Proper 15C, 2016
Readings for this week can be found here
Why We Keep Reading the Story
When we first moved to Minnesota, I was excited to remember that Minnesota figures prominently in The Little House series by Laure Ingalls Wilder. I had read the books as a child, I had the whole collection, and I loved reading about Laura and Mary—I found myself drawn to Laura with her pluck and defiance and I was fascinated by the world she depicted. So much of what I read in her books struck me as fantastical—the long winter and the twists of hay they burned to keep warm; maple sugaring with the donuts and pickles; the leeches in the mud of Plum Creek. These may as well have been fantasy when compared to the life I knew growing up on Maui.
One of the things I most looked forward to in having children was the opportunity to read these books. And, I remember distinctly my own excitement when I deemed Henry FINALLY old enough to enjoy these stories.
And…with that, I have repeatedly asked myself if these stories were a good choice...
The anticipation of a good wheat crop and the ability to pay off debt, and then the literal plague of grasshoppers that decimate the crops and destroy the community. The careful building of a new homes, homes which are abandoned in the face of governmental policies and land disputes. The reality of westward expansions impact on Native Americans. Hunger, division, poverty, grief and hope intermingle in the text.
Yes, it’s different to read these as an adult. And, I find myself pulling away from these beloved and familiar stories. I wanted them to be joyful and magical, and they are not.
They are not, because they are stories about life, and life is complicated and often hard.
And, I need to remind myself of this when I want to stop reading these stories (stories, by the way, which my child is loving) that the complications, the sorrows and the frank humanness of the author, do not diminish the text—instead they offer an opportunity to reflect on the context in which they were written, how my own life has changed since I first encountered the text, and what I want my own child to take away from hearing these books.
I say all of this, because this is one of those weeks where I read the scripture appointed and I wanted to stop reading. To go back to the first chapter of Luke in which the angelic choir proclaims peace on earth and then skip to the ending where Jesus is risen. Birth and resurrection with nothing in between. But, if we only participate in those parts of the story, we lose the opportunity to encounter the grace in between. And, just as in a life flanked by birth and death—it is the in-between that gives meaning to the birthing and the dying.
So, what does this passage, drawn from the middle of the Gospel of Luke tell us about who we are, who God is, and to what God calls us?
First of all, this passage’s message of separation and conflict stands in sharp contrast to much of the Gospel of Luke—a Gospel in which we hear Jesus’ instruction to his disciples that they bring greetings of peace and in which those Jesus heals receive a blessing of peace. So, what gives? Why would this harsh apocalyptic text appear here?
In order to address this question we need to look at the context. Choosing to follow Jesus, meant leaving behind the dominant culture. It meant stepping outside of the societal norms of honor and shame—and accepting a new way of being in the world, a way in which kinship ties were less important than participation in the lives of the saints, a way in which Jew and Gentile broke bread together and, rather than contributing to your kin, you contributed to the community of fellow followers. Those who had chosen to follow Jesus were leaving behind their families and their communities. Walking the way of Christ meant walking away from the world.
So rather than this passage being a declaration of what is to come, it is a description of what is—this IS the present time. The present time for Jesus’ disciples was one of strife and hard choices. The present time for the early Christians was one of persecutions and sufferings. The present time was a time in which those living had to wrestle with the meaning of persecution and suffering. And, so, this passage becomes one of meaning making. Jesus is saying that this strife and division is part of something much, much bigger. That the pain of the now is part, but not the sum total, of the journey that lays before him and all those who walk the way with him.
And, in this I find the grace, that the reality of what so often seems our own present time of division is part of a birthing into a new way of being. In the modern cultural and political arena, I’ve heard this kind of conflict surrounding change described as a backlash—a negative or hostile reaction to a cultural change that is taking place or has already occurred.
In this, is the already but not yet of the Gospel passage. Peace has already come, but it has not yet been fully realized. Love has already broken into the world but has not yet come to full fruition. What hope is found in knowing that the way has already been given, but what frustration to know that we’re not yet there!
The race, as Paul puts it, is being run but is not yet complete. And, so the faithful keep running towards a future that is not for us in the now but for the us that will be, “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”
So here we are, in the messy middle, not birth not resurrection—but the stuff in between. And, this stuff matters, it matters because it calls us to a new way and it reminds us that the fullness of God’s promise is still being realized and that this fullness relies upon the full participation of all of God’s people. It matters because it is the messy middle of Ordinary Time that helps us to understand the importance and the power of what has been promised.
So this messy story of strife gives meaning to the conflict, and reminds us of the peace to which we are drawn. This is the present time, but it is not the end of the story.
Sermon addendum, a hymn that came to mind as I considered the text...
1. Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
2. Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
3. Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
4. Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
5. Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
(by John Bell, © 1987 Iona Community, admin. GIA Pub. Inc.)