May 26, 2020

Take Cover!

By Chaplain Mike

Today’s Gospel: Luke 12:49-56

In the light of today’s words from Jesus, I find it supremely ironic that, as reported in Saturday Ramblings yesterday, a megachurch in the Midwest has a COMEDIAN taking the pulpit in its services this weekend.

Jesus’ words at the end of Luke 12 are anything but comedy. And those who sit comfortably in the theater-style “worship centers” of American evangelical churches, having their ears tickled by “nightclub-tested, family-approved, clean stand-up comedy” sounds like just the kind of audience Jesus would have “targeted” with this message.

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?

When I was a child, I both loved and feared the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Living in the Midwest, we were familiar with tornadoes, and that film portrayed the frightening reality of these storms in a way that got this child’s attention. I had recurring nightmares of trying to run to safety toward my house, roar of the twister behind me, my legs too heavy to get me there in time. In real life, whenever the sky turned dark and the local radio station started broadcasting its warnings, we would head to the basement and wait nervously until we heard the “all clear.”

The people in Jesus’ day knew the signs of bad weather too. If wind gusted, bringing in weather from the west, off the Mediterranean Sea, rain was on the way. If it blew in from the southwest, out of the Negev, things were about to turn hot and sultry. They wet their fingers, held them up to judge the wind, figured it out and took the proper precautions.

But they didn’t recognize the storm that was coming in Jesus.

Jesus, the Messiah, represents the climactic point in Israel’s history. All the events they and their forebears had experienced, all the Scriptures that told and interpreted their story, looked forward to Jesus’ coming and pointed to the significance of his role in the long promised inauguration of God’s reign in the world.

When God breaks into history, it means both salvation and judgment. His coming provokes a crisis. Storm clouds appear and the wind begins to blow. Those who recognize the signs and heed them take proper precautions and head for safety. Those who don’t, or who ignore them, will find themselves in danger of great harm. Individuals even in the same family may handle these impending tempests differently

According to Jesus, the critical moment would involve “fire” falling on the earth and a “baptism” that he himself would experience. These images certainly refer to the Cross, where Jesus fulfilled his mission by suffering, dying, and rising again. On the Cross, the fire of God’s judgment fell on him. Jesus became immersed in the Passion. According to his testimony here, this experience would be so intense that it would occupy his mind all throughout his itinerant ministry as he moved inexorably toward Jerusalem.

This was such an important moment, that it would provoke a crisis of decision upon which the eternal destiny of every human being would depend. While we would want to avoid the frantic ravings of “Wretched Urgency,” it would be a grave mistake to think that proclaiming serious warnings about Jesus and the crisis of decision he provokes is out of place.

One aspect of the Good News—the Kingdom has come! the King has arrived! the King will make all things new!—is Jesus’ call to to pledge allegiance to him, disowning kingdoms that compete for our loyalty—the world, flesh, and devil. Therefore, throughout his ministry his message was, “Repent and believe!” Turn from the dominant voices of sinful humanity and culture—sex, money, and power—that call for your allegiance, and turn to me in trusting obedience. Stop going in their direction, and start following me instead. The Cross represents a fork in the road. Upon approaching it, one must choose which way to proceed.

Contemporary American “audiences” that attend churches with comedians in the pulpit may have forgotten the situation; they may be ignoring the sharp edge of Jesus’ Gospel message. There is no casual Christianity. According to this text, Jesus’ message was not even “family-friendly.” When you live on the Gulf Coast and it’s hurricane season, you’d better have an ear on the weather report. And the news may be disturbing.

In Jesus, the warnings have gone out. The storm clouds are gathering on the horizon, a frightening purplish-yellow. The lightning is about to flash, the thunder to roar. The heavens will soon open up and the whirlwind will blow. Who knows what damage will occur? Who knows what chaos will ensue?

If you are going to take cover, now’s the time.

Luke 12:49-56 (NRSV)—

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 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, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” He also said to the crowds, “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?”

Comments

  1. But why should evangelicals heed such dire warnings? They’ve got the rapture — that prophetic promise that all the Christians (or, at least, all good evangelicals) are going to get beamed out of harms way before things get truly unpleasant.
    God help the church of America if human history should enter one of those really nasty periods of upheaval and chaos that inevitably cycle around every century or so — and no rapture is forthcoming. I suspect some ear-candy salesmen are going to get sacked.

  2. I had read this passage right before checking today’s blog, “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” The evangelical churches based on a sermon series titled “How to have a wonderful family in 5 easy steps” like to ignore this passage.

