Sunday, August 14, 2022
By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector
At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has been on the road, doing his ministry through teaching and healing, and pointing time and time again to the coming kingdom of God. So far, he’s healed dozens of folks from all sorts of sufferings and sicknesses, answered questions about fasting and the sabbath and finances, and forgiven the sinful and the broken. Jesus has been hard at work devoting every moment, every action, and every word to bringing about God’s healing love to a hurting world.
In our passage today, he’s speaking just to his disciples, and to address the obvious, Jesus seems angry. His tone and message come across as harsh. But when I remember all that he’s done and everywhere he’s been, I remember that he has put his entire life, literally, into the work of the Kingdom of God at this point. And he really wants his disciples and his followers to start getting it. To actually get on board. So, I wonder if he’s actually impassioned here, and not angry. What if the tone comes from a place of caring so deeply about his people and his mission that he can’t help but let it flow out in this big emotional way? I sense an intensity, an urgency, as he’s trying to stress just how significant his mission is.
It makes sense that he would be overcome with such passion here, because there isn’t much more time until he takes that final road to Jerusalem and completes his earthly ministry. Yes, so much has already happened, but so much more is coming. And that is what he wants to talk to them about now. This is his time to prepare them for what is coming.
What is coming, Jesus is essentially saying, will be intense. In that way that fire consumes whatever it touches, so will the coming of the kingdom of God leave lasting marks on everything and everyone it touches. And to be a flame in that wildfire, to be a part of his mission, will be so radical that it just might cost you everything.
He points to the disruption of peace and calm, and the division of family. These were very real risks that his followers faced at this time. I have to remind myself that to believe in Jesus as the Messiah was such a counter cultural commitment that it split up entire families and communities. To believe in him was to go against the customs and the norms, and it meant leaving your old life behind. It won’t be easy, Jesus warns them. Discipleship comes with consequences.
I can’t read this without thinking of all the people over the past two centuries who have risked everything to follow Jesus. Those who have not only faced the consequence of losing family, but also their livelihood, even their lives. Each week, at the Wednesday Noonday Healing Service, we remember one of those people and reflect on how their lives were lived radically for Christ. We use this wonderful resource from the Episcopal Church that lists people whom we consider saints of God and gives them certain days of remembrance. One of those individuals whose day falls in April is Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
He was a bright, young Lutheran pastor who happened to be born and ordained in the time of Nazi Germany’s rise and reign. From a very young age, he had to decide just how dedicated he would be to the work of Jesus amidst the evil at hand. At 24, Bonhoeffer participated in his first public protest against Nazism. Not long after, he became a leader of the Confessing Church, a group of pastors and congregations that resisted Hilter and the holocaust at hand.
Even though he was constantly at risk of imprisonment, he never stopped doing what his faith required of him. He even turned down asylum in the United States so that he could remain exactly where Jesus needed him to be. By 1945, he had been arrested and imprisoned in two different concentration camps, and in April of that year, at 39 years old, he was executed, just moments after having finished up a Sunday service for his fellow inmates.
On the one hand, this is an extra-ordinary story about the cost of discipleship. It feels quite separate from our lives and what being a Christian requires of most folks. On the other hand, his story is just one drop in the ocean of lives that have been radically lived and even lost for the Kingdom of God.
Our Epistle for today, sometimes referred to as the Faith Hall of Fame, recalls several more of those lives. Paul reminds us of Moses, and Joshua, and Rahab and that great cloud of witnesses that faced hardship, persecution or peril for the sake of their faith.
So while I’d certainly like to think that Jesus’s warning in this gospel passage about the cost of discipleship is maybe inaccurate or outdated, this list of the faithful in Hebrews and the list of the both ancient and modern day saints from our noonday services show us otherwise. Their lives and their stories show us that since the beginning of time and in our current time, God has called us to powerful work that may come with consequences or disrupt the comfort of our lives.
There is a risk to knowing Jesus and following his fire. For we cannot encounter that wildfire of the kingdom without then being incited to spread it. As Mary Oliver says in her poem, “What I have Learned So Far”, Can one be passionate about the holy and yet commit to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so. The gospel of light is the crossroads of indolence or action. So be ignited. or be gone.
What it looks like to follow the Gospel of Light, to be ignited for Christ, probably looks a lot different depending on when we live and where we live and who God has made us to be. Perhaps the present moment is calling us to meet society’s most misunderstood on the margins, or to be a voice for those in need, or to stand up for the suffering. Whatever the kingdom of God is calling us to in our lifetime, we know that it just might cost us something because following Jesus has always incurred some risk. But even more so, we can be assured that will be in good company among the community of saints, all those behind and before us who were also willing to face the consequences of being ignited by Jesus’s fire and spreading God’s love.