Monday, August 20

Sermon: Proper 15 (20) Year C 2007
Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler
August 19, 2007


Burning Down the House

How often do we pass the peace of Christ? Every time we gather. Wonderful! Let's try it right now. Seriously.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.
Greet one another with a sign of peace.

We love to speak about how Jesus brings peace. We have images of lilies in the fields. We are not to worry for our lives. Our lives are held in the loving embrace of God. In the nativity story, Matthew's telling of Jesus' birth, angels will appear and proclaim Christ to be the Prince of Peace. Our images of Christ's peacefulness and gentleness are well-founded. We aren't making them up. So what the heck is going on in our Gospel reading this morning from Luke? What is the prophet Jeremiah trying to tell us about the nature of God's judgment?

The Hebrews have always understood the deeply rooted existence of injustice and “wickedness.” In our psalm this morning even the gods are held in contempt because they too have fallen prey to the temptation of oppression and subjugation. Through the psalmist's words the Most High God judges a holy court of other gods.

"How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?

Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.

Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."

Jeremiah will say that God's word on such matters is like a fire. It will break open rock with its heat.

This morning we encounter Jesus upsetting the boat. His words are from an age old tradition in Judaism. His words are echoes of the psalmist. They are prophetic like those of Jeremiah. Jesus knows that when we are in the presence of God, the order of things, the world as we know gets turned around. The Prince of Peace is proclaiming something utterly removed from what we imagine as peacefulness. Instead of singing the Eagles' Peaceful Easy Feelin', we have a Jesus singing the Talking Heads' Burning Down the House!

Watch out
You might get what you're after
Cool babies
Strange but not a stranger
I'm an ordinary guy
Burning down the house

Hold tight wait till the party's over
Hold tight were in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house

Here we are, encountering the disquieting Christ. Here we are encountering the Truth of the Gospel and how, if we are honest with ourselves, it really plays out. You see, the Good News is always good, but it will not necessarily be received peacefully. The world will push against it.

The world will deny it.
The heavens will deny it.
The world will attempt to stifle those who proclaim it.

The world will flee from it.
And when this does not work, the world will co-opt it and find a way to gain more power with the same message.

Telling the truth about God, that God loves the world, that God created it good, actually upsets the world in which we live. Sometimes telling this truth, like telling other truths, causes a lot of trouble. It will burn down the house!

Jesus knows this. Jesus knows that though his message is one of Love, that it will be felt as fire by all. You. Me. The apostles. The Pharisees. Pilate. All of us will encounter a flame. And our houses will fall.

From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." (Luke 12:52-53)

Here Jesus seems to attack the most important social structure of the first century. Some say the family is still the most important structure, the lowest common social denominator, or the principal economic unit. And Jesus comes right at it and says that even this, even this will be found wanting in the light of the Love of God. Even this does not measure up. It is not prepared for the Love of Christ.

We cannot rest on our laurels and be satisfied with the status quo. The status quo will fly apart when we speak the truth.

The status quo is comfortable with oppression. It is comfortable with inequity. It is comfortable with violence. It has resigned itself to a world where unfairness is part of the game. It knows that power is real and that some people have none. The status quo revels in this. And we who live in the status quo know how to play the game. We know how to get ahead. We know how to get the leg up. We know how to take advantage of the systems whether they be the tax code, the legal system, or the remnants of our welfare state. We all learn, rich and poor, through cynicism and despair, how to live in the status quo.

Jesus wants to undo this. Jesus' entire ministry is about uncovering this truth about ourselves, about the world, and proclaiming an alternative.

Here's your ticket pack your bag: time for jumpin' overboard
The transportation is here
Close enough but not too far, maybe you know where you are
Fightin' fire with fire

All wet
Hey you might need a raincoat
Dreams walking in broad daylight
Three hun-dred six-ty five de-grees
Burning down the house

Jesus delivers this message of fire and justice on his way to Jerusalem. He knows what will befall him. He is on the way to the cross. He knows that he has to die. He knows that the powers and principalities (the church and the state) will try and put out the fire he started. He has called them out. He has shown his followers what they are really about. He is holding everyone – you, me, us, the apostles, the Pharisees, the government, the religious institutions – accountable for the world in which we find ourselves. And he knows that we cannot handle the critique.

He is a dream walking in broad daylight. We are asleep. And we do not want to awaken...even though our dreams are not sweet. So, Jesus burns down the house.

The powers think that they have put out the fire.
They crucify Jesus.

The followers of Christ will also think that the story is over. They will believe that the fire has been extinguished as well. But no. Two women will run to the tomb and there they will encounter the resurrection. The fire of the Gospel, the Love of God, cannot be extinguished, not even by death. The judgment has come to fruition and even death has no hold on the truth of God's love.

Women come, the downtrodden, the mistaken, the unloved, and they encounter the Risen Christ. And Jesus will appear to others. He will dine with them. He will ask them to continue his work. This fire will be passed on from generation to generation in the church.

Passing the peace of Christ is greeting one another in love. It is upholding one another in gentleness. But the peace of the Lord is a fire. When we pass the peace of Christ with one another, we pass a torch. We pass a flame.

God wants us to share this Love with the world. It is a love that will continue to challenge everything about our lives...the way we engage politics, the way we do business, and the way that we love our mothers, fathers, spouses, and children.

And though the world will push back...we know that there is a Resurrection. We know that though the world always seems to have a step on us, in the end is the Resurrection, God's love fulfilled, the world judged, and though it is found wanting, it is met with grace and forgiveness no less. And we will all be redeemed.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.
Greet one another with the sign of peace.