  3. Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
    I think you have the understanding of this passage right Chaplain Mike. Unfortunately, many use this passage as a justification for the culture wars. Don’t seek forgiveness & reconcilation, we are at war, not peace! ——-it also is used for self-martyrdom – just ask Brit Hume.
    When the storms in life come Jesus is the only rock we can trust. peace

  4. Andrew Zook says

    Amen, RonP. Totally agree… There may be something like a ‘rapture’…I can’t say for sure either way, (I’m a ‘pan’ milleniallist btw) but I do think, considering that for most of Christian history most Christians and their leaders/theologians believed something completely different than modern day American evangelicals do…I’d say there is a good chance things may not go according to the conventional evangelical script…

    For a number of years now I’ve had this odd and wrenching gut feeling that this ‘left-behind’ craziness and its implicit (or is it explicit?) notion that all of us fat apathetic carnal american christians are going to be ‘spared’ and all the ‘others’ (the unChristian parts of the globe, ie Europe, Africa, Middle East, etc) are going to be judged in a nightmarish ‘tribulation’ – is what it has always been – fiction. The blatant self-serving nature of that idea is a big red flag to me… in fact, the doubt I began having about american evangelical ‘special-ness’ (as implied by american prophecy experts) was one reason I began wandering around in the post-evangelical wilderness and why I continue to consider myself post-evangelical… There are many areas like this…but riches and power have really blinded many sheep in this country and I’m not sure they’re ready for the storm. (I’m not sure I’m ready either btw) Thanks Mike for that good wake-up reminder.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      For a number of years now I’ve had this odd and wrenching gut feeling that this ‘left-behind’ craziness and its implicit (or is it explicit?) notion that all of us fat apathetic carnal american christians are going to be ‘spared’ and all the ‘others’ (the unChristian parts of the globe, ie Europe, Africa, Middle East, etc) are going to be judged in a nightmarish ‘tribulation’ – is what it has always been – fiction.

      An Ultimate Escape Fantasy (Rapture), followed by the Ultimate Revenge Fantasy (Tribulation). That’s what Slacktivist has been picking out of his long-term, page-by-page critique of The 22-Volume Series That Shall Not Be Named.

      Say what you will about its predecessor in Default End Times Choreography — Victorian Post-Mil — but Post-Mil’s having to repair and Christianize the Earth for the Millenium, then handing that Christianized world over at The Second Coming at least led them to make long-range plans, attempt to build legacies that would outlive them, and at least Get Up and DO Something.

      Not sit around passively singing “Twinkle Twinkle Coming Christ, Beam ME Up To Paradise” (John Fischer) or worse, “Grinning Apocalyptism, cheering as the world slides into the pit.” (IMonk), mayve even trying to help the process along. (After all, It’s All Gonna Burn, Right?)

      Somehow I don’t think that’s what Larry Norman had in mind when he sang “We Should Have All Been Ready” as a tragic lament and closed “Only Visiting This Planet” with “This world is not my home; I’m just passin’ through.”

      • Well, I plan on watching my complete set of A THIEF IN THE NIGHT (and sequels) DVDs again soon so I’ll be prepared:

        http://www.rdfilms.com/catalog.php

        • I haven’t thought about that movie for years. I saw it as a kid at a youth rally at an Assembly of God church — which I wasn’t supposed to attend, since I was technically a Southern Baptist at the time. I don’t remember a whole lot about it, except that it was sort of a cross between Enemy of the State and the French Revolultion.

  5. ISTM that a professional comedian in the pulpit is hardly any different than what many people in many churches get Sunday after Sunday anyway, esp. in big megachurches with stages, worship bands/teams, HD-projected images, entertaining and captivating sermones, etc.

    And I suspect that Daren Streblow will have a Christian message in his routine. From Wikipedia:

    Streblow is a Christian and frequently books for churches and youth organizations, though he refrains from “preaching” in routines. It is unknown if he refers to his comedy as “Christian Comedy,” though he is member of “Outreach Comedy.” He has stated that “if you bring God with you… people notice and people will ask questions… just be faithful.”

