Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sermon, Proper 15C, Luke 12:49-56

What do you hear in the first lesson and gospel reading for today?  What connects these two passages?  As with most readings, there are probably several different connections that you could make.  But the one I see, and the one I want to address is division.

Jeremiah talks about the division between the false prophets who prophesy the deceit of their own hearts and the prophets of God who speak his word faithfully.  In the gospel we hear of the division to earth and households.  And because I was on vacation last week, I’ll be honest and tell you I’m taking the easy way out by focusing on the division we find in the gospel today.

Today’s gospel gives us a different picture of Jesus than we normally see, and probably totally different than we hold to ourselves.  Jesus.  Sweet Jesus.  I love thee Lord Jesus, holy infant, so tender and mild.  Is this how you see Jesus, as something you can wrap up and snuggle into?  Or maybe you see Jesus as the poster boy of peace, smiling, arms open wide, welcoming all the little children to him?  This is where the division begins.

I came to bring fire to the earth.  I haven't come to bring peace, but division.  Family member against family member.  Three against two.  In-laws against in-laws.  How do we reconcile these words of division against other words and images of Jesus as the Prince of Peace and the shepherd of all?

One way to reconcile these two images is to say that there will be peace on earth when everyone agrees with me.  I've read and studied and I have all the right answers.  Therefore, I will smite all the heretics and apostates from the face of the earth and, in the name of Jesus, I will create one pure, peaceful nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all -- except, of course, for those I declare heretics.  Because this is what will happen if everything was left up to me.

How many disagreements, struggles, wars and schisms have been perpetrated in the name of Jesus by people against people who were different?

Images of babies sweetly sleeping to lullabies are one thing, but the actual words of a grown man, who also happens to be God, are something else entirely.  And the words of this man say that he isn't coming to bring peace but division.  His words say that he will be the cause of division and family strife.  If this is God, then I'm not sure I want any part of him.  I'd rather be an agnostic or atheist and spend my Sundays hiking in the hills or napping on the couch.

But just who is dividing whom?

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3:16).
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also (John 10:16).
And when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself (John 12:32).

Those are but a few examples of God's desire to bring all people into his loving embrace.  So again: just who is dividing whom?  If God wants us to be unified, the division isn't coming from him.  The division is coming from us.

Somehow we got the notion that everyone is required to have the same understanding of Jesus as we do.  This does a couple of things, both bad.  First, it gives us the idea that if they don't fall in line with us, then they will be damned for all eternity.  And if we allow them to be damned, then we have failed at the Great Commission.

Second, if we allow people to have different thoughts about Jesus from what we think, then there might be a crack in our armor.  We might be wrong.  And if we are wrong, then we might be condemned to hell for all eternity.  And since we don't want that, we fight with those who are different from us.

Take our own larger church for example.  We have witnessed a great division mainly over issues of homosexuality and equality.  Whether you see those arguments as issues of equality versus purity, or whether you see them as a struggle for power, we have created the divisions within this church.  And regardless of what side of the conflict you are on, I am convinced that both sides believe they are doing the correct thing.  Both sides believe they are following Jesus.  But the division is our making, not God's.

People fight about this stuff, and they fight over Jesus, because it's important.  But we get so caught up in being "right for Christ" that we allow ourselves to be seriously divided.  Did Jesus come to draw all people to himself, or did he come to draw only those who meet certain criteria?  Is the church a place where sinners gather to learn how to become disciples and reflect the kingdom of God, or is church a place for only the religiously pure to gather and remind each other of how good and right they are?

The reality is that we are all divided in some way.  Some of us have certain ideas about Jesus, others have different ideas.  My in-laws have a different value on attending church than I do.  So does my dad.  But division may not necessarily be bad.  In the words of Paul, some of us are feet, some are hands, some eyes and ears.  In that respect, we are divided.  But that division doesn't have to conquer us.  To use a military term, there are different divisions, but one goal.

Jesus is more than pastoral Christmas hymns, and the division of person against person isn't of his making; rather it is truth-speaking about his effect on people.  We divide ourselves and tear ourselves apart based on our interpretation of what is right.  But what would it look like if we viewed division in a positive light?

What would it look like if we acknowledged our differences, our divisions, and, instead of warring over them, used them to attract people into the family?  Do we have the strength and the patience to say unity is not conformity?

I have come to bring division.  That's a good thing, because Lord knows that if it were left up to any one of us, this would eventually be a church of one.



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