Sermons

"Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?" Sermon for the 9th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

"Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?"  Sermon for the 9th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

Aug 18, 2019

Passage:Luke 12:49-56

Preacher: The Rev. E. Courtney Jones

Category: Peace, Holy Spirit

Keywords: holy spirit, peace, fire, judgement, right-side up

Summary:

"Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!" Today's passage in Luke's Gospel initially kind of makes us scratch our heads and say "Jesus . . . said WHAT?" But maybe the peace that we tend to expect or enjoy and the peace that God's kingdom actually offers are different . . .

Detail:

If I didn't know better, I'd think perhaps I am being hazed.  

 

The youngest, newest member of the clergy . .  somehow gets assigned today's Gospel reading?

 

"Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!"

 

Yikes.  That makes me look forward to Tammy and Miriam getting ordained next year so that somebody else can be the rookie.

 

Actually, honestly, me getting this reading was a coincidence.  

 

But still:  When I was out in the middle of you proclaiming the Gospel just a minute ago I could actually feel your eyes snap back down to your bulletin, as if you were all thinking "Jesus said WHAT?"

 

Today’s reading form Luke's Gospel seems out of place.  I mean, the first chapter of Luke claims that Jesus will "guide our feet into the way of peace" and the last chapter of Luke's gospel has the resurrected Jesus appear to his disciples and say "peace be with you."   

 

Time after time in Luke's Gospel we see Jesus heal people and say things to them like "Go in peace."

 

"Peace" occurs a whole bunch of times in Luke's Gospel with reference to Jesus.  How can it be, then, that right in the middle of the Gospel Jesus says "Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division."? 

 

 

How can this be good news to his hearers?   How can this be good news for us, when we find ourselves in divided times?

 

 

If this passage was the only piece of the Gospels we had, there would be no Good News.  If the whole point of Jesus becoming flesh and living among us was to DIVIDE us, well  . . . I don't know about you, but I think I'll pass.  

 

But see, division is not Jesus' purpose.   Division is sometimes a side-effect of Jesus' teaching, but it's not the purpose.    We've gotta look at the whole picture, y’all.   The totality of the Gospel.  Luke records Jesus' first sermon as stating this purpose:

    "[to] bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, make the blind see, let the oppressed go free, and         proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  

 

Jesus' purpose is INDEED to bring peace to the Earth.  Jesus' purpose is to usher in the kingdom of God. But, see, God's kingdom and the kingdoms of the world are not the same thing.  God's peace and the peace that Jesus' listeners are expecting aren't the same thing.  

 

 Jesus' listeners actually already know of someone called the Prince of Peace.  It's the Roman emperor.  The emperor is called "prince of peace" because he's the only one with an army big enough to "keep the peace" -- to keep every knee bent to Rome.  Jesus' listeners are living in occupied territory.  Many of these listeners are looking for a messiah to save them by force, and ensure their continued "peace" by force.

 

If you'd like to have a symbol to visualize the peace that many of Jesus' followers are expecting, imagine a decked out Roman soldier -- gilded armor, a sword that's lightweight and just sharper than all get out, riding a giant, muscly white horse. 

Now contrast that with what Jesus knows is coming -- the Holy Spirit.  Throughout scripture and Christian art, the Holy Spirit is consistently portrayed two ways:  as a dove, and as fire.

 

With that in mind, let's listen to the gospel again. 

 

I actually really like the way that this passage is translated in a version of the Bible called "The Message" -- so I'm going to read it from there:  

 

    I've come to start a fire on this earth -- how I wish it were already burning!  I've come to change everything, turn                everything right-side up -- how I long for that to be finished!   Do you think that I came to smooth things over and             make everything nice?"  

 

And then Contemporary English Version translates it this way: 

    

     "No indeed!  I came to make people choose sides!"

 

 

In this passage, Jesus is not suddenly announcing that his new life's purpose is to split up families, he's describing what CAN happen when the Spirit of God is at work turning the world right-side up.  It's a fire.  It's not always comfortable.  It sometimes makes people choose sides.  

 

In the case of Jesus' followers:  Some chose the side with Jesus on it, and others chose the side that maintained the status quo.   Some chose the peace and new life offered by living into the "kingdom of God" and others chose the peace that kept their bodies safe, but leaves their souls in jeopardy.

 

It is, frankly, human nature to prefer easy peace.   We love to be safe.  We like the peace of maintaining the status quo -- the false peace of being a rule follower -- the false peace of knowing the place for everyone and keeping everyone in their place.  We prefer the false peace of the "devil we know" to having to make any kind of changes that could result in conflict.  

 

But see, in Jesus, God is not exactly offering law and order.  God is not offering polite gridlock.   God is not offering us control.  God is not even offering bodily safety.   God is offering, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to set our lives on fire.  God is offering the chance to undo and remake our entire lives. Our entire systems. God is offering us a chance to participate in the rejuvenation of the whole world.  

