Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox
On vacation the last two weeks in upstate New York, I slowly read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. The temptation to skip ahead to the last chapter was almost irresistible at times. But no, there is no skipping ahead—the only way to the end is to go through it all. Even the heart-rending scenes of betrayal and broken promises; even the violent scenes caused by unbridled jealousy and meanness; even the scary scenes where just the simple act of turning the next page is almost terrifying, to learn what’s going to happen next!
Jesus brings us to such a place this day, and maybe, if we’re listening closely to the deacon read, we also wonder “What *is* going to happen next!”
“I have come to bring fire…I have a baptism with which to be baptized…how stressed I am until it is accomplished!”) His water baptism was back in chapter 3; this is about the deep waters of death into which Jesus will go when he reaches Jerusalem. Things are getting really real; the enemies are sniffing around to find a way to get him into trouble with the authorities, and he knows it. He speaks first to his inner circle, Peter and James and John, Mary and Martha and Joanna and those who have been with him all along. He’s told them a story (which we didn’t hear this morning) about wise and foolish house slaves, who either pay attention to what they are to do in the masters’ absence, or who do not pay attention but go on as if they owned the house themselves. He tells them (and all who hear his words) to pay attention—to notice what he’s up to, in and with and among all of them. The Kingdom of God has come near—have you seen it lately? Have you been looking out for it? It is going to look rather strange. Not quite what you might expect.
He turns to the crowd: You see the signs of the weather, and know what’s about to happen; why do you not understand the signs I show you?
The signs he has shown them, in feeding the hungry and healing the sick, in touching the lepers and hanging out with the disreputable and undeserving, all point to the Way of Life in God; The yet-to-occur events of Good Friday and Resurrection morning are the ultimate showing-forth of that Way. We see reminders of those events, of that Way of life, here every Sunday: in bread and wine, broken and shared; in words of Scripture read and sung and preached, where we listen to hear a word for us too. But it is a strange Way, a Way unlike the ways and means in which we live most of the time—in first century Palestine or 21st century Georgia.
Author and editor Christopher Kimball writes in a recent essay entitled “The Family Album”: “It is tempting to offer homilies about the past. One might conclude that live was simpler, except that it wasn’t. Lives were just as messy and complicated fifty years ago as they are today….Large extended families, three or more generations beaming out at the camera, tug at one’s heartstrings but also remind us of the arguments…and petty drawing room back and forth that is part and parcel of family members packed tightly in a narrow social spiral.” That inherited structure of “the way we’ve always done it” can provide stability and security; it can also stifle and strangle new life struggling to be born.
In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus gives his followers the signs and directions that run counter to ordinary business as usual, “the way we’ve always done it.” Jesus’ followers knew of those divisions in households; Jesus himself had been at cross-purposes with Mother Mary and the brothers earlier in Luke’s gospel. As the Gospel of Mark tells the story, the family comes to get him and take him away b/c they think he’s totally flipped out!
Following Jesus breaks down “business as usual.” It breaks down walls between persons and cultures and nations; it threatens the powers that be and makes trouble for those with an investment in maintaining things “as we’ve always done it.” Jesus knew what he was doing; his followers figured it out eventually. And then they had to figure it out again. And again. And again. Because it’s so easy to fall back into “the way we’ve always done it.” And so the word of God patiently and persistently continues to call and invite those who will listen, to once again stand up, brush off the dust, and take the steps in the Way of the dominion of God.
We know how the story ends. Mark and Luke and Matthew and John each tell the story in their own way, reflecting their own concerns and significant points, but we know how it turns out in the end. What we don’t know just yet, is how our own story will go. What is going to happen with the next chapter, the next turn of the page?
School has started. A new year, a new room, perhaps a new building. Where’s the bathroom? When is lunch? Will I make new friends? It will be all right, in the end.
A new program year begins here at St. Augustine’s today—a new opportunity to learn and grow together, to listen for the word of God calling to us—each of us, all of us together, as we share food and fellowship and worship and prayer, as we continue together to run the race of faith, following Jesus, our leader and our Savior. And it will be all right, in the end.
On our vacation we took two days to visit our friends Rick and Tim. As we drove through the mountains of Vermont, to the north we saw the great clouds coming toward us, dark and heavy with rain. We knew perfectly well what was about to happen. And we knew there was no avoiding it, only “go on through.” The rain came, and we were surrounded by a great cloud, and it was unnerving. But it was also a thin place, a knowing beyond knowing, of God’s presence and abundance. Rain and sunshine, darkness and light, mountain above and river below, and at the end, safety and love and welcome. We could not get to the place where we were going, where we were expected for supper, except to go on through.