Choosing God

Jer 38:4-6,8-10 • Heb 12:1-4 • Lk 12:49-53

We want a Jesus who teaches and supports what we believe. Uncomfortably, we have a Jesus that expects us to teach and support what He believes.

It is just mid-August. School is already back in session for many. Although still late summer, fall is not far off, and with the coming of fall is football — a sport quite a few are starved for! Not far off are the fun holidays of Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The fall brings many exciting things. Our readings today skip the fun. Our readings today point us toward Good Friday and suffering. We are looking forward to fall foliage, but what we get from Scripture is the darkness of suffering.

Today we hear five of the toughest and possibly the most unsettling verses of Luke’s Gospel. In our continuous reading of Luke, we have gotten used to a different image of Jesus. Four chapters ago we heard of the kindly carpenter who healed a man possessed by many demons. Two chapters ago Jesus enjoyed a meal at the home of Martha and Mary. Three weeks ago Jesus taught the disciples how to pray and taught us to ask and we shall receive. Last week Jesus assured us that faithful servants will be rewarded. Today, however, everything changes. Today we learn kindly Jesus has come to set the status quo on its ear. Today we learn Jesus intended to destroy the world as people knew it. Today we are told that Jesus is not about bringing a peaceful life. His message instead will cause division.

We learn today that Jesus did not come to endorse human institutions and their values. He did not endorse the values society taught in His own day, and by extension, He does not uphold or endorse the values of our institutions either. Jesus came to teach us that we must support His values, and the values of the Son of God are very different from what we might experience today.

In May, Mitt Romney gave a graduation address at Southern Virginia University. In the address he shared his secrets for “abundant living.” At the top of his list was his advice to marry young instead of waiting until the students’ 30s and 40s, and he told the students to have “a quiver full of kids.” Mr. Romney quoted Scripture when he advised the school’s mostly Mormon students to “launch out into the deep” instead of living “in the shallows.” Mr. Romney was extolling the beauty and joy of family. He suggested nothing radical. In fact, although a Mormon himself, he was espousing the same values as the Catholic Church.

The sign of our societal values were revealed as one media person after another ridiculed the speech saying that Mr. Romney’s values were out of touch with the real world. It was said that as Americans we don’t live this way. Most of us do wait until much later to marry, that is, if couples choose to marry at all.

Jeremiah began his work at about 12 or 13 years of age, an age when most young people are extremely concerned about what their friends think of them. At this age most moral decision making is based on gaining the approval of your friends, not on what is right or wrong. Faith and principles are usually only afterthoughts if thought of at all. But for Jeremiah, doing what was right was always more important than any other consideration. Unfortunately for Jeremiah, having been thrown into a well by those whom he offended was not an isolated event.

The passage from Jeremiah brings us up to the end of Judah’s existence. As Babylon’s armies stood pounding at the gates, Jeremiah was more vehement than ever. Unless Judah turned back to God and its religious identity, Judah would be destroyed. Jeremiah urged surrender saying the Jews did not have to be a nation; they needed only to love and follow the Lord. If they did this, God would take care of the nation. It was not a popular message.

Jeremiah’s prophecy pointed out that Judah had a choice to make. Choose to follow God and forget glory, or fight for glory and be destroyed forever. Jeremiah’s warning still rings true for us. We too must choose either God and God’s way or our way and what we think best.

The Gospel of Luke puts Jesus in the same context. There is a spiritual war, and Jesus is telling us to make a choice. We must choose what God wants or choose what we want. The division that will come is not because Jesus created division. The division is because many of us still choose ourselves and what we want over what God wants for us. Choosing God can bring division, but choosing God also brings salvation. TP