The following is excerpted from the full Heretic’s Guide to the Bible lectionary study, “Burn It Down.” To read the entire study, or to become a part of the Heretic’s Guide community, click the links here or on the banners above and below.
It’s easy to attribute prosperous times to God’s blessings and, especially for those who believe in and actively punishing God, to presume that the lean times or some sort of penance, meant to teach us a lesson.
In my own life, I know I don’t sit around and ask “why?” when things are going well. Those kinds of reflections only arise when I’m in the midst of struggle, mostly because I want the struggle to stop. Yes, I would love to say that, in the midst of my suffering, I am able to center myself and focus on the potential wisdom to be gleaned from the moment. But in most cases, I would be lying.
Generally, I’m just as desperate as anyone else to find the solution, to get back to the way it was, to make the hurting stop. There is no question that the church is in the midst of one of those difficult times. When there is no shortage of people looking around, arms in the air, asking “why?” But like in our own personal lives, most of those questions emerge from a place of seeking a quick solution, a way to avoid any more discomfort and to get back to the good old days when everything seemed to be going well.
And then we have this text from Luke 12:49-56 where Jesus says that, rather than coming to bring peace, he comes to bring division. Wait a minute… Isn’t this supposed to be the Prince of peace guy? What about all the beatific scenes with Jesus holding cute little lambs and patting children on the head? But the thing is, those kids and those sheep come with no encumbrances. No baggage. They don’t come to Jesus with some set agenda about how they want their life to turn out, or how they plan to see their congregation get turned around, back to some magical 1950’s-era ideal. They just come, with their whole selves. That’s it.
Seems to me they don’t need to be divided from anything. There’s nothing weighing them down, keeping them from traveling down that narrow path. But like the rich man who asks how to enter the kingdom of heaven, we come with so many demands, expectations, wishes, caveats and conditions to God’s table that it’s hard to tell who’s really under all that crap.
Maybe we need some help sorting through the baggage, in our lives and our churches. Maybe some of it – more likely a hell of a lot of it – needs to be tossed in the fire. We’re the emotional and institutional equivalents of a subject on the show “hoarders,” who sits around in the piles of shit, wondering why, in spite of all the stuff, we feel so isolated, alone, desperate.
So come on, Jesus. Bring it. Help cut and burn away all the crap I can’t seem to set down on my own. Give it away, throw it on the garbage pile…whatever you want. Maybe then, with a clearer head and unburdened arms, I’ll have a little bit more time and energy to invest in this whole peace thing.