Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 15 (20), Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
August 18, 2019
Lessons: Jeremiah 23:23-29; Psalm 82; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people learn to interpret the present time by following Jesus and being aware of the movements of the Holy Spirit.
Key Scripture: 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? – Luke 12:56
Ouch! Jesus doesn’t mince words in this week’s short passage from Luke’s gospel. It appears that the inbreaking of God’s reign is not going to be all rosebuds, lollipops, and unicorns. Life is likely to become even more difficult for those who want to follow Jesus. There will be division, and it makes sense; power and structures of oppression and injustice do not easily hand over the reins to those whose goal is to dismantle them. Privilege likes its advantages and lifestyle, even though it may proclaim a willingness to share space with others. Words are important, and they do matter greatly, but actions are what prove the silvered tongue and pen.
It’s no wonder that Jesus spits out the words “You hypocrites!” in verse 56. The people with whom he is dealing are not imbeciles. They know the law and the heat it can apply, understand power structures as surely as weather reports, and can see the gathering storms of suffering and injustice all around them. And yet, with this clear knowledge they are seemingly incapable of the process of metanoia required by those who claim belief in and allegiance to God.
We continue to struggle with these patterns and issues today. Jesus could just as easily speak these words to a 21st century audience. After all, hypocrites are those who lay claim to moral standards or beliefs that are not reflected in their behavior. If we take seriously the idea that all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s design for us, then none of us is spared the wearing of a “scarlet H” for at least some part of our life.
If this is true, where is the good news in this passage, and what is the call to action? Heaven knows we have enough division in our world right now. What is not helpful is to deny that divisions and injustice exist, to point fingers of blame without being willing to work toward a solution, to say “not my problem” or “I’m not at fault,” or to proof text scripture to make it fit our vision of how things ought to be. None of these actions will get us any closer to goal of the beloved community in the grasp of the Divine. You may want to point to the first nine verses of chapter 13 where Jesus calls for repentance and a complete turning of one’s life, because we won’t get that content in next week’s lessons. There’s also the story of the fig tree and the investment of time in another fallow year. Yes, there’s grace, but there’s also a call to action in that new way of living. It’s not a free pass to easy street.
Perhaps, however, it may be time to wrestle with this apocalyptic Jesus who will not settle for fairy-tale followers and mealy-mouthed ministers. After all, the lesson from Jeremiah has similar words: “Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (23:29). Each one of us, every faith community, and all generations must face the music of our time, discern how we will live as people who claim Jesus as Lord, and decide whether we’re all in and willing to face the divisions and keep our eyes on the prize of Christ.
Today consider ways to explore what divides us and what unites us. Let this theme be reflected in your hymn and prayer choices. You might aim for a visual on screen or on a large canvas board or poster board on a wall showing a dividing line. Encourage worshipers to place paper “stones” with things that form divisions and walls on the line. Before the end of worship, encourage worshipers, if they feel able, to take down their “stones” and tear them up. You might even provide a way to burn the torn paper in a small purifying fire outside the building after worship (or a controlled burn indoors with a fire extinguisher close by).
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” begins Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall.” The poem tells the story of two neighbors, one of whom insists each year on repairing the stone wall that marks the property line.
Use the poem to explore how and why we build walls—real, metaphorical, emotional, and rhetorical. Give particular attention to these lines of Frost’s poem: Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offense./Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,/That wants it down.
Consider these questions: What sort of walls do you see being built today? Are some walls good? What makes the difference between a good wall and a bad wall? How might we be good neighbors without walls? What would it take to finally tear down walls?
This week’s focus verse is Hebrews 12:1– 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 down before us…
Ask the children if they have ever run a race. What was it like? Did they train for it? Did it feel good to cross the finish line? If you are a runner share with them some of your ribbons, medals, t-shirts, and a story about the race that has meant the most to you. Tell them that some people compare life to a race. How can we as people of faith train and run successfully? What does it mean to be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses? Show them some pictures of great faith figures in your tradition. Then invite congregational leaders, teachers, those who are revered for their witness and faith, and any other folks in the congregation who would like to come forward and form a circle around the children. Tell them that they are now quite literally surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Have the “cloud of witnesses” lay hands on the children if appropriate for your context and pray over and bless them. If possible give each child a medal to wear with the focus verse printed on it. Remind them to persevere all their life long as children of God who run the race set before them.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week’s gospel reminds us that following Jesus can sometimes put us at odds with friends, family, and culture. Divisions even exist and do harm to our worshiping communities. To be a good steward of the gospel, we need to listen to Jesus’ words in this week’s lesson from Luke and take seriously our call to follow Jesus, regardless of the cost.
Stewardship at Home
In the last verse of this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus is frustrated that people do not know how to “interpret the present time.” This week ponder how we as Christ followers are called to interpret the events around us. What in the news is stirring you with questions or a call to action? What signs might you be ignoring? What costs are you willing to count for the sake of your Lord?
If you have children in your home, set out photographs of family members, friends, and/or neighbors who have been faithful witnesses and examples of discipleship. Talk about how they witness and what they have done. Light a candle, read Hebrews 12:1-2, and offer a prayer of thanks to God for them each day during the week.
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/08/aflame/
Images: Mike Kniec; Shimin, Symeon, 1902-. Contemporary Justice and Child, from Art in the Christian Tradition; and Key Foster, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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