Division is Not a Call to Hate [OR When Jesus Said ‘Love Your Enemies,’ I’m Pretty Sure He Didn’t Mean Kill Them] Luke 12:48b-56 and Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 18, 2019

[sermon begins after Bible readings from Luke and Hebrews]

Luke 12:48b-56  From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. 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?

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 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, apart from us, be made perfect.

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 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.

[sermon begins]

Way back in January, I received a text asking if I could preach at New Beginnings at the women’s prison on August 16th. Pastor Terry is the called pastor of that church and she was planning her sabbatical for this summer.  Chaplain Nicole was going to be covering the sabbatical and knew she was going to be gone this weekend so they were getting things dialed in early to be sure all was well eight months later.  I agreed to the date and put it on my calendar.  Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. I e-mailed Chaplain Nicole confirming my schedule with New Beginnings on August 16. Her reply included the news that she was not going to be away after all but she’d like for me to go ahead and preach as planned.  There’s another twist in this short tale.  Holly, an Augustana member, has been volunteering with New Beginnings and set up a four dates a year for other Augustana people to join her as worshiping visitors.  Providentially, August 16 was one of those dates.

When Holly shared the dates, my plan was to proceed with preaching the 16th regardless. Who could have known that I’d be preaching on a day that Holly picked arbitrarily?  When Nicole told me that she was going to be in town after all, and we knew there would be Augustana people in worship with the women, I asked if she’d be willing to preach and I could help in worship in other ways.  I figure you all get plenty of my preaching and it would be cool to hear someone else.  To make an already long story shorter, Nicole came up with the idea that we could preach together by having a dialogue of sorts.  The women of New Beginnings could hear me and the Augustana people could hear Nicole. A win-win, so to speak.  It ended up working out!  Nicole and I figured out some talking points ahead of time so that we’d actually wring some good news out of these freaky verses in Luke which, at the beginning of the week, felt like no small task.  What follows in my sermon is my best solo attempt at what was really a two person job.  So, shout out to Nicole Garcia and the women of New Beginnings – check!

Jesus talks to his disciples about fire and division among families before turning to the crowd, calling them hypocrites, and asking them why they can’t read the present time.  These are really tough verses in Luke.  It’s impossible to read them as a stand-alone story.  They at least deserve to be connected to the larger story in the Gospel of Luke.  Otherwise there’s a danger of turning Jesus into a fire and brimstone preacher when that doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is talking about here.  So let’s talk about that fire.

Jesus says, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”  In Luke 3:16, John the Baptist says something about fire.  John was out in the wilderness baptizing people and they were wondering if he was the Messiah.  John answered them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[1]  This is language about purification and refining by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that shows up in the book of Acts as tongues of fire resting on each Jesus follower of the day of Pentecost.[2]  Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 9, Jesus’ disciples wanted to rain fire down on some inhospitable Samaritans and Jesus rebuked those misguided disciples before they all left for another village.[3]  No fire of retaliation, Jesus reminds his people.

There’s another thing about fire in scripture. It’s a sign of God’s presence. Back in the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Exodus, God calls Moses through a burning bush.  What happens to that bush?  Not a darn thing.  The bush isn’t consumed.[4]  The fire signifies to Moses that he’s in the presence of God. And again, as Moses and the Israelites wander in the wilderness after fleeing Egypt, “the Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night.”[5]

In the fire is the presence of God and in the fire is the refining power of the Holy Spirit – also God.  When we look at the fire as good news, it’s like the preacher in our Hebrews reading says when we look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, the one we look to shake loose “the sin that clings so closely” so that we can “run with perseverance the race that is set before us.[6]  The presence and power of God revealed in cross and in resurrection, in suffering and in victory over death.[7]  All those people listed by the preacher in Hebrews were of the great cloud of witnesses whose imperfection was part of how God was revealed by all that God did for, in and through them which loops us back into the Gospel of Luke and the division that Jesus is causing.  The division revealed by following Jesus because it’s a natural by-product of Jesus’ ministry of confronting the status quo – the status quo of sin that clings to us individually and collectively.  And stuff happens when the status quo is pushed.  Division happens.

