The Perils of Choosing Peace
First Reading Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm Psalm 82
Second Reading Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Gospel Luke 12:49-56
“May the peace of the Lord be always with us” In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” John the evangelist offers these comforting words directly from the mouth of Jesus. Today, Luke offers us confounding words, also directly from Jesus’ mouth. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
If division is what we seek, we will surely find it. Across the world, even in this town, we talk differently, act differently, and come from different backgrounds. We don’t look the same. We do not have the same gifts. We each h
ave our own opinion. Our politics are left and right and everywhere in between. There is the correct way, and there is whatever you think. Some like things the way they have always been. Some demand change. We do not all worship the same way. We do not all worship the same God.
Yet in our faith, we understand all of humanity is created in the image of God. The mission of the Church, on page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer, is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Paul proclaims the strength of the Church is the many unique gifts we have been given, drawn together in the Spirit, for the building up of the kingdom. Though many members, we are ONE in the Body of Christ. At the birth of Christ, we were promised the Prince of Peace. So why would Jesus state that he will bring division?
Those who seek division might use today’s gospel as justification for their actions. “Our way is the right and your way is wrong. If there must be division and hate and violence to impose our way, so be it, because Jesus said so.”
In the popular HBO series ‘Game of Thrones’, Queen Cersei has been accused by the radical religious establishment of all sorts of moral violations, and they want her to face judgement. There is a great standoff between the Church and the Crown. The temple guards appear and demand she come with them. She stands firm with her palace guard. A cleric states, “If you do not come with us peacefully and face judgement, there will be violence.” Cersei stoically replies, “I choose violence.” This scene betrays the human condition. It is as if in our differences and divisions, we see no option for peace, only violence.
Jesus does not state that his mission is division. The sweeping movement of salvation ... Creation, the Exodus, the Law and the prophets, the life, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord ... is all about reconciliation and unity. Perhaps we should interpret Jesus’ words with this in mind. Jesus does not cause division, but division can occur because of Jesus. Jesus knows his mission is reconciliation and unity, and longs to complete it, yet exercises constraint so that all might be accomplished according to God’s will, in God’s time. Jesus brings and offers peace, but this peace becomes division when Jesus and the gospel are rejected. Those who accept the prophet Jesus will have peace; those who reject will not find peace. Jesus’ peace does not promise domestic tranquility, where the chosen ways of humanity are undisturbed. Human relationships are subject to the way of love offered by Jesus. Family ties, households, and friendships are threatened and doomed to fail if not exercised under the commands to love God and love one another. These are the basis of life in the kingdom, and God’s peace. Division occurs because a choice is required.
Imagine a world where families, friends, churches, communities, and nations are not divided by human constructs of powers and principalities, or by our differences such as age, race, sexuality, or nationality, or by our own selfish, self serving, self righteous motivations. Imagine a world where our litmus test for all relationships and actions are the way of Christ, loving God and loving one another. Jesus has offered us peace. Because of Jesus, peace is possible. We are still sorting out our differences.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews understands the challenge of living in a world that seems ruled by the whims of humanity, and the perils of choosing the peace of Christ. In an appeal to understand our history, a sweeping catalogue of the faithful is offered to realize what he have inherited. Examples of judges, prophets, and kings are reviewed ... celebrations and sufferings, promises and persecutions, victories and defeats. All united in faith and the pursuit of God’s will, they encountered division.
In our nearer history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who graces the cover of our bulletin, seemed to have caused quite a bit of division. But his goal was unity. Dr. King dreamed a dream of unity, and dreamed it out loud. He dreamed of the end of racial strife and social unrest. With the prophet Isaiah, he dreamed “ that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be laid low, the rough places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and ALL flesh shall see it TOGETHER.” Some were not ready to accept this dream, and used violence to silence the dreamer. Dr. King believed his dream was in harmony with God’s dream, and in God’s time, God’s dream would surely be realized.
One hundred years earlier, our nation was fighting the same fight among ourselves. Some fought for unity, and some fought for division. Brother against brother, household against household, the dream of this nation was worked out in violence as we attempted to form a more perfect union, where all are created equal. The union survives, but there is still division.
Many who have gone before accomplished much and were commended in faith. When we choose faith, we step into a story with a strong narrative thread, full of colorful characters. Some rejoiced, some suffered, all laid a foundation. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Like those who have gone before, we are working our way through in faith, but not only for ourselves. Our story becomes part of the sweeping movement of salvation. We live for others, both now and the generations to come. We are part of a bigger story.
We are called to learn from our history, and do better. Jesus urges us to read the signs of what is happening around us, just as we read the signs of the weather and act accordingly. We know the causes and effects of violence, war, selfishness, self righteousness, the lure of money and power. Why don’t we see the possibility of peace? Jesus expresses prophetic passion and urgency! The time is now. The kingdom is at hand!
We are called to seek reconciliation, unity, and the peace Christ brings. God is working out God’s purpose, perfecting humanity through Christ. Because of the nature of humanity seeking our own will, there will be division. We are challenged to choose the peace of Christ, even when it seems to cause division, with peace and unity always the goal. Perhaps we can learn to disagree without being disagreeable. Perhaps we can exercise righteous indignation without disrespect. Perhaps we can seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself. Perhaps we can strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Perhaps we can see the signs of division, hate, and violence and offer unity, love, and peace.
May God bring fire to the earth through the faithful. Not a fire that destroys, but the fire that transforms hardened steel from swords to plow shears, from the instruments of war, violence, and division, into the tools that nurture and sustain life and bring peace. May WE be the instruments of God’s peace. Amen.