Year C, Proper 15
August 18, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
I am going to speak uncharacteristically briefly this evening because this message, this message of Jesus Christ as related by St. Luke to us on this 13th Sunday after Pentecost is so short, sharp and direct, that is demands very little by way of explanation and elaboration.
Last week we pondered the question “what if Jesus really meant it?” What if Jesus really meant we should sell all we have and give alms? What if He really meant we should leave our fathers and mothers, we should leave the dead to bury their own, that we should take up our own crosses and follow Him, that He really, really, really meant “repent and believe for the kingdom of God is at hand?”
If Jesus Christ really meant this, and if we really take Him at His Word, what would the world look like? Or more specifically what would your little world look like if you followed the words of Christ? Would there be peace in your valley if you sold your worldly goods and gave away the proceeds? Would your neighbor’s approve? Would they still invite you over for drinks or a Ducks’ game? I know that my family’s world would be in chaos. If you left your parents (or if your children left you) to follow what would appear to most eyes to be a radical religious sect, preaching radical notions of what is right and wrong that require great personal sacrifice… how would next Thanksgiving feel with those empty chairs at the table? How would your relatives react if you chose not to have a funeral for a loved one because you wanted to dedicate those resources to the living? What would your priest say? How would the world, your fellow Christians, other members of this church react if you began repenting and living like Jesus Christ is coming back, maybe tomorrow? Would these be peaceful happenings? Or divisive?
The entire Christian project, well, at least the entire earthly ministry of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior is counter-cultural. It always has been and I fear it always will be. Jesus came (and continues to come) to save people immersed in a culture that constantly moves further and further from the way it is supposed to be, from the way God intends it to be. God did not, does not intend for us to live under empire. God did not, does not intend for us to live for material purposes. God did not, does not intend for human beings to live in fear, deprived of fundamental needs like health, happiness, equanimity and loving, balanced relationships. Yet in 1st century Roman occupied Palestine, as now, culture denies the immorality of empire, and now even denies the very existence of empire as a category let alone as a social reality. Our culture does intend for us to live for material purposes. We do live in fear and are deprived, many of us, of health, happiness, equanimity and loving, balanced relationships. Far too many of us are denied a place to live, are denied even a place to sleep safely. So to go against that, is, by its very definition counter-cultural. And does going counter to a prevailing culture ever bring peace? No. Not initially.
If you live the way Jesus Christ intends, conflict will follow. He promises that. God did not intend for people to be enslaved. So when William Lloyd Garrison and his cohorts began their work to abolish slavery, an accepted category of American culture, did peace follow in their wake? No, epically bloody division did. God did not intend India to be held captive by Great Britain. When Gandhi moved to re-align the state of things with the way they were supposed to be, even non-violently as he intended, did peace overflow across the sub-continent? No. When Dr. King and his compatriots continued Garrison et al’s work, also non-violently, was everyone eager to embrace as the naturally, God-given truth that all should have equal rights in the eyes of the law, let alone in the eyes of each other? Or the folks opposing any of the many wars we fight? Or the men at the Stonewall Inn? Or the folks sitting in trees to save them right here in Oregon? Or the folks who will be making a big scene with the Keystone XL pipeline? No. Of course not. So does that mean that we should just go along to get along, to be good little citizens who do what we are told and what is expected? We don’t even need to speculate about what Jesus would say or do, we just need to look to the record. What did Jesus do? What did Jesus say? “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Doing the right thing, doing the will of God is invariably against the tide of human society because for some horrid reason, we, as social beings time and time again sink to the lowest moral common denominator. Some how, for some reason that escapes me, our individual sinfulness is amplified en masse, as Reinhold Niebuhr so piercingly describes in Moral Man, Immoral Society. And it is not just self-interest, because so much of our social sin is absolutely and directly in opposition to our individual self interest. It is mind-boggling.
Doing the right thing, acting on the will of God, following Jesus Christ will invariably cause division. It always has, and I fear it always will. What I pray, is that we have the gladness and singleness of heart to follow our Lord Jesus Christ wherever it is that He will lead us, even when we are led into conflict in our world, in our homes, and probably most importantly, in our own hearts. AMEN