 

Do you kind of wonder which side you would taken in the divisions described in our Gospel today?  Do you guys play in hypotheticals like that?   Like, you hear people say "I'd like to think if I had been living in 1930s Germany, I would have opposed the Nazis."  Or, "If I had been old enough to march, I think I would have marched  for Civil Rights with Dr. King."  Of course, our hindsight is 20/20.  But for the people who were living in those times of division, what did it look like to faithfully take a side?

 

 

This week the church celebrated the feast day of Jonathan Myrick Daniels.  Jonathan Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian when he heard the March 1965 plea of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for white clergy and students to join him in Selma, Alabama.   Many black residents of Selma and nearby rural Alabama towns had attempted to register to vote, only to be turned away for insulting and frivolous reasons.  Some had been physically threatened and prevented from registering.   

 

Jonathan Daniels began to ponder if he should join Dr. King in Alabama.   Days later, Daniels was in Evening Prayer, as was his daily practice.  He was chanting the Magnificat when, in his words "[He] found [himself] particularly alert [in a Spirit-filled moment]. Then it came:  'He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted the humble and meek.  He hath filled the hungry with good things.' [He] knew [in that moment] that [he] must go to Selma."  Daniels arranged with his seminary to complete his studies by correspondence, and immediately got an internship at an Episcopal church in Alabama.    Some parishioners welcomed their Christian brother with open arms.  Other's pulled Johnathan Daniels aside, and asked him why he insisted on being so political.  They called him a troublemaker.  The Civil Rights movement, in their opinion, was causing too much division in the South.  

 

Daniels persisted in his work in the South, and he got a grant from the national Episcopal Church to stay in Alabama doing the work of racial reconciliation.  When August came he participated in a demonstration in Fort Deposit Alabama.  The demonstrators protested a business accused of discriminatory hiring practices and price gouging the black residents.  Since around 30 protesters were expected, an emergency force of "peace-keepers" was deputized.  The protest only lasted a few minutes, but Jonathan Daniels and several of his friends were arrested for *disturbing the peace,* and taken to jail.  Daniels spent 6 days in a jail that featured neither air conditioning, nor showers nor toilets (in Alabama, in August).  After six days, the prisoners were released.  It was the kind of town that had signs that warned black people not to be found there after dark, so people were scrambling to get rides out of town.  Daniels, and a Catholic priest named Robert Morrisroe escorted two black girls across the street to buy everyone cold sodas from a five and dime store while they waited.  One of the recently deputized peacekeepers met them at the door.  He ordered them off of the property.  

 

Then, inexplicably, the deputy raised a shotgun at one of the young African American women.  Jonathan Daniels jumped in front of the girl just as the deputy pulled the trigger.  He was killed instantly.  The peacekeeper then turned the gun on the priest, critically injuring him.  The young girl Daniels died protecting survived, and went on to become Civil Rights icon Ruby Sales.  

 

I believe that the Civil Rights Movement in this country was in large part a work of the Holy Spirit kindling a fire in the hearts of people of faith to see this land look more just.  To see our country look more like the kingdom of God.  But it was not pretty -- it was a time of great division in America.  

 

In that time of division, God called Johnathan Myrick Daniels to take a side.   It was not easy.  It was not the status quo.  It was not even safe.   But I can guarantee you that he is at peace.  I would be willing to bet that when he met God face to face, God said to Daniels, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."  

 

And, hindsight being 20-20, nobody calls him "troublemaker" anymore.  Ruby Sales calls him "hero."  In the Episcopal Church, we call him "saint.

 

I know that sometimes things seem broken beyond repair -- but brokenness will not have the last word.  God is still making all things new.  The Spirit is still at work.

 

In times that seem divided, those are the times that we most need to lean into our relationship with God.  That's when we most need to follow the way of Jesus.  That's when we most need to pray, contemplate, read scripture, learn together, and worship in community.  

 

Because it's possible that the Holy Spirit is stirring up a fire to turn some part of our world right-side up.

 

In those times, I pray that we will know that our deepest peace doesn't come from keeping the peace.  

 

I pray that we will be the sort of people that find our deepest peace in loving God, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

 

References:

 

  1. Feasting on the Word - Year C – Volume 3 – Luke 12:49-56 – “Theological Perspective” by Audrey West.
  2. Feasting on the Word - Year C – Volume 3 – Luke 12:49-56 – “Exegetical Perspective” by Richard P. Carlson.
  3. New Interpreter’s Bible – Volume IX – Luke 12:49 – 53 – “Division Caused by Decision” by R. Alan Culpepper.
  4. “Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Civil Rights Hero” https://www.vmi.edu/archives/genealogy-biography-alumni/featured-historical-biographies/jonathan-daniels-civil-rights-hero/
  5. “Biographical Sketches of Memorable Christians of the Past: Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Seminarian  14 August 1965”   http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/228.html