Readings: Is. 5:1-7; Ps. 80:1-2, 8-19; Heb. 11:29 – 12:2; Lu. 12:49-56
This morning I am going to reflect upon one verse in our gospel reading. I have used this gospel reading this week in my lectio. This is the verse that I was drawn to over and over again. Jesus said, “Do you think that I came to bring peace to the earth?”
I don't know about you, but I was sure hoping that Jesus came to bring peace to the earth. In fact Jesus did bring peace to the earth. In order for our Lord’s peace to have an effect however, the peace offered needs to be acknowledged, accepted and received. This is not something that just happens once and we’ve got it for all time. I believe that it is important that we ask for Christ’s peace on a regular basis. Sometimes several times in the day. I admit that for sometime now I have forgotten that. Even though we say it daily, I had not taken it in.
In the message translation, Peterson translates this verse with these words, “Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? Not so. I have come to disrupt and confront.” While I don't find Peterson’s interpretation of this passage much more comforting than the NRSV I do find it more understandable. I learned a long time ago that keeping peace for the sake of keeping peace, ultimately does not lead to peace. In fact this stance, often produces the opposite effect, greater turmoil.
No where is this better understood than with family members and friends of substance abusers. Those addicts who have kept their sobriety have had family members and friends who realized that 'keeping the peace for the sake of keeping the peace often lead both to further substance abuse and relationships that were codependent'. Subsequently the very loved ones who hoped they were helping and protecting the one in trouble were in fact enabling the destructive behavior to continue.
Maintaining the status-quo rarely leads to change when change is what is required. Sometimes it is both necessary and vital to ones health to disrupt and confront. Often the sooner this can happen, the sooner effective healing can begin. I believe that this is what Jesus was getting at in our gospel reading today.
Having said this, I don’t want to give the impression that everyone should just run out and challenge and confront, willy nilly as a way of effecting change. In order for one to attain the desired life changing outcome, 'confrontation and disruption' takes a lot of genuine empathy and love as well as well thought out strategic planning. Jesus is our best example of how to do this.
Jesus challenged different people at different times. He called different people to accountability for their actions or inaction at different times and in different ways. He used stories and examples that the people he was talking to could relate to. He gave those who came to him and those waiting on the fringes all they needed in order to choose. In the end he also knew that the peace he offered could not and would not come about through force. It had to be by individual free choice.
I have to tell you, this whole issue of individual free choice has been a bit of a problem for me. I think if I had been standing in the crowd and Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” In my own desperation for peace in the world and in my desire for those I love also to have Christ's peace, a peace I have known, I might have been bold enough to yell out, “Yes Lord! I thought you came to bring peace, and frankly I need you to have come to bring peace yesterday!”
I expect Jesus might have responded to me compassionately and probably with some firmness, with another question. “Do you know the kind of peace I am talking about for yourself?” “Do you have this peace?” Actually I am pretty sure Jesus would have asked this question of me.
I don't believe we can offer to others what we ourselves either have forgotten or don't yet have. Earlier this week I was recalling a personal incident that may be a good example of what I am getting at. When my twin sister Denise and I turned 40 we decided to take a trip to Disney World in Florida. It was not until we were boarding the airplane that I realized that Denise had never flown before. She looked terrified. What I suspected was confirmed when the stewardess was going over the pre-flight safety instructions. I actually thought Denise might get out and walk when the stewardess spoke about what to do in the case of a water landing. The illustration I am getting at came when the stewardess said, “In case of a drop of air pressure in the cabin masks will be released, put your own mask on first before you try to assist someone else.” I realized that I would first need to look after myself by putting on my own mask if I had any hope of helping Denise put on hers. We were fortunate, the flight both there and back was smooth.
I believe that we are invited daily to acknowledge, accept and receive Christ’s peace. I believe that individual acceptance of Christ's peace will be the forerunner to any kind of world peace. Sometimes we are so frightened, disillusioned and angered by what we see happening in the world around us or by what has happened in our own lives that we fail to pay attention to what God is trying to do within us. If we don’t have peace within we will have a difficult time showing the peace of Christ to others.
I believe this inner gift of Christ’s peace was what that the great cloud of witnesses spoken about in our Epistle reading had. D.L. Moody said, “A great many people are trying to make peace, but that has already been done. God has not left it for us to do; all we have to do is enter into it.”
I believe that this is the one thing that the great cloud of witnesses had in common, they individually had entered into the peace of Christ. It was from their personal acceptance of this peace that they wereable to do the incredible things they did and were able to endure the situations they witnessed. So
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with per severance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. May Christ's peace enfold us, all dear to us and all who have no peace. Amen.