The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 12:49-56

AS MANY OF YOU KNOW, I WAS RAISED IN THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH IN NEW YORK CITY. THE CHURCH BUILDING HAD BEEN ORIGINALLY A METHODIST CHURCH THAT WAS PURCHASED BY THE ORTHODOX WHEN THE METHODISTS MOVED OUT. THE DECORATIONS WERE A MIX OF METHODIST AND ORTHODOX AESTHETICS, WHICH LED TO SOME INTERESTING DEVELOPMENTS. ALONG BOTH SIDES OF THE BODY OF THE CHURCH WERE STONE ARCHES ON WHICH WERE PAINTED BEAUTIFUL SCENES REPRESENTING THE MINISTRY OF JESUS AND EVEN SOME OF THE PARABLES. THESE WERE DONE IN THE VERY REALISTIC STYLE OF THE LATE 19TH CENTURY. ALL OF WHICH YOU WOULD HAVE RECOGNIZED FROM YOUR OWN TRADITION; JESUS WITH THE LOST SHEEP ON HIS SHOULDERS, SITTING WITH THE LITTLE CHILDREN, GIVING THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, ETC. THE FACE AND BEARING OF JESUS WAS DEPICTED ALWAYS AS SWEET, GENTLE, AND LOVING. BUT WHEN ONE LOOKED TO THE ALTAR BEHIND THE ICONOSTASIS, UP HIGH ON THE CEILING, THERE WAS THE LARGE ICONOGRAPHIC DEPICTION OF CHRISTOS PANTOCHRATOR; CHRIST AS RULER OF ALL CREATION, CROWNED IN GLORY, SITTING ON THE GREAT THRONE, SEPTRE IN HAND, WITH EYES BURNING LIKE FIRE. AS A YOUNG CHILD, YOU CAN BE SURE WHICH REPRESENTATION OF JESUS I WANTED TO LOOK AT.

THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY GIVES US A PICTURE OF JESUS THAT MAKES US UNCOMFORTABLE, AND SEEMS TO CONTRAST WITH WHAT WE THINK ABOUT HIM, AND HOW WE THINK HE IS PORTRAYED OTHERWISE IN THE GOSPELS. THIS IS NOT THE GENTLE JESUS OF THE SUNDAY SCHOOL ROOM, AND WHAT HE SAYS SOUNDS ANGRY AND IMPATIENT; AND THAT IS BECAUSE HE IS ANGRY AND IMPATIENT. THIS IS THE TURNING POINT IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE, WHEN JESUS HAS SET HIS FACE TOWARD JERUSALEM AND THE CROSS, AND HE WILL LET NOTHING AND NO ONE STAND IN HIS WAY.

HE HAD BEEN TEACHING AND PREACHING ABOUT THE COMING KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, AND PREPARING HIS DISCIPLES FOR LIVING THE KINGDOM LIFE. HE TAUGHT THEM HOW TO PRAY, HE TAUGHT THEM THAT THE FATHER HAS GIVEN THEM THE KINGDOM, AND HE TAUGHT THEM HOW TO LIVE AS CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD; YET THEY, AND THE CROWDS THAT HEARD HIM, STILL DID NOT UNDERSTAND THE IMPLICATIONS OF WHAT KINGDOM LIVING WILL MEAN. HIS TIME WAS GROWING SHORT, AND HE WAS FRUSTRATED WITH THE DISCIPLE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING; HE CAME TO SET THE EARTH ON FIRE, YET COULD NOT SEEM TO GET A SPARK GOING IN HIS DISCIPLES. SO HE TOLD THEM PLAINLY; IF THEY THOUGHT HE CAME TO SET THINGS RIGHT SO EVERYTHING WOULD BE ROSES AND RAINBOWS, THEY HAD IT DEAD WRONG. WHAT HE CAME TO DO WAS GOING TO CREATE CONFLICT AND DIVISION EVEN IN FAMILIES, AND HE WAS ASTONISHED THAT THEY COULD NOT SEE THAT, OR DID NOT WANT TO SEE IT. HE CALLED THEM HYPOCRITES, ACTORS, BECAUSE THEY COULD LOOK TO THE SKY OR SENSE THE WIND TO TELL THE WEATHER, BUT THEY ACTED AS IF THEY COULD NOT OR WOULD NOT SEE THE MONUMENTAL IMPORTANCE OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING RIGHT BEFORE THEIR EYES.

SOREN KIERKEGAARD WROTE THAT “FROM THE VERY BEGINNING, THE INTENT OF CHRISTIANITY WAS TO CHANGE THE WORLD.” ALL CHANGE BRINGS CONFLICT; EVEN CHANGE FOR THE BETTER, BECAUSE ALL CHANGE IS RESISTED AND THE GREATER THE CHANGE THE GREATER THE RESISTANCE. TO LIVE THE KINGDOM LIFE MEANS TO SEVER ALL THE OLD ALLEGIANCES OF THE WORLD, AND TO BE FAITHFUL SOLELY TO THE FATHER THROUGH JESUS HIS SON. IF THIS DOES NOT SEEM LIKE SUCH A BIG THING TO US, IT MAY BE THAT WE HAVE LOST OUR GRASP OF THE RADICAL NATURE OF THE CALL OF JESUS TO LIVE AS MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. THE RELIGIOUS AUTHORITIES DID NOT HAVE JESUS NAILED TO A CROSS BECAUSE HE WAS PREACHING PEACE AND LOVE; THEY KILLED HIM BECAUSE HE WAS A FIREBRAND WHO WAS TRYING TO CHANGE THE WORLD.

