August 14th 2016, Luke 12:49-56
Reverend Melissa Hall, St James’ Episcopal Church
A House Divided
It has been said that a house divided cannot stand. Abraham Lincoln wrote that as he prophesied on the devastating outcome of a civil war in this country over the issue of slavery. Lincoln knew that a house divided turns in on itself and destroys the essence of its very being.
Abraham Lincoln was the quintessential statesmen, a loving Christian and an astute and ethical politician. I miss that type of politician.
Our heads are full of politicians these days, and we complain that politics has become a nasty business, but I think it is much more than that. Politics seems to be the fourth branch of our government, holding powerful sway over all else in our country’s leadership.
In the political arena we are currently in a quagmire of stalemate and self-serving behaviors, where opposition is the core and predominant theme. As the Presidential election approaches, much of what I have heard by political analysts contends that our country is polarized. They say that we are divided and separated out along lines of the haves and the have-nots.
Well, I don’t think we are just polarized, I believe we are pulverized!! We are separated as people. There are the rich and the poor, the white and the non white, religious and non religious, male and female, the Republican, the Democrat, (and thank you Bernie Sanders) the Socialists, there are young and old, gay and straight, the environmentalist vs. global opportunist, the millenials, the gen-xers, and us old codgers the baby-boomers.
That list of identifiers can seem endless. And our clever politicians are pandering to those divisions for their own ends.
Hilary bashes Trump, Trump tears into Hillary… and as a result the camps of support are forming, the lines of demarcation are clear and they seem impossible to bridge. A house divided cannot stand. Those ominous words seem apropos in this election year.
These are difficult times for us as a country, and like many of you I feel anxious and worried about which rabbit hole the nation is slipping down into. So, I turn to my faith and Holy Scripture to center me and guide me to remember what is important and to bring me peace and clarity. I would advise you all to do the same, but probably not this morning because Luke’s Gospel is anything but comforting!
I almost want to say to you, “put your seats and tray tables upright and assume the crash position” because this Lukan Gospel is not peaceful at all; in fact it’s more like a wrecking ball. If Jesus were writing this scripture in an EMAIL, it would be in all caps.
“I am bringing fire to the earth,” He says, “ and I am stressed until it is completed. Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No I tell you, rather division!”
If I could, I would say to Jesus: “In this priest’s humble opinion Jesus you need a spiritual time out, you are cranky and over wrought and frankly you are stressing me out.”
I am in desperate need of my sweet, baby lamb carrying Jesus, not this political, radicalized, prophet of chaos destruction and change. What is going on here? Why is Jesus preaching the necessity for anarchy and destruction in the households of ancient Israel?
“I will turn mother against child, father against son, children will be set against their parents. I bring you no peace, but only strife and dissention.”
These are odd and inflammatory words for the so-called Prince of Peace. How extreme his words are and how devastatingly dangerous they will be proven to be for him. Consider that Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem, the seat of Imperial Rome’s conquest that rules with a vicious and unrelenting power. They have conquered and subdued the entire region. Status and self worth is measured in only one way, you are either Roman or other.
The other being barbarian and barbarian is without face, without power, and without the rights to self determine and self direct. The Jews like everyone else living in the region are subject to the Roman law and Roman punishment.
There is no God but Caesar, there is no religious tradition but the idolatry of the Roman gods, there is no kingdom but Rome, and there is no choice but submission to Imperial Rome’s power. This is the social setting into which Jesus brings his ministry. And he has a choice to make. Keep quiet and maintain the peace or be exposed to the wrath and vengeance of the Roman authorities.
Considering the circumstances, submission and silence would be the prudent thing to do. But Jesus is preaching a new Gospel that demands action, and ultimately creates chaos and insurrection at the very core of Jewish life and order.
Honor thy mother and father is the old way of Jewish life, and although it still applys, Jesus brings something entirely new and revolutionary to society.
The new social order of Jesus’ teachings will set everything at odds ends, it doesn’t bring peace to the family but rather discord and conflict. “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided.”
His words put the Jews on notice that the old patriarchy and hierarchy of society, where it was clearly defined as to who was in and who was out, no longer applies. Jesus sits at table consorting with the outsiders, bums, prostitutes, politicians, women, children, the poor, the sick, the money handlers. He is becoming the revolutionary and dissident voice in Jerusalem.
Jesus is collapsing the entire social order of ancient Israel and something utterly new is being demanded, that all are welcome in God’s Kingdom. The message is clear, things need to change and Jesus is infuriated with his followers who are blinded to what is clearly before them. “Can’t you see what is present before you,” he says in Luke? “It is as clear as the storm clouds that announce the rain. You must abandon that which was held as sacred before and seek the new order, the new way.”
Jesus is not bringing the sedative of calm through the status quo, but rather he demands social and spiritual upheaval to allow justice its birthright.
Jesus’ voice cries out from across two millenniums to us today and reminds us
that if there is no justice, there can be no peace.
As a country we are not strangers to this. Abraham Lincoln knew that a house divided turns in on itself and destroys the essence of its very being, and yet Lincoln divided the country he loved until there was justice.
And one hundred years later Martin Luther King reminded America of the same, as he called our nation to account for its bigotry and racism, saying, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It is the presence of justice.”
These are powerful lessons told to us by morally driven prophets.
It seems that if we are a nation divided, we must learn to live in the tension of our differences. If we are to grow and create ourselves into something new and bold, if we wish to be something beautiful, rich, loving and compassionate before God, then we must strive for justice for everyone.
In order to fully become as God imagined us, Jesus demands hard changes from us all. His message of radical social action teaches that we must reject those things we hold dear that only serve ourselves and not our neighbors. That is hard and difficult work!
As writer Marianne Williamson said, “When you ask God into your life, you think God is going to come into your psychic house, look around, and see that you just need a new floor or better furniture. And so you go along for the first six months thinking how nice life is now that God is there. It turns out that God actually thinks your whole foundation is shot and you’re going to have to start from scratch.”
God calls us to change for the better all the time, but with change comes the loss of control of our lives as we give into the demands of something greater then ourselves.
We all want God to bring us the sleepy peace, the restful peace; but God is often present in the peace that surpasses all understanding. Our faith calls us to renew our trust in God in the midst of the turmoil of real life.
The peace that comes with this type of change is challenging and it can even be terrifying. I think it was for Jesus. Why do you think he was so cranky and stressed out?
So I say I’m ok with this grumpy disruptive not so peaceful Jesus: When there is no peace that does not mean that God is not present, whether one is speaking about the world, or our cities, or even our family. We all go through times when our lives are disrupted and we feel like refugees from our own stories. But that does not mean that God is not with us. What it usually means is that we are experiencing a change.
Perhaps Lincoln is right; that a house divided cannot stand. We will have to wait and see what happens in November to answer that question. But no matter the outcome, I do believe this: if we are a loving and compassionate people of God and committed to justice for all, that will guarantee this house will stand the test of time.
May it be so! AMEN