A sermon for the tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 14, 2022
Trinity Episcopal Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
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?
Today’s Gospel lesson continues directly after the passage we heard last week. Last week, Jesus says, “You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Now he is criticizing people who don’t know how to interpret the present time. So which is it? Isn’t this contradictory? On the one hand we can’t know or predict and on the other we are supposed to know how to interpret the present time. Let’s look a little closer.
In both passages, Jesus is telling us to pay attention, to be vigilant. In the first, Jesus is calling out people’s tendency to be smug and complacent—people love to use their piety and assumptions about God to lay out expectations about what God will do, to get way out beyond any evidence and take their ease in being self-satisfied, because, “Hey, nothing’s going to happen to me. I’m good, no reason to be concerned about all this stuff happening to other people, God will take care of it.” Jesus is having none of this – we are called to discipleship, not self-satisfaction. The salvation that he brings is for the healing of the world, not for individuals to just wallow in their own privileged and comfortable role as “the saved.”
So Jesus continues to call for vigilance. Human beings can see things in the world. Long before weather satellites and Doppler radar, people paid attention to what was happening with the weather. It was always important to know when to take cover from an impending storm, or when to get ready to plow a field on a good day with calm and dry weather. Our advanced technology measures things accurately and records lots more information than an individual can see, so we read about the weather or watch the forecast on TV and we know pretty well what weather is coming. But people in earlier times had to be sensitive to what was going on, they needed to pay attention to things like the direction of the wind, the color of the sunset, the smell of the air. So when Jesus mentions a cloud rising in the west, or a south wind blowing, people knew what he was talking about, because that’s what they did. They noticed these things all the time and understood what they meant.
Jesus is using this to point out that we can see what is going on in the world, if we only pay attention, if we are vigilant and attentive. Yet, how many manage to not see the things that are before their eyes. Our psalm for today says,
How long will you judge unjustly,
and show favor to the wicked?
Save the weak and the orphan;
defend the humble and needy;
Rescue the weak and the poor;
deliver them from the power of the wicked.
They do not know, neither do they understand;
they go about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.Psalm 82:2-5
In this angry country of ours, there are so many who loudly insist that the power of the police must be wielded more and more to control people they are afraid of, people they don’t like, people who don’t resemble them. Yet we see what happens when one of their own is served a search warrant because there is probable cause that evidence of a crime is at his oceanside resort: hysterical calls to defund the law enforcement agency that executed the warrant. We can see the irony of this, it’s visible to anyone who has eyes, but they are blind to it. Jesus says you can see the rainclouds, you can feel the south wind, or the red sunset: Why can’t you see what is happening in this world?
People are blind to what they don’t want to see. People find rationalizations to explain away the truth when they are more comfortable by not acknowledging it. People deny its what’s happening—they really don’t see it, they really don’t understand its malignance and its danger to our country. That is the real danger.
It takes courage to look at the present time, to see it, to stand up for truth. Standing in Jesus’ love, being his compassion, is not a passive or a convenient thing. Being Christ’s Body isn’t some simple program. Because it involves being Christ’s Body all the time, in all parts of our life, seeing the truth that is before us. In the Gospel, Jesus says,
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.Luke 12:51-53
It is not about starting fights, or violence—it’s about seeing the truth and living the truth in a world in which so many cleave to darkness, rather than be illuminated by the compassion of Christ and see the truth that is before their eyes.
My mother died three years ago tomorrow. When I was young, I talked with my mom a lot. She was very thoughtful and she saw many things that others ignored, particularly out in that cow country where the prosperous ranchers often distorted politics to their own advantage. It was in those long conversations with mom that I was first able to look beyond myself and think critically, to know God and also to be skeptical of some of the things that happen in the church—to see the reality in front of me and to interpret the present time.
Being faithful to Jesus is not complicated, in fact it’s the opposite: simply see what is there, and don’t be worried or try to figure out complicated ways to not see and explain reality away. Frightened and faithless people do that. But we are God’s people, part of that great cloud of witnesses in every generation, so be awake to what you see.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2