Notes from the Sermon by Rev Heston Groenewald 18 August 2019
49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 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.’
54 He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56 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?
Jesus came to bring division to the earth! Which sounds like the LAST thing we need in our times. But let’s compare Jesus with another JC to make some sense of this. From a Facebook wit: If only Corbyn would forget about Palestine, austerity, poverty, inequality, crime, education, public services, housing, workers, the environment, young people and a nuanced Brexit position, and just did exactly whatever Murdoch wants, the press and the BBC might stop demonising him.
In a world where there is any imbalance of power and resources, there will always need to be a challenge to the status quo. Jesus and the Jewish prophets consistently challenged the powers that be, from the margins of power- from the perspective of the marginalised (orphans, widows and refugees). So no surprises that Jesus got into deep trouble, as he offered God’s way of self-giving in challenge to human self-seeking, pride, power and greed. And no surprises that his followers have been getting in trouble with the rich and powerful ever since.
The imagery in this gospel reading is the language of the prophets. Amos uses fire imagery to talk about judgement, and Isaiah to talk about purification. And fires of judgement and purification and justice are a bad thing if you are the 1% but very good news if you are the 99%. We might like to imagine God’s refining fire burning through tax havens and immigration policies and austerity and universal credit.
God’s kingdom is good news for the Margins. Theo Sheridan is going to tell us about Leeds School of Theology’s work equipping Christians for Ministry on the Margins…
A word of affirmation for All Hallows, and the ways you have been prophetic ‘troublemakers’ within the church for many years. It’s funny isn’t it? That you can preach a judgemental and vengeful and angry God and nobody will mind. But you start preaching a God that is too accepting, too loving, too forgiving, too merciful, too kind.. and you are in trouble! (Gene Robinson)
We agitate and make trouble because, with Jesus, we are longing for a better world- the kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know; when at some moment of crisis a strength comes to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong, and whether we realise it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it. (Frederick Buechner)
Jesus’ followers, hungering and thirsting for God’s beautiful future, go to extraordinary lengths and inconvenience and sacrifice to bring that dream into reality. And it has always got us into trouble.
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hungering and thirsting for God’s kingdom is not a solitary business. We can’t do this alone- and God never meant us to. So who are your heroes of faith? Who (dead or alive) is filling you with faith hope and love? AND who are you sharing faith hope and love with? Colleagues, friends, family, strangers…..
G.K. Chesterton- Jesus promised his disciples three things:
that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble.
How are we ‘reading the signs of our times’ and making the right sorts of trouble?? In our divided nation, can we make space for ‘tell me more’ rather than ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’?? Can we offer our neighbours nuance and something of God’s perspective? Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
We should try to love in such a way, that if the gospels were lost, they could be re-written by looking at us. (Anthony Bloom)