Scripture – Luke 12:49-56 – Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost – August 14, 2016
“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice. You may remember this famous quote from Alice in Wonderland as she observed the changes taking place within her and around her. “‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, [wrote author Lewis Carroll] that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English)…”
Today, as we observe the changes taking place around us, from the global climate to the political climate and everything in between, we might utter the same words; although “curiouser” seems a rather mild word, notwithstanding its grammatical incorrectness, for what we’re witnessing these days. Seems like our description should be more like “meaner and meaner” as presidential candidates “take the gloves off” to quote one. But the 2016 presidential election does not hold the sole claim to “meaner and meaner”: last week we learned of first-time Olympic booing, a practice unheard of by most in the context of the history of those hallowed games. Booing at the Olympics. And finger-wagging – did you catch that one? Finger-wagging by some of the Olympic athletes towards other athletes as an unspoken accusation of doping, as a form of taunting, maybe even gloating.
For some time now societal observers have noted our loss of civility toward one other, but lately it seems that nothing is sacred anymore. Extremism of every kind, fraud, acts of terror…The rules have changed so much in so many institutions – from making money to making war – that it seems that we don’t have rules anymore.
Yet we also witness during our present time incredible advancements in communication and medicine and knowledge of everything from human development to the depths of the sea to the furthest galaxies for good purposes: saving and prolonging healthier lives, keeping us in close touch with the people we love, enabling us to be better stewards of God’s creation.
Like the crowds Jesus addresses in our passage this morning, we can predict the weather, too, and now even more precisely; and, moreover, we have enough information coming our way in every realm and more than enough pundits, experts, scientists and policy wonks interpreting it for us and what it may mean for our futures that we are very aware of the times in which we live. Yet this morning we are called to take a look at ourselves and see if that old adage may still be true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. We see what’s happening, but maybe we pretend we don’t.
Jesus calls the crowd hypocrites. “You hypocrites! “ Jesus says, “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Jesus is referring to the unparalleled impact of what his ministry and his impending journey to Jerusalem and death will mean for humanity, right down to the individual household. Yes, this is the same God/King the angels heralded on the night of his birth as bringing peace to the earth. Yes, this is the rabbi who taught non-violence and loving neighbor. Yes, this is the gentle healer who touched lepers and women and children and sent them away well. But this is also the son of God about whom his mother Mary sang when he grew in her womb: “he has scattered the proud…he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty…”
New Testament professor Richard Carlson reminds us that the divisions in the household Jesus names of father against son and daughter against mother and so on indicate the complete obliteration of the status quo, the “radical social reversal” about which Mary sang, the complete collapse of social structures. No longer will identity and vocation and allegiance and status be predetermined by family ties, but “by one’s positive or negative stance toward Jesus.” This was certainly born out during the formation of the early church as history tells us that families did split apart over allegiance to the Jesus movement with husbands turning in their wives to the authorities, even children turning in their newly-baptized parents.
With all the changes in society over the past 2,000 years and with our present ability to observe and monitor what’s happening now in our culture and in our political system, are we missing the boat? Are we hypocrites? Are we saying yes to Jesus in here and acknowledging the healing ministry which is so sorely needed and to which he calls us and then are we going out there and spending and relating and supporting practices and institutions which still put the poor last? Which still use violence first? Which still exploit children and the disabled and young men of color? If we do, then, may God forgive us, we are hypocrites. If we grow complacent in the face of “meaner and meaner”, if we grow silent in the face of booing and bullying, if we turn away and go about our business in the face of discrimination, if we dig in and hang on to protect what’s ours when we could let go and share it for the good of all, we are supporting the status quo. We may be able to interpret the present time, but if we don’t rise up and act to address it, we are no different than the people in the crowds whom Jesus called hypocrites. Seeing what’s happening and choosing to ignore it.
There is hope for us, though, always, and this time it can be found in the example of, of all things, a Tide laundry detergent commercial. Standing at 4’8” tall and weighing all of 104 lbs, Simone Biles is a non-finger-wagging Olympic gold-medalist in women’s gymnastics. She is small and really, really strong. The Tide commercial exaggerates her strength and power as we watch her slam her gym locker door closed and knock over 4 entire rows of lockers in the process, toss a bouquet of flowers into the crowd and completely knock down the recipient, and throw her wash into the machine and close the door only to knock all the pictures off the wall. She uses those little Tide detergent pods to do her laundry: like Simone, “small but powerful”.
My friends, in the face of a culture, a country, an election, a world order gone negative and seemingly spiraling downward, we are small but powerful. We are baptized. We not only know the teachings of Jesus; we have his love, his strength, his presence, his promise to be with us always, to the end of the age. And we know what’s needed to upset the status quo, to stop any downward spiral and that’s love: loving words and loving action. Not meaner and meaner, but kinder and kinder. And as baptized Christians, disciples of Christ, we have a responsibility to further Christ’s mission in the world, to finish the work he started here of loving neighbor, healing the afflicted, promoting non-violence and peace and radically welcoming all, even if it upsets some households in the process. And you can be sure it did, it does and it will.
This morning we are invited to take a look at our present time, to interpret it and to own it, and then to address it as followers of Christ. Our small but powerful, divinely guided words and actions have the undeniable potential to up-end our present time and to ultimately heal our divisions in the future. I wonder what Alice would make of that! Amen.