The Signs of the Times

September 3rd, 2010 by Guest

Luke 12:49-56
Jesus said, “I come to cast fire upon the earth. And what do I wish? Would that it were already kindled!
There is an experience through which I must pass; and now I am under great tension until it is accomplished! Do you think that I came to give peace to the earth? Not that, I tell you, but division!  From now on in one house there will be five people divided—Three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, son against father,mother against daughter, and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”  Jesus said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say “Rain is coming.” And so it happens. When you feel the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat.” And so it happens. Hypocrites!
You can read the signs of the face of the earth and the sky.
How can you not read the signs of this time?
(William Barklay)

In these few verses Luke has Jesus speak of:
(1) Some sort of fire
(2) An overwhelming experience
(3) Peace shattered by divisions
(4) Signs of the times
 Taking them slightly out of order: What is this baptism ?
(Barclay = “experience” which Jesus anticipates perhaps with dread?)
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus anticipates his Passion. He knows what he is facing – a terrible, overwhelming “experience”. Luke believes that Jesus’ mission was accomplished on the Cross; that that is the crucial moment of Grace ushering in the Kingdom of God. “Would that it were already here!” Luke emphasizes Jesus’ desire, and we do too. That may help us understand the statement: “I come to cast fire on the earth.” One exegete has shared an interesting insight. He says that in Johns’ gospel, (12:32) when Jesus says , “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself,”  he is saying much the same thing, only in very different terms. An ardent fire will be kindled in our hearts for, as St. Paul says in II Corinthians 5:16-18: “For
anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation, the old creation is gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation”.  Hear Paul’s burning ardor!
However, Luke is writing several decades after that fatal Baptism. He is writing to people who are experiencing some of the costs of allegiance to Christ and this new kingdom. Instead of universal peace and harmony, they not only experience opposition and derision from outside, but sad divisions within their own families. If these words about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and so on, are Jesus’ own words, how prophetic they were!
Prophetic in more ways than one: It is said that “the Romans” opposed Christianity because it was so divisive. Families were torn apart when some members willfully chose this new way while others refused it. Further, the Romans probably sensed the possible extended implications when familial lines of authority were questioned. If sons and daughters defied their parents, or spouses disagreed, what might happen to civic order? What of ruling authority? What of respect for the emperor and the power of the empire? Where might this lead?!
We know divisions. All these centuries after Jesus’ horrible baptism we experience the tragic divisions of so-called Christianity. There are folks who seem to assume that it has one unitary doctrinal code that could be used to shape national policies, to combat the claims of an unholy Islam, to suppress homosexuals, to support judicial killings in order to stop killings, to control the influx of immigrants, to combat “socialism”, to keep big government from meddling with health care . . . . .
I suspect some of you are aware of the recent “stir” caused by Anne Rice, the author of a series of novels tracing the life of Jesus, and another series of popular “vampire novels.” Her personal, spiritual journey may not be so very strange to some of us here: from Catholicism to atheism, back to faith, and then to disillusionment. Ms. Rice recently wrote in her Facebook: “ For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.  In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control.   Irefuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.  In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen”.

I hope you will excuse me if I say, along with some others, “Gee, Anne! We are sorry you don’t know our United Church of Christ!”. (Refer to the good article by Bennett Guess, in the online August 2 issue of asks us, ‘What does it mean to be Christian anyway?’ Here I quote :
“By lumping all Christians together with the more specific faith tradition she was repudiating, Rice triggered a response from many. Some Christians agreed with Rice that she couldn’t authentically remain Christian and hold views that were so divergent from Roman Catholic social teachings. Other
Christians – especially members of the United Church of Christ and other mainline Protestant denominations – felt, once again, that all of Christianity was being cast publicly as monolithic in its outlook when, in reality, many of Rice’s more-liberal views are shared by many Christians in the United States and around the world. (The rub is that too few know this).”
This week a church in Gainesville, Florida, ironically named The Dove World Outreach Center, is planning to have an International Quran-Burning Day on September 11th. Their pastor, Terry Jones, is the author of a book Islam Is Of The Devil. He claims that the mission of his church is to warn people of their present peril, and to give Muslims time to convert. I wonder if he and his parishioners know that 59 Muslims died in the Twin Towers destruction in 2001. For the past several weeks I have been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Repeatedly Goodwin shows us President Lincoln striving to hold the Union together while respecting his opponents and hoping to encourage reconciliation.   At Christmas time in 1863, Lincoln’s irenic spirit was sorely tested. Mrs. Lincoln’s sister, Emilie Todd Helm was now a widow, her husband, Ben, fighting for the Confederacy, had been fatally wounded that September at the battle of Chickamauga in Georgia. Lincoln himself was grief-stricken. Emilie, in her grief, wished to see her mother in Kentucky. That meant that she needed safe passage through Union lines. One attempt after another eventually got her to Fort Monroe (Kentucky?). There the officials demanded that she swear allegiance to the United States. She just could not do that so soon after her husband’s death. A telegraph was sent to President Lincoln explaining their dilemma. Lincoln responded: “Send her to me.” Her visit started out well. She and Mary Todd Lincoln consoled each other. Both had losses: Mary’s young son, Willie; Emellie’s husband, Ben. But, Emillie’s presence was revealed to friends of the Lincolns. When they encountered Emilie in the White House they angrily, verbally attacked her. She staunchly replied and shortly thereafter left. Mary and Emilie were sorely distressed, wondering when the nightmare of war would be over.
In our world today, with all its irrational and seemingly insoluble divisions, it would not be surprising if we would turn desperate if not cynical. Whether it be patriotism, political party loyalty, or spiritual affiliation, we hear our selves saying along with people like Anne Rice, “Not in my name!” It seems as though the name of the game is to assign blame rather than to work for the common weal. The focus is so often on short-term advantages rather than on long-term consequences, and on greed and consumerism rather than empathy and sharing. Are there no signs of that promised Kingdom of God, for which Jesus died and in which St. Paul exalted? At the risk of sounding Pollyannish or naïve, let me suggest that there are some positive signs to counter the negative signs. But first, let me quote again from Rev. J.
Bennett Guess:
“One thing for sure, Christianity is not a religion rooted in individualism. We don’t have the luxury of believing in isolation from others, even those with whom we disagree. As Christians, we share one another’s hopes and struggles. Our faith – and even those frustrating social policy statements – are shaped in discernment with the larger body. We are baptized not unto ourselves, but into the community of Jesus Christ. To go it alone has never been a faithful option, as tempting as it may sometimes feel”.

If it is true that community is part of the deal, I would like to ask you to read some signs of hope as you think about some of the people you know and some of your own experiences.

(a) Who runs the Food Bank?
(b) Who is working to help the homeless?
(c) Who is involved in prison ministry or working to restore voting rights to felons?
(d) Who is comforting the sick, the dying, the bereaved?
(e) Who is bringing shelter, safe water, medicine and food to victims of natural disasters or man-made calamities?
(f) Who is teaching your children in school?
(g) Who is sitting beside you here in this place, sharing in this community today?
These, too, are signs of the time.
Blessed are those who read them.
Rev. David C. Gallup, August 8, 2010

Tags: , , , ,