By The Rev. Sherry Crompton

August 15, 2010

Read: Luke 12:49-56

“You think I have come to bring peace to the world” Jesus begins. “I have not come to bring peace, but division. Because of me, households will be divided. Son’s will argue with their fathers. Daughters will disagree with their mothers. Good friends will be at odds with one another. And all because of me.”

That message bothers many of us. It bothers us because our perception of Jesus is that he has called people to come together in unity and agreement. One of his names is “The Prince of Peace.” One of the recurring themes of the first century church is “that they will know we are Christians by our love.” But now Jesus’ words seem to run contrary to all of that. Not unity, but division. Not peace, but the sword.

I believe that it is basic human nature to want to live at peace and agreement with others. In spite of the fact that the world is filled with so much discord and disagreement, I believe that the majority of us do not want to rock the boat. If you think back to the most enjoyable and fulfilling times in your family, or in your workplace, or even in this church, they will probably be times when everybody was getting along and there was no conflict or division. That’s a beautiful thing.

But the problem comes when people seek peace at the expense of principle. When our goal becomes to simply get along, when our goal is just to not make waves, that often leads to abandoning who we are and what we stand for. I think it was Bill Cosby who once said “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to make everybody happy.”

My friend shares a camp story from several years ago and saw this very truth unfold in a simple way. A teenage girl was torn between two sets of friends. Some of them were sunbathing on the dock, saying to her “stay with us.” But her other friends were in a rowboat saying “no, come with us.” There she stood, one foot on the dock, the other foot on the edge of the boat, and the boat was moving. Trying to appease everyone, trying to not decide, she ended up falling into the water; and worse, her hair got wet!

But I think this is what Jesus is addressing in the gospel lesson today. He is warning us that there will be times when following him will require us to turn away from something else. There will be times in this life when we will be required to say “yes” to one thing, and therefore “no” to the other. And of course, the action we most often take is the same one that girl did on the swimming dock. We try to go in both directions. We try to say “yes” to it all, and we end up falling in between the seams, and being miserable.

Now…is the choice an easy one, the choice between following the call of Christ and following the call of the world? The choice is usually not an easy one. For one thing, the call of the world looks awfully attractive sometimes, and the call to discipleship can sometimes look rather bland. There was a bible camp song that went something like this: Yield not to temptation, although yielding is fun!” It’s true; yielding can be fun.

A second factor is that following Christ might require us to change directions — or break promises — or renege on commitments that we have made. You and your business partner are involved in practices that are unethical, until you decided that you cannot go along in that direction anymore. Your conscience and your faith will simply not allow you to do so. What do you do? Keep the peace and the profit? Or do you become a prophet and say “no more!”

The book, In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, is the story of a search for peace. The main character, Philippa Talbot, gave up her successful career and fashionable friends to enter a Benedictine convent. Philippa was a widow who had not only lost her husband, but had also lost her child in a tragic accident. She hoped to find peace in the convent. That seemed like the perfect place to find peace. But she found that, even in the convent, peace seemed elusive.

The author hinted at that in the very beginning of the book. In the first paragraph, she talked about the motto of the convent — PAX — the Latin word for peace — engraved above the convent entrance. But she said:

The motto was ‘Pax”, but the word was set in a circle of thorns.
Pax: peace, but what a strange peace,
made of unremitting toil and effort,
seldom with a seen result:
subject to constant interruptions, unexpected demands,
short sleep at nights, little comfort, sometimes scant food;
beset with disappointments and usually misunderstood;
YET PEACE ALL THE SAME, undeviating,
filled with joy and gratitude and love.

What a powerful symbol — the word PAX — the Latin word for peace — set inside a circle of thorns — peace and thorns locked together in an eternal embrace. The crown of thorns, of course, came from the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Roman soldiers, mocking Jesus for pretending to be a king, placed a crown on his head. But the crown was not made of gold and jewels, but of thorns — a pretend crown for a pretend king. Jesus, of course, was not a pretend king, but a real king — king of heaven and earth. But his crown was a pretend crown — a crown of thorns — the symbol of a suffering savior.

So the word PAX or peace, set inside a crown of thorns, tells two stories — makes two promises. It tells of peace, but it also tells of suffering. It would be possible to look at the word PAX, chiseled above that doorway and miss the fact that it was set inside a crown of thorns. But peace seldom comes without struggle.

Philippa found that life in the convent was fraught with turmoil. The old abbess, who had ruled for thirty-two years, died suddenly — and her reluctant successor found herself steering the convent through a crisis. Each of the nuns turned out to have foibles. There were too few of them to do the needed work — and too little money as well.

But through it all, they prayed. Prayer, after all, was their vocation — their calling. They were also called to live together in community and, in spite of everything, they managed that as well.

And throughout their journey together –with all their troubles and strong personalities– they found a kind of peace.

That’s how it works, isn’t it — if it works at all. We might find peace, but we can be sure that our journey will involve bumpy roads and poorly marked detours.

Has your faith ever caused you to make a choice? Have you ever had one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock, and intentionally decided to go in a direction God was calling you instead of another road that appeared exciting or prosperous or provocative? If you have, then you understand exactly why Jesus said what he did.

When we come to a fork in the road, we have to make a decision which direction to go. My sense is that the Christian life is like that. Every day, we are called to make choices, decisions as to which way we will go that day. Sometimes, those decisions are costly, in terms of money, or family, or friendships. If our destination is important to us, we make the correct choice. Not every time, perhaps. But often enough. May God give us wisdom and courage to make those choices in the days ahead. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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