13 Pentecost, August 14, 2016 Jeremiah 23: 23-29
St. Peter’s Cambridge Hebrews 11:29- 12:2
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Luke 12: 49-56
Lord, help us to be signs of your love. Amen. 1
When I was here in July, my husband Paul had just arrived home from Asia, where the flash flooding had been so severe that it had killed hundreds of people. Was this a sign of global warming? Or just an unfortunate accident for people living in vulnerable places, like today in Louisiana? Paul and I had tickets that Sunday afternoon for a Red Sox game; and we won! Was this a sign of another championship year? Or just one more baseball game?
Today, I want to talk about signs. Now signs can be communal, like those “No Parking” signs we see all over Cambridge. Signs come without words, like Lady Liberty, who stands tall in our New York Harbor, holding a torch in her hand. Signs can be as clear as the clouds rising in the west, or as ambiguous and open to interpretation as our politics today.
Signs can be personal. They reflect our affiliations, our values, our hopes, and our dreams. On my body, I wear the sign of the cross, sometimes a collar around my neck, and a gold ring on my finger. No tattoos on my body, yet! On my car, I have the Episcopal church shield, the word “hybrid”, and a yellow equality sign. I like to think of my car as a sign for evangelism, the environment, and social justice. Last week I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said “Abolish Racism”; and in church, I heard the priest talk about feathers as being a sign for her of God’s presence.
Now prophets are people who interpret the signs of their present times. They sound a warning, and call for change. Both Jeremiah and Jesus were critical of their religious, economic, and political systems, much like our current time today. Prophets see the signs of God’s people being hurt and God being ignored. They remind people of God’s presence. Jeremiah asked, “Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?”
Some five hundred years after Jeremiah, Jesus said, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat; and so it happens.” But he also asked the crowds, “Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
I wonder today, as we gather here in this scorching heat, “Do we know any better than the crowds that listened to Jeremiah and Jesus?” To Mandela in South Africa or Martin in Alabama? To all the prophets that are named in the letter to the Hebrews? Are there not signs of injustice, poverty, and oppression still all around us? Is this scorching heat a sign of climate change or just a very hot summer day? Similar to the time of Jeremiah, God is not only being ignored but also being used to justify mass killings. Like Jeremiah, I often wonder, “Are people prophesying the deceit of their own hearts? Or are they prophesying the dream of God?”
I love today’s gospel lesson because it shows Jesus not only as the Prince of Peace but also as the King of Division. And discernment means division, coming from the Latin word which means “to cut.” Sometimes, our assets need to be divided so that more people can share their benefits. Cells split in order to multiply, and create new life. Power divided is power shared. And sometimes the real divisions among us must be acknowledged before true peace can come.
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” said Jesus. “No, I tell you, but rather division.” And so Jesus points first to the divisions within our own families; and then from there it’s easy for us to see why we might have divisions within our own political parties, divisions within our communities and country, and divisions within our religions and world. Both Jeremiah and Jesus also point to the division that exists between God and us, between heaven and earth.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus was nearby. He wasn’t sitting up in a heavenly throne, or on a mountaintop far removed from the crowds, or even in a jail cell writing letters to his followers. He was right there in the midst of the crowds, claiming that he came to “bring fire to the earth and division.” Prophets speak truth to power, even if their knees shake, and their lives are at risk. Prophets speak truth to power because it’s the godly thing to do.
Prophetic leaders not only point to the problems and call for change, however; they also cast a vision for a better future. They mobilize people for action.They use dream language instead of divisive language. Faithful prophets remind us that God is our power; and that God shared God’s power with us. Prophets remind us that with God nothing is impossible, even life after death.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus is a sign of God’s presence, power, and merciful love. Jesus was a man who stretched out his arms of love upon the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. He was a broken body standing tall even on the cross, still speaking words of forgiveness to those who had betrayed him. He was a repairer of the breach. Jesus was a sign of God’s dream for a restored creation, where all God’s beloved children are united in our beautiful diversity, equally important and valuable. And finally, Jesus is a sign of God’s fire and hammer, who broke the rocks of injustice, oppression, and poverty one word, one action, and one heart at a time. “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
So, as a Christian in these current times, be a prophet, like Mandela and Martin, like Jeremiah and Jesus. Get a fire in your belly, get out your hammer, and start breaking some rocks. In the prophetic words of Peter, Paul, and Mary, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning. I’d hammer in the evening, and I’d hammer all over this world. I’d hammer out danger and I’d hammer out warning. I’d hammer out justice; and I’d hammer out freedom. I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this world.” Oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh.
As I mentioned before, my husband Paul and I attended a Red Sox game in July. It was a nail-biter right until the end, and happily for us, our team won. Like the Olympic games in Rio, the stadium was filled with a rainbow of colors, and although there were many divisions among us, somehow we were all united in the Spirit. I loved it when we all participated in “the wave” at the Fenway.
In case you’re not familiar with the wave, it’s when people stand up with their arms raised in the air and make some noise.The wave goes around and around throughout the stadium until it dies for lack of momentum or our attention is drawn elsewhere. Now if we are willing, we can all participate in God’s prophetic wave, a wave that was created “in the beginning”, never lost momentum, and will never end, even when our attention is drawn elsewhere.
We are all members of God’s Olympic dream team. So run the race with perseverance and joy; and follow Jesus, who was the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Do not worry about what you are to say or what you are to do; for our God is near, and there is a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place. Today, be a sign of God’s prophetic love. Amen.