Mother Cristi’s sermon preached on Aug. 14, 2022

Posted by on Sun, Aug 14, 2022 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Aug. 14, 2022

Course Correction

            Every week, my team and I visit crews who work onboard cargo ships. They are those ships you see docked in the Port of Seattle. That’s what we do at the Mission to Seafarers in Seattle. We welcome and care for seafarers who visit Puget Sound. One of the ways that care happens is through ship visits.

 Typically, we meet with crew in the ship’s office or the mess hall. Sometimes, we meet in the kitchen or in main engineering. But there’s one place we rarely go, and that’s to the bridge. I have been onboard at least 100 container ships. I’ve only been on the bridge four times. So when those invitations come, it’s a big deal!

The last time I went to a bridge, it was with a youth group from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in West Seattle. The chief officer so excited about the visit that he invited all of us to come to the bridge. When we got there, he was excited to show us something. It turned out to be the ship’s new computerized navigation station.

It was huge, about the size of this altar. It was tucked away behind a cabinet full of paper maps and next to the Nespresso machine. I thought he would be excited about it. Instead, he complained. It turns out modern navionics are like our phones or computers. They crash and always at an inconvenient time. Apparently, that nav station had a habit of crashing while harbor pilots prepared the vessel to dock.

Then the chief shared something that wasn’t very reassuring. He told me he was relieved they still had a magnetic compass onboard. The navigation officer used a compass to verify coordinates from the computer. The compass also came in handy when those modern systems went haywire. Sometimes, it was the only thing that kept them from getting lost at sea.

Ships aren’t the only ones who lose their way. So do God’s people. Today’s readings reveal that, and they also reveal how Jesus guides us back on the path God has made for us.

The gospel today is a difficult one. It sounds less like the Good News of Jesus Christ, and more like the front page headlines from your favorite news source. Every year, I find it harder to endure this passage. The current context we live in is filled with conflict. Rather than dissipating, the divisions among us are growing at an escalating pace. How can anything about that be good?

But this was Jesus’s point. While it is true that the presence and ministry of Jesus will bring division, there’s more to this passage.

Today’s gospel functions both as a mirror and an icon. Jesus holds up a mirror to us and says: look, you live in a society where division is not just the norm, it’s the goal. The division you deal with in your daily life: it’s meant to distract you on purpose from the things that really matter. Conflict from that division isolates you from yourself and the people who matter to you. The dissention from that causes you to question your identity and core principles. Ultimately, division tries to make you lose yourself and forget who you really are: a beloved, good, holy part of God’s creation.

This passage makes people uncomfortable. That’s because Jesus names the current state of our world. We recognize the image in the mirror he holds up, because it’s the reality that confronts us everyday. This passage is hard to hear, precisely because you and I know how hard it is to live in that world.

But this passage also functions as an icon. Jesus urges us to see the holy beyond the present state of things. And if we stick with Jesus, that’s where we’ll find the Good News.

Jesus admits he is under stress until his baptism is complete. This is not the kind of everyday stress you and I deal with. It’s different than fretting about money or the difficult conversation you need to have with your teenager or whether that person who coughed next to you in the grocery store is COVID positive.

Instead, the source of Jesus’s stress is different. What Jesus frets about is fulfillment. Until Jesus’s mission is complete, God’s impact on the world will remain unfinished. God’s vision for you and I will be incomplete. The life giving, liberating love of God will remain a proof of concept for some rather than standard operating procedure for everyone. For Jesus to be complete and whole, Jesus needs us to be complete and whole, too.

That’s where the division that Jesus brings is a good thing. Jesus names the things that separate us from the love of God and each other. Then Jesus tells us he will prune away anything in and around us that gets in the way of God’s love. To go back to that maritime metaphor, Jesus assures us that he will pull us back on track when we veer off course.

There is a cultural allergy to conflict and division. Rather than engaging with it, many of us are conditioned to shy away from conflict. I will name that I am one of those people! I bet some of you are, too.

Going along with the crowd may seem safer than standing up for what matters. Conforming to the norm may appear to take less energy than celebrating uniqueness. Over time though, those actions constrain and limit who you and I really are. They drain us of our energy and cause us to forget our identity. If they persist long enough, we lose sight of our true selves. We forget who and whose we are. When that happens, what stares back in the mirror looks more like the hollow shell of what could be rather than what is.

Jesus wants us to embrace our true selves. He wants us to be self aware and self differentiated. That includes taking responsibility for our own emotional and spiritual health. It means doing our own work rather than meddling in someone else’s. And it means being open and honest with ourselves and others.[1]

For our true core to flourish, you and I must be set free from anything that separates us from the love of God. That’s the kind of division Jesus asks of us and initiates in us. That kind of division will never harm or destroy us. Instead, it will liberate us, so that you and I can be fully present and faithful to our call as members of Christ’s body in this world.

Thanks be to God.

[Luke 12:49-56: Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 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.”

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. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 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?”]

[1]This is taken from a class on family systems theory taught by The Rev. Dr. Doug Hester. Hester cites the work of Roberta Gilbert’s Extraordinary Leadership. In her work, Gilbert outlines the characteristics of self differentiation. See pages 81-83 of Gilbert’s book.

© 2022 Cristi Chapman. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.