“The Gospel is upsetting…” Gospel and Sermon for Sunday August 14, 2022

Here is the transcript of the sermon:

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  Especially when we have Jesus saying things like “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” And “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

You can’t just overlook or ignore and explain away what’s going on here.  Jesus isn’t kidding.  He means what he says.  

What kind of Jesus do we envision?  Do we envision a Jesus as someone who keeps a false peace by avoiding conflict, ignoring injustice, looking away from suffering?  A Jesus that comforts the comfortable, so they aren’t inconvenienced.  A Jesus who accommodates the privileged, so they don’t have to change to respond to what’s going on around them?  Is that the Jesus we tell ourselves we should follow?  Is that Jesus even worth following?  Where’s the Good News in that?

If we’ve been paying attention to the Gospel of Luke this year, we see from the very beginning to today’s Gospel that Jesus and his message isn’t about maintaining some kind of false peace, which is no peace at all really.  Rather, Jesus confronts injustice where it is occurs, he puts the spotlight on abuse and exploitation, he proclaims very clearly God’s preference for the poor and the outcast of society.  He hangs out publicly with those that the respectable folks find repugnant and lesser than themselves.  He causes trouble by purposefully breaking the rules that are designed to maintain abusive and unhealthy cultures.  It’s pretty clear that he’s not interested in settling for or accommodating the status quo.  His message is pretty radical if we listen to what is being said and see what he does.  

When we read the Gospel of Luke, it’s pretty clear that Jesus is divisive because he insists on the world operating far differently – in alignment with what God has always been up to.  The world doesn’t like that.  It prefers the status quo of injustice, exploitation, abuse, violence, and more.  When Jesus shows up, he doesn’t back down.  He exposes the world and the world doesn’t like it.  To the point that it will crucify him to try to get him to stop.  That’s pretty divisive.  

So, what does it mean to follow Jesus, in light of this?

Don’t take my word for it.  I’m just a crazy pastor who has a radical outlier view of the role and purpose of the church, right?  There are many people who have spoken about this for a long time.  I want you to listen to their words.  

St. Ignatius of Loyola – “If our church is not marked by caring for the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, we are guilty of heresy.”  Sound like Jesus talking about bringing division to the world?

Walter Brueggemann – The prophetic task of the church is to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”  Sounds like the task of the church is to confront the world.  

Paul Ross – Many Christian churches are just playing church, they don’t want a revolution that will shake people to transformation, nor a movement of evangelism that will take the Gospel to the streets.”  A good follow up question would be why not?

Martin Luther – “The gospel cannot be truly preached without offense and tumult.” – Meaning when you preach the Gospel, there will be people who get upset and walk away because they don’t like what they hear.  

St. Oscar Romero – “A church that doesn’t provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of a society in which it is being proclaimed – what gospel is that?  Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone, that’s the way many would like preaching to be.  Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in.”  Jesus said he came to bring fire to the world. 

Martin Luther King, Jr – “Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”  In other words, it’s already dead. 

Henri Nouwen – “We cannot suffer with the poor when we are unwilling to confront those persona and systems that cause poverty.  We cannot set the captives free when we do not want to confront those who carry the keys.  We cannot profess our solidarity with those who are oppressed when we are unwilling to confront the oppressor.  Compassion without confrontation fades quickly to fruitless sentimental commiseration.”  Jesus said, do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – “Your yes to God requires your no to all injustice, to all evil, to all lies, to all oppression and violation of the weak and poor.”  That yes and no will cause division and conflict.  

Do you hear the theme through all these people across time and place?  Do you hear Good News that sets people free, that is Good News to the poor?   Do you hear what the role and the purpose of the church is?  Do you hear that Jesus isn’t interested in maintaining the status quo and ignoring the plight of people who are suffering?  And that the church is called to pay attention and respond?  Do you hear?  

You see, there are plenty of churches out there that will have full sanctuaries giving a message that requires no response from people, that keeps you comfortable, doesn’t challenge you, makes it easy for you to hide your brokenness, focuses on who is right and who is wrong, separates people into us and them, good and bad, has a message that condemns people, tells them they aren’t good enough and judges them as being insufficient to receive God’s grace or love.  

