The Divisive Call

Hebrews 11:29-12:2?? Luke 12:49-56

By Ken Dale

August 18, 2013

? ? ? ? ? ? What is your image of Jesus?? How did the gospel reading hit you this morning?? A little bit uncomfortable?? I have always appreciated Jesus? compassion, his way of taking things from surface actions to deep thoughts which actually lead to more thoughtful actions.? My image of Jesus is peacemaker, reconciler, gracious, and all about unconditional love that is rooted in God.? It was so tempting to ?not go there? when I read today?s lesson.? We didn?t go there last week ? and they were ok verses ? same chapter, verses 32-40 ? ?do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father?s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.?? Sell your possessions, and give alms.? Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven?where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.?? And ending with words about being watchful ? ?be dressed for action and have your lamps lit???

??????????? But today ? it?s divisive!? And I wonder what voice we hear it in?? What if we hear it in a calm voice?? ?I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!? I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!? Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?? No I tell you, but rather division?.??? And he goes on with a disturbing description of divided families.? Children are set against their parents, and parents against their children.? Wait!? Isn?t this the Prince of Peace whose arrival we celebrate at Christmas?? These are conflicting images of Jesus.? What?s preacher to do?? There have been studies done that say going to church is good for you.? People who attend church regularly, as opposed to people who attend church infrequently, enjoy lower blood pressure.? So reading these words of Jesus about division in the family – rooted in his calling to follow him ? how is our blood pressure when you hear this?

Actually we shouldn?t be too surprised.? When Jesus was presented at the temple as an infant it was prophesied that he would be ?destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed.?? When he returned to his hometown in the early days of his ministry the congregation ?initially spoke well of him? but after his speaking they wanted to dispatch him over a cliff. (Luke 14:16-30).? In the 7th chapter of John?s gospel when Jesus spoke at the festival of booths in Jerusalem, some decided he was the Messiah but others doubted it.? ?So there was a division in the crowd because of him.?? In Matthew?s gospel Jesus says, ?I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.? (9:57-60)??? Just to name a few instances of such impact from his life.? And there are of course many instances of his gentleness and peace ? just think of his taking a child into his arms in Mark?s gospel saying, ?Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me?? (9:37).

So ? what are we to do with this Jesus?? Ignore what disturbs us and hold fast to that which we love?? It is important to consider the context.? Jesus is speaking to his disciples ? those who seek to follow.?? More than Jesus personally, what is divisive is his call to those who would follow.? It was and is a call that demands some significant decisions about what takes priority in one?s life.? Do those words speak to us today?? The life to which Jesus calls us may very well be divisive in the world in which we live.? In our day to day living there is always that pull by those who may urge us, in some way, to morally stray ? not being completely honest with ourselves or others, or as that old traditional prayer of confession says ? things we have done that we ought not to have done and leaving undone those things we ought to have done.? There is that pull to put family loyalty above doing God?s will.? There is the challenge in our consumer society of following those who act as if peace and happiness are in possessions.? Do we stand up against societal voices that build up the self at the expense of others.? Will we make the first move to reconcile?? Our lists go on.

But let us also remember that these words of Jesus about not bringing peace stand in sharp contrast to his words elsewhere in the gospels ? where he speaks of the peace that comes because one does follow him.? My favorite is shared at the close of our home communion service from John 14:? ?Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.? Not as the world gives do I give to you.? Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.? As Christians we experience both ? and sometimes like those first century Christians we suffer for our faith.? Maybe not beaten, arrested, stoned or executed like Paul and some of his contemporaries.? But some go through painful times, exclusion, severe disagreement, upsetting times that are anything but peaceful.? The bond of faith ? of God?s grace ? helps us to hang in there.

The peace of God!? One of my favorite Fred Buechner quotes says that for Jesus, peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.? Not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.? Isn?t that what we understand the Christ to be all about?? The presence of love?? The presence of love even in the midst of struggle and even in the midst of conflict, even in the midst of when things don?t go the way we think they should be going — in just about any setting?? Is that peace not really more gift of God ? more by the grace of God ? than something we can acquire on our own?? I love the image of God?s peace being something like a magnetic center of calm toward which the person who is committed to Christ, is drawn back in the midst of or after turmoil.? The peace of Christ is an anchor that keeps us from being swept away in the storms of life.

And aren?t those who have it and live it – the Saints?? Whoever we know or remember as ?saint? had that anchor in their life ? had that ultimate trust in God to do their best to live by God?s grace.? In good times and challenging times ? not always without struggle or conflict ? but always anchored in the storm.? Anchored in the peace of God ? come to us in Christ.? Maybe Jesus? words do not promise peace ? except the peace of God.? A peace that is the presence of love ? and a peace that enables us, by faith, to bring the presence of love in all that we are and do.