Luke 12: 49-56
Our Lives as Christians
Several of my friends who are preaching today commented on the fact that today’s Gospel reading is one of their least favorites. In fact, one friend decided to ignore it altogether. Instead he will focus on the more compelling issues related to the upcoming return to school, the opening session of Church School, and parental responsibility in supporting their children both educationally and spiritually.
I wondered, “Should I also just ignore this passage and simply bring the congregation up to date on my recent trip to Haiti, my thoughts regarding the many months that I have been privileged to worship and teach at St. Martin’s, and my untold thanks for the support that all of you gave me as I journeyed through my ordination process?”
I concluded that although difficult and somewhat obscure, Jesus’ teaching in this passage has a great deal to do with everything that God has placed before me at this point in time. The central theme of the passage tells us that as Christians we should not expect our lives to be smooth sailing. Life is tough. It is a bumpy, unknown road, filled with potholes, some of which cannot be detected when recent rains have filled those potholes with water.
Life for a Christian, for an Episcopalian, is a life built on faith – a faith that Jesus has given us the ultimate gifts of salvation and eternal peace – a faith that, despite the ongoing challenges we face, allows us to believe Jesus’ words found in the Gospel of John, “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
These are tough words to hear. They can be interpreted to mean that we are far more interested in assessing our personal surroundings - economic cues; political stances; the effect of the weather on our Holiday weekend – than we are about understanding and involving ourselves in the spiritual issues of the day. Like the people in Jesus’ time, all too often we are only able “to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but do not know how to interpret the present time.”
I believe that “the present time,” is of critical importance. Whether the subject is the recent disaster in Haiti, the Gulf Oil Spill, the Judicial Killings in the Philippines, Immigration Policies, or any other of a number of compelling and urgent social justice issues, we need to understand their scope and become involved. Not with all, certainly, but we need to be involved with at least one project that we take on as something other than just being involved with ourselves, and our own world.
We, ordained and laity alike, as Episcopalians, are called to further the mission and the missionary work of the Episcopal Church not only in our own community, but throughout the world.
Involvement in any one of the many social justice issues brings a journey along a bumpy road, both literally and figuratively. When we journey into the land of mission and social justice, we journey into the unknown, we go forward in faith, we follow in Christ’s brief but difficult journey to the cross.
Let me tell you about several people whom I met this past week in Haiti – people who have most assuredly left their comfort zone and wandered into the wilderness of the unknown as they seek to bring the Good News, compassion, peace, and social justice to those who know only poverty, hunger, separation from their families, disaster, and hopelessness.
There was Mary, a young emergency room physician from Seattle, Washington, who had come to Haiti immediately after the earthquake to care for the injured. She was back in Haiti this past week to follow up on thirteen families who now live in tent cities throughout southern Haiti. She spent four days in the 100 degree heat searching through massive and very muddy tent cities just to find these 13 families and minister to them.
From Michigan, there was Susan, a family practice physician, and her husband Joe, a kindergarten teacher. This was their fourth trip to Haiti since the earthquake. Susan is teaching young mothers to care for themselves during their pregnancy and helping in the delivery of babies who need special care.
There was Mitch, a young family man from Colorado, who had just returned from Bombay, India where his organization rescues young girls who have been trafficked into the sex trade and orphans who are being neglected. He and his group spent two days in one of the poorest, dirtiest, most flooded sections of southern Haiti teaching the orphanage’s caregivers how to nurture traumatized children and arranging for ongoing food and water to be delivered to the orphanage.
There were several Haitians who had been trapped beneath the rubble for one or two days. They are now living in tents, but have returned to work, professionally dressed and productive at their job so that they can help re-build their homeland.
I am sure that you get the point – these are all people who are attempting “to interpret the present time.” Perhaps Mitch put it best when he said during a late night conversation, “Either God is in you or He isn’t. If He is in you, you are working for peace and social justice, you are not afraid. If He isn’t, you probably aren’t.”
As I sat in the airport waiting to board my flight out of Haiti, I was astounded by the number of Christian relief workers who would share my fight. Their tee-shirts identified their organizations, and I could see that they came from all over the United States. I was overcome with awe that I was among these incredible souls. I asked myself, “How could God have so blessed me that I have been given the opportunity to be among this massive and historical relief effort – so filled with compassion; so filled with open hearts; so filled with faith?”
Faith is everywhere in this destroyed country; prayer is ongoing; joyful singing praising God can be heard everywhere and every day. The massive destruction is overwhelming, but God is everywhere.
I am also amazed at the opportunity that God has graced me with in coming to Nevada and to St. Martin’s in the Desert. I see my time here as a journey into the wilderness; a wilderness in which I was called by God to ordained ministry in His church. I view you all as my friends and supporters who have accompanied me on my journey to ordination.
Now, I move on in faith – I don’t know what is around the corner, but I hear God speaking to me. He is calling me to move on to another wilderness. It is, at times, frightening, but I have faith – passionate faith – and God is in me.
Let us pray.
O gracious and loving God, you work everywhere reconciling, loving, and healing your people and your creation. In your Son and through the power of your Holy Spirit, you invite each of us to join you in your work. We, young and old, lay and ordained, ask you to form us more and more in your image and likeness, through our prayer and worship of you and through the study of your scripture, that our eyes will be fully opened to your mission in the world. Then, God, into our communities, our nation, and the world, send us to serve with Christ, taking risks to give life and hope to all people and all of your creation. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.