    I also suspect that it’s not a “sacred pulpit” for holding THE WORD OF GOD that he’ll be standing behind and/or defiling with his uncleanness and unordained hands, but a stage that he’ll be speaking from. After all, Northwoods Community Church is set up more as an theater than a church anyway (if you define a “church” meeting as a place and time where people can interact with each other with exhortations, psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, praying for each other, moving freely among each other, etc., a la 1 Cor chapters 12-14 and Ephes and Colos). Here is a picture of their “sanctuary” (or, rather, auditorium):

    http://www.yamahacommercialaudio.com/ca/uk/10_news/20_installed_sound/20_house_of_worship/archive/2007_01/05_northwood/index.html

    Churches have “Power Teams” and “Revival” preachers and celebrities, etc., do the service all the time. It’s the way things are in Jesusland.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      ISTM that a professional comedian in the pulpit is hardly any different than what many people in many churches get Sunday after Sunday anyway, esp. in big megachurches…

      And I suspect that Daren Streblow will have a Christian message in his routine.

      Like those Christian (TM) Pro Wrestling franchises? “Just like Vinnie Mac, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)!” whose main selling point to Born-Again Jamokes is “No cussing and no scantily-clad women”? (And maybe a Four Spiritual Laws and Altar Call after the Smackdown?)

      I also suspect that it’s not a “sacred pulpit” for holding THE WORD OF GOD that he’ll be standing behind and/or defiling with his uncleanness and unordained hands, but a stage that he’ll be speaking from. … Here is a picture of their “sanctuary” (or, rather, auditorium):

      THAT’s an Indoor Concert Stage, no matter how you want to spin it. An UPSCALE Indoor Concert Stage.

  6. Jesus’ words at the end of Luke 12 are anything but comedy. And those who sit comfortably in the theater-style “worship centers” of American evangelical churches, having their ears tickled by “nightclub-tested, family-approved, clean stand-up comedy” sounds like just the kind of audience Jesus would have “targeted” with this message.

    Why is this particularly upsetting? Is the comedian making use of Luke 12 incorrectly?

    I mean, I get your overall point, but the particular use quotation marks and ear tickling charges makes you sound more like Ingrid Schlueter, et. al. than the pointed, but respectful tone that is consistently sounded here.

    Don’t mean to attack, just some food for thought…

    • Uh, Nathan. I’m pretty sure the comedian won’t be using Luke 12 in his routine this weekend. Not family friendly. Or safe. Or funny.

      • There is a worse possibility: That it will be used, but will be made both safe and funny.

        Toothless tigers make great pets.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Not “toothless tiger”.

          Aslan as your lapcat, all declawed, castrated, and Safe for the Whole (and Wholesome) Family.

          Until one day Tash kicks in your door.

      • phew…I’ve heard of and witnessed some really bad deployments of scripture, so you never know… 😉

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          “Stupidity is like Hydrogen.
          It’s the basic building block of the Universe.”
          — either Frank Zappa or Harlan Ellison

  7. It’s definitely a sign of the times, but not necessarily the sign of the end of times.

    I’m currently reading “Christ and Culture”, by Richard Niebuhr (younger brother of Reinhold Niebuhr). In it, he describes five different perspectives on the relation of Christ and culture:

    1. Christ against culture (outright rejection of culture; the church is the new society/race).
    2. Christ of culture (no inherent tension between Christ and culture; Christ can be reconciled with secular science, philosophy, ethics, etc).
    3. Christ above culture (culture is neutral – neither good or bad). God’s battle is with sinful man – not culture.
    4. Christ and Culture in Paradox (conflict between Christ and culture due to sin; law and grace present).
    5. Christ the Transformer of Culture (culture can be converted through Christian activism).

    Simply stated, I see all five views active in the American church today. Certain perspectives have dominated from time to time, but no one view represents the true church. Each one has both good and bad traits.

    In my opinion, comedians in church represent a Christ-of-culture or a Christ-the-Transformer-of-culture perspective. It seems to be very similar to the clown ministries popular decades ago – and blessed by the Pope not that long ago. To me, it seems misguided and perhaps naive, but the fruits of a Christ-against-culture isolationism/sectarianism seem even worse – taken to their logical conclusions.

    I think this is a transition time, not a precipitous plunge into the abyss. Things will adjust and extremes will be balanced – if we can stay in dialogue and cooperate. If iron no longer sharpens iron, each side will lose its edge.

    • I don’t have any problems with Christians using comedy in appropriate settings for appropriate purposes. And yes, I’ve understood since the early 80’s that the “weekend services” of Willow Creek style seeker-oriented churches are for the seeker and not specifically designated for “worship.” I’m using this as a general example of the casual approach many take to a serious endeavor these days.

      As for the warnings of the storm to come, please read the post more carefully. This is not about predicting the coming of tribulation. Jesus himself is the “sign of the times” in this passage. His coming is the storm. He is the whirlwind that blows. He is the One who forces decision.

