Hebrews 11: 29-12:2, Psalm 80 VU 794-5 Part 2, Gospel: Luke 12: 49-56
“I’ve come to start a fire on this earth – how I wish it were blazing right now! I’ve come to change everything, turn everything rightside up- how I long for it to be finished! Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I’ve come to disrupt and confront!” Luke 12, 49-51 The Message
No doubt this is one of those more difficult passages in the gospels on first reading for none of us like to feel that we are being confronted and challenged let alone having our lives disrupted! It takes a lot of spiritual maturity to come to trust God fully with our lives especially as we live through challenging times. We may like much better the image of the nurturing Good Shepherd, Christ as healer and saviour, yet sometimes the work of Spirit in our lives needs to disrupt and challenge us in order to save us, to lead us to freedom and maturity, both as individuals and as the church.
Recently I read of a United Methodist Church in South Carolina who had a specially trained Interim Minister sent to serve them who had a special vocation as a ‘disrupter’. And it sounds like he really did disrupt everything that congregation had ever done as they sought to renew themselves to the point that absolutely everything was cancelled, their few programs they had left going, their meetings and even their worship! They were invited to take a 6 month sabbath to simply listen to the Holy Spirit’s calling their lives, to discern the needs in their community, to listen for how they might be called to serve their community and what gifts they had to share. Of course, some people left, preferring the comfort of their former routines and traditions, but as time progressed and they lived into their new vision, more people joined them and they grew again.
His insight was that too many churches had become somewhat complacent and attached to their traditions and had lost the ability to live on the edge of a growing faith, to recall why those rituals had even been created. The lesson from the parables found earlier in Luke chapter 12 that we have reflected on in August taught that in the same way our possessions have the capacity to possess us and keep us from truly being free and living out lives with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
I learned of a similar experiment from Rev Sharon Moon which was taken by a United Church congregation in Victoria that was discerning their vocation. They stopped their regular Sunday worship and instead held a variety of styles of worship/musical performances in the evenings that would hopefully appeal to the wider spiritual but not religious (SBNR) community.
It seems that in many spheres of influence we are living into a time where there are many different disruptions, some far more dangerous than others. We listen daily to the unfolding political unrest in Hong Kong where the pro-democracy movement continues to find ways to cause disruption in their society, staging protests, taking over the airport, articulating their desires for change in their governance and leadership to their leaders in Hong Kong and China. We are not sure where that disruption will lead.
As the drama around the SNC-Lavalin affair continues to unfold, revealing the complexity of the ethical decision-making involved in political leadership, we are hearing again how Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Jane Philpot see themselves as ‘disrupters’ of how politics is practiced in our country. Some would believe that these kinds of practices and ethical dilemmas are systemic and inherent in any political endeavour no matter which ideology has the power. However, they believe that we can strive for a political process which has greater integrity, transparency and moral standards, not a shocking new idea. If nothing else really transpires in their political careers, it has certainly provided all of us with food for thought in how we want to see our leadership behave when they are trusted with the power to govern.
We know that Jesus often saw his own calling as someone who would be disruptive of the existing systems and power structures of his society- religious, political and social, which in their society was especially focused in the power of the family and their kinship system and gender roles. John the Baptist announced that his role was to prepare the way for one who was coming who would baptize not with water, as he did, but who would baptize with the Spirit and fire. “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3: 16)
I especially appreciate how Rev. Eugene Peterson highlights the meaning of this text in the Message: “The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”
But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit thin you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house- make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God’ everything else he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” Luke 3: 15-17 Right after this statement, John, who has confronted the ethics of their ruler Herod for some relationship issues, he is thrown into prison!
So later in the gospels, after Jesus’ own baptism and his ministry begins to build and grow, we hear of the many ways in which he disrupts people’s lives – he heals them of physical disease, frees them from the bondage of mental illness, forgives the sins that weigh them down, he confronts the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and their empty traditions, he identifies the economic systems that keep people in poverty, he challenges the political rulers, he empowers women and the poor to find the voice, he welcomes foreigners, he calls people to join with him in discerning the call of God in their lives and to work with him in creating a world where God’s values will be the guiding force in their lives. And sometimes this meant that families would be disrupted as people changed the direction of their lives or took on a new vocation in their lives.
Some of you may know some people who responded their religious vocation in a way that did disrupt their family life, perhaps causing the whole family to be uprooted to travel to a new city to go to seminary, to move from place to place to serve various churches (although this is less the norm today). In some cases, marriages and relationships come to an end if the other partner does not share the same beliefs, is from a different religion, or does not feel the same sense of urgency in serving God or in changing their lifestyles.
You also may have stories in your own families or circles of friendship of how things can change if you become more committed in your beliefs and your need to change your lifestyle maybe around drinking, or joining a community of faith, or maybe living a simpler more eco-sensitive way of life. Sometimes as people come into a deeper relationship with God as they accept the invitation of Christ to discover their more authentic self, they may come to a clearer understanding of who they are as a sexual person, as an artist, an activist, a storyteller, perhaps even as another disrupter.
Perhaps another way to enter into this text from Luke today is to hear it as a deeper call to an inner journey which will strengthen your relationship between you and God, however you envision God, as person created in God’s own image, a person who is loved and known as an individual, separate from your parents, step-parents, any siblings you may have, in-laws, even your own children. Those who have grown beyond adolescence know that this is the first most difficult task we face as a maturing person, to come to know who we are apart from our familial relationship, to grow through a task called ‘self-differentiation’.
University and college students will be arriving again soon into our city and it is good to remember the stage of life that they may be living through, often having left behind their immediate family, their city, town or maybe even country and how disorienting that can be as they discover who they are, learn to assess the world around them. We can be there as a guide and as a friend or mentor.
Yet we also know that our life journey offers many opportunities to continue to grow and to change direction in our lives as we respond to the promptings of new life – the end of one relationship as a new love emerges, the death of a loved one, the change of jobs or career, beginning another degree in a new field of learning, moving to a new neighbourhood, downsizing and moving to a new home, the change in our political leanings, exploring a new spiritual practice, finding any number of ways to experience new freedom – if we are living, change is inevitable and it helps us to become more resilient when we come to trust our whole lives with the One who creates, sustains and guides us, even during times of disruption.
For those who have been baptized, even as an infant or as an adult, it is good to remember that we are baptized into Christ, to join with Christ in the process of renewal, the process of dying and rising again with new life. Jesus has gone before us, baptized into the same human life that we will lead. We are strengthened by remembering how far and deep he lived into his own life, the risk he took, the faith he had even in the face of his own suffering and death, how he experienced the promise of resurrection as God raised him to new life, freeing the Spirit within him to live on in others. This is who we worship, the Spirit which still seeks to find a home in us.
I would like to close with some wisdom that is offered for our inner journey by Richard Wagamese from his book of Ojibway meditations called Embers, Pg 29:
Me: What is the purpose of ceremony?
Old Woman: To lead you to yourself.
Old Woman: By giving you an idea of who you want to be and then allowing you to create the experience of being that way.
Me: Which ceremony is the best, then”
Old woman: Life. Choose what leads you to the highest vision you can have of yourself, and then choose what allows you to express that. What you express, you experience. What you experience, you are.
Me” How do I prepare?
Old Woman: Breathe……