The division isn’t a sudden turn or call into hatred.  Too easily we forget what Jesus said earlier in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount in chapter six. “Love you enemies…if you love those who love you what credit is that to you?…Love your enemies.”[8]  Jesus says it twice!  Preaching unconditional love and grace rankles people. Jesus was ultimately executed for it.  The message of God’s kingdom brings unbearable tension but the natural by-product of division should not be construed as a call to hatred.  Rather it is a call to be in the tension that comes with calling out sin.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wrote a letter from jail and in it he talked about tension.  He said, “A negative peace is the absence of tension, a positive peace is the presence of justice.”[9]  In particular, Reverend King was calling out the sin of racism which created a heck of a lot of tension. He was assassinated in the midst of that tension too. And still, in the midst of that tension, he continued to preach non-violence saying that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” in a sermon about loving your enemies.[10]

I fear that we’re confused about this distinction between division and hatred. The entertainment value of feuds and hatred in reality T.V. is a case in point.  The sharper and snarkier the comments about the people you disagree with lands you higher in the hierarchies of entertainment and politics – fanning the flames of hatred across the country.  This IS true on all the sides.  We start to believe in the righteousness of our hateful words that lead to hateful action – creating false separations between us.

But a different leader claims us in baptism, my friends – One who arrived in humble beginnings and died in humiliation; One who preached love for the outcast and the poor while loving the whole world that God so loves.[11]  The One named Jesus, who knows a thing or two about shame and darkness, also knows a thing or two about the shame and darkness that clings closely to us as sin. But Jesus also endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and now is seated at the right hand of God.[12]  The same Jesus who flows through us as the refining fire of the Holy Spirit bestowed on us in baptism. It isn’t comfortable and it isn’t easy but it prepares us to walk into a wounded world and tell the truth about ourselves and the world that surrounds us – living into the division caused by the tension of God’s kingdom – not with hatred but with love.  Amen and thanks be to God!

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[1] Luke 3:16

[2] Acts 2:3 – the books of Acts picks up where the Gospel of Luke left off.  Same authorship.

[3] Luke 9:51-56

[4] Exodus 3:3

[5] Exodus 13:21-22

[6] Hebrews 12:1-2

[7] Hebrews 12:2

[8] Luke 6:27, 32, and 35.

[9] https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

[10] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Loving Your Enemies” in Strength to Love: A Book of Sermons (New York: Harper & Row Pocket Books, 1968).

[11] John 3:16-17

[12] Hebrews 12:2

 

 

Where is God’s heart? [Luke 12:32-40, Hebrews 11:1-3 and 8-16, Genesis 15:1-6]

**sermon art: HD photo by Emily Morter.Moreton Hall. Weston Rhyn. United Kingdom https://unsplash.com/photos/8xAA0f9yQnE

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 11, 2019

[sermon begins after the Bible reading; see end of sermon for readings from the books of Hebrews and Genesis after the hymn and reference citations]

Luke 12:32-40  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

[sermon begins]

 

Where is God’s heart?  Oh, I don’t mean God as an old bearded guy in cartoons.  I don’t even mean God as a guy with an actual blood-pumping heart.  I mean it as an honest question.  Where is God’s heart?  By heart, I mean the will from which God loves us and maybe even longs for us.  As a parent, I’ve often said that having children is like having my heart walking around outside my body.  It’s tough to imagine what having 7 billion human hearts walking around outside God’s heart would be like.  Not to mention all the animal hearts.  It’s a mind-boggling proposition.  One reason I ask about God’s heart is because of the first verse in the Bible reading.  Jesus says to his disciples and the other people listening in, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  This verse connects last Sunday’s gospel reading with ours today.[1]  Last week the challenge was to see our worth beyond our things.  This week we have the opportunity to wonder about treasure and hearts.

Right off the bat, Jesus tells his disciples not to fear.  His endearment is so sweet, calling the disciples “little flock” indirectly referring to himself as their shepherd.  There’s no need to be afraid because the kingdom is given to them by God’s good pleasure.  Neither grumpy, nor capricious, God wills to give.  God desires to give.  God promises to give.  We might even say that God longs to give.  It makes we wonder that in God’s giving, does God’s heart follow?  From God’s treasure of earth, sea, sky, and everything living thing, given freely for God’s good pleasure, we could say that God’s heart is with us.  From God’s treasure of self, given freely through self-sacrifice on a cross, we could say that God’s heart is with us.  For where treasure is, there the heart goes.  Would it not also be true of God’s heart?  And if it’s true of God’s heart, it stands to reason that Jesus would know a thing or two about hearts following treasure.  You know, his being God in human form and all.

It’s not a stretch to see how hearts follow treasure.  Whether you’re a child who’s saved and saved all your pennies for many, many months to buy the Lego Death Star.  Or whether you’re an adult buying your first, new-to-you, used car and now you see that car model everywhere when you never even noticed it before.  What we spend money on raises our awareness of those things and connects us differently to them.  It a process that fits with our experience.  The downside of our experience is that we end up loving things more than we love God or each other.  Like the old saying that we are designed to love God and use things but we end up using God and loving things.  We use God and by extension we use people to gain money and power for ourselves at their expense.  The Bible verses today is a kingdom push that reorders love in the Gospel of Luke by linking treasure and hearts in a specific way.

Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give alms.”[2]  Alms in scripture is money given to people who are poor, people who struggle with the effects of poverty on health, homes, and relationships.  In a direct way, the money and personal items given this morning to Border Servant Corps for people released from ICE detention in El Paso are alms.  There are a many ways to give alms.  Jesus doesn’t describe which people in poverty to help.  There’s nothing there to hang onto if one were inclined to determine worthiness of the recipients.  Simply give alms.  One step further is to work together to create just and compassionate solutions to real world issues of poverty that plague neighbors in our pews, down the street, and far away.  People often ask me how to connect with God in their daily lives.[3]  In these verses, Jesus is inviting us into a very real way to do it.  It’s not complicated.  But it also may not feel easy.  It’s is a real way to connect to God.  God’s heart is with people who need real help. Funny that we’re so inclined to look for other ways.[4]

It’s somehow romantic to think that our hearts define our treasure – that what we love and long for is somehow justified by our love and longing.  Jesus turns that around on us.[5]  That’s kind of his way actually.  Just when we think that we’re all that and a bag of chips on figuring this life thing out, Jesus tells us we have it backwards and reminds us that we’re created in the image of God.  Here’s food for thought – just thinking about being generous “significantly increases the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A, a protein used by the immune system.”[6]  Generosity is so hard-wired into us that our brains’ reward centers light up just as strongly around giving AND receiving.  Sometimes the giving centers light up even more strongly.  It’s probably the nurse in me that loves the kind of information that reveals connections across faith and science.  Regardless, our bodies are created to be generous and feel better when we’re giving.

The Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, describes our need to give this way:

“…there is a very physical example. The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. And we are made much that way, too. I mean, we receive and we must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”[7]

Bishop Tutu gives one example.  There are others, to be sure.  The world would be a different place if giving replaced greed – if all business owners responded to the needs of workers with living wages so that government subsidies to working people were unnecessary, if all countries prioritized the flourishing of their residents so that fleeing to a safer country or homelessness caused by soaring costs of living or declaring bankruptcy because of health care was a thing of the past.  Ways to give are as numerable as each one of us in this room.  Sincere giving ranges from 5 cents to 50,000 dollars and beyond.  Some of the most unbelievable gifts given are from people with the least to give.  It’s easy to freeze in the face of our neighbors’ needs. Let’s keep it simple and do what we CAN, when we CAN.[8]  After all, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.[9]

God knows a thing or two about treasure and hearts, about the interdependence of all 7 billion of us.  We are God’s heart walking with each other on this tiny blue dot. God’s heart is already with us through God’s self-giving of God’s treasure of creation and of the life-death-and-resurrected-life of Jesus.  For this and for all that God is doing for us, in us, and through us, we can say thanks be to God and amen.

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Hymn of the Day sung after the sermon

ELW 678 God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending[10]

1 God, whose giving knows no ending,
from your rich and endless store:
nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom,
costly cross, grave’s shattered door,
gifted by you, we turn to you,
off’ring up ourselves in praise;
thankful song shall rise forever,
gracious donor of our days.

2 Skills and time are ours for pressing
toward the goals of Christ, your Son:
all at peace in health and freedom,
races joined, the church made one.
Now direct our daily labor,
lest we strive for self alone;
born with talents, make us servants
fit to answer at your throne.

3 Treasure, too, you have entrusted,
gain through pow’rs your grace conferred;
ours to use for home and kindred,
and to spread the gospel word.
Open wide our hands in sharing,
as we heed Christ’s ageless call,
healing, teaching, and reclaiming,
serving you by loving all.

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[1] Luke 12:13-21

[2] Luke 12:33a

[3] Matthew L. Skinner, Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.  Commentary on Luke 12:32-40 for August 11, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4142

[4] Skinner’s commentary in the footnote above is more of this kind of thinking.  Give it a read.

[5] Girardian Lectionary, Proper 14 (August 7-13), Year C.  http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-c/proper14c/

[6] Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery: New York, 2016), 264-265.

[7] Tutu, The Book of Joy, ibid. (See footnote above for full citation – better yet, read the book.)

[8] The new name for the now combined Augustana Social/Global/LEAPP/Advocacy ministries is CAN Ministry: Compassion & Action with our Neighbors.

[9] Hebrews 11:1

[10] Robert L. Edwards (1915-2006). “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending” – Published originally in 1961. Re-published in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, 2006).

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Hebrews 11:1-3 and 8-16  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Genesis 15:1-6  After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.