Proper 15C RCL
Credits: Pulp.Resource 8/20/95 The Living Church 8/19/07 p.4
Previous: 95,01,04. Revised.
NOT PEACE, BUT A SWORD:
JESUS ON FAMILY VALUES
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I. All of us believe in the family. One reason you may be in church today is that you believe that the Church is an agent for better family life: "The family that prays together stays together": isn't that how the old advertisement used to put it?
It is difficult to imagine a more cherished human arrangement than the family. We would die for our families. Most of us are not violent by nature, but, someone asked, "If your family were threatened - your children - would you kill someone to protect your family?" - the majority of us might readily answer "Yes". There appears to be no limit to our love for our family. It is the source of our name and our values.
So what are you to do with today's Gospel?
Here we are on a pleasant August Sunday near the end of vacation time. Jesus gathers His disciples for some instruction on family values: "Do you think that I have come to bring peace? No, I tell you, but rather division: father against son, son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother." Someone has said that the real conflict as we try to follow Jesus is not conflict between what we love and what we ought to hate, but rather the conflict between our loves. We love our families; we would die for them. And Jesus is also asking love from us. Therefore there is conflict.
Most of the really wonderful things that happen in life happen in the family. Most of the really terrible things that happen to us in life happen in the family. The horrendous rise in domestic violence is a testimony that our love for our families is decidedly a mixed blessing.
II. I do not know whether the words of Jesus this morning are an attack on family life. There is certainly much evidence that if family were important to Jesus, it was less important than His relationship with His disciples, less important than the coming of the Kingdom of God.
But I do know that today's Gospel is a strong, public declaration, in words fierce and fiery, that following Jesus is no tame, domesticated, peaceful affair. There is fire, division, separation, conflict. When two conflicting values such as discipleship to Jesus and loyalty to the family collide, there is friction, sometimes, even fire. Jesus says that He is coming to bring fire on the earth (Luke 12:49).
So I repeat: the real conflict as we try to follow Jesus is not conflict between what we love and what we ought to hate, but rather the conflict between our loves.
So how, in the face of multiple and conflicting claims, do we decide what is really the Lord's will? In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus provides clear insight into the process through which we must go on the way to discernment. "Do you think that I have come to bring peace on the earth?" He asks; "No, I tell you, but rather division." (Luke 12:51). Disagreement and healthy debate among God's people are precisely how God's will is discerned.
"From now on, five in one household will be divided, two against three and three against two ... :(Luke 12:52-3). What a magnificent image of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion today! Just as freedom never abides in a country without a "loyal opposition," so God's truth will never be vigorously debated (and therefore taken seriously) in a Church which refuses to tolerate theological outsiders in its midst.
III. We are used to hearing sermons about God as accepting, affirming, welcoming back, forgiving - seldom as judging, demanding, or looking to change us. But remember that Jesus received from His preaching, not a university named in His honor, nor a Nobel prize, but a cross. Have we so tamed the message of Jesus that crucifixion is no longer an option? No one will get murdered for saying, "The family that prays together, stays together."
We may indeed have domesticated the Gospel of Jesus; we may indeed have accommodated the Gospel to North American values, - so that the way of Jesus equals the American way. But at least let us allow today's Gospel to remind us that there are still places on this earth where religion brings fire and division, and where there is a price to be paid for faithfulness to Jesus.
Is what you have heard today good news or bad news? You make the call. You live here. I suppose it depends on where you find yourself when you hear this news. Where are you? Are you in a church that has made peace with the surrounding culture, that is at ease in Zion? If so, then the words of Jesus, that following Him means dislocation, division and fire - those words sound like distinctly bad news, fierce prophetic denunciation of some of the reasons why we have come to church this morning.
On the other hand, if you are in a church that is paying a price for its discipleship, or even in a family that is paying that price, these words may be comforting good news.
If there are times when your allegiance to the way and will of Jesus has caused conflict in your marriage, in your family - then take this text to heart. There was a price to be paid by Jesus Himself. (Remember that He spoke these words on the way to the Cross.), and a price to be paid by His original disciples (who nearly all were martyred); And there may be a price to be paid by contemporary followers as well, people such as you and me. If you feel that you are paying a price for your discipleship - then good news - you are faithfully following.
Words like these for me, force me to ponder: How much is this Jesus going to cost me?
Let us pray:
O Lord of truth, we come to you seeking peace and security. Sometimes you give us what we want. At other times, you give us the truth and light which you know we need. Give us the grace to hear you, even if your voice shatters our complacency, disturbs our false peace, and prods us to new life. Teach us to love you on your terms and not on our terms, and to follow where you would lead us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.