Wow. Another heavy load of Scripture readings for this Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary. By heavy I mean not so hard to read but difficult to carry all week and deliver on Sunday.
Here’s a quick summary:
Isaiah 5:1-7–Isaiah shares God’s words about the devastation and destruction coming to Israel (the vineyard) because “he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” There’s not much wiggle room here for preaching on anything but the anger of God at injustice and the consequences of a nation who forsakes its duty to protect the vulnerable.
Psalm 80:1-19–The psalmist sees the devastation that has come to Israel and cries out to God, “Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted.” This text is great for a revival or for calling a solemn assembly but not the easiest route for preaching to a crowd on a lazy, hazy summer Sunday.
Hebrews 11:29-12:2–The author of Hebrews shares the hall of fame of people who lived by faith: the Hebrews led out of Egypt, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets who faced all kinds of horrendous challenges to their faith. This lesson portion includes the part guaranteed to make any congregation grimace, where it mentions, “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–of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” The author goes on to share with the intended audience, speaking of the cloud of witnesses that surrounds their church and cheers them on to keep the faith. This text is wonderful for preaching and, despite the sawed in two part, challenging a congregation to not give up on their faith.
Luke 12:49-56–This is the one I’ve chosen to preach on and is for me the most challenging of them all for Sunday. I was tempted to pick Hebrews, as it would provide me with some things to preach on other than the harshness of the other texts. I’ve chosen Luke though, not so much for the challenge but for how it connects with where we are today in our community and world. Luke’s Jesus in the Gospel reading (Luke 12:49-56) for this Sunday is quite a different Jesus than the one we typically think of and portray as calm, peaceful, and measured. Here Jesus sounds “unhinged,” saying to the crowd, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Rather than greeting everyone with “Peace to you,” Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” He then goes on to call them hypocrites and tell them how following him will divide their families, relationships, and way of life. So, this is not the easiest text for preaching this Sunday. Patricia J. Lull states this the best in her commentary on this text in Feasting on the Word, “The brave pastor who walks with a congregation through the messiness of this passage claims a rare opportunity to move beyond the saccharine to wrestle with a God of substance and power.” Yes, it is not a fun text, but it may just be the one we all need to hear and take to heart the most in these days when God’s plan of justice, mercy, and love for the world is being trampled by people in power and forgotten or forsaken by the church.