The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- August 14, 2016 – Proper 16, Year C: Luke 12: 49-56
Luke 12:49-56: “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?
And so I hear this gospel passage and while there is a large part of me that cringes at those rather harsh sounding words of Jesus, there is also a significant part of me that recognizes the scene. Maybe you do too, perhaps all to well: “Five in one household will be divided,” Jesus said, “three against two and two against three, 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.” Now there is there is a part of me that longs this very minute for the gentleness of the Good Shepherd, the shalom of the Prince of Peace, but I also have to acknowledge that I know well the situation being described in this passage. The image of families, of communities divided isn’t fun, but neither, if we’re honest, is it unfamiliar.
In fact, just the opposite is probably true. If we were judging life by this passage alone, one might conclude that we are living in incredibly gospel-based times. Just watching the news will tell you that we’re practically mastering the skill of being “at odds” with each other, offering swords instead of peace on a very regular basis. We’re getting division down pretty well, thank you.
Even within our usually predictable and harmonious means of grouping ourselves there are now divisions – households at odds, parties divided, congregations battling it out, neighborhoods trying to live together well, communities struggling often among themselves. Some of the surprises this season, and not only politically, are that it’s not those who have been traditionally on “the other side” of one issue or another who “stand against” us to use the words of this passage, but the person who has been sitting right next to us all along. So one conclusion to draw is that perhaps, our work here is done, people! We’re getting this division thing down! Based on this passage alone, we’re doing the work of the gospel.
But, (and this is a big BUT and you knew it was coming) there is more to the gospel and there is more to us. Part of the good news today is that Luke 12 is not the end of the story. None of us want it to end here and neither does God. The challenging news is that chapter 12 is a part of the gospel and we have to go through it in order to get to that more. Simply denying the tensions or ignoring the divisions won’t get us where we need to be.
And there is a different kind of thing that happens, and in some ways a different potential present when the one with whom we disagree happens to be someone who is already close. And maybe that’s part of what this passage is getting at. It’s easy to disagree with a stranger, easy in many ways to expect, even accept those divisions. It’s not so easy with someone you already love. And those kinds of divisions that run right down the center of the relationships we value most aren’t the kinds of divisions that we ourselves would ever initiate at least purposefully. So, maybe we need Jesus to do it for us. I don’t have it in me to divide my own household, my own people, there’s too much brokenness here already. And so maybe when it happens there is a deeper, perhaps more profound grace hoping to be had.
When the person who surprises you by their difference is close to you, when a divide is exposed in that kind of context, we are invited into a deeper level of soul searching, listening and if possible, genuine reconciliation. And in some ways that’s even harder work than when the divide has some safe distance built into it. I expect to have to read a book, or attend a conference, or watch a program, or reach out far in order to learn from those who are really distant from me, but among my own “kin”? My own kin who know my own buttons? My own kin whom I trust like no other, who know my strengths, my weaknesses, and all of my yesterdays? My own kin among whom I have been my own version of real? Now that’s a different game. And I need help with that. I don’t have it in me to divide my own household, my own people, there’s too much brokenness here already.
But oh, the places we can go if we have courage enough to allow the sword to occasionally hit. Remember that sword wasn’t introduced by humans; this story isn’t a call to arms; it’s a call to awareness and honesty. Oh the gospel we will embody if we allow a deeper peace to be born among us.
Which makes this phase we are walking through as a people, one that has incredible potential. The gospel passage ended with this verse “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” … “Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Jesus asked them, Jesus asks us. What if this phase is God doing something among us, revealing what needs to be revealed, surfacing the divisions we need to see, exposing that which we ourselves don’t always have the courage to acknowledge? What if besides a dose of human weakness, this is God doing something of redemption in our midst, trying so very hard to create a more holy unity among the family that is God’s which is us all? What if we as a people invested in that interpretation of these present times and leaned heavily into redemptive means, things like mercy, forgiveness, even basic human kindness?
Just beneath the surface of the headlines our headlines too, very important things are being said, genuine hurts are being shared, divisions that don’t need to be the end of the story are being exposed. Having the courage to live for a while in Luke chapter 12, while trusting and working towards that gospel “more” might be just what God is asking of us.
The good and critical news is that even in chapter 12 there is love. That’s why it’s so hard; it’s also why chapters like this one in the gospel and in life are so very hopeful. The tendency is to hole up, to defend, to pick up the sword rather than let it be Christ’s alone. The tendency is to defend, but the calling is to love, sometimes fiercely, sometimes tenderly, always with mercy.
There is love here, in here, out there, and everywhere we go. Love is infused among us as the very reason that Jesus was born into this world, the very essence of God’s purpose and vision for us. And so we reach out, and we listen, and we name where the sword has it, because it is in those places that redemption is working its way in, creating not a shallow peace, but the shalom that is of God, the peace that passes all understanding and comes as grace.