A reflection the readings for Proper15C: Hebrews 11:29-12:2 and Luke 12:49-56 – St. James the Less, Northfield, IL
This summer I have found a number of, perhaps “unusual” connecting points between the readings and ordinary life. For some reason the Gospel of Luke, along with a few other New Testament readings and a couple of Old Testament prophets have led me to think about things like making bread and baking pie. Now, you may wonder what bread making and pie baking have to do with faith and God, Jesus and discipleship? So, I suggest that at the very least we can consider the idea that God expresses God’s self in and through the ordinary events of daily life. We who have faith in God and follow Jesus, particularly as Episcopalians, understand this as “Incarnational.” The author, Kathleen Norris describes it as Quotidian, God and Jesus in the ordinary events and lives of human beings.
So, I’ve been thinking about God, Jesus, faith, and discipleship in bread making and pie baking. Take for example the other night when I decided to make a blueberry pie. I made the crust from scratch using Crisco and flour, rolled it out and spread it in the pie tin, and poured into the crust a mixture of fresh blueberries, sugar, and cornstarch, covering it all with another layer of crust. The pie baked in the oven for some 50 minutes at 425 degrees. I watched it carefully but even still the juices bubbled over and spilled onto the oven floor.
Do you have any idea how smoky a house can get when a hot oven tries to burn off sugary fruit juices? How quickly that liquid turns to goo and then to an intensely thick solid substance, which only further adds to the smoke it exudes? Before long my house filled with smoke, blue grey clouds floating from kitchen to dining room to living room carrying the stench of burnt juice. Obviously this led to quickly turning the oven off, windows and doors opened regardless of the heat and humidity outside, the hot pie cooling on a rack, the sticky stuff burned crisp on the oven floor. The odor of burnt sugar lingered for days.
There’s something equally heated about our readings today, an unexpected fire in the words and tone that Jesus uses.
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-inlaw."
This is not the Jesus we usually hear; it’s startling like the retched fumes of burning fruit juices, stinging our eyes, demanding a closer look. Jesus is speaking about our inability to recognize the condition of our lives in the midst of scorching heat.
In these heated, smokey, firery days, days of economic collapse, oil spills, of disease, of war and famine across the globe, of intense heat or drowning rain and floods, there is often little we have to anchor ourselves. Perhaps like me there are days when you are so overwhelmed that you shut down in an effort to blow away the smoke pouring out from the intensity of daily life? Shut down and closed off until Jesus startles us awake with these words practically shouting at us to anchor ourselves in faith and take action.
Rick Marshall of Brea UCC Church in Brea, Ca says this, “ Faith is exemplified in particular people and worked out in individuals and supported by real faithful communities. Faith is not an abstract ideal....Faith is a life orientation. It is a commitment to live in the world in a particular way. Jesus is seen as the example of faith. As the Hebrews text says, “...we look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith..” (Process and Faith blog).
Our scripture and our faith remind us that God is active and present in the world, in all that is happening. I tend to believe that God’s action is NOT like a puppeteer managing puppets, in other words God is not manipulating every detail of every life and event in the world. Given the nature and reality of freewill – that we have choices in life - God is more likely to be invested in putting out OUR fires than in causing fires to burn US.
So, if God is invested in our lives in ways that call us to healing and wholeness, if God strives to put out fires and restore peace, and if faith is the how we anchor ourselves in the healing action of God, how do we ground ourselves in this reading from Luke? A reading that has Jesus pulling everything apart. Pulling everything apart unless we hear this reading as calling us to understand how radical it is to really live a life of faith and embody the love of God in all that we say and do. What Jesus is pointing us to understand is that when we love as God loves what happens is we begin to pull apart and divide the fabric of society, a fabric of greed and self-centeredness that is woven behind much of the problems we currently face, pulled apart and divided into pieces that form and reform into communities of care.
Frederick Buechner, a well known Christian author often writes about the mystery of God made known in and through the events of everyday life. He says, “we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth….Faith is the eye of the heart, and by faith we see deep down beneath the face of things--by faith we struggle against all odds to be able to see--that the world is God's creation even so. It is (God) who made us and not we ourselves, made us out of (God’s) peace to live in peace, out of (God’s) light to dwell in light, out of (God’s) love to be above all things loved and loving. That is the last truth about the world." (Kate Huey, ucc blog)
Faith is the eye of the heart that enables us to see God in the ordinariness of life. Faith is the eye of the heart that restores, heals, renews us from the fires of life that would otherwise consume us. Faith is the eye of the heart that seeks to establish, through us, God’s justice in the world, a justice that calls us, as individuals and as communities, to not only live in – but to actually BE living examples OF God’s peace, God’s light, God’s love. Each and every day.