10 Pentecost, Proper 15 – August 14, 2022
Oh my! Our gospel passage for this morning is unsettling to say the least. Jesus coming to bring fire to the earth, division, calling us hypocrites. Where is the good news for us in this message?
This is certainly one of those readings where context is important – in other words, remembering what the world was like when Jesus walked the earth. Back then, following Jesus meant division and conflict would have been common. Think about it….to follow Jesus, was to question the religious and economic and even political, status quo.
If you were Jewish, it meant accepting as the Messiah this itinerant rabbi who hung out with disreputable people, who accepted sinners, and preached a message of love and forgiveness. It meant accepting as Messiah someone who looked almost nothing like the warrior king David they had expected.
If you were Gentile, it meant accepting as the Messiah this itinerant rabbi who hung out with the disreputable, accepted sinners, and preached a message of love and forgiveness. It meant accepting as Messiah someone who looked almost nothing like what the culture held out as powerful or important.
Following Jesus meant not merely adopting new beliefs, but it meant a new way of living. To be a follower of Jesus who accepted and even honored the disreputable meant that you needed to do the same, which meant rejecting the easy temptation of judging others and instead inviting them into our lives. To be a follower of the One who preached love and forgiveness was to practice the same, particularly when it comes to those who differ from you even, and maybe especially, in terms of what they believe.
So, knowing that, at least for me, means that the concept of division within households makes more sense. Changing your lifestyle, even today, will cause those around you to question your choices. It will cause disruption and conflict. A question I read that bears some reflection: What would be the reaction of our family and friends and co-workers if we really acted like Jesus did? That’s not an easy thing, acting like Jesus.
What will happen in our families, our communities, our churches, and our world if we allow the “fire” of God’s word to burn through us? As I said, this week’s passage is unsettling. If “tender Jesus, meek and mild” is what we prefer, then this week’s lectionary is not for us. If feel-good religion is the comfort zone we refuse to leave, then we’re missing out, because the shalom of God is about so much more than good feelings. Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. And that encompasses so much more than good feelings.
As Debi Thomas shares: It’s important to remember that when Jesus speaks of division rather than peace in Luke’s Gospel, he’s being descriptive, not prescriptive. It’s not Jesus’s desire or purpose to set fathers against sons or mothers against daughters. It’s certainly not his will that we stir up conflict for conflict’s sake or use his words to justify violence or war.
But his words are a necessary reminder that the peace Jesus offers us is not the fake peace of denial, dishonesty, and harmful accommodation. His is a holistic, truth-telling, disinfecting peace. The kind of deep, life-changing peace that doesn’t hesitate to break in order to mend, and to cut in order to heal.
Jesus will name realities we don’t want named. He will upset hierarchies we’d rather keep intact. He will expose the lies we tell ourselves out of cowardice, laziness, or obstinacy. And he will disrupt all dynamics in our relationships with ourselves and with each other that keep us from wholeness and holiness.
This is not because Jesus wants us to suffer. It’s because he knows that real peace is worth fighting for. Consider the fact that Jesus forced choices from just about everyone he met during his years of incarnate ministry. No one met him without feeling compelled to change. He consistently brought people to the point of crisis, tension, movement, or transformation. He consistently led people to decisions their families and communities didn’t understand. At one point Jesus himself was considered crazy by his mother and siblings. Still, the status quo held no sway over him; his project was shalom or bust.
So, when was the last time any of us allowed Jesus to bring us to a point of saving crisis? When was the last time our faith life encouraged holy division, holy change, in someone else’s heart?
What would it be like to allow Jesus to disturb us, to unmake us? What would it be like to experience the peace that costs, the peace that breaks, the peace that saves? Jesus will indeed “guide our feet into the way of peace.” He will. But only if we’ll let him.
The goal of faith is a changed life. So, how is your life different? As the year progresses, we will all be faced with choices…what decisions will you make based on your relationship with Christ? The choice between following the call of Christ and following the call of the world is not usually an easy one. For one thing, the call of the world looks awfully attractive sometimes. But, let’s remember that Jesus gave his all for us – he died on the cross and rose from the dead – for us. He says we are worth it.
Maybe the good news is simply that when we can’t do what he asks, we still have a Savior! When we can’t bear the weight of the cross the good news is that Jesus did. When we fail at what Jesus asks of us the good news is that he forgives. He asks us to give up everything else and make him our number one priority and when we keep putting other things first he still searches out the lost sheep and welcomes us back with open arms.
The sayings are still hard but the good news is that the One saying them is merciful. Jesus says that we are worth it all. Now he seems to whisper “I am asking that I be worth it all for you as well.” Jesus will indeed “guide our feet into the way of peace”. He will. But only if we will let Him. May it be so. Amen.