TO ASK SOMEONE TO BREAK THE TIES OF FAMILY AND RELIGION AT THAT TIME WAS AN ASSAULT ON THE ENTIRE SOCIAL FABRIC. FAMILY, AND ONE’S PLACE IN SOCIETY, WAS WHAT KEPT THINGS TOGETHER. YOU MAY RECALL THE SHOCK OF THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON, OR THAT OF JESUS TELLING THE YOUNG MAN WHO WANTED TO BURY HIS FATHER BEFORE FOLLOWING JESUS TO LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD; TO A SOCIETY WHERE FAMILY WAS EVERYTHING, THE CALL OF JESUS TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD WAS A CALL TO REVOLT AGAINST THE PERCEIVED NATURAL ORDER. THE CALL OF JESUS TO LIVE THE LIFE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS JUST AS RADICAL AND JUST AS DIVISIVE AS IT EVER WAS.

WHEN I TOLD MY FATHER THAT I WAS LEAVING THE ARMY TO GO TO SEMINARY, HE DISOWNED ME AND TOLD ME I WAS NOT HIS SON. HIS SHOCK AT MY GIVING UP EVERYTHING FOR WHICH I HAD WORKED SO HARD WAS TOO GREAT FOR HIM TO ACCEPT. IT TOOK SOME YEARS, BUT WE DID RECONCILE, AND WE ENDED UP WITH A MUCH CLOSER RELATIONSHIP THAN BEFORE. SADLY, NOT ALL SUCH DIVISIONS END UP IN RECONCILIATION. THE CALL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD STILL MEETS WITH RESISTANCE FROM THE WORLD, AND EVEN FROM WITHIN FAMILIES. IF A CHILD FROM A DEVOUT JEWISH FAMILY BECOMES A CHRISTIAN, IT IS STILL NOT UNUSUAL FOR HIM OR HER TO BE DECLARED DEAD AND THE FAMILY TO GO INTO MOURNING. IN THE ISLAMIC CULTURES, IT IS NOT UNUSUAL AT ALL FOR CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY TO BE A DEATH SENTENCE EXECUTED BY THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY.

THE PEACE AND LOVE WE ARE CALLED TO EXPERIENCE WITHIN THE LIFE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, WITH GOD OUR FATHER AND WITH EACH OTHER AS BROTHERS AND SISTERS, ARE IN DIRECT CONTRAST TO THE WAY OF THE WORLD; AND THAT IS WHAT INCITES THE CONFLICT. JESUS DOES NOT CAUSE THIS CONFLICT, BUT HE DOES WARN US THAT IT IS INEVITABLE. IT IS INEVITABLE, SADLY, EVEN WITHIN THE CHURCH; AND IF YOU THINK THE PRESENT CONFLICTS WITHIN THE CHURCH ARE A NEW THING, YOU NEED TO REREAD THE BOOK OF ACTS. WHEN WE TRY TO CHANGE THE WAY WE LIVE AND LIVE ACCORDING TO THE VALUES OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THERE WILL BE RESISTANCE TO THAT CHANGE; AND WHEN WE TRY TO IMPOSE OUR PREFERRED VISION OF WHAT KINGDOM LIVING LOOKS LIKE, INSTEAD OF HEARING WHAT THE HOLY SPIRIT TEACHES US, THERE WILL BE CONFLICT.

TO LIVE AS MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THIS WORLD MEANS THAT WE WILL BE REJECTED, SCORNED, AND RESISTED, EVEN BY THOSE TO WHOM WE REACH OUT IN THE LOVE OF GOD; YET TO ALL CONFLICT, WITH THE WORLD AND WITHIN THE CHURCH, WE MUST RESPOND AS CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD: WITH LOVE. REMEMBER THAT OF THE DISCIPLES ALL BUT ONE WERE KILLED BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITHFULNESS TO CHRIST AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD. SO WE MUST LEARN TO LIVE WITH CONFLICT, KNOWING THAT THE CALL OF THE KINGDOM IS GREATER THAN THE CALL OF THE WORLD, AND THAT LIVING THE KINGDOM LIFE MAY NOT BE EASY AND PEACEFUL, BUT THAT WHAT JOY WE HAVE NOW AS WE STRIVE TOGETHER WILL BE ONE DAY BE COMPLETE.

REMEMBER, ALSO, AS WE STRIVE TO LIVE THE LIFE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THIS WORLD THAT WE ARE NEVER ALONE; WE HAVE OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST, AND THE CONSTANT PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. REMEMBER, AS WELL, THAT BEHIND THE IMAGE OF THE GENTLE, SUFFERING JESUS WE HAVE IN OUR MINDS, WE SHOULD ALWAYS RECALL THE ULTIMATE REALITY OF WHO IT IS THAT WE WORSHIP AND FOLLOW; CHRISTOS PANTOCHRATOR, THE RULER OF ALL CREATION. IT IS HE WHO HAS CALLED US TO SERVICE IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, SO WE CAN FACE WITH CONFIDENCE ANY AND ALL CONFLICT AND RESISTANCE OF THIS WORLD. HIS KINGDOM, WHEN IT COMES, WILL BE FOREVER.
AMEN

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