An Unsettling Peace
The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – August 18, 2013 – Proper 15, Year C: Luke 12:49-56
Oh goodness, here we go again. This gospel passage is so very hard and it echoes back to a couple of others that we’ve heard since summer began and neither of those were much fun either! The first one was a couple of months ago and a few chapters back in the gospel Luke. In that passage Jesus was telling people that in order to follow him, they had to be prepared to leave their homes, live with absolutely no worldly security, and he actually replied to a man who wanted to wait awhile in order to take time to bury his father that he should “let the dead bury their own dead.” And to someone else who wanted to say good-bye to his family, remember that Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Then today we heard Jesus tell the disciples that he had come “not to bring peace but to bring division.” And (spoiler alert – just so you know) a couple of weeks from now Jesus is going to take it one step further and say that whoever comes to him and “does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be a disciple.” And so as we move through this gospel we hear Jesus sort of upping the ante as he moves from separation, to painful division, to actual hatred of those who (by most appearances anyway) are closest to us. And no matter how many times I read these passages or preach on these passages, the first reaction I always have is to cringe because the last thing I want Jesus to do is to encourage more brokenness, more division, more hurt, more hate, more unsettledness among people! Frankly, it seems like we have enough of that already.
And a lot of what we do in this place is to try to establish a trajectory that moves in exactly the opposite direction – we put a lot of effort into moving from distance to relationship to unity – not the other way around. Because one look at our society even a quick glance at our whole world shows us that division is the last thing we need more of! There are already enough gaps, enough rips in the fabrics that bind us, enough brokenness, enough households and communities that stand divided. Why would we in the name of Christ contribute more of that? Shouldn’t we be the reconcilers? Isn’t it the peacemakers who are blessed? Shouldn’t we be saying things like “we could use a little more love here,” rather than “in order to be disciples, we need to enhance our ability to hate those closest to us?” Yet here’s Jesus, the Christ, the “Prince of Peace” saying to his disciples, “Let the dead take care of themselves!” and “I come to bring division!” and “You must hate your parents in order to follow me!” And so I cringe because when I look at the world and listen to the life struggles of so many, I know that what our hearts need is something different than all of that.
But then there’s another part of me that knows that part of why our hearts do ache so much, part of why our society hurts is because we have a tendency to settle for a peace that is not true peace. And that’s what this gospel is about and so we need to hear it. We have a tendency to settle for a peace that is not true peace. We set the bar too low and Jesus is raising it for us – even in the face of tremendous resistance, he’s raising the bar for us. So, when Christ brings division it’s not because division is the ultimate goal; it’s in order to create a deeper, a more real and abiding presence of peace and unity among us. Jesus calls us into discomfort in order that we and our world may know true peace, the shalom of God. And this side of heaven, often, maybe even always that discomfort is the only way forward into the fullness of grace.
I attended a community conversation on race last Tuesday and the whole experience relates to this gospel passage. Pastor Wayne Coleman and the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony hosted the evening which took place at Imagine Fellowship, and they did it because a few weeks ago a couple of people stood outside of Wayne’s house in the middle of the night and they smashed in the windows of Wayne’s car. And while they smashed in the windows they shouted horrible racial slurs, racial threats at Wayne’s house and so Wayne and his wife and family – including his kids – woke up to the noise of glass being shattered and people shouting outside and threatening them. And I honestly almost weep whenever I hear that story. And a similar story happened at someone else’s house that weekend too. Right here in Holland – just blocks from our Church. We should weep. And we should listen. And we should act.
Now that particular evening involved listening to a panel of three African American women, one Latina, and an African American man talk about their experiences of living in Holland. And if you haven’t sat and listened in such a context before, you should. And you haven’t sat and listened in several years, you should again, we all should because the stories are still happening and they are chilling and embarrassing and they shine a light on some of the difficult and often unspoken realities of this community. One of the women on the panel asked how Holland could have ever made it onto the list of “Happiest Cities” in the United States (a designation that our City received a couple of years ago.) Now this woman asked the question with humor and irony but it was directed and it was important.
We made it on to that list because not everybody in this city was interviewed. And we made it on to that list because we’ve set the bar too low for what it means to be a community of peace and hospitality and even safety for all who come.
And that’s what this gospel passage is all about. Jesus presents an opportunity, an opportunity to raise the bar. Sometimes Jesus, as the Christ in one of our neighbors stands up and by sharing their own brokenness and their own pain, breaks us open again. Their words and their stories wake us up and remind us that: “This kind of peace won’t do! It’s false. It’s too shallow. It’s not real enough to embrace the breadth of God’s children whom we’ve been invited to embrace.”
Like today’s the gospel passage, these are the voices that invite us into the hard work of faith, calling us into the cracks and divisions that already exist among us and risking more as we go, inviting us into those cracks because ultimately it is us, people like us and like them who can bridge those gaps through grace.
But not unless we feel the brokenness first. Not unless we allow stories like Wayne’s and Ruths, and Maggi’s and Pastor Theak’s and Salita’s and Marvin’s and others to come to the surface. Martin Luther King put it like this in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail: [We seek to] foster such a tension that a community . . is forced to confront the issue. [We] seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension . . .may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’ I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. . . . so must we see the need . . . to create the kind of tension in society that will help [people] rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.” And I’ll add “sisterhood too”.
And that’s the point of today’s gospel and of the difficult and ongoing work in our community. The good news is that there is something that God is wanting to give us, something that God is wanting to give all of us that goes far beyond that for which we have settled, something that God is wanting to make real in our world that goes beyond a quickly grasped happy few, calling us into a more Biblical shalom for all. And getting that peace into our world is some of the hardest work of all.
But we have been invited into the project and there is grace to be had as we go and I believe that Jesus is already there, kindling the fire he talked about in the gospel. May we find the strength to raise the bar with him – to break when we need to break, to let go when we need to let go in order that true shalom may take seed in us, come through us, surround us and reach beyond us now and ever more.