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The More Things Change

Luke 12:49-56

The Rev. Jon Roberts

18 August


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

49 “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; 52 for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the multitudes, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 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?


A Copse, Evening, A.Y. Jackson 1918

The more things change
The more they stay the same.[1]

In 2011 we lost an American icon in the world of syndicated comic strips. You may recall seeing this comical cartoon, often illustrated within its traditional format of a large circle, with caption underneath. The artist was Bil Keane who wrote and inked many examples of how families got along or did not get along. It highlighted The Family Circus and from each brief encounter, just by hearing the observations of the children and seeing the expressions of the parents, you can almost hear the theme, “The more things change. The more they stay the same.”

Each Sunday, in my childhood I looked forward to the thicker paper. It was in one section that everything was in color…the comic strips. Here, there was more relation to the world, than any of the other sections that preceded. One in particular shows the three children, gathered around. The eldest is the daughter and she summons her baby brother and the middle child, the other brother and makes an announcement. She points to them with this instruction, “Daddy said we need to work as a team. That means you guys need to do what I say.” The father is in the background, overhearing her and looks surprised. Perhaps he is thinking, “The more things change. The more they stay the same.”

There are many more examples. There is one of the mother emphatic about the clutter of toys in the son’s room. She’s pointing at the mess, as if to say, “pick this up.” The son responds, “Clean my room?... But I’m not done getting it dirty.” Bil kept the ages of the family the same throughout the 26 years. He drew the cartoons and his son, Jeff, would always color them. Going back to the round format. It represented the circle of life, a circus of events if you will, that continues to emphasize, “The more things change. The more they stay the same.”

When we hear the readings today, we see this circle of life. In the Old Testament account of Isaiah, the family is likened to a vineyard.[2] The prophet sings a love song about its creation and how it stretches forth and builds up. Yet, what good is it, if it does not continue to grow and bear fruit? The investment by the original vine dresser is in vane if his teachings do not translate to the next generation. St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews lists the chronicles of frustrated prophets who did what they did from one generation to the next.[3] They foretold of the coming of God to deliver them from the hands of their enemies, to repent and to prepare. Yet, so stubborn were the people, like children who refused to change and adapt. Then, we hear Jesus speak with a culmination of all the previous heartache, saying he, “will bring fire to the earth.”[4] Jesus is the agent of peace. He is the lover of souls. He is the savior of the world. Why would he bring fire? Why would he do the things he quotes from old, where, “father [will be] against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother”? Why would he want to create such a division among the family? Perhaps he knew, “The more things change. The more things stay the same.” It was the sameness of God’s message that had been lost. Jesus speaks directly to the people of Israel; to their form of worship, together as a family. It had taken another turn, away from God’s will. Time and time again, this happens. Jesus sees Jerusalem on a similar path as the people of old. He is quoting from one of the twelve minor prophets, Micah. Micah was observing the fall of Israel in 722 BC. By an invasion that was spreading from the south, taking over Judah and advancing towards Israel, he was warning the people, telling them, “Work as a team,” and “Clean your room.”; but they disobeyed. Overthrown, the prophets continued to speak, “The more things change. They more they remain the same.”

By now, we should be able to predict the rise and fall of the family. We should know when to break off and cast out the dead branches into the fire to be consumed, but we don’t. We let it become overgrown and choke out the light from the good branches.
By now, we should know when God is calling us to make an exodus from extremism and heresy; but we don’t.
By now, we should come to expect dissension within the body of the family; the church even. Family members come and go, but Christ is the same today and forever.

Long ago, in one of his sermons, St. Augustine of Hippo pointed out how the people of his time longed for days past while ignoring how difficult it must have been for the people living in those times.[5] It is as if our family is truly a circus. We are all under the tent trying to relate and to get along. To God, perhaps he sees no age. Perhaps God sees no time elapsing; only the same patterns of human behavior are before Him. What if we are called to change into the sameness of what God really wants from us. Childlike obedience. Earnest adoration of the Father’s creation, the Son’s sacrifice and the Spirit’s healing. This should come full circle and we should find comfort that Jesus brings fire to restore what has gone astray. Jesus brings power back to the rightful purpose of the Church, for the sake of healing and reconciliation; not division and mistrust.

God’s vineyard, God’s family will prevail. In this posture, do we understand,...
The more things change.
The more they remain the same.

[1] Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, Les Guepes, 1849
[2] Isaiah 5:7
[3] Hebrews 11:29-12:2
[4] Luke 12:49-56
[5] St. Augustine, Caillau-Saint Yves Sermon, 2, 92. Shmaltz & Menudo, online; January 14, 2018.

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