When Jennifer and I were living in England, we were astonished to learn that you actually had to buy a license to watch television! Now a government official doesn’t come into your house and sit on the couch with you and make sure you know how to operate the remote control or how to turn the television on and off. And you can still go to the store and buy a television without a TV license. They don’t even take your picture and give you a card to keep in your purse or wallet. You can watch a DVD or a VCR tape on your television without a license. But you just can’t watch network television without this special license. They even have these black vans that drive around town with a satellite dish on the top of them and they can tell if you are watching TV without a current license. If you get caught, you have to pay a £1,500.00 fine (that’s about $3,000.00). So, I made sure to walk down to the Post Office and fork out £110.00 (that’s about $220.00) for one of these TV licenses for the year we were going to be there.
Now you might think that this license would enable you to watch a broad assortment of channels. Nope—you get to watch a full five channels after purchasing your yearly television license. It was enough to make me want to paint my face and throw some tea into a harbor. But here in America we have a TV channel for every possible area of interest. There’s one channel for cooking, four channels for sports, one channel with a bunch of historical programs, another channel for comedy shows—in fact, I think there’s a channel for just about everything. That being said, there was better programming on those five channels in England than on 150 here, but they were lacking the one channel everybody always looks to—The Weather Channel.
If you wanted to see what the forecast would be for the upcoming week, you had to just do the unthinkable—you had to wait for the news to come on! I guess the good people of England don’t really need a channel strictly for weather anyway. If you want to know what the forecast will be for the next day or two you don’t need to rely on a meteorologist over in the British Isles. Anybody could predict the weather over there. Everybody knew it was going to be overcast, rainy, and cold. I remember one stretch in the winter over there where I didn’t see the sun for over four months! Over there, if you waited on the weather to get better before doing whatever it was you had planned; you ended up never doing it.
Here in America though, we are a people infatuated with the weather. We can’t wait until the news comes on to see what the prediction will be for the next coming days, we want it now—weather on the ones! Is it going to be another scorcher tomorrow? Will it rain any this entire month? Is it going to be windy on the 23rd? What’s the temperature going to be on October 17th? We want reliable weather forecasts, and we want them right now!
In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus even talks a little bit about the weather. Apparently the weather in ancient Israel was about as predictable as the weather in England. When a dark cloud came from the direction of the Mediterranean Sea it was a sure sign that it was going to rain. Likewise, when the wind came up from the Arabian Peninsula and the Negev Desert, everybody knew it was going to be a scorcher. (In fact, that’s what the Greek literally says, “a scorcher”). They didn’t need meteorologists, climatology experts, or even Doppler radar. Predicting the weather in ancient Israel was about as easy as predicting the weather in England. Anybody could do it, and everybody knew what signs to look for to know what was going to happen with the weather.
The crowd Jesus was speaking to was not a group of people who had gotten their brains removed a few days before they came to hear this subversive Rabbi. He tells the crowd that if they can do something as routine and elementary as knowing it’s going to rain when they see a dark cloud overhead or knowing it was going to be hot when a warm wind was blowing up from the south, that they should be able to figure out that a new sort of wind was blowing and bringing with it a very different climate.
These people were witnesses to what Jesus was doing. They saw him heal the sick and feed the hungry. They saw him eating with the outcasts and the sinners. They saw him accomplish marvelous things. They heard his insightful teaching of a new world order. They felt the warm wind on their face that was bringing with it a new way of living and indeed new life. But yet they couldn’t interpret these signs they were seeing in the present time.
When we see the sky turn black at 4:00 pm, we know there’s going to be a storm. When we walk outside to get the paper at 7:00 am and we glance at the thermometer and see that it’s already 85ºF, we know it’s going to be hot. Nobody wants to schedule a picnic during a monsoon and we simply can’t go snow skiing in December when it’s still 65º outside. When we see a dark cloud overhead, we know we should get our umbrella. When we walk outside to get the paper at 7:00 am and we break into a sweat, we know we shouldn’t wear our fur-trimmed parkas that day. When we see the weather conditions of the day, we act accordingly and plan accordingly. Well, the age of God’s rule is at hand—we should act accordingly! This was Jesus’ message to the crowds that they failed to grasp.
You can’t turn on one of those 150 channels of the television without hearing something about global warming; even if you’re not tuned to the station that is devoted only to the weather. It sure seems warmer than it did ten years ago, and even if you don’t buy into the science behind the argument for global warming, there are few people who wouldn’t agree that we need to do more to curb our pollution of the environment.
But I think we actually need some global warming! I’m not talking about the kind that Al Gore makes movies about. I’m not talking about the temperature outside heating up and melting the polar ice caps. What I’m talking about is a spiritual global warming. We don’t need a license to spread the warmth of the kingdom of God. A black van isn’t going to come around and fine you for telling others about the warm wind that blew into Israel 2000 years ago.
You remember that south wind that Jesus mentioned in the lesson today? In Hebrew it is called “the sharav.” That just means the scorching wind. It is referred to at least 17 times in the Bible. And when it starts blowing, it can raise the temperature as much as 30º in one hour! With the way the weather has been this past week, I think the scorching wind has made its way across the ocean to Badin. Or at least, I hope it has. I hope that we can stand up and take note of the spiritual climate here. And I hope we can act on it accordingly. Amen.