“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
As much as I don’t want to preach on this gospel today, I fear for the thousands of churches and church goers who will wrestle with such a tricky and troubling passage. And how many more will be told from the pulpit that they, or someone they love is going to hell.Maybe it's all that love stuff he's been talking about. Click To Tweet
Proper 14C | Luke 12:49-56
The impulse I have to preach on something else mirrors the impulse many have to preach on this intentionally. Not to help us see Jesus’s radical view of division, but to encourage us to create division.
I fear how divided we already are about our faith.
Jesus says he is bringing division.
For many this is justification for division or initiating further division. Within the Christian family and our culture. Between faiths and family members.
But he doesn’t say we’re to bring division. He brings division. Something about Jesus is divisive.
Maybe it’s all that love stuff he’s been talking about.
After confronting the Pharisees about hypocrisy, Jesus warns his followers about the “yeast of the Pharisees”: hypocrisy. These leaders care more about their laws than GOD’s and can’t be trusted.
Then Jesus tells them not to worry about what to say in case they are arrested and threatened with death! The Spirit will give them words at such a moment. Right after warning them about the Pharisees. And right after he confronts and humiliates the Pharisees.
Jesus is trying to show them the truth!
The parables which follow: the rich fool, the ravens and lilies, and the watchful slaves: are all about preparing and watching. Jesus is telling his followers to care for GOD’s interest and notice Her in our midst.
Then Jesus gets pretty dark.
“Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”
When Peter opens his mouth, we’re to listen. He’s our stand-in. And he’s missing something.
Jesus was talking about preparation and Peter needs clarification.
Is this for me? Or for them? Who’s your target audience?
But instead of responding to the question directly, Jesus tells a dark parable about a master and middle management. The master then deals harshly with the managers who don’t listen. It sounds like Jesus is talking about GOD. At least, it sounds like he’s trying to tell us something about GOD. It just doesn’t sound anything like the GOD Jesus was just talking about to his followers. The GOD of love and forgiveness and mercy.
This master sounds like a jerk.
And his treatment of his managers sounds harsh, brutal.
Peter asks Jesus who he’s talking to and Jesus tells him a contradictory story that is harsh to gatekeepers and the know-it-alls. After denouncing the gatekeepers around them.
Then Jesus talks about division. Bringing division. Even to our families.
Christians are familiar with division.
We’re good at it. We divide like nobody’s business. Always dividing over our imperfections–always seeking true purity. Purity in doctrine and theology. Purity in behavior and teaching. Purity in expectation and inclusion.
But we’re not used to hearing it from Jesus. We’re used to hearing it through doctrine–which is more like an excuse for further division. And we’ve been at that a long time. Casting each other out of the circle.
And we use Scripture to divide us.
Over slavery, women’s roles in the church, sexuality, age, ability, marital status. All these divisions, all these casting out, defended with scripture. And Tradition. With the sense that everybody thinks it has to be this way. Don’t rock the boat. Or change things.
And every day goes by and there is further proof that we are doing the right thing by not letting those people in. Inside that circle. Inside that inner circle where we are. Every day. Always something. Something new.
A new act of violence. A protest. A public display. Something which reminds us why we shouldn’t change the equation. Just leave things as they are. Keep them out.
Every day something. Confirmation we think. A reminder. Telling us we’re right.
But then we go back to the gospel and we read what Jesus says to people inside the circle. And we look out there–out past the lines we have drawn, and we see someone caring for those outcasts. Those wounded and hurt, beaten and bruised by us. Tending to the sick and the dead. And he looks like one of us.
Jesus brings division so we can see who brings the violence.
The division Jesus brings is not to exclude, but to illuminate. It is division which reveals who we are and what we care about. Who we care about. It reveals our inner thoughts and expectations for GOD and the world.
This is what his parables do. They illuminate division and conflict avoidance. From the Parable of the Good Samaritan earlier to the healing he’ll do on the Sabbath in the next chapter.
Jesus brings division so that we can see how we’re already divided: between haves and have-nots, the inner circle and the outcast. So we might see how divided we already are.
Jesus reveals the divisions we impose on each other and the wedges we drive between each other.
Because following Jesus is following him to Jerusalem to confront the Temple. We confront the face of evil in the world and reveal it to the world.
He speaks to how easily we see signs in the world about worldly things, but we’re totally ignorant to signs of spiritual things.
It’s like checking my weather app, seeing it’ll be 95 and sunny and then grab a parka and an umbrella.
Like seeing hate and injustice and greed and dysfunction and being all meh, no biggy but the Colts screw up the draft or the Pacers blow a third quarter lead and we totally know what that means.
We must read the signs.
We read the signs of our own history.
Today, the church honors the sacrifice of Jonathan Daniels and the martyrs of the civil rights movement. A sign of love and hope in the face of evil.
In 1965, Jonathan Daniels was in seminary. But he heard the call of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and left school to join him in Selma. Daniels marched. Then stuck around and worked for integration, serving a community which needed support. Changing the world, making the dream a reality.
He was murdered by a racist who was intending to murder a seventeen year-old girl named Ruby Sales. A girl traumatized, who testified at the murder trial, only to see the man acquitted by an all white jury. A girl who would grow up and go on to (then) ETS, the Episcopal seminary Daniels attended. Later she dedicate The SpiritHouse Project in his honor. She is his legacy. And GOD’s sign to the world.
We read these signs of GOD in the world, standing against the hate and the greed and the violence which would steal the love of GOD from us. But it can’t.
We read the signs of our present.
In the movements to reform policing and the criminal justice system and our approach to preserving GOD’s creation.
In the areas our friend Sister Simone shared with us when the Nuns on the Bus were here last month: To help Mend the Gaps in
- Tax Justice
- Living Wages
- Family-Friendly Workplaces
- And Access to Democracy, Healthcare, Citizenship, and Housing
Signs in our present which reveal not only pain and injustice, but GOD’s presence and response.
We’re to read these signs not as the source of division, but as the coming of justice.
Jesus brings division when we are deaf to the cries of the outsider. And when we would rather paper over the call to change and pretend that this is the best we can do. That this selfish culture is the best we can offer GOD.
We are not divided into the saved and the damned. And certainly not because of denomination or political affiliation or even by who we choose to vote for! We sort ourselves by what we do to one another. What injustice we tolerate and by how small we make that circle (and by how many people we place with Jesus outside it).
Jesus doesn’t call us to bring an end to division in some utopian harmony. But to bring the kind of justice which destroys those separations and reveals GOD’s kindom.
Because we can’t limit the kindom. We can pretend we have a say of who gets in and who doesn’t. And we can pretend that saying and doing nothing controversial is the same as doing something to advance the kindom. To draw the circle wider. Bringing more of GOD’s children in.
Or we can remember that Jesus is on the other side of that line, caring for those thrown out for their difference. Bringing with him GOD’s love withheld by the divisive hate of humanity.
And every time we go there, out to where Jesus really is, on the other side, we scuff the line and trample the barriers with our feet. Because nothing, no matter how hard we try, can deprive any of us from the love of GOD.