Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 12:49-56
The first time I preached on internship, just two or three weeks after starting there, the text was the Syro-Phoenecian woman. You remember the story – a foreign woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter and he tells her his gifts are for the people of Israel first. She snaps back, yes, but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall on the floor.
After worship, one of the leaders of the congregation asked if he could speak with me about the sermon. We met in my office a few minutes later. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a notepad. I thought, uh-oh, what did I say?
He said, when you read the gospel, you made Jesus sound angry. But he was never angry; he was always kind and patient. I reminded him of the clearing of the tables of the money changers, and a few other instances when Jesus was not so kind and patient. Yet, we tend to forget about that side of Jesus’ personality.
True followers of Jesus recognize that many people do not like him. Many do not believe him, and do not believe in him. Some members of a family will follow him to the ends of the earth – or the cross. And some will try to chase him away or kill him.
This was true in Jesus’ time, this has been true for centuries, and it is still true today. Families have been divided because some members in the family believe in Jesus and some don’t.
Many years ago I heard Roxy’s story. Roxy was raised as an Orthodox Jew. In their family they obeyed all the laws about food and work and roles for men and women. As a child, Roxy wanted to do the things that boys do, even though she wasn’t supposed to.
First, it was Hebrew school. The rabbi said, “Girls don’t go to Hebrew school.” She begged, “But, Rabbi … .” The rabbi said, “Well, ok. You’ll probably quit in a few weeks.” She didn’t. As time went on, she asked to be a student mentor for the younger boys. The rabbi said, “Girls don’t teach in Hebrew school.” She begged, “But, Rabbi … .” The rabbi said, “Well, ok. You’ll probably quit in a few weeks.” She didn’t.
By the time she was in high school, Roxy and the rabbi had had this conversation several times. She was well educated in all things Jewish, and she was teaching classes in the Hebrew school.
She chose, against her parents’ wishes, to attend a goyim university, the University of Michigan. There she met all sorts of students and faculty and staff, many of whom were Christian. She began to explore Christianity, attending worship in all sorts of churches. She returned over and over again to the Lutheran church.
She also met a Lutheran man, who answered all her questions and invited her to explore for as long as she wished. Finally, she decided she wanted to be baptized as a Lutheran. And she wanted to marry the Lutheran man.
Her family, however, was not at all pleased. Their first reaction was to disown her, kick her out of the family. Her parents and siblings quit speaking to her, stopped visiting with her. Still, she is a Lutheran woman telling her own story. Roxy’s story has always been a powerful witness to me of choosing Jesus above all else.
Jesus also caused political upheaval. He was challenging the powers-that-be in the Jewish religious system, and they were not happy with that. Over and over again he challenged them and called them hypocrites, just as Isaiah did centuries before. Of course, we know that his challenges caused his death on the cross.
That is still true today as well. There are still parts of the world where it is risky to be Christian. When Archbishop Oscar Romero was first named as archbishop, the people were disappointed. He began as most other church folks did, more focused on the administration than on the ministry.
Then, one day, a priest was killed by a death squad, and it changed everything for him. He thought, I should be doing what that priest was doing. He began to speak out openly against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and the death squads which pervaded El Salvador at that time. He and a number of women religious who supported his ministry, were murdered by death squads in 1980.
Truly following Jesus can lead to division and death, at least for some. Today, we still can’t agree on how to understand what Jesus said. And we’re not always nice to each other as we seek to determine what he might say about particular situations. On large issues or small ones, we struggle to find peace within the larger Christian family, and within individual congregations.
Now it’s your turn. Do you love and trust Jesus enough to die for him? How about just risking taking a stand against injustice? How about risking rejection by telling someone Jesus loves and forgives them?
How about something more practical, something that could divide us, one against another? In a few weeks, we have an important decision to make in the life of the congregation: to change worship time from 9:30 to 10am. The request was brought forward by some of our older folks, those who struggle to get here at 9:30. For them, half an hour makes a big difference. Those who love to get up early find it hard to stay so late, and are reluctant to change.
The bonus would be that if we move worship to 10, we could offer Sunday school at 9, and hopefully gain some children and their families who think anything earlier is too early.
So, how will you choose? What do you believe is best for the Body of Christ at Hope? Can we find consensus, or will we allow it to divide us?
Please pray with me. One God, following you is not easy. It is so easy for us to choose the easier path and deny you. It is easy for us to fear the consequences of following you. Help us to take risks. Help us to choose pleasing you more often. Amen