“The Jesus Who Divides”
This is the second of a two-part sermon
(Part 1 was shared on August 18, 2019)
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 12: 49-56
August 25, 2019
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” — Luke 12:51i
Forgive me. This opening section is going to be very boring to those who were in worship last week. So you don’t have to listen for about the first five minutes. But if you’re like me, you have already forgotten last week’s sermon! So most of what I am about to say will sound new!
Remember in the first sermon I argued that Jesus is, indeed, a savior who does not bring unity but division. I argued that Jesus sets up a stark contrast between the “way of the world” and the “way of God.” Simply put, the “Silver Rule: Do it unto others before they have a chance to do it unto you,” will always be in conflict when compared to the “Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have it done unto you.” Division takes place where the cross of Christ is formed—at the intersection between the world’s way and God’s way.
Given that Jesus causes division even within the world of Christendom, I argued that we are left with three questions.
- First, how do we move forward in life when the pathway to Christian virtue has so many forks in its proverbial road?
- Second, how do we live with the path we have chosen?
- And third, how do we relate as Christians to those who have taken a different fork than the one we’ve chosen?
I attempted to answer the first question by suggesting that there are two fundamental ways to choose one’s Christian path. The first was an appeal to authority. Find out what the Church teaches and follow it. The second was an appeal to one’s conscience. We within the free church tradition believe that when we get to heaven we will not be asked if we followed the teachings of the United Church of Christ but whether we attempted to discern God’s will and then followed the dictates of our conscience. We believe the soul is competent to give answer for one’s conduct and any appeal to some outward authority will not save us from our responsibility.
This week, we tackle the last two questions — namely, how does one live with the path one has chosen and, how is one to relate to Christians who have chosen a different path.
Let’s jump in by looking at the first of our two remaining questions: “How does one live with the path one has chosen.” I would hope that you would live boldly. But a word of warning. There are good ways to live boldly and not so good ways. There are those within the Christian faith who are so sure they know the will of God that they want to ram it down your throat. This has the advantage of not having to second guess one’s self, but it borders on blasphemy. It comes close to equating my opinion to be the same as God’s opinion. Those who stand on the conservative side of the faith continuum are often those who make the Christian way so restrictive that not many of us can get inside their tent.
This is not the boldness I am suggesting we adopt. Rather, seek to live out the fullness of the gospel knowing that Jesus broke the law, that He saw beyond the measure of societal propriety and pointed the way to mercy. This approach is not as easy as being dogmatic. Dogmatism has its advantages. It does not ask you to discern your path. It tells you to follow the path dogmatism has chosen. But there is a grave danger in assuming that dogmatism is always the right path. Remember, there was a time in our own nation when it was illegal to sit in a seat reserved for a white patron. It may have been the cultural dogma of the day, but it was never right. Live out your path with boldness. Be firm in the reality of God’s love and mercy and seek to implement it when others want an unchanging fix.
But we are lost if we do not live in humility with the path we have chosen. I have often reminded myself and others that there is no perfect way. What was right in a former era may be seen as sinful in the next. You may think you have discerned the path God would have you follow, but I will tell you this: the way my parents’ generation saw the role of women was wrong for today. God is always marching forward with justice and though the steps may seem slow, there is movement. Do not become so trapped in the customs of an era that you forget these words of scripture, “Behold, I make all things new.” How are to live with the path we have chosen? With both boldness and humility.;”>We turn now to our final question. how do we relate as Christians to those Christians who have taken a different path then the one we’ve chosen? I would suggest that you know and expect a Holy battle. Sometimes the arguments between Christians can be fraught with conflict and it can surface in unexpected areas. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was engaged in the battle for civil rights, one might have expected resistance from white churches in the South. Unquestionably, there was. But what one might not have expected is that King’s greatest battle was within his own predominantly black denomination. There were well-intentioned voices telling King to tone down his rhetoric, to postpone or cancel mass demonstrations, to find the patience of faith and seek change far more slowly. Their fear? They were afraid that white America would rise up and crush them. Some of King’s harshest critics came from black Christians. So know this, there is no smooth way forward. Christians, like humanity itself, are divided on how to respond to the social issues of our day. That is just a fact and it presents us with a danger. It is very tempting to think that’s one position on a given subject is the true Christian position. Now it may be but know that your brother or sister in Christ who happens to disagree with you also believes in the sanctity of his or her position. So here is what I would like us to do. Think of the Church as a family. Things can get heated in a family, right? There is that uncle who insists that his political party is pursuing a more Christ like way than yours. Now you have some options. You can disown the folks in your family who disagree with you. That happens, but I don’t think it makes Christ happy. A better way is to stay in communication with that “wayward” uncle, to engage in the argument not trying to win him over to your side but trying to understand his position and why he thinks the way he thinks. Remember these wise words from William Sloane Coffin, Jr., “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”
So, what have we discovered? We discovered that Jesus, indeed, did come to divide and that we are therefore placed in the unenviable position of having to find our own way to authentic faith. We discovered that the path we chose must be lived out boldly and with humility. We discovered that our brothers and sisters in Christ will not always agree on which path leads to authentic faithfulness but that we are all part of the Christian family and thus we cannot disown our brothers and sisters. Seek, then, to understand more than to be understood. In the end, there is no easy place to stand within a faith that profess freedom for the believer. But I, for one, would have it no other way. Let us pray…
i Luke 12:49-56
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?