With all of the division that is going on in our world right now, having Jesus speak of bringing division makes me a bit anxious and uncomfortable. And there was a time when I would have tried to explain away his uncomfortable images by saying, “Oh, he doesn’t REALLY mean it like that…” But as I thought about the passage this week, I began to think, “Yes, he DOES mean it like that”. He has come to bring fire and division, for as the old hymn says, “The peace of Christ, it is no peace.” So when you are passing the peace today, all I can say is, “careful what you pray for”.
I remember when I was in middle school, things were really hard. I was not even close to being a semi popular kid, and I was an easy target for bullies especially after my father died. We were a blue collar family and I never dressed in the latest styles. In fact, most of my clothing came from the local second hand store. So I was usually a favorite target of whomever was trying to be the biggest and most powerful bully that week. But you know what was worse than getting beat up or having my glasses broken? The worst thing was watching people that I thought were my friends applaud and become part of the bully’s entourage, so that they would not become victims themselves. Friendship was not a valued commodity for some if the friendship didn’t make you one of the cool kids or one of the powerful ones. I have to say it really, really hurt to watch my “friends” cheer when I got beat up. It was a crummy and lonely feeling.
Middle school was a long time ago but I think some of us may be trying to make our way through issues and politics and personalities… it can make us feel pretty lonely or even angry; it’s so very hard to sort out the shouting sometimes, and when we feel like our opinions are in the minority, it can be hard to speak up for what we know is right.
Jesus’s peace is not peace that you or I would consider “peaceful”. I suppose we shouldn’t be all that surprised; making us think and keeping us on our spiritual toes is kind of Jesus’s MO, right? You and I are being challenged; we live in times where the things that divide us seem to be multiplying until we no longer know who our friends are or who the enemy is. And now even Jesus is speaking of fire and division…it’s not easy to hear and even harder to live by.
I think the challenge that is being offered to us is one where we act on the commandments of Jesus. And, we know what those are, don’t we…. Love God, love our neighbor. It seems so simple and yet, when we get caught up in the issues of the day, it not longer seems easy; it feels easier to just hide out or casually nod acceptance to the loudest side; anything to get them to leave us alone. But that’s not who we are. We aren’t called to live a comfortable, no fuss life; we are called to have Jesus come with his fire to burn away all that separates us from him and from our neighbor, and live as kingdom people who love God and love their neighbors. And, what do we know about this kind of love? We know that it requires us to act in the world as Jesus did. It’s the kind of love that invites us into uncomfortable places because that’s where we will find Jesus. There is nothing that is cool or popular about discipleship; and it might even be the kind of thing that separates us from our friends and our families. It’s so much easier to go with what’s popular; but let’s face it, Jesus wasn’t exactly popular. He didn’t invest his time in the political landscape of the day except to teach people that relationships mattered more than political power. Over and over again he tore down sociopolitical barriers that were built up to keep people helpless and separated. We are called to nothing less. Who and what are we loyal to? Where do we get our sense of belonging? If we are disciples of Jesus, if we are people of God’s kingdom, then we might feel as if we do NOT belong anywhere. We might and probably should feel a bit unsettled, because the work of the kingdom is far from done. And it might even be the kind of work that causes us to be isolated at times because it isn’t glamorous or fun. How many times have we avoided looking at the poor on our streets, or addressing them as if they matter? How often has our faith in Jesus caused us to be uncomfortable? If we aren’t at least a little uncomfortable we might need to see what’s missing. We might need to ask Jesus to purify us with the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can be disciples who do the work that Jesus did… even when it doesn’t bring us the kind of status that we crave. Love God… love our neighbors… all of our neighbors; love them with a love that is active like the love that Jesus has for them and for us. May we not sit on the sidelines when we know what is right. May we always go into uncomfortable and unpeaceful places. And may the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding be with us always.