Jesus, the Cause of Division

Jesus, the Cause of Division August 13, 2016

Ahnnalise Stevens-Jennings

The lectionary reading for this week is putting some folks on edge. It is Luke 12: 49-56, you can read it here. As a Christian who is deeply attached to the social justice and liberation narratives found in scripture, reading this text at face value was a little irksome. I will confess that I would much rather have Jesus say “Turn the other cheek” than, “I did not come to bring peace.” The deeper I looked, the more sense this passage began to make. At first it doesn’t sound like Jesus, but then I thought more about the gospel.

The message of the gospel calls for a radical change in the way we live. It requires us to stop living selfishly. It requires us to think about other people. It requires us to stop living for ourselves and start living for God. It requires that you die to yourself. Dying to yourself, that is one of those catchy Christian things to say that has never made much sense to me. What does that actually mean and look like? I’m a united Methodist, so I turn to scripture, and also to the Wesley’s to help me figure that out.  John Wesley taught about sanctifying grace. This is the grace that comes in and helps you uproot sin from your life. It is the grace that helps you become more like God. It helps you die to self. It cleanses and purges, and refines. It is a tough process. It changes you. It is meant to. Some of the people around you may not like to see that change.

In the text for this week, I believe Jesus is reminding us that living this new life where you are trying to uproot sin, turn first to God, and live as a servant to others is counter-cultural. People will not like it or understand it. They will certainly not like being told that they should do it too.  When you start to take the gospel seriously and try to live your life like Christ, you start to shake up the people around you. Some of them are not going to like it. They will not want you to change. It may cause division and unrest, even in your own household and with the ones you hold my dear.

The gospel is a radical change from the world. It is a message that says love is stronger than any other force. The gospel tells us to leave worldly power behind. That is a huge shift. It upsets the status quo. People never like that. No one likes the feeling of conviction. That refining fire hits you and it hurts. It’s like the story of Jacob wrestling God, Jacob is confronted with the truth about himself and about God and it leaves him literally broken.  God’s love, grace, mercy, and justice are not tame forces. They make change, and change means loss, and loss means pain.

This reminds me of the struggle for racial justice in the United States. Families and friends are being torn apart as some folks start to wake up to the systems of inequality and their role in those systems while others refuse to acknowledge the systems’ existence. The trouble is, the system is real and those who know that, but don’t want to face it are often the ones who will deny it that most ardently. Now as the consciousness of the nation is being raised, we are seeing a massive push back. Divisions seem to be getting deeper, voices are being raised louder in opposition. Some people who used to sit at home and be quietly racist all by themselves have begun to speak up in response to the voices calling for justice. The Black Lives Matter movement has been called a racist terrorist organization, while  in the mean time actual racist terrorist organizations like the KKK are seeing a raise in membership. Somehow, people are upset about Black Lives Matter, but seem unconcerned about the Klan.

This turmoil means that change is coming.

At the end of the passage for this week, Jesus says, you know a storm is coming when you see clouds on the horizon, but somehow, you can’t see the signs in front of you now. (that’s my paraphrasing, but you get the point) The signs of the times are in front of us. A storm is coming. This storm will bring the much needed winds of change, the fire to purge the dead things that choke out new life, and the rain that will bring the baptism of a new birth. We are at the tipping point. All the fighting and the chaos are the signs of change to come. These are the birthing pains, the contractions that will bring us into something new. Don’t get scared of the current state of affairs, get excited to see what comes next.

The gospel is a game changer. Change does not come without some turmoil. The distress is a sign that big things are about to happen. Now, what are you going to do to get ready?

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