Jason Alexander.blog
Sermons and writing about prayer, camping, bikes, and love.
7-min read

The Crisis of the World

A couple summers ago my wife and I piled the kids into the minivan and headed West. It was to be our big vacation of the year – all the way to California coast. Why fly when the classic “road trip” offers so much more? More sites to see; more local cuisines to sample; more time together – the latter, of course, adding some emotional depth to the experience, one might say. In today’s Gospel, Jesus claims he has come to set families against themselves, daughter against mother, etc., and sometimes I wonder if he meant to accomplish that feat by sending families on extended road trips together.

The Alexander clan somehow avoided that fate. We did make it – all four thousand miles – and even managed to have a good time, no small thanks due in part to a couple of iPads, Netflix, and some headphones for dad. And, in good road trip form, the kids even got a few educational lectures from their aspiring naturalist parents: the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the California Redwoods, and the oft overlooked and misunderstood Continental Divide. And it is to the Great Divide that I want to bring your attention this morning.

If you’ve ever traveled to the West Coast you’ve crossed it. The Great Divide runs all the way from the tip of the Seward Peninsula in Alaska down to Tierra del Fuego, the tip of South America. Admittedly, the crossing on Interstate 40 is largely underwhelming. About half way between Albuquerque and Gallup, New Mexico, amidst all of the billboards advertising must-have Route 66 memorabilia, there’s a sign pointing to an exit where you can stop and read a marker. Visiting the divide here is no mountaintop experience. There are no fantastic vistas to behold, nothing really of consequence. That is, unless you are a drop of rain. You see, rain that falls on the Eastern side of the divide eventually makes its way into the Atlantic Ocean, while rain that falls to the West of the divide ends up in the Pacific. Quite a dramatic consequence for the unsuspecting raindrop – mere inches deciding the location of its ultimate resting place, the options literally oceans apart. The poet might describe this geographical feature as a crisis point that divides the American landscape. Crisis, not meaning emergency, but rather that moment or occasion of truth and decision – it all comes down to these few inches of land, or in today’s gospel passage, it all comes down to this one individual named Jesus.

Jesus presents himself, in no uncertain terms, as a critical presence in the world, the crisis point for all humanity. “I came to bring fire to the earth,” he says. “I have come not to bring peace, but division!” “Father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother.” And if we can get past our initial shock at hearing these frightening words come from the mouth of the gentle shepherd, the King of Peace, we might understand Jesus to mean, quite simply, “I matter; I am here to make a difference; I am here to disrupt the status quo; to cause conversation; to inspire you to live your life in an intentional way rather than just going through the motions.” Jesus isn’t just another traveling magician; not just another zealot, drumming up trouble for the state; not just a storyteller with wise words. Jesus is the crisis of the world.

Jesus is placing his hearers in the situation of decision. His dramatic words are meant to shock, to stir emotions, to demand attention. Turning toward one person or value means turning away from another. And in this case, echoing the words said at our baptism, to turn toward Jesus, putting our whole trust in his grace and love, is to embrace an entirely new life – one where death is not the final word; resurrection is a reality; relationships matter; and ensuring justice and peace is worthy of our efforts. You can only dangle your feet on either side of the divide for so long. This upside down world in which we live, where coin is king, winning equals righteousness, and people are commonly treated as objects, strangely calls to us constantly, making promises of power, security, comfort, and happiness. All we have to do is buy this, or win this competition, or pledge allegiance to right politician. As Jesus learned during his time in the desert struggling with temptation, the only true place of solace is in the embrace of God. This turn towards God, then, asks of us a lifestyle that may not be entirely compatible with the world. It may not be compatible with the desires of our mothers, sisters, brothers, or fathers. Jesus is the crisis of the world. His presence will naturally be divisive.

Some of you likely know that I’m passionate about riding bikes. It’s mountain biking lately, and I love the new trail over at River Mountain road. I watched a documentary called Ride the Divide. It follows a group of mountain bikers who take part in an epic race along the Continental Divide from the town of Banff in the Canadian Rockies down to the Mexican border. They call it the Tour Divide. The route takes riders on a spirited, four-week, 2700 mile romp through some of the most remote wilderness in the United States. According to this documentary, the race attracts a wide spectrum of personalities; people from all different walks of life – different perspectives, different problems, different levels of fitness. But one thing seems to be fairly consistent among the riders, and that is their general motivation for taking up the challenge: they’re all facing some sort of crisis point in their lives. One rider is going to be a first-time father. As a seasoned cyclist, he knows he is up for this challenge but is unsure about his ability to handle the responsibility of a newborn in his life. Another rider had an unexpected break in his career and needed to discern the next steps in his vocation. And another, a woman, wanted to be the first female to complete the race, to proof to herself and the world that she had the stamina and the will to go the distance.

I find it quite fitting that perhaps the most obvious geographical divide on the planet provides itself as a backbone upon which divided individuals might travel to find transformation. That great crisis point that is the Continental Divide calls to individuals who are themselves in crisis, offering through is rugged and varied terrain, long stretches of solitude, and occasional interactions with fellow travelers, a new way for them to understand their purpose, their relationships, and maybe to encounter a sense of freedom they’d not yet felt.

And here’s the Good News for us today. Jesus came to bring fire to the earth. He came to be noticed, to upset the status quo, to compel us to pay attention. And he did this not for his own sake, but for ours. Ironically, this divisive, controversial man offers rest for our divided souls. He promises freedom from the empty baubles of the world. He offers us a glimpse of the unseen, the Kingdom of Heaven, an alternative, grace-filled reality that is available to us here and now. He is the crisis point beckoning us to nothing less than salvation.

Deciding to follow Jesus is no so different from deciding to ride the divide. We bring with us all of our feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, all of those hard-to-shake fears and doubts, and embark on a life-long journey that forces us to engage one another and the world as if our actions matter – that we, as Christians, can make a difference. And the best part is that when we risk enough to live and love as Jesus would have us live and love, transformation is guaranteed.

Jesus is the crisis of the world. Jesus is the great divide. And, what might this world be like if we decided to stop dangling our feed on either side and take the plunge?

Proper 15, Year C

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