Finding Comfort in Discomfort

Sermon for August 14, 2022 – Deacon Craig Foster

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

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.”

Gospel of Luke

Does Jesus really mean He comes to bring fire, to burn us, to promote family fights? Is that the message of this reading from the Gospel of Luke?

Well, if it is, then I can finally preach a fire and brimstone sermon. I can let you know that now is the time to “turn or burn”.

Unfortunately, you will not get to hear that sermon… At least not today.

Because I think Jesus’s message today is one of acknowledging the reality of His birth and of His presence among us.

Jesus preached a message of love and inclusion. He welcomed women into His ministry as well as the poor, the destitute, and the sinners. He did this in the face of a male-dominated religious establishment that saw many with whom Jesus spent His time as unclean.

Jesus’s presence rattled the Jewish leaders and put the whole of their society at risk of Roman retaliation.

The message of Jesus’s gospel today is that making a commitment to follow Jesus has consequences. It will be as if fire had been rained down on your head and your closest family members will be divided from you.

We only have to look at the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews to be reminded of what early Christians faced: torture, mocking, flogging, persecution, and even violent death. This is the fire that Jesus speaks of today.

However, being a Christian in this country does not confront us with that type of persecution. The majority of us do not face family division over our belief in and commitment to Jesus. It can feel comfortable to be a Christian. But, frankly, I do think being comfortable as a Christian may mean we are not following our mission to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. If we are to truly follow Jesus’s teachings then we should be uncomfortable about it.

At least some of the time.

So think about it for a moment. Is there anything in your life as a follower of Jesus that puts you in uncomfortable situations? Is division ever created between you and those around you?

Under the assumption that at least some of you find being Christian comfortable, I want to share with you something that is coming to St. Alban’s that makes me uncomfortable. As you know the congregation recently finished a long process of developing a strategic plan. The development of the plan included all of the church’s members. This strategic plan was rolled out on St. Alban’s Day and presented to the congregation. We have discussed it in detail in staff meetings and in committee meetings. The Vestry starts this week reporting on progress toward implementing the plan; it is part of all we will be doing.

So what makes me uncomfortable about it? In the strategic plan, we are told twice under Welcome and Membership and under the Fellowship heading that we will be implementing the “Invite, Welcome, Connect” mission. I will tell you what makes me nervous in a minute, but first, we need to talk about why this effort is needed.

The desire to include more people in our work and mission comes from the priorities of the CAT survey from last year. Second, the days of the attractive church is gone. Many of us grew up in churches
where the attitude was “You should come join us. Look at all the great things we have going on. It’s
attractive”.

Those days are gone and it is probably a good thing. We still have great things going on, but society does not care as much. This causes us to think about our mission and how we take our mission out to the world. It is time for us to tell our story and invite people into it.

And there is what makes me nervous, that pesky word Invite. This mission of “Invite, Welcome, Connect” will first ask us to invite someone to church. It will ask us to feel good enough about this congregation that we will ask someone to join us. Join us Sunday morning or join us for an event, or join us for our ministry.

That makes me uncomfortable, but this gospel tells me that is okay. In fact, this Gospel tells me to expect it. This mission I am talking about… in fact, much of the strategic plan brings us to the opportunity to improve who we are as the church.

I believe that this is a time we need to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”. We are called to live into this gospel we heard today and acknowledge to ourselves that following Jesus fully will make us uncomfortable. And if that bothers us, then we only have to remember what it meant to the early Christians: torture, chains, and maybe death. Being uncomfortable with something is far easier to bear than what the early church bore.

I have only given one example of where being a Christian can be uncomfortable. For you, this new mission of “Invite, Welcome, Connect” may end up being exactly where you are called and feel comfortable. Maybe Invite and Welcome will work well for you and Connect, where we share our stories with each other, will be uncomfortable.

But we all are called to think about where being a Christian is uncomfortable. Maybe it is speaking out about an injustice where we work, or challenging someone close to us about an important issue.

Perhaps it is changing a personal direction or habit that is not living into “loving ourselves” as we love our neighbor.

I do not know where being a Christian makes you uncomfortable, but I think we live in a time when we need to lean into those uncomfortable moments, look for God, and act as Jesus would have us act.

We need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as Christians. The writer of Hebrews gives us some guidance on how to lean into the uncomfortable part of Christianity. And that is “faith”.

In last week’s reading from the Letter to Hebrews, we heard:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.”

We cannot directly see God. It is our faith that give us the conviction that God assures our hope. It is our faith based on how we have experienced God and the Holy Spirit in our lives that helps us lean into the uncomfortable moments.

The writer of Hebrews this week gives us examples of those who had faith; from those in the Old Testament who had faith in God and overcame their fears, overcame being uncomfortable, who then “won strength out of weakness”.

And from those early followers of Jesus who gained strength to follow their convictions and go beyond being uncomfortable even to death because they had faith the unseen God was with them.

In this reading from Hebrews we find some who found triumph following their faith and some who found tragedy following that faith. The results of following our faith can be either. Our faith tells us God, through the Holy Spirit is with us so we do not need to worry about the outcome. We are not promised success, but we are promised the joy of God’s presence in our lives. We just need to know we are not alone and run the race.

We have this ”great cloud of witnesses” around us now as we lean into our uncomfortable spaces. We can know we are not alone. We can be assured of the things we hope for and move into whatever new territory God calls us to.

Remember these encouraging words from the end of today’s reading from Hebrews:

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.

Find where following Jesus makes you uncomfortable, lean into it, get comfortable with that feeling, and run the race with perseverance. And may God be with us as we run. In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.


Amen