A sermon for the 10th Sunday After Pentecost, August 18, 2019, Luke 12:49-56
Jesus is the cause of division. That is not what we typically associate with Christ. When Christ says to the gathered people today, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!,” this is not the picture of Christ that we typically hold and hear and teach others about. And yet, here it is, coming from Christ, a declaration that all will be divided, that we will be against one another, that families will be divided against one another. How do we reconcile this message today with the picture that we have typically received? Those messages of love. The way of love that has been put before us. The message and way of love that is about building up the community, of finding unity through our faith and practice of our beliefs. How are we to receive this declaration of division when the building of the kingdom we constantly are working towards is about stripping away division?
Perhaps, this declaration of Christ today is not as opposed to the message, the way of love, that we try and follow, as it appears to be at first glance. Perhaps, this declaration of Christ is exactly the same message that we receive throughout the gospels, but through a different lens. This is Christ disrupting expectations once more. This is a king who has come to lay the foundations for a kingdom that are unlike anything that has come before. A king and kingdom that others are struggling to grasp. A kingdom that will very much separate as those who refuse to accept the reality of the new world will be left behind. If this message of division is not about putting us at odds but rather about freeing us to illustrate the way that we have received, how do we live into this gospel truth today?
To truly live as Christian is to so fully commit to this radical life that it can even put you diametrically opposed to your parents, your family. To truly live as Christian is to so fully commit to this radical life that it can even put you diametrically opposed to those who would use the label and branding of Christian to advance agendas of hate and fear, especially when those are your own parents, your own loved ones, you own people.
There is an inherent danger in this line of thought, and that is believing that division is about permanent separation rather than a way of denoting a clear difference, of creating a clear alternative to the way of the world.
When I worked in campus ministries we had a couple regular attenders who came from a fundamental evangelical tradition. I will always remember one conversation we were having during a program night. We would always discuss different elements of faith and our practices of faith, and I don’t remember the specific topic on this night, but I’ll never forget what one of our non-Episcopal friends said in regards to his practice of faith. He talked about committing his life to Christ and sharing that commitment to others in his family. Some were happy for him and encouraged it. Others were more wary of what he was involved in, either because of general mistrust of Christianity or this specific vein in particular. And this college student shared how he had cut those people out of his life. That because they refused to follow Christ (as he defined it) they were no longer worth his time. And this wasn’t far, distant relatives. These were aunts, uncles, cousins, family that were close, who knew him. No longer would he interact with, communicate with, spend time with, these members of his family because they were not followers of Christ and therefore were at best detrimental to his life as a Christian.
I will never forget the feeling of grief that I had for him. But it wasn’t a shared grief with him. I grieved because I firmly believed that he was completely misreading the message of Christ, the message we hear today, and was doing harm to himself and his family by rejecting them, by forsaking his family because they didn’t believe the exact same way that he did.
Being challenged in our faith, is good for our faith. It’s been said that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt but rather certainty. That doubt is what fuels our faith because it forces us to be introspective, to seek education, to continually work to better ourselves. Sharing our faith is good for us. Sharing our faith with those who are skeptical, who don’t believe, who won’t ever believe, is good for our faith because it forces us to see what it is about our faith that we receive, that excites us, that keeps us coming back every Sunday.
Division then is good. Division allows us to demonstrate a different way. Division allows us to be set apart, to be counter-cultural, to walk in the way of love and live a life that celebrates in the kingdom of God, not the kingdoms of man. Our way of life has to stand as completely opposed to the ways of the world. Our charge as Christians is to live into this way of life that celebrates in following Christ, in picking up the cross, in healing, teaching, in welcoming and being with all, regardless of status (or lack thereof). If we live into this call, we cannot help but see a division emerge, even among families, even between parents and children.
Kingdom making is not about division for the sake of punishment but rather education. It is in the divisions that are created that we must be able to learn and grow. It is in the divisions that we as Christians are called to reach out and bring others with us, not to leave them behind because they are not with us to start.
As these divisions become clear it is important that we recognize the time that is at hand. As Christ berates the crowd today, it’s not very helpful if you can read the weather and be observant of the world around you, if you cannot see that the Son of God is before you, if you cannot see that this world of divisions is created because we fail to look for Christ around us, because we fail to trust that others may have something to teach us, that even our parents, even our children, may know something that we don’t.
We live in a world today that is built upon divisions, but these are divisions that are truly designed to tear us apart and leave us fighting one another. We can predict just about anything, especially the weather. And yet, we are unwilling to look past the machinations of our world to see that there is something greater just at our fingertips, if we would simply wake up and acknowledge it. The division that Christ speaks of today is not one that is designed to tear apart but rather to set apart a different way of life. A way of life that is predicated on a message of love, of faith, of following in the footsteps of Christ. The division then enables us to live into this way of love, in order to show that there is a different way to live in this world. To show that the way of this world is not the way of Christ and that we don’t have to accept what is generally assumed to be the way things are. When we live in the way of love we do see a division from others, but it’s not an uncrossable boundary. When we live in the way of love we show how Christ’s call can be lived in this world, and through that education of practice, we invite others to join us and follow Christ with us.
When Christ says to the gathered people today, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!,” this is not, at first glance, the picture of Christ that we typically hold and hear and teach others about. But, when we stop to think about this message, it is clear that this is the reality of following Christ. That Christ by himself cannot bring about peace on this earth. That his reign as king of kings is about something else entirely. That our responsibility then, as followers of Christ, is to live into this division in order to show that a life of following Christ can be full and rewarding. That this way of love that we have received from Christ is open to all, if you’re willing to live in a way that is truly counter-cultural. As people of the way, we are encouraged by today’s gospel because it gives us hope that the work we are doing is seen by Christ, and that together we can change this world.