Benediction Online

Sunday, August 15, 2010

God's Word is Fire

There’s an old adage that the task of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Jesus’ words this morning certainly fall into the latter category! They are not very comforting. Jesus was very frustrated with the people around him who just weren’t getting what he was talking about. By this time he knew that things were turning ugly and he was probably going to get killed – and maybe some of his disciples too – but everyone seemed to be complacent and speaking in platitudes. They did’t get the seriousness of the time.

It reminds me of the situation we are in today. We know that the climate is changing. We know that the vast flooding we are witnessed in Pakistan is just a foretaste of the disastrous flooding that is going to increasingly affect some areas of the world while others will experience just as devastating drought and famine. The Global Humanitarian Forum reported recently that climate change is already claiming 300,000 lives per year. We can see what’s coming but we’re not willing to do much about it, we want peaceful lives and here in Los Osos things are pretty much okay, so why worry?

I can imagine Jesus standing here and yelling, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Something to jog us out of our complacency, to wake us up and get us moving.

So far the United States has not been willing to take global warming seriously. In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol, aimed at significantly reducing climate-changing emissions, was ratified by 187 countries. The United States was not among them. In January of this year the Copenhagen conference on Climate Change ended without any significant international agreement. Here at home, legislation aimed at reducing climate change has been introduced and failed in almost every Congress since 1988.[1] Even though it is now considered to be one of the most serious security threats we know.

Global warming may be the most difficult problem our system of governance has ever faced. Our form of democracy is structured to provide benefits to the people who are able to actively participate in the system today. Those who are suffering now from the worst affects of climate change are not Americans and so are not represented. Those Americans who will suffer are in the future and so do not have a voice today. It will take people like you and me reading the signs of the times and grasping the seriousness of the occasion, to convince our elected officials to override the interests of the rich and powerful and enact policies that benefit political outsiders and future generations.

Jeremiah faced a similar situation in his time. His job was to prophecy the impending takeover of Jerusalem and the rest of Judah by the Babylonians, and to show the people of Judah that this was a result of their failing to keep their covenant with God. In his time, just like today, there were many preachers who preached sermons of comfort when it was time to preach sermons that afflicted. People then as now were wanting to hear a message of peace and comfort. They wanted to be soothed and leave feeling good. In our first reading this morning we heard about the false prophets who share their dreams. I can only imagine that these were dreams of comfort and prosperity.

What a contrast with God’s word which is like “fire and a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.” It is time for God’s word to shatter the calm of our dreams. It is time for us to be lit with fire and passion to change the way we live and the way this nation lives. Ironically the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has overshadowed the climate change bill which was passed in the House of Representatives earlier in the year but never reached the Senate. We have to put pressure on Congress to act even though it is not an immediate issue. Just like health care, the changes we need to make are difficult because they mean change. They threaten some business interests even as they act to protect the life of our children and grandchildren. It is only when people like you and me all over the country start to make our voices heard louder than big business that changes will be made. We need to act before it is too late!

The comfort this morning comes in the New Testament reading. There the writer to the Hebrews reminds us of those who have gone before who were sustained by their faith. He mentions some of the great names of Jewish history as examples who can give us courage. We might think of more recent examples, William Wilberforce who led the British movement to abolish slavery, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther-King Jr., Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Sister Teresa, Brother Roger of Taize, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu. These are among the many in our own time who have gone ahead in faith, who have hoped for things not seen and have taken action. These are the ones whose examples spur us on because they kept moving forward in faith and in hope even when everything seemed hopeless.

There’s a prayer we use sometimes which goes, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” We are gathered together this morning to worship God and to seek God’s face together. We come together to the great meal in which God comes to us in the form of food so that we may be comforted, and we may be sustained. But it is not enough for our faith to motivate us to turn out on a Sunday morning when it would be easier to stay home. It is not enough for our faith to show us God present here in this holy place but not show us God present in the faces of our neighbors in Pakistan, the Sudan, Iran, San Luis Obispo.

As we come together to God this morning let us pray for ourselves and for one another that we may receive solace AND strength for the journey, that we may not only be pardoned but also renewed, set on fire with God’s passion. We live in a world that desperately needs to know the life-giving love of God not just transforming the lives and hearts of individuals but transforming the lives of our nation and the nations of the world. And as we leave here today, let us remember that we are being sent out to take God’s love to the world. And on Tuesday, let us all remember to vote.


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