Fire and a Sword

easter-vigil-fire

The Pas                       13th Sunday after Pentecost – BAS Proper 20

Proper 15 – Ordinary/Lectionary 20 – Pentecost + 13

Year C

14 August 2016

 Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Luke 12:49-56

 Judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression. Give us courage to stand with all victims; and give us fire to proclaim your burning gospel for the sake of Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  Amen.  Amen.

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When I sat down to contemplate today’s gospel, one phrase came to mind. That phrase was “to someone of privilege, equality seems like deprivation.”

And this is an important phrase to contemplate, today, especially when we hear the words of Jesus gospel, when we acknowledge that Jesus message of love and peace and equality isn’t a popular message because it upsets those who long to grasp at wealth, at power, and influence over others in the world.

We can look at the Rio Olympics if we want to see the extreme disparity of wealth and privilege. During the opening ceremonies one Canadian commentator said that the cost to build the Olympic venues has been in the billions of dollars, and those in the stands, at the opening ceremonies would spend more on snacks during that opening ceremony than those who live within metres of that venue will spend on food for a week.

At the same time, Rio’s social structure is breaking down. They have always been an uneasy society of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots.’ While the ‘haves’, those of privilege continue to use the resources that abound in the expansion of Brazilian society into the Amazon basin, to the detriment of the land, the water, the open sewers, the pollution, the favelas/ghettos, and even those who cannot afford to live in the favelas, and make their homes and communities amongst the growing acres of garbage that is an offshoot of our modern ‘throw away’ society.

And Rio is just an example. We can see this kind of stratification of privilege in all parts of the world, and we can see the continuation of the privileges of the wealthy versus the oppressed by the expectations and the assumptions of those with privilege.

The problem with privilege, besides the assumption of unrestricted access to all of the resources of the world, despite any damage to the environment, despite any potential deprivations that may be caused by the actions of those with privilege, is the habit to objectify those who are without privilege; to see those without privilege as the problem, as something other than fellow human beings in creation.

Its not uncommon for us to see the world from whatever vantage point our individual privilege has allowed us. For example, we often see the poor, as a mass group, not as individuals, each with his own burden, his own perspective on each one of us from his position of a lack of privilege.

Its not uncommon for us to see those of different appearance as ‘other’ than we are, and so we treat them differently than we wish to be treated. We see different ideals, different ethnicities and even differing ideals as ‘other’ and, unfortunately, we treat them as objects, rather than people, rather than fellow human beings, as fellow workers in and for the kingdom of God.

And many social and political structures have arisen over the centuries, over the generations, but each in the end fails because it works from the perspective of objectifying someone other than the group in control, or in power.

When the USSR came to power, in 1922, its goal was to redistribute the wealth of the nations amongst all of the citizens and to make everyone equal. Unfortunately this only works when the ruling class makes everyone else equal. In the end, that gap of inequality between the average citizen and the ruling group aided in the breakdown of Marxist socialism as we saw it lived out in the 20th century.

When we think of Christianity, when we think of Jesus, and his work, his ministry amongst us, we often think of what that means in the way of bringing us the love, grace, and forgiveness of God. We don’t remember that Jesus message was, and still is revolutionary, calling us to love those with whom we have trouble sharing a room, much less a pew.

We think of the ways in which we have learned from Jesus to love God in imitation of the love that God lavishes upon us and upon all of creation, and today’s gospel encourages us to live these lessons, in our lives, in our hearts, in our families, as well as to the world, knowing that they’re difficult to model, and even more difficult to accept.

Today’s gospel is such an about turn, for the way we perceive Jesus message of love for ones neighbour for God and for ourselves, that we really do have to sit up and take note of the world around us, as well as our role in that world.

And when we look at the world, today, we are able to see pockets of good, pockets of Christian love and adherence to the teachings of Jesus. Unfortunately what lies between them is greed, corruption, and a disregard of creation as nothing more than a storage for resources that may no longer be the best way to epitomize wealth and the increase of such wealth in the eyes of other citizens of the world.

Today Jesus tells us “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! … Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Lk 12:49-51)

And this is a position with which the world can easily identify. Looking at the world around us, we can see peoples, nations, classes, ideals, and even families divided by geography, by ideals, by affluence, even by belief.

We are called, not just by the words of today’s gospel but by the needs of the world around us to take a stand. To stand by and on our beliefs as children of God, as followers of Christ, as citizens of the world, the nation, the province, and even our community to stand up for what is right in the face of what is convenient.

This week, I had the opportunity to see a documentary about how Hitler, in 1932, influenced the Olympics to the point that his ideals of presentation and preparation are still adhered to and followed, blindly, today. Showing off the host nation to the world, to the best advantage. Cleaning up the communities that will host the world for two weeks, so they see the best, the brightest, the cleanest, the most advanced.

But at what cost? In 1932 Germany, the oppression of the other of the day, the Jews was not visible to the average commentator. This week, in Rio, those who live in the favelas, or even worse, are not visible to the common spectator, or the commentator. This is an opportunity for the host country to put on a better show than the Olympics of 2 and 4 years before, but at what cost?

Naturally, we want our athletes to do their best, and to compete honestly. We want them to have accommodation and performance venues that best set off their skills, yet at what cost to the host country? To what use will the housing, the venues, the tracks, the pools, etc be put by the people of Rio and brazil when the Olympics and Paralympics are done with them? How can they be used to perhaps set a new standard in their search for equality and fairness in their political system, in their social system, in their infrastructure?

And how does this relate to Jesus words in today’s gospel? Where Jesus tells us that his message brings division rather than the hoped for peace? Where Jesus clearly places the cross in our midst, and yet, mourns the fact that it will only be by his death that we will even see the truth of his words.

Whenever and wherever we are unable or unwilling to treat others with respect, with equality, with Christian love, the way Christ treated everyone, it is then that we contribute to the objectification of someone else. We contribute to the creation of the other as ‘enemy’, as ‘adversary’, as ‘not like me.’

And we don’t have to look as far as Rio, and other previous Olympic venues. All we have to do is see the struggles we face, here, and around the world to overcome injustice, the struggles to encourage people to see what someone else has experienced and to learn from that experience that we are all the people of God.

Peace, especially God’s peace is a concept that the world has struggled to understand for over two millennia. It’s a concept we continue to struggle to embody, to live with and by since Jesus came to each of our hearts, and lives and said ‘follow me’.

We are human. We struggle to understand what we cannot control, and to control what we cannot understand. We struggle to get along, and yet we fall back into practices that time and again cause us to objectify someone other than ourselves.

Jesus reminds us “I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” (Lk 12:50)

As much as peace is what we desire, God’s peace, Christ’s peace, the peace of God that is beyond all understanding, yet, this is exactly where Jesus points us to the cross as the means by which such peace is even possible in the world, in our hearts.

It will be only when we can lay aside all of our burdens, all of our privilege, all of our advantage, and to treat each other, not as objects, but as loved children of God, that peace, God’s peace will be possible in this world.

It is only when we can look at the brother or sister at our side, as we gather at the foot of the cross, and help them to overcome the burdens that hold them back from being able to receive the love of God as they will help us do the same that we can overturn Jesus words that his message brings division rather than solidarity.

It’s only when we are able to love all people, love all of creation, as we are loved by God that we will truly embrace Jesus message of love in the face of the hypocrisy of all people and allow God’s love to shine through.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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