August 18, 2019
10th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
In their book on leadership, Ed O’Mally and Amanda Cebula, write that people are either thermometers or thermostats. A thermometer can tell you the temperature of a room. A thermostat can set the temperature of the room so that it does what it needs to do. They say that healthy organizations know how to regulate the heat. Too cool and people lose interest and wander away; too hot and the lid blows off and things get ruined. Good leaders know when to turn up the heat and how far to go.
Clearly, Jesus is playing the role of the thermostat, raising the heat in the room. If you came to church today for cool comfort, or easy rest, or to avoid challenge, the 10thSunday after Pentecost may not be your day.
At this point in the gospel, Jesus is already on his way to Jerusalem. He must have known by this point in ministry that the forces of power and cool, state religion were about to boil over. Rather than avoid the conflict, he enters it, convinced that God will save all of us.
Jesus warns that being faithful is going to bring difficulty, division, and a baptism into the suffering of the world. To be on fire with the gospel means that parts of our own lives or systems in the world get burned down. Jesus isn’t calling us just to be contrarian, as if division or rejection itself is the sign of faithfulness. We live in a time when people sew division for their own good, their own way of claiming power and silencing dissent. That’s not what Jesus is talking about.
Jesus is being descriptive, not prescriptive. He’s telling us that difficulty comes with being faithful. He’s not telling us that his real mission is to divide, or in the language of Matthew, to bring a sword rather than peace. Following Jesus disrupts our internal worlds, and it disrupts the external world. We often say that the reign of God “breaks” in. It never struck me until I was preparing this sermon that any coming of God’s reign always means something gets broken.
Maybe that’s our own self-centeredness. Maybe it’s our fear of conflict, or a false sense of harmony that comes from avoiding the hard conversations. Maybe it’s our desire for a comfortable life that can only happen through more accumulation, through the oppression of workers and cheap prices, or the pillaging of the earth for the materials that make all my gadgets run faster. Maybe it’s the end of relationships that have long been abusive or shallow or unfair. Perhaps we do risk division with families and friends who ridicule or judge or enable. Perhaps we risk our job or our place in the group to challenge the name-caller or the one who builds power by stirring up fear and resentment. Maybe we start to say no.
Jesus longs for the world as it is to be broken. “Oh, that a fire would be kindled today.”
Perhaps you heard that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America passed a resolution at its national meeting calling for the ELCA to be a sanctuary church–to be a denomination that takes seriously the crisis at the border–treating immigrants and refugees as the Bible suggests, not as criminals or “illegals” but as children of God, who have every right to safety, security, and a future with promise.
Interestingly, the organizers of the churchwide assembly had not planned to have this discussion, even though a handful of synods, the various jurisdictions of the church, had passed a request to do so. It was a group of young people that pulled the resolution from its burial place in the reports and forced it to the floor. It created division on the assembly floor. People argued that we weren’t ready. Some pleaded for us not to come into conflict with the law. People said that it would create confusion in the church, setting one against another.
And it has. Churches are stirred up about it. Members have left congregations or have threatened to leave. There may be a variety of faithful, concrete responses to the issue, but those young people were thermostats, turning up the heat in the church so that we’re talking about the issue through the language of faith. I think the church of Jesus Christ can take the heat.
Of course, the deepest truth is that the fire of the Holy Spirit does not destroy but creates. The passion that captures Jesus is a passion for love, and mercy, and kindness, and righteousness and justice; for the peace that passes all understanding. His own destruction on the cross gave new life to the whole creation. Resurrection broke in and broke us open.
When we kindle a flame at every baptism from the Easter candle, it’s a wildfire of love that we intend to set loose on to the prairie of human life, fires that heal the earth and bring forth new shoots of green, leaves that are for the healing of the nations. Remember Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, quotes de Chardin, “If humanity ever captures the energy of love—it will be the second him in history that we have discovered fire.”
Oh that the goodness and love of God were kindled in us, just as they were in Jesus, all of us thermostats for grace.
Ed O’Mally and Amanda Cebula, “Your Leading Edge,” Kansas Leadership Center, 2015.