SERMON 8/18/19 Pentecost 10C Proper 15 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL
“Family Feud” is a popular television game show where two families compete to name the most popular responses to survey questions in order to win cash and prizes. It began in 1976 with Richard Dawson as the host, and now the show stars comedian Steve Harvey. Although the name of the show implies that this competition is a knock down, drag out, fight between two families, it is far from that. The host takes a competitive situation and makes it entertaining and fun, because he knows how to poke fun at family feuds. Harvey takes the notion of divisive tribalism and familial strife, and turns into a hilarious game, senseless nonsense, and mindless comedy.
However, the world we live in today is not a game show. There are real family feuds taking place all around the globe. We are witnessing the threads of our common humanity being ripped apart. Even we Christians fight over what we believe Jesus is calling us to do in the world. When the world is fraught with strife, division, fear, war, and injustice, having a little faith just does not seem to be enough.
Many of us feel confused, overwhelmed, and helpless as we watch the news on television. Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” A cursory look at today’s gospel reading does not offer us hope for unity and a better world, but I believe Our Lord had something else in mind. Even in the midst of the ominous headlines, Jesus invites us to have faith!
Wikipedi defines faith as “confidence or trust in a person, thing, or concept.” In other words, being a Christian means, we must have trust in God. From the Book of Hebrews, we heard this about the power of faith. “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets … through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” Faith is powerful, faith gives us hope, and faith changes things, but in a world that is on the verge of burning it all up, we need faith yes, but we need a little Spirit fire in our lives as well.
Fire and New Life
Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Was Jesus is warning us of our coming destruction from God’s wrath? No, I believe Jesus was saying something else and about holy fire. Yes, fire is destructive, but it is also creative, restorative, and it has a refining quality about it. For instance, silica is really just sand, a useless material except when it is placed in a fire and melted down.
Fire burns away the impurities and muck leaving behind pliable, perfected glass ready to be molded into a shape, determined by the master glassmaker. The master craftsman takes a molten blob of perfected silica on the end of a tube, and blows into it with creative breath, making and a beautiful vessel that takes shape.
The fire Jesus is talking about burns away our sin, muck, and mire, which leads to our divisions and strife, and purifies us so that we may live out the possibilities of new life. We are like fired crystal vessels designed by the master craftsman to serve as containers from which God’s grace may be poured out for others. However, if you make the commitment to being purified by God’s fiery power, you will have to make some choices, and you will have to allow some things you once thought to be so important, to be burned away.
Fire, the Kingdom, and Unity
Most people claim to be conservative or liberal, democrat or republican, citizen or immigrant, one religion or another, tea or coffee. Folks, there are more excuses for division and tribalism, than I can name in one sermon. However, division gives us the sense that we must be right, whatever polarized position you take. So, we need the fire of the gospel, the story of God’s Kingdom, to ignite those walls of divergence, and burn them down; those walls that keep us from living as sisters and brothers in Christ! We need to work toward unity, along with respect, dignity, justice, and peace, and that is what the Good News of God in Christ is really all about.
We have to remember the gospel though! God does not respond with indifference to the plight of the powerless, the downtrodden, the broken and those suffering in pain. Jesus stirred up the waters of indifference, turned over tables of self-fulfillment, healed the infirmities of the sick on the Sabbath, ate with tax collectors, and protected the outcasts of society. There is no room for “politics de jure” in the Kingdom of God, because God’s heart is inclined toward the oppressed and downtrodden and those suffering.
Our allegiances as Christians go beyond the divisive political fights. However, we cannot be silent or complacent or complicit in the midst of injustice. We must claim what the Good News claims, so that we might participate in God’s passion for justice, restoration, reconciliation, and grace. When we Christians live as witnesses of the Good News, and when we respond to the tragedy of broken lives, we stand purged of our indifference, our desire for self-fulfillment, and we are set out to join God in the work of restoration and justice.
Be advised though, when you take a stand for the Gospel, you may find yourself in conflict with others. When you follow the commandment to bring about justice, healing, dignity, and reconciliation to reality, there will be differences of opinion and divisions naturally occur. When we Christians declare the need for change in this old world, and when we respond to others in crises, those suffering from the chains of racial oppression, economic inopportunity, ethnic subjugation, well, you better believe that divisions in our allegiances, our tribes, our friends, and maybe even our families will occur. When we allow the fire that purges the impurities that separate us from God’s grace, then new life and change will occur. So, we need to have faith, we need the fiery power of the spirit, but we must to be moved to action and bear fruit.
You Gotta Jump
The Apostle James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” (James 2:14-26) I saw a video on YouTube of Steve, Harvey offering a brief motivational, heart-felt speech about faith with his Family Feud audience. He compared the leap of faith to base jumping with a parachute. He said, “You cannot just exist in this life, you are going to have to try and live. To get to that life, you are going to have to jump. God when he created all of us, he gave each of us a gift at birth. You have to take that gift that is packed in your chute pack, jump off the cliff, and pull the cord, if you are ever going to soar.”
St. Monica’s is soaring, but in this world of discord and division, there is much more holy work for us to do. For instance, there are children in this church, to whom we have promised to help their parents raise them to follow Jesus. We need Sunday School teachers, and assistants to keep that promise. Beyond our four walls, there are people suffering, living in fear, and treated with indifference and disdain. There are families in this community that go to bed hungry every night. There are aged neighbors who need someone to sit with them and keep them company. There are people losing their lives in senseless, violent tragedies every single day and honestly I am tired of it, how about you? So, the need is great out there and in here, and each one of us have a gift. There is an abundance of gifts in this community, but we need to have faith, we need God’s fiery Spirit, and we all need to jump; jump into the race of faith in action.
Scripture reminds us, “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Living by faith is not a sprint, but a lifelong marathon, and being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not merely a spectator sport or a funny game show that we just watch once a week. Being a follower of Jesus is an active, engaging, fire consuming, allegiance dividing life in which we work to bring God’s Kingdom to fruition right here and right now.
My sisters and brothers, you can either decide to jump into the race or you can just watch everyone else run the marathon of the holy work of grace. Which will it be, will you sit and watch God’s Kingdom on parade, or will you take a leap of jump. Will we face strife, uncertainty, difficult situations, and uncomfortable calls to service? Yes, but we have God’s consuming fire to purify us. So jump and discover God’s amazing joy, peace, fulfillment, and the mission we are given to love our neighbors as ourselves. My sisters and brothers, the discord, divisions, and family feuds of this life continue, and the world desperately needs us to act. Now is the time to jump.