      • I am not offering a defense for such practices. Often the effect is long separated from the cause. I don’t think we would have comedians in pulpits had liturgy and lectionary not become wrote performances for decades, where the meanings were assumed and not properly explained to the next generations. I don’t think we would be talking so much about Joel Osteen, had the gospel not been abandoned for so many years by fundamentalist, you’re-a-rotten-sinner-going-to-hell preaching, which opened the door for therapeutic preaching. I don’t think there would have been a phenomenon like “seeker-sensitivity” had the church followed Christ’s mission to seek and save the lost. We often don’t know where we are nor how we got here. There are many who truly think they are going about redeeming the church and culture but are really instituting either a Christ-against-culture movement, or a compromising of Christ with culture (or both at the same time).

        The way to cure the need for comedians in the pulpit is to restore the meaning and symbols of Christian worship in an understandable way. It’s not an easy transition. I often describe my family’s first experience with the Lutheran liturgy as walking on the moon.

    • Neither this pope, nor any other pope, has blessed clown ministries.

      Tom

  8. Maybe one reason the sharp edge of Jesus’ and Paul’s messages has grown dull is because the years since they announced and warned people about the imminent breaking in/out/forth of the Kingdom and the soon-coming wrath of God from which Paul told the churches Jesus would deliver them has gone from 10 to 30 to 100 to 500 to 1,000 to 1,500 to nearly 2,000 years and (still) counting….

    • Eric, it’s all about Jesus and our response to him. It’s not about events.

      • But Paul’s message is about deliverance through Jesus from the soon-coming wrath of God, an event. And the others’ epistles have some of this same idea – i.e., present and soon-coming judgment and age-change. I guess we just read these verses differently.

        • I agree with you about Paul. The focus today is on Jesus’ words in Luke. And they refer to him as the great “Sign of the Times” that people were missing.

  9. I’ve mentioned before I quote Dante to ridiculous extremes, but this just demonstrates that it’s an old problem (and yes, that bad Catholic homilies have a long tradition); even in the 13th century, there were preachers using jokes and funny stories to attract people to church:

    “Paradiso”, Canto XXIX

    109 ‘Christ did not say to His first congregation:
    110 “Go preach idle nonsense to the world,”
    111 but gave to them a sound foundation.

    112 ‘And that alone resounded from their lips,
    113 so that, in their warfare to ignite the faith,
    114 they used the Gospel as their shield and lance.

    115 ‘Now preachers ply their trade with buffoonery and jokes,
    116 their cowls inflating if they get a laugh,
    117 and the people ask for nothing more.

    118 ‘But such a bird nests in their hoods
    119 that, if the people saw it, they would see
    120 the kind of pardoning to which they give their trust.

    121 ‘Because of these such foolishness has grown on earth
    122 that, with no warrant vouching for its truth,
    123 they still would flock to any promise.

  10. David Cornwell says

    The pastor of the church I now attend has a Wednesday eve discussion group where he puts the lectionary (references) passages for the coming Sunday on the board. He makes some preliminary comments about the setting and background, then opens it for discussion. Something very interesting happens when confronted by the starkness of passages like this one. Some people (friends) I regard as liberal become astoundingly biblical. Taking a passage like this one seriously not only divides, but also has the power to bring a sense of oneness in Christ.

  11. “There is no casual Christianity.”

    Too true. Our affluence in this nation insulates us from the Gospel’s center. We numb ourselves into a stupor with the idea that Christianity is a spectator sport.

  12. I’m not sure how you connect comedians in mega-churches with Luke 12.

    Jesus is speaking of the conflict among Jewish families, as some follow Him, and others will cling to the traditions and the Law of Moses, leading to the persecution of the Jewish Christians. He is looking toward the judgment that would fall upon Jerusalem within that generation – His retaliation for crucifying Him and persecuting His followers.

    • Right, Steve. Here’s how I see them fitting together:

      Jesus’ point is that the people in that day missed HIM, the One who came among them as the ultimate sign of the times. In the same way, churches today are missing him and the sharp decisions he forces.

      “His coming provokes a crisis. Storm clouds appear and the wind begins to blow. Those who recognize the signs and heed them take proper precautions and head for safety. Those who don’t, or who ignore them, will find themselves in danger of great harm.”

      The casual approach of today’s “Christianity” is ignoring the demands inherent in Jesus’ coming and is content to just go along enjoying its cultural religion.

  13. It is always nice when you see something funny. Laughter is useful and should always be used in large quantities. Laughter is health and is feeling good and when it is truly is caused by a positive moment.