LK. 12:49-56


Today I want to talk about choosing and discerning, “reading the signs of the times.” Some of you have heard this story before. As you know, I have two sons, Michael and Christopher. When they were four and five years old Faye and I were members of St. Andrews Parish, where Mark DeWolfe was rector and a good friend. Mark and his wife, Jennifer, have an adopted daughter, Lisa. Lisa DeWolfe is part African-American and part Vietnamese. When she was three or four she was my son, Christopher’s best friend. They were inseparable. In fact, Christopher announced that he was going to marry Lisa. They both were in The Tower School, a pre-school at the Presbyterian Church. They went everywhere, hand in hand.

One day at supper we asked Christopher, “What did you do today.” “I hate black kids!” He replied. Stunned, Faye looked at our angelic, blue-eyed blond four year old and said, “You don’t hate anyone. Why do you say that?” Well it turned out that there was another preschool program being run by the city on the same site as The Tower School and the playground was shared. Christopher had been pushed of the swings and chased away by an older African-American boy. Hence that day he decided that he hated black kids. Faye, ever patient, said to him, “Christopher, you don’t hate black children. Lisa is black. You love her.” “No she is not!” “Yes she is, Chris. You look at her tomorrow. She has very dark skin.” (Lisa was ebony.) The next day Christopher came home and said, “You’re right. I guess I don’t hate black kids.” (Apparently the lesson of choosing your friends regardless of race and color took, for Chris subsequently married a Korean.)

Following the simple question of asking Chris what he did that day, Faye and I, like many parents, taught Christopher at an early age to check his assertions, check his assumptions and to check his observations. We were teaching him to choose, to avoid prejudice and to follow specific values of friendship and truth. Like all of us, he has struggled with that process every day.

So what do you plan to do today? How will you choose? What will be your criteria? What will be your allegiances? What will determine your choices? How will others respond? Will someone be offended, disappointed or alienated? What do you plan to do tomorrow, or the next day, or the rest of your life? Life is about choices. We make them intentionally or unintentionally, actively or passively. Whether we like it or not, we choose, and our choices have consequences, effect others and cause either union or separation.

In making our choices we exercise our consciousness of what is going on around us. We read “the signs of the times.” What is going on around you? Is your partner bored or attentive? Is that lady intrusive or just nervous? Is your acquaintance “cold” or “just a jerk?” What is going on around you in your family, your community, in the economy or even in this parish?

I suspect you read what is going on around you pretty well. You know how to check out “the signs of the times.” How much do you pay attention to what God is doing in your life? You must think of that a little, too, for obviously you are here (more or less). Is God doing any thing with you? Do you see Him as just a passive listener? Or perhaps you see Him as a comforter, guiding hand and a support. Is God challenging you? Is He nudging you to reach out, to remember, to thank, to inspire, to bless and to give more of your total self? Is He disciplining you through times of trial, refining the elements of your character and your soul?

Now today’s Gospel passage is about choosing and reading “the signs of the times.” When St. Luke writes this passage, he is using material that is also found in Matthew and he is reminding us that Jesus is not only a teacher and a healer, He is also a prophet. We tend to think of Jesus as the baby in a manger and as one who is gentle and mild. But Jesus’ ministry begins in the crucible of judgment, prophecy and baptism as practiced by John the Baptist.

John embraces the hope of the prophets such as Isaiah and Micah, and he points to Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Here is the Messiah who is bringing judgment by ushering in a new age and challenging His hearers to “wake up,” “get involved” and follow a “new way.”

By embracing His calling, Jesus brings a new covenant, a new relationship between God and mankind that is based on His teaching, incarnation and sacrifice. Time and again Jesus points out that life is about allegiance and choice Ð not just the everyday choices, but the religious ones which deal with values, commitments and one’s relationship to God as found in Jesus Christ. These are hard choices, not just little nods of agreement with “gentle Jesus, sweet and mild.” To choose is to have values and commitments that mean something and often cause splits with our families, friends and neighbors. To choose is to acknowledge that Jesus is a prophet and calls for change, turning around and adherence.

The history of the Jews has always been one of choosing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob over the foreign gods of surrounding cultures and nations. For Israel, God is steadfast but Israel found it hard to be steadfast to God when faced with the work-a-day issues of accommodation, compromise and syncretism. The world of the Jew was not much different from that of today where Israelis contend with Palestinians and Arabs. It is into this old/new world that John the Baptist stepped and baptized a new Messiah Ð God’s anointed, incarnate Son.

To follow Jesus as the Christ is to discern the sign of the time of the encroachment of the Kingdom of God and the breaking in of salvation through allegiance to Jesus and through His sacrifice. Henceforth the Christian will always live in a world of opposition to other gods, values and allegiances and be called to thread his/her way through the tangled skein of families, friends, neighbors, other allegiances and values. That is just the way it is. Jesus recognized it; named it and predicted it.

Discerning the way, the values, and the allegiances with the Church has been a struggle since the beginning. There were early persecutions, schisms, the rise of the western and eastern churches, the Reformation, divisions with the Anglican Church between the separatists, the Puritans, the Church of England, the round heads and the pointy-heads. Wars have been fought, nations sundered, families split. Some of you have had to defend Christianity over against your own families, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Some of you, as I, have had to defend your choices over against the split of Christian and Jew or Protestant and Roman Catholic. Others of you have had to defend your choices over against blatant agnosticism and atheism. In my family from the time of Christopher to the present it has always been a process of choosing, always a seeking to read “the signs of the times,” always having to do all this in the midst of a world that includes not only simple choices but also paradox and ambiguity.

So you and I as individuals and as a parish in transition will now and in the future be called upon to choose our values, allegiances, and commitments. We will have to check our assertions, check our assumptions and check our observations. We will have to judge without being judgmental, sacrifice without sacrificing others, choose without being prejudiced and affirm without being self-righteous. But all of that is what we do all the time as a living organism, as a parish, as part of the body of Christ.

Jesus spoke of bringing fire. That fire is the fire of judgment. It is also the fire of refining which makes things better. Finally it is also the fire of the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit of Pentecost is often marked as a fire. You and I are still in the period of Pentecost in the Church year. Accept the challenges of choosing what you will do today and tomorrow and accept the challenges not only to discern “the signs of the times” but also what God is challenging you to do today and tomorrow. Only you can make those discernments and choices. Then step forward on your Christian pilgrimage of faith, and do so knowing that Christ and the Holy Spirit walk along with you. You and I no longer live in “preschool.” We live in the great, big adult world Ð the one God chose for us.