This morning we hear some truly arresting words flowing from the mouth of our Lord. They are not words you will see painted over any altar, or rolling as the tagline of any church website. No. these are hard words. Words that stop you dead in your tracks. These are hard word…hard words indeed. Jesus says “I came to bring fire to the earth, …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”…and so on.
Hard words indeed. What I don’t want to do is gloss over them, explain them away or try to pull one over on you by talking about something else. Because while these hard words are not comforting to hear, they are good. They are good in the way that the gospel is good. Because in them, we hear truth. And through them we find strength and wisdom. And yes, we will find peace. That is the mystery of this faith. We will find our peace with words like these. Jesus seems to be promising that because of his teachings, families will be divided. Teachings of love, forgiveness, peace and salvation. These teachings he says, will bring division. Is that so? Does that ring true for you? You know, I have to say, in some ways he’s right. While the way of Jesus is beautiful, it is not always popular. When it is followed faithfully, it often means speaking truth when it is not comfortable; taking a stand when going along with the crowd would be so much easier.
In these words this morning, Jesus is challenging his followers, as he is us now. He is saying when the chips are down, when it really counts, when you have something to lose will you really follow me? … What if the choice is not popular? What if your family doesn’t like it? What if your friends disagree. Cause it can be hard. Hard to call for peace when everyone wants war. Hard to cry foul when everyone else is comfortable with the status quo.
Look at those saints before us who have chosen his way…
Mahatma Ghandi stood up. And was killed.
Martin Luther King stood up. And was struck down.
Dietrick Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who stood up against the 3rd Reich in Germany. And was executed.
And of course Jesus Christ himself. No sooner was he was born than Herod was scheming for his demise. And his railing about temple corruption won him a spot on a cross.
No we needn’t look far to see that the Way of Jesus Christ can cause trouble.
But I would take Jesus’s statement even further. I would say that not only might his message bring division between loved ones, it very well might bring division within our very selves. There are atleast 2 aspects to all of us. Right?
There is one aspect which wants to do the right thing, to speak up, to take a stand to work for what is just. And there is another aspect which craves the security of having not only our needs met but our wants satisfied. And sometimes those 2 aspects run in opposition to each other. They cause deep painful division within our very selves. And so we live in conflict. We crave light, peace, love and goodness and we also struggle with the burdens of our thoughtless speech, tempers lost, decisions made that were not right. As the poet Ovid wrote in his Metamorphoses, “I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do.” Or in Goethe’s Faust, “There is enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue.”
So, I hope you see by now, that the gospel today is not that of a cruel and harsh teacher. They are the hard words of a realist who knows all too well the struggles within and between men. He knows what Ovid, Goethe and every kid on the playground know. The high road is rarely the easier road.
At the end of the day, our Christian walk is a choice. Our faith is only as real as the choices we live. No number of wafers consumed or creeds recited will change that. Our faith is a matter of choice. So Jesus says choose him. Choose him… choose justice, choose truth and choose love. No matter what other people say.
Now just a few moments ago, I promised that this message was one of peace. Didn’t I? Indeed I did. And indeed it is! Because when you are following Jesus, really following him, putting him first in your life, praying regularly, confessing regularly, forgiving regularly (yourself and others), you find it so much easier to not sweat the small stuff. Criticism from others, resistance from your family, loneliness because you are different, regrets because of mistakes you have made. Those things are nothing compared to a life lived in loving relationship with God. And more than likely, the conflict that arise when you choose Him, are passing. Choose him, and conflict will come. Choose him and conflict will go. With one eye on the truth in your heart and the other on the face of our Lord, peace will come. And his peace, his deep peace which will embrace you no matter what… Now that, that is what will endure.