Humanity is divided between those who embrace and those who oppose the unity and harmony and peace of Christ.
Division begins where love breaks down.
Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division. (Luke 12:51 KJV).
The angels sang at the birth of Jesus, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward [humanity] (Luke 2:14 KJV). To us through the apostles on his way to the Garden where he would be arrested, Jesus offered this promise of his peace:
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27 KJV).
The division Jesus talked about in today’s lectionary reading is between those who want the unity and peace and harmony Christ offers, and those who prefer segregation and confusion and dissonance.
Manuscript of the sermon preached on August 14, 2022, at Briensburg UMC [Audio Podcast]
10th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 82; Jeremiah 23:23-29; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56
We see clearly the political polarization between those who want to build and those who want to destroy. We are acutely aware of the religious polarization between those who want to unite and those who want to divide. We are personally affected by the polarization between those who want to be friends in Christ with everyone for whom Jesus gave his life at Calvary, and those who choose to be at enmity with everyone whose faith and practice does not submit in conformity to theirs.
Dreams in the Bible are expected to relate to their context in the pure Word of God.
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. (Jeremiah 23:28 KJV).
Throughout the Bible dreams are a part of prophecy. Joseph famously interpreted Pharoah’s dream, prophecying the coming drought. Angels ascending and descending on Jacob’s ladder continue to capture us in the hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” Peter in a dream was told to eat various foods forbidden in the Old Testament, communicating that God was expanding the church to include all humanity.
Dreams have played an important role for interpreting God’s Word on social justice from Moses to Micah, from Isaiah to Amos, from John Wesley to Martin Luther King, Jr. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter explained:
This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:16-18 KJV)
Every person is created in the image of God.
I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the most High. (Psalm 82:6 KJV)
Jesus quoted this verse when threatened with being stoned for saying, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30 KJV). He continued, “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:35-36 KJV).
Jesus taught and the church invites the world to pray, “Our Father,” regardless of whatever differences we may identify. In every language, the Lord’s Prayer is a collective and inclusive “our.” We are “one in the unity of the Holy Spirit.” Paul wrote, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Corinthians 12:27 KJV) as he described how we are incomplete without each other.
Our task as the royal priesthood of believers is to build proverbial bridges wherever we can.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 KJV)
Let us for a moment break down these compound subjects into two sentences. First the secondary phrase, “Let us lay aside the sin which doth so easily beset us…” We do that by repenting of our own sins and forgiving the sins of others. The more we hold on to sin, ours or those of others, the more we get bogged down and unable to move forward into the spiritual unity Christ invites us to enjoy. Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23 that “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 KJV).
Now, consider the primary phrase partially enclosing the laying aside of sin, “Let us lay aside every weight…” Most of the weight we carry is not sin, but some of it might still be holding us back. Thoreau wrote,
“How many a poor immortal soul have I met well-nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn… acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and wood-lot.” He continued, “The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden & Civil Disobedience).
Like the Parable of the Sower, some of the seed lands among the tares and is choked out. Jesus explained that this illustrates the cares of the world choking out our spiritual growth.
This verse in Hebrews begins, “Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.”
It refers to all those who have sacrificed in order that we, each and every one of us, might be included in the family of God. The reference is not only to those in ancient times but to those in our lifetimes, even recently, even here in this consecrated place of worship, even now to us gathered in this room. Now we are the ones who are accepting the baton to pass on to others the message of love and unity that overrides their fears and discord.
“Let us run with patience,” Hebrews urges us. We extend the olive branch to those being pulled in opposing directions. We continue to find ways, in word and in deed, to include everyone in the body of Christ. We trust God to eventually succeed in God’s own stated intention of winning the hearts and minds of all humanity, “for it is not God’s will that any should perish” as Peter affirmed (2 Peter 3:9 KJV). This is the whole reason why God, in loving the world so much, sent Jesus to be our savior, as Jesus declared repeatedly, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:15-16 KJV).
“Let us run the race that is set before us,” as opposed to some other race that is not ours to run.
This “race” pertains to our accomplishing everything that is most important for us to do to experience meaning and fulfillment in this life, and in preparation for our transition to the life of the world to come.
Emily Dickinson wrote,
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
This passage from Hebrews, together with the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, along with the whole wisdom of the Bible, highlights the importance of living this life with an attitude of doing “all the good we can” as Wesley put it, and with our hearts set on cultivating eternal heavenly relationships of ever-perfecting love, extending into the life of the world to come.
The faith we have received from our spiritual ancestors invites us into the Kingdom of God – the kingdom of light and love – in this life, and to prepare for being reunited with our loved ones for an active eternal life of joy and peace in Heaven. Those who reject the invitation to love and peace are temporarily excluding themselves from the joy of unity and harmony, but only until the moment they “see the light” and choose the concord that was the hallmark of those on whom the Holy Ghost was poured out with a mighty rushing wind and flames of fire on the Day of Pentecost.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 KJV).
Christ invites everyone into the prayerful universal conversation that transcends our divisions and unites us in divine love.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.