Sunday, August 15, 2010


Luke 12:49-56
I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they 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."

He 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. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. 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?

A Message from the Pastor
Every now and then, I will ask people what their favorite Bible verses are. Not surprisingly many people will cite John 3:16, the Bible in a nutshell – “For God so loved the world . . . . . Others might mention Psalm 23. Then there are the verses from Jesus’ discourse in the upper room from the Gospel of John: In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you.” Or, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Some people cite comments by Paul from Romans, “Neither life or death, or anything else, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.” Personally, one of my favorite verses is, “All things happen for good who love God and are called to his purpose.”

I have yet to find one person who has as their favorite verse, “Do you think that I came to bring peace to the earth? No, I say, but rather division.” Not one person has identified that verse as the favorite. And, I can understand why. Jesus’ comment does not exactly evoke warm fuzzies, give comfort, or provide a positive atmosphere. Furthermore, when we remember the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, the second chapter, which is the nativity story, it begins by the angels saying to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth.” Jesus isn’t talking about peace here, is he? Is this counter to other Biblical comments?

Let’s remember what happened according to the Gospel of Luke’s story of Jesus’ ministry. Just before his transfiguration, Jesus is with his disciples and tells them that they must die to self, pick up their cross daily and follow him, and lose their lives for the sake of the gospel. That isn’t exactly a positive statement. That statement doesn’t give one warm fuzzies either. Who wants to lose their ego? Who wants to give up the way they live?

Then, after the transfiguration, the author of Luke says that Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem.” No one was going to deter him from his mission in Jerusalem, namely to die on the cross. And as we follow the story of Jesus after he “set his face,” we find him challenging many customs, ways of living, and value systems. His comments and demeanor would cause division, or, one might say, conflict.

Let’s consider something else. In the first three gospels, Jesus’ mission is to proclaim that the reign of God is drawing near, to change our way of thinking and believe. That’s different. That can cause conflict. After all, the “kingdom” of this world operates out of power and control. When we think about Jesus’ proclamations, we realize that one of the criteria of the reign of God is humility. They are opposed to one another. Remember the verse from our second reading today. Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfector of our faith, in joy endured the cross and the shame that went with it.

When we are in the world, we are seeking what is right and what is wrong. Furthermore, those with the most ”toys” on the table, those with the most authority, those who speak the loudest, or those who can debate the best have the power and the control to determine what is right and what is wrong. In the reign of God, we seek the truth. Remember? Jesus said, “I am the truth.” When we speak the truth we can cause division; we can cause conflict.

Let me share with you a brief personal experience. When I had been in treatment a few days, something came to my attention. For more years than I could remember, I wrestled with whether it was right or wrong for me to drink. The truth was that I could not drink and live. Truth can bring a totally different perspective.

To help us understand more about the nature of conflict, let me share with you a little about its dynamics. At its lowest level, conflict is seen as a problem. Problems always arise because people see things from different perspectives and do not like the issues or circumstances that have arisen. The next level up is disagreement. This is when people voice their personal perspectives on problems that have arisen and see it differently from one another. The next level is when we choose sides. We talk with people who agree with our perspective. We avoid those who do not. Those who do not, respond in a similar manner. At the next level we have an organizational fight. In organized meetings, or otherwise, the discussion becomes heated. At level five, the conflict becomes intractable. No one remembers or cares about the issue any more. They just know they disagree. Finally, at level six the participants become apathetic. No one cares.

What’s interesting is that at level one or two, there is an opportunity to wrestle with the conflict, and a desire to seek the truth, rather than use power and control to determine what’s right. However, at level three Jesus, who is the truth, is longer present. This happens when sides are chosen. The issue becomes, “who is right and who is wrong,” and Jesus fades from being among us. (Remember, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them?)

However, there is a paradox to all this, as we consider Jesus saying that he creates division. While I was at seminary, I would talk, from time-to-time, with the director of Lutheran Family Services of South Carolina. One time he mentioned to me that there are the three “C’s” of relationships, be they individual or corporate. They are communication, commitment, and conflict. Yes, conflict is necessary for good relationships. Just think about those times you have been in conflict with people close to you. It is during those times that you have the possibility at arriving at a greater understanding of the other person. Of course, this occurs when Jesus is in our midst as we seek the truth, rather than be right.

Yes, it is the truth that Jesus came to bring division, not peace. However, when we seek the pioneer and perfector of our faith, division, or conflict, can turn into peace.

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