49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
It has been said, and rightly so, that Jesus came to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Well, while today's reading most certainly disturbs the comfortable...I'm just having a hard time seeing how it comforts the disturbed.” In a world where bumper stickers proclaim “Jesus Loves You, but I'm His Favorite,” lines like, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” certainly do disturb all of us, those the world would see as comfortable.
When you Google names for 'Jesus' you find things like, Prince of Peace, Holy One, Deliverer, Author of Salvation, Bread of Life, The Good Shepherd, Lamb of God, Light of the World, Righteous One, Savior...not one of those names suggest anything that would make Jesus' words in today's text, things like, “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother,”...not one of the names of Jesus suggest anything that would make those words more palatable, believable...comfortable.
The bottom line is, what we read in today's scripture reading is disturbing – disturbing in part, because it does not fit nicely with what we've come to believe about Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Now, in part, that has to do with what I call the “dualistic lens” through which most of the western hemisphere has chosen to try to judge and understand this world that God created. We will talk more about that in a minute, but first, I think we could gain a better understanding of why The Author of Salvation says he will divide families.
The background to this is actually pretty straight forward. First, remember that we are reading the Gospel of Luke here. Who was it's intended audience? Who did the author of Luke assume would be it's primary reader? The gentiles. Well...there ya' go. For gentiles, there is no doubt, Jesus will put “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
In their day and age, those who were turning away from the pagan gods to be followers of Jesus, Followers of The Way, would most certainly divide their families. In part, this was the reason for many of the recorded Christian persecutions that happened back then. So, Jesus wasn't saying that it was his plan all along to bring division, what he was saying is, “When people (say the gentiles) do what is right (like following the teachings of Jesus) their families will be divided.”
This becomes a problem for us because of what I call the “dualistic lens” through which we like to see life. Through the lens, this dualistic lens, things can only be this or that, one thing or the other. If it isn't a solid, it must be a gas or a liquid...period. The things is, that's not even close to reality. For instance, 99% of the universe God created is not solid...but it's not, liquid or gas either. It is something that can have proprties like any of the state of matter, it's called plasma.
You see, looking through our miss-informed, dualistic lens, we like to think that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was either this or that one way or the other. Believing that he came to both bring peace and to divide us can be difficult for us to wrap our heads around.
Let me give you another example of this that will also help further our discussion. You may or may not know who Anne Rice is (if you follow me on Facebook, quite recently you have no choice but to know who she is).
She is a Christian writer who has not only written about Angels but has also pinned a best selling set of novels about vampires – so right away, you just about have to figure that she is a very interesting person. I bring he up because of something she did a little over a week ago. On her Facebook page, this author whose current novel is about angels announced that she was quitting Christianity. It's not quite as drastic as it sounds though. Let me read you her exact words: “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
Like I said earlier, “When people do what is right (like following the teachings of Jesus) their families will be divided.” “It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.” Anne was saying that the family of God is dramaticly divided and she just can take it any more. “They will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
When Anne made this announcement, as you might imagine, people began to form some pretty harsh opinions. One of them basically, said she took the easy way out; that believing the church was broken and staying in it was the hard choice to make (and implied in that was that it was also the only right choice to make). It is at that point that I entered the conversation. My point was simply this, why can't they both be difficult choices? Why can't we set aside our dualistic lenses through which we try to define things in the world and recognize that my choice to stay in the church when I think it can be a “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group,” and Anne's choice to leave it both can be terribly terrible choices to have to make? Very few things are either this or that, one thing or the other.
Yet it is thinking like that, thinking that things are either this or that, right or wrong, us or them, that has created a church where a devout follower of Jesus, like Anne, decides that the only reasonable thing to do is to continue to follow Jesus and the only workable way to do that is to leave The Church. It is thinking like that that has caused young people throughout our nation to make the exact same decision, to be spiritual, but not to attend a church, because the church has become a very judgmental, and a very divided, place – a very divided family. “They will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
It is our isms that are to blame. Next week in in a sermon called “ism Schism” we will look more specifically at the “isms” that divide us. We will look at isms like: classism, racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, weight-ism, able-ism, ageism, looks-ism, heterosexism, capitalism, nationalism, anti-semitism, faith-ism…all sorts of isms. Each of them determined to divide the world into us and them, this or that, wright or wrong.
Some would point to today's scripture and say that the divisions are to be expected. Some would even say, based on this text, that God doesn't mind. We have to keep in mind, Jesus wasn’t saying that he wanted division to come to God’s people, he was just saying that he knew that there would be division, that there would be some who followed the teachings and others who would get real bothered by it because it isn't what they want.
As I said earlier “When people (this time says us) do what is right (like following the teachings of Jesus, things like love your neighbor, don't hate) their families will be divided.”
We must not forget, that Jesus died so that we might have life and have it to the fullest. While you can clearly hear a great deal of angst and frustration in Jesus' words from today's scripture, Jesus’ frustration may well have been that he dearly wanted God’s people to live out the two great commandments 1) to be happy and at peace, 2) to love your neighbor, to care for the poor and needy...and he didn’t see it happening, so he cried out in anger.
Would it be any different today? As our nation bubbles up to a slow boil over the location of a mosque – allowing hate, anger and fear to rule our perspectives? Even as the worshipers of that religion turn to the God of Abraham? Faith-ism, racism.
Would it be any different today, as we shout out in anger at people who God' claims as God's own, because a judge said that it is OK for them to marry the person they love? Heterosexism.
Would it be any different today as big business clamor to squeeze out the “least of these” all in the name of making yet another almighty dollar on which the print ironically proclaims, “In God We Trust?” Class-ism, Capitalism.
The answer is no – no it would not be any different. Jesus would still cry out in angst and anger, asking “What part of love thy neighbor, did you find difficult to understand? What part of judge not lest you too be judge, escaped you?” This is not a game. It is not an on-again off-again love affair. This is a lifetime commitment to becoming our better selves.
If we’re honest with ourselves, selfishness, hate, division, cruelty, and ignorance still grasp at the very souls of God’s people. We still see the clouds and predict rain, rather than recognizing the present potential to live out heaven on earth simply by being the people God created us to be, the people Jesus tried to teach us to be.
To paraphrase theologian Bob Dillon, how many road must we walk down? How many ears must we have before we have enough to hear? We have to stop playing games. Stop turning our heads and pretending that we don't see. Bob Dylan's song “Blowin' in the Wind,” captures the angst that God feels every time we turn our head to someone in need, take advantage of the least of these, or make choices out of fear and hate. You see in this family, in the church family, God is the parent...and that adds a whole new take on “They will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother.” We not only divide ourselves from each other, but from God.
On hearing Bob Dylan, perform “Blowing in the Wind,” Pope John Paul II, told the crowd of some 300,000 young Italian Catholics that the answer was indeed "in the wind" – not in the wind that blew things away, but rather "in the wind of the spirit" that would lead them to Christ. And that is where our hope resides as well.
In the movement of the Spirit there is hope for a divided world, hope for a divided nation, hope for a divided church...hope for you are me.