On March 3 1991 Rodney King was brutally beaten by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department. Films of the incident show the police using grossly excessive force. The four officers were tried and acquitted. Within hours riots started in Los Angeles which lasted six days. During that time 63 people were killed and 2,373 people were injured. It ended only after the National Guard, Army, and Marine Corps re-established control. In the midst of all the carnage, Rodney King issued the plea which has been remembered since: “Can’t we all just get along?” “Can’t we all just get along?”
It seemed like such a simple plea in such complex times. It is remembered because it seems that, today, all times are complex times and we are left asking – after 22 dead in El Paso Texas and 9 dead in Dayton, Ohio – “Can’t we all just get along?” In the midst of the rise of internet hate groups and virtual Klan members who march proudly without hoods and carry tiki torches, we ask, “Can’t we all just get along?” After the leader of the free world winks at a rally cry to shoot immigrants we ask, “Can’t we all just get along?”
In the midst of all of this, don’t you just want to come to church and hear your pastor deliver a strong message on that theme! I’m sure that the pastor could draw extensively on the 17th chapter of John where Jesus, himself, pleads for unity. I’m sure he could find many red-letter peace quotes. Wouldn’t you love a sermon like that? Well, that can’t be the sermon you will hear this morning. Not if I stick with the prescribed lectionary. Not if I preach from today’s gospel from Luke.
In today’s gospel Luke reports Jesus saying to a crowd of thousands, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on,” Jesus says, “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…”
This is one of those passages which is known as the “dark sayings” of Jesus. I’d dearly like to know what percentage of Lutheran pastors are preaching this morning from our epistle to the Hebrews which just bubbles over with positive promise and hope.
But what drew me to choose this text this morning was the last cryptic part of it where Jesus calls the thousands listening to him hypocrites. By extension I think he calls you and me hypocrites. He says, “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!” Jesus says, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
This brings to mind the quote from the young Bob Dylan, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Later, he completed that with, “…the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind.”
Jesus calls on us to interpret our own times. Jesus calls for us to put our finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. So, let’s try some tests. Jesus calls for us to welcome the stranger. Which way is that wind blowing? Jesus calls on us to favor the poor. Which way is that wind blowing? Jesus calls for justice and righteousness. Which way is that wind blowing? Jesus calls for us to clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the imprisoned, and feed the hungry. Which way is that wind blowing?
I think if we stick our finger in the air we find ill winds blowing. There is an air of suspicion for those who aren’t like us, who weren’t born here, who aren’t the same color, who aren’t of the same sexual orientation. The number of hate groups is on the rise. Hate websites flourish. In the counties in which our president has held one of his anti-immigrant rallies there has been a demonstrable, statistical increase in hate crimes.
“Can’t we all just get along?” Well, yes. But I think, in this morning’s gospel, Jesus is saying to us, “You must make choices.” Racism is a choice. White nationalism is a choice. The mass murderers in El Paso and Dayton did not suffer from mental illness. They suffered from hatred. In El Paso the gunman chose to hate the same people the president said were invaders, rapists, and criminals. Homophobia is a choice. Misogyny is a choice. But then there are those choices which more represent the ones you and I make: complacency is a choice, inaction is a choice, not replying to the inappropriate crapola you get on Facebook from your old high school friend is a choice.
I saw a political cartoon the other day which pictured a typical suburban house. But right down through the center of the house was a tall brick barrier. The neighbor was saying, “Looks like the president finally got his wall.” When you choose to be for all the things Jesus was for – peace, justice, righteousness, honesty, kindness, civility (all those things our nation used to be for) … when you choose to be for all the things Jesus was for, then a father might very well find himself divided against his son, a daughter against her mother, etc, etc.
Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth… I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed.” No, this morning’s gospel isn’t “Can’t we all just get along?” That sermon is for another time. This morning’s gospel is, “Choose!” This morning’s gospel is, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.” This morning’s gospel is, “Interpret the times in which you live and make choices.”
Text: Luke 12:49-56