Sermon: “Interpreting the Present Time?” August 18, 2019


10 Pentecost—Proper 15-C-Track 2–August 18, 2019

William Bradbury

Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56

Jesus is right: We know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, even without a weather app on our phones. We say, “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; Red sky at night, sailors delight”. But Jesus is also right when he says, “You hypocrites…why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

The answer is because we are wedded to seeing the present time through the eyes of our tiny ego, and not through the eyes of God.Jesus does not come with the intention of blessing our self-centered view of reality. To paraphrase something I heard recently, Jesus isn’t here to bless the box we’re in or even to get us to think outside the box. Rather. Jesus comes to get us to think without the box, that is to see from God’s perspective, or as Paul puts it, to put on the Mind of Christ.

I think of poor, blind Bartimaeus sitting on the side of a dusty road in Jericho, begging. He calls out, “Jesus, have mercy on me” and when Jesus calls him over and asks him what he wants, Bartimaeus says, “Lord, I want to see.”

Jesus first restores his physical sight, but that act of compassion also activates his spiritual sight, so now he sees the wisdom in leaving behind his old life in the dust and following Jesus on the road.

Jesus precipitates a similar crisis in each of us. He doesn’t come to bless my mess, but to rescue me from my mess, which comes out of the illusion of separation—that I am separated from God, self, and others. .

Lynne Grillo, one of two people who responded to my offer to give questions for my sermons, sums up her questions by asking me to talk about “the Way of Love as the Way of Christ”.

The Way of Christ brings a crisis into our lives in the same way the continental divide in Colorado creates a crisis for rain. When rain falls on one side of the divide it ends up in the Pacific Ocean. When it falls on the other side it eventually ends up in the Atlantic.

How we respond to Jesus’s healings and fellowship with sex workers and Samaritans determines where we end up—either in the Peace of God or in the War of the World.

“Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

When Jesus announces the arrival of the Realm of God, he is not announcing the arrival of a county fair with carnival rides and big cows. He is announcing the central event in human history—the revelation of God in life where the author of the story shows up to save the characters.  We can live just fine if we miss the fair, but if we reject God, we miss everything.

But when things are going well for us, we may be content to stay in the status quo of our blindness and let Jesus pass on by. If my investments keep growing, why worry how the poor are doing?

Remember Catholic Archbishop Helder Camara of Brazil who said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

Jesus calls us to wake up and see the damage being done to God’s children and follow his Way of Love. Jesus is the crisis, but the political and religious leaders and their minions don’t know how to interpret it and they end up killing the only One who sees. Forty years after the crucifixion, Rome utterly destroys Jerusalem and the temple. Four hundred years after that the 1000-year-old Roman Empire is also destroyed.

What does Jesus need us to see, to interpret our time?

He wants us to see the rising tide of hatred pointed at immigrants, Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ, and people of color.  By the way, this month marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of slave ships in America in 1619. We’ll ring our bell next Sunday at 3pm, not as a celebration that slavery has ended, but as a reminder that slavery’s legacy is still with us.

But our problems have moved beyond incendiary words on social media. I received an email on Thursday from our bishops that contains “A Litany in the Wake of Mass Shootings.” We will pray this litany in the near future, but there’s one problem: it’s three pages long! It names 44 mass shootings since 2012.

The Litany begins:  “Six dead at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.

Give to the departed eternal rest, Let light perpetual shine upon them.

As the litany goes through 43 more tragedies, we notice some of the murders were by angry white men, who randomly killed strangers, like the shooter in Las Vegas who killed 59 at an outdoor concert.

But we also notice angry white men who target certain groups of people, like 9 Black Christians at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, 50 gays and lesbians at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, 11 Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburg, and 22, mostly Mexicans, killed two weeks ago at a Walmart in El Paso.

And yet, after these 44 horrific events all we get out of the leadership in Washington is the sound of crickets.

93% of Americans in recent surveys want universal background checks on all firearm purchases. A majority of both Democrats and Republicans want it, but nothing happens because of the fear of the NRA and the gun lobby.

I grew up before cars had seat belts and air bags. But now they do. Has it stopped all car deaths? No. Has it saved countless lives? Yes.

And you have to pass a test and have a license to drive a car in all 50 states, but there are 36 states where there are no requirements to buy an assault weapon with a high-capacity magazine.

“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Or as Bob Dylan put it: “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”

N.T. Wright says: “If the Kingdom of God is to come on earth as in heaven, part of the prophet role of the church is to understand the events of earth and to seek to address them with the message of heaven.” Luke for Everyone, Page 160

What is the message of heaven towards the hatred, anger, and mass shootings? The good news is that we are all One in Christ.

There’s a church community in  a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, called The Simple Way. In addition to many other things they do for their neighborhood, they have a “byog” Sunday, “bring your own gun” Sunday. The people place their guns on the altar, so they can be melted down and turned into farm tools, reminding us of Isaiah and Micah who prophesied: “Then the people will turn their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

The Bishops in the preamble of the litany remind us “that one does not pray in lieu of summoning political courage, but in preparation for doing so.” And let’s face it, in this toxic political moment we are in, it takes courage to even suggest addressing these issues.

When we step out in faith, some people will not be happy with us. There will be divisions in families and communities, just as Jesus predicts.  But the Letter to the Hebrews encourages us to join that “great cloud of witnesses” and to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….” who leads us from fear to compassion, from cowardice to courage, from blindness to sight—from violence and division into the Mind of Christ.