There are plenty of churches out there that will keep people in bondage and maintain unhealthy and abusive cultures and environments.  You can fill the pews to busting at the seams by ignoring the plight of the poor, the foreigner, the outcast, those that suffer from injustice in our midst.  Just give a message about how we are called to be nice, meaning don’t rock the boat, maintain the status quo, avoid conflict and the challenges of our society. 

You can have all that, but the core of who you are will never be truly free.  You’ll never actually know the good news or ever encounter Jesus.  Your soul will wither.  You’ll never be transformed.  You’ll never be set free.  You’ll never be forgiven.  You’ll never experience life, death, and resurrection.  You’ll be in bondage while telling yourself you are free because at least you aren’t like those people.   

So, what does it mean to follow Jesus?  It means saying things and acting in ways that are going to upset people and make them uncomfortable, just like Jesus did.  They may even walk away, like they did from Jesus.  It means naming injustice, like Jesus did.  It means spending time with the people that Jesus did, while others look down on them.  It means talking about abusive systems and ending exploitation, like Jesus did.  It means seeking peace in the same way that Jesus did.  It means seeing the image of god in people who are different from ourselves – in our context maybe that’s someone who is lgbtq+, a different race, a different national origin, a different religion, and doing it just like Jesus did.  

It’s not all that complicated.  We don’t have to re-create the wheel.  We see what’s going on around us, we look to Jesus to see what to do, and we do it.  And when we hang out with people that Jesus hung out with, we need to listen a bit differently to the criticism, fear, anger, and hatred that will be lodged against us.  Because it will be lodged and spoken quite clearly.  

Most of the obstruction and criticism and resistance to following in the footsteps of Jesus isn’t about what were doing.  It’s about the fear and brokenness of the person who is expressing their criticism to what they are seeing.  They are afraid of their own brokenness being exposed, of seeing themselves and their brokenness in the people they are judging and pushing away.  They are afraid of being vulnerable.  They are afraid of being hurt, probably because they have been hurt so many times before.  They are afraid that they aren’t good enough for God’s love.  They are afraid of what they will lose if we pay attention to those that are suffering injustice.  They are afraid of what transformation will do to them and others and how they will no longer be in control of their lives.  They are afraid.  

The Good News of Jesus sets us all free, because we are all broken and in need of love, mercy, grace – whether we are talking about those who are broken on the lowest rung of society, or those that hurl insults and criticism and get in the way of serving our neighbor, or anyone who falls in between these extremes.  We all are broken and in need of God’s love.  That’s why we are here.  

Here’s the reality of Jesus. 

Craig Greenfield – “Jesus was not some nice, polite do-gooder.  He was not an American pastor who preached personal responsibility, good citizenship, respectability, and American values.  In fact, he was the opposite.  He was a controversial, radical troublemaker who challenged the status quo and the religious establishment, all while embodying a wild and untamable love for the vulnerable and downtrodden.  The very first sermon he gave enraged the crowd so much that they tried to throw him off a cliff.”  

Jesus said, I came to bring fire to the earth.  He didn’t mean a campfire to provide warmth and nice ambiance.  No, he meant a raging fire that cleanses away the deadwood – all those things that lead us and the world away from God’s kingdom.  A cleansing fire that clears the path, that catches our hearts on fire, and drives us to respond to the burning faith we have been given. 

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  It means we look around and see things for what they are.  We look to Jesus for how to respond.  We see what Jesus is already up to.  And we are invited in and we invite others to join in too.  And that’s going to rock the boat.  And that’s a good thing – a beautiful thing.  Because that’s how people are transformed.  That’s how communities are changed for the better.  That’s how the church comes alive.  That’s how justice flows freely.  That’s how abuse and exploitation are ended.  That’s Good News worth throwing our lives into.  And that’s how Jesus encounters us.  Thanks be to God.  

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