Sermon for Year C, Pentecost Proper 15
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
August 18, 2013
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Every three years in our Sunday cycle, we read this particular lesson from Luke,
And every three years I find myself at pains to really engage with it.
This is now my ninth year in ministry,
Meaning I have preached about this lesson twice before.
I made the mistake of looking at those two sermons from 2007 and 2010 recently,
And I found them to be evasive at best.
Let’s look this thing square in the eye.
Jesus says he’s come to divide households, “three against two and two against three.”
Well, first of all, I don’t like those odds.
Doesn’t seem like a fair fight. Unevenly matched.
He says he’s not about peace – but rather about division;
That he intends to bring fire.
How do you like this Jesus?
Kind of pushy and insensitive, eh?
Division? Fire? Family strife? Intentional conflict?
We might say this doesn’t feel like the Jesus we know:
We might say that it’s completely uncharacteristic of him.
Unless we took the time to understand what he’s saying, and who he’s saying it to.
Then we could understand what it means for us,
And I hope we do,
Because I daresay if we do, it’ll just plain set our hair on fire.
The way Luke has written it, there are two crowds standing around Jesus –
The disciples and everyone else.
First, Jesus gives the Parable of the Bridegroom.
Let’s hear that.
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Peter then asks, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”
Jesus answers Peter’s question with a graphic depiction about what happens
To slaves who are disobedient.
In other words, he wants to know how much longer he has to put up with Peter!
Bluh! These guys and their questions – they just never get it!
And then he says to Peter,
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required;
And from the one to whom much has been entrusted” –
And here he must have been pointing right at Peter –
“From the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
Which I can only think must have made Peter’s stomach drop.
And then he says, presumably still to Peter and the other disciples,
I came to bring fire and division …
This is the real deal, fellas! This is not a drill! Your life is being demanded of you.
Then he looks around, and sees the wider crowd,
And to everyone else he says this bit about the weather and reading the signs.
Two different things said to two separate groups within earshot of each other –
Maybe even a mixed group of both kinds –
The group of insiders that had been following him around from the beginning,
And everyone else.
So there’s the rub. I think it all comes down to that one point:
“From the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
Peter’s commanded to weather the changes and chances of fire and family division
And all manner of unaccounted strife.
Words spoken by Jesus to Peter and to all of his own personal posse,
Who would be either martyred or otherwise used for much bigger purposes of God
Than they could possibly have known.
Now, Peter – Peter is the Jar Jar Binks of the Bible.
Do you remember Jar Jar? From Star Wars Episode I?
A kind of bumbling comedic foil from the backwater.
Jar Jar was an outright annoyance in a film that, to me, was outright annoying.
And then George Lucas had the problem of figuring out what to do with him,
Because for better or worse he was already a part of the Star Wars galaxy,
And I’m sure he was selling a lot of toys –
So What to do, What to do …
And in the films that followed, Jar Jar was relegated mostly to the background,
As a delegate to something called the Galactic Senate –
Apparently an important job.
In the subsequent film he’s drawn and voiced as someone who suddenly had to grow up,
Who earned his battle scars, who has shifted from comic bumbling to centered knowing,
From noisy to quiet; from being scattered in his mind to being wise,
And being willing to share that wisdom.
The Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars II and III
Is George Lucas making lemonade out of the lemons he handed himself.
So it is with Peter.
Over the trajectory of the books of Luke and Acts,
He comes to deeply understand what Jesus means
When Jesus says that following him will come with a cost.
At first he says foolish things and asks dumb questions,
But later he is something far different, something wiser and more powerful;
… Something for us to strive towards …
So we might look at him, paying attention to these changes in his life,
And ask ourselves just what it was that made him so mature.
How’d he get this way? –
To go from this flaky guy to the one we call the Rock of the Church? –
How’d that happen?
Peter’s life attests:
If you completely give your life to God so that God can completely use it,
You just can’t expect to end up as the same person you are today.
You kind of have to stop waiting for the lightning bolt –
In other words, stop waiting for all the good excuses to run out –
And in some quiet moment open up your heart and mind and life
And surrender ultimate control of these things to God.
And then you must anticipate the coming evolution within your life,
Which will come whether or not you do anticipate it,
And sometimes, whether or not you even desire it.
What this chiefly means is that you’ll be required
To give up more than you think,
Which is to say more than your fair share,
And you’re going to take on more responsibility
Than you think you’re capable of taking on: For,
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.”
In my case:
I have a lot of memories of my years as a child,
But not being in church on a Sunday isn’t one of them.
I was steeped in the lore of the faith.
Which makes me no better than anyone else,
And in many cases I had to unlearn some of it as an adult so that it could be relearned.
Anyway, at some point, as I listened over the years,
I decided that God was calling me to something.
Just that vague. Something.
BUT that call was a threat to the established order in the other parts of my life.
Because like many of my day and age,
I grew up thinking you went to college, got married, put on a tie,
And worked the same job at the same company in the same town for 40 years
Before you retired and got a gold watch.
Then you would go home to the same house, putter in the same garden,
Golf the same courses, and at some point,
Kiss your same spouse of 50-some years and die happy and contented.
When I first got married at age 20 and lived on Pottenger Avenue with Jacquie,
If you had told me that in 20 more years
We would have lived in 12 different homes in 8 different towns
And that I would have worked for 8 different employers,
I would have laughed you out of the room.
Yet I feel God has given me much, so I pay whatever I owe,
Which as it turns out has led to what amounts to a rich adventure so far.
If much has been entrusted, then much is demanded;
But this isn’t just a clergy thing; it’s for Every Baptized Person.
All of this is also true at St. Thomas, where we are slowly coming to understand,
Along with many other parishioners of many other congregations and denominations,
That life as we knew it is no longer how we get to know it.
That the churches that will survive into tomorrow to live and serve the Lord Jesus
Will be the ones that are much more nimble-minded, service-minded.
That are flexible in the face of change
While they remain deeply rooted in a sense of who they are.
On the long path of the history of the church, these days we live in now
Will eventually be accounted as a hard turn;
And not everyone will make it.
Those who take Jesus’ words to Peter to heart –
“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” –
Those who take this counsel to heart will stand fast, be flexible,
And continue to live out the mission God has given them.
May it be so, by God’s grace, and in God’s good time –