St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-14-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-14-2016

Jesus the Radical Realist

Isaiah 5:1-7, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

In the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel we hear Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer, prophesy…

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79)

Also, in Luke’s second chapter, we hear the pronouncement of the birth of the Messiah to the poor shepherds as he writes…

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:13-14)

And how often do we, while thinking of Christ’s birth, ministry, and resurrection, think of peace, find peace in our hearts, and immerse ourselves in those peaceful thoughts.

It seems a contradiction, then, that Jesus would speak the words we hear in today’s reading “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division”! And then continues to tell us how homes and families will be in conflict with each other, even divided against each other, over him and his message.

Depending how you look at this piece of text, it may sound like an imperative; that it is his purpose, as God coming to earth, to turn loved ones against each other, his intent to cause disunity within the families who hear his words.

Or maybe, if we wish to soften the message in our minds, we may think of it as an extreme metaphor for prioritizing our love of God and Christ over even our love of family.

Still, one more option, and the one I prefer, is to hear the words of a realist. Someone who fully understands that accepting his words as truth and making the changes in our personal life and our society that Jesus calls for will indeed cause conflict between the new believer and those who will be reluctant to accept his words and make those changes.

Yes, Jesus is the Son of God; the Word made flesh. But remember, as we profess when we recite our UCC Statement of Faith and say, “In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, [God] has come to us and shared our common lot…” Jesus knows what it means to be human; he is not so divine as to be entirely disconnected from the realities of human life.

Living as a human, Jesus has experienced the reality of life in human communities; the struggles with sickness, poverty, and loss of hope; he has been immersed in a society of class separation, discrimination, and lack of concern for others; and he has seen how the Word of God has been twisted to support the privileged, lifting them ever higher, at the expense of the common people, pressing them ever lower.

Simultaneously, the divine Jesus knows that this reality isn’t the way it’s supposed to be; it’s not the reality God intended for humanity; it’s not the reality God gave us the Law to create.

It is the paradox of Jesus the human and Jesus the divine that explains Jesus’ statement in today’s reading that seems to contradict his other teachings on peace. Today’s reading comes to us as a part of his teachings about the coming of the Kingdom of God that is in tension with, even contradictory to, earthly kingdoms. Thus, today’s reading holds the reality God desires for us against the reality humanity has created.

So, when Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division”! he is showing himself as a realist.

Just for the record, Webster defines realist, in part, as “a person who understands what is real and possible in a particular situation: a person who accepts and deals with things as they really are”. And, listen to the example sentence Webster gives…

I’d like to think that these problems can be solved easily, but I’m a realist. I know that a lot of hard work will be needed.”[1]

Really, can you hear Jesus saying that?! Yes!

But, along with being a realist, Jesus is a radical! Okay, in today’s use “radical” often has a lot of negative connotations. We use the word to describe people or organizations that are extremist, also carrying negative connotations. But listen, again, to Webster’s definition…

[One with views] “very new and different from what is traditional or ordinary: having extreme political or social views that are not shared by most people: favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions.”[2]

Again, can you see these traits in Jesus!? Yes! Even his opening words in today’s reading confirm Jesus as a radical as he says, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled”! and as a realist as he immediately continues with the words “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed”!


If it is so, as I believe it is, that being a Christian means being more Christ-like; following the ways Christ lays before us; then we, too, are called to be radical realists, able to accept the reality of a cloud in the west being a sign of rain and a wind from the south bringing heat while engaging the fact that our social norms, our societal realities are not always the realities God desires of us and for us, even knowing that it may cause division between us and the nonbelievers.

This doesn’t mean that there should be division among the Church where unity is of greatest importance. But in that unity, mutually accepting Christ’s radical ideas for a better world, we can bring the changes he calls for into a new reality where differences are accepted as a part of God’s creation rather than opposed to it; where sickness, poverty, and loss of hope are banished; where class separation, discrimination, and lack of concern for others are turned into a united society of one humanity with caring love for all people, and where our sense of reality is replaced with the blessing of God’s reality!

That is the divisive decision to be made: to stay in the old, entrenched ways of human making that are not working for the good of all; or to follow Christ in bringing the changes that will work for the good of all and for the Glory of God.

I call on each of you, then, to join Christ as a radical realist, willing to do the hard work needed to make the Kingdom of God a reality! Then there will be peace on earth! Amen.



Luke 12:49-56
12:49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
12:50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!
12:51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
12:52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;
12:53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
12:54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.
12:55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.
12:56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?



Isaiah 5:1-7
5:1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
5:2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
5:3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
5:4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5:5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
5:6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
5:7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!


Hebrews 11:29-12:2
11:29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.
11:30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.
11:31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
11:32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets–
11:33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,
11:34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
11:35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection.
11:36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
11:37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented–
11:38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
11:39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised,
11:40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.