been dangerous precedents in history and are dangerous in our midst today. Such divisions are accusingly satanic, not godly or from Jesus. That is not God’s mission or intention for our world, and it must be resisted.

But that very resistance begins to illuminate another side of these words from Jesus. It’s not general divisiveness he promotes, as if desiring any and all animosity. But there are specific faithful distinctions that we would foster, that Jesus would back, when he’s prompting change and upset against tranquil apathy at the status quo. Such “peace” he may well be against. Amid plenty of divisions, we should readily and boldly proclaim, “I’m not that sort of Christian. We are not that kind of people.” We want to declare proudly and vitally that we are anti-racist and anti-sexist and anti-bullying and anti-oppression and anti-poverty. We are anti-terrorism but simultaneously anti-anti-Muslim and anti-anti-immigrant (if you can handle important uses of a double-negative) and anti-anti-gay. We know these divisions and know where we must stand for justice. Sure, we can work to heal the splits and repair the breach with other people, and that may be among our more vital tasks in these days, but that doesn’t permit us to ignore the divides or to pretend that compromise plain and simple is always the right thing.

That’s hard enough when we’d prefer not to have to keep struggling amid society. We don’t want to feel like a voice in the wilderness, crying out. We don’t want every election to feel like a doomsday scenario or for every click of news to be filled with despair. But beyond those larger fears and frustrations, we also know this more intimately. We know divisions in families, conversations that cause consternation, the topics that somehow are off the table for discussion. We know those family fractures that are fueled by even kind and faithful views.

Such values may arise from stuff that seems like a big deal, like arguing faith’s perspectives on health care. Or that your beliefs mean you’re called to love Iranians and Russians, and—yes—even terrorists, and all those with whom you disagree. That’s not a fun conversation. Or it may be more personal, like around parenting styles or medical decisions or financial choices. Or it may seem smaller, like that you’d choose to be here today, that you intentionally give away some of your income, that you do the silly thing of saying a prayer in times of need. We may not be persecuted or our lives at risk for what we believe, but among your family and friends and coworkers—besides the broader culture—clinging to your beliefs is still apt to cause divisions. Jesus may have been envisioning that result simply because of what matters to you.

It’s already a relief that Jesus recognizes and names the brokenness we’re bound to face. It’s good news that my family isn’t the only one God knows with some dysfunction. But beyond just naming the reality, we do need more. Clearly, this involves difficult decisions to weigh and really requires endurance and patience to persist. So we need support. We need this community. We need the great cloud of witnesses, those saints throughout history that our Hebrews reading held up for us. We need examples of those who have willingly or unwillingly suffered and were mocked and continued through blood and sweat and tears, and conquered somehow in death, even as the loss appeared to be overwhelmingly futile. It’s a stunning Bible passage, making us ask if it’s worth it, even while motivating us to carry on. We’re caught up in something we can’t quite explain and may not always like, yet know we must proceed.

And that brings us to a final part of the reflection. We should always remember that Jesus is up to something particular. With him, it is not just a description of everyday life, but a new way of seeing and interacting with the world, a new order, for new life. He begins by saying he’s bringing fire to earth and wished it were already kindled, and his stress while awaiting his baptism. These are lines about his death. He isn’t kindling a fire to start fights among others or to give us permission to take up the sword against those we don’t like. He’s inviting that division against himself, recognizing that he’s the one who’s going to get burned, the one who will be plunged into death. This makes the Bible passage about him.

But that also makes it about you, doesn’t it? See, you’ve been baptized into Christ as well. Your baptism joins you to the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of new life, but also joins you to his passion and death. Amid the communion of saints, you are brought into this Jesus way, this Jesus vision, this Jesus practice for encountering the world, and striving both against it and yet simultaneously on its behalf.

That means the fire is spreading. Jesus kindled it against himself, but also in you. It’s remarkable that the one other place these words for division and fire happen together is on Pentecost (Acts 2:3), when divided tongues of flame appeared on the followers of Jesus, filling them with diverse gifts and sending them across the world. Among those believers, this word for division also became a word for sharing—that they divided among themselves the cup of the new testament in Jesus’ blood at the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:17) and divided their possessions to distribute as any had need (Acts 2:45).

In this community of Jesus, then, we no longer recognize the world’s old, rotten divisions of haves and have-nots, of rich versus poor, of insiders and outsiders, winners and losers, successful or failure, the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, the worthy and the unworthy. In this community of Jesus, those divisions are cast out because finally, this is where we anticipate reconciliation will have the last word, since neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come will be able to divide us or separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Hymn: God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind (ELW #400)

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