Proper 15C Sermon (2013)

Proper 15 (August 14-20)
Texts: Luke 12:49-56;
Hebrews 11:29-12:2


Children’s Sermon / Object Lesson

Objects: a blow torch and large metal bowl.

Talk to the children (and adults) about how fire is dangerous. It can burn us, even kill us, and be very destructive. But fire also has positive uses. Can you name some?

Example: if this bowl were cracked, I can use this blow torch to melt the enough to seal the crack, probably with some solder or other metal to fill in the crack. If I don’t know what I’m doing, I can really hurt myself, or make this bowl even worse.

In our Gospel story today, Jesus says that he came to bring fire. That sounds dangerous. In fact, it was to him. When thinking about the dangerous part of fire, I think Jesus was thinking about having to die on the cross, about having to get hurt. But the cross also saves us. It repairs our relationship with God and other people with the solder of forgiveness. The fire that Jesus brought was dangerous to him but helpful to us. In the end, we can think of that fire as God’s love, which fires us up to love other people.


In recent weeks, I’ve used the image of the crack in the container to talk about our sin as more than just mistakes we commit. The Bible writers also want us to understand that there is a Sin running deeper into the containers of our lives — the containers of our cultures and institutions that shape us.

If this bowl was filled with water, the water could represent the experiences and actions of our lives — some loving and some hurtful. But today let’s look at the bowl, and not the contents. Until a baby learns language, they cannot put a word to it. But once that happens, this goes from being just an object to look at, touch and play with, to being a bowl — a container in which to put food and eat from.

For older children and we adults, culture teaches us that this is much more than a bowl. It is a piece of art crafted by human hands — this particular bowl more decorative than useful to put food into. In fact on the bottom of this particular bowl there’s a little sticker that says, “Not food safe.” But if we weren’t paying attention to that, especially if we were hungry and really needed a bowl to eat from, we probably would never notice this sticker. But my point today is precisely to pay attention to the container.

Isn’t life is like that? For example at home, we can get so busy filling our lives with activities and things that we don’t even notice the container — our family — is becoming so strained that sometimes it even breaks apart. Our family is a fundamental container. On a larger scale, our culture is like that. It is the container that gives shape to just about everything around us.

When it comes to the subject of sin, we are also used to looking at what’s INSIDE the container of our culture. It’s very easy to point fingers at the abusers and embezzlers, the murderers and the addicts, the neighbor cheating on their spouse, and the underage student drinking and driving. We see the sin caused by bad decisions that hurt others and ourselves all the time — every day. Our news is full of it. But what we often overlook is the crack in the container of culture itself — the Sin that shapes us in unhealthy ways, often guiding us into wrong actions without our even realizing it. We count on our culture to nurture us in healthy ways — and on many levels it does. But just as sin can infect and crack the delicate containers of our families, the Bible reveals that sin has also infected our culture — all the world’s cultures — in insidious ways. And it is the Sin most difficult to see.

Simply put, there’s a crack in the container! It’s a flaw that leads to pain and suffering — it’s a flaw that leads to conflict and bloodshed. It is such a tremendous flaw that God’s children will never be able to come together in peace until is it repaired! But the Good News is that God sent the Son to repair it.

What is this flaw? It’s the divisions we create — the “us” and the “them.” It is the way we structure our institutions and nations and cultures. What makes it so difficult for us to really see it for what it is, is that since the beginning of human culture, it works on a certain level in helping create a way to live peacefully with those close to us, like family. The problem, though, is that somebody has to be them. When conflicts arise that challenge to our peace, we set about defining us and them in hopes of restoring the peace. And there’s the rub — restoring the peace for us most often means violence against them.

This is the crack in the container that Jesus came to repair. He comes to help us understand that all the people of this earth are God’s children — there is no longer “us” and “them.” The earth is God’s family. There will never ultimately be peace in God’s family until we see the crack in the container, and that Jesus came to heal it.

I think this image of Jesus coming to repair the crack in the container can help us begin to see. Today brings another Gospel passage where this image of Jesus healing the crack in the container helps us understand. Why does Jesus talk about fire? Because to repair this crack in the container, he will need to experience on the cross, as one of “them,” the terrible fire of our violence.

So why does Jesus talk about coming to bring division, not peace? That’s really confusing! John’s Gospel proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the world.” Singular: Sin of the world — not sins. I believe that Sin is the crack in the container — our human way of gaining peace based on us vs. them. And the “us” always begins with those closest — most often those we define as our family. So what Jesus is saying in the passage is that his dying on the cross came to break down our old way of creating peace. And the first peace to break down is the peace we have in our families: “father against son…, mother against daughter …, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law.”

It’s not that Jesus wants to cause division in our families. But he knows that the consequences of taking away our old way of peace will lead to less peace in our lives unlessunless we follow in his way NEW of peace based on forgiveness and unconditional love.

How do we know Jesus doesn’t want division, especially in light of words like this morning? Because of Pentecost. And the most startling image in Luke’s telling of Pentecost is tongues of fire! After the resurrection, God sent tongues of fire as signs of God’s repairing the crack in the container! At Pentecost there was no division! People from all over were together in one place. The Good News of Jesus overcame the barriers of language and culture — they were one people in the container of God’s loving family. The healing has begun … the crack in the container is being repaired.

But it is not yet complete — we can look around us and still see places where the old way of making peace is struggling to survive. So here’s the take-home question of the week:

Is there a place in your life where, like Jesus, you can stand with the outsider to challenge the old way peace?

Be warned: It can be a fiery place. But it is the fire of God’s justice and love emblazoned on you to help repair the crack in the container. That repair is underway, with God’s promise that one day we can all fully live in peace. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, August 17-18, 2013

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