Not Peace But Division
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 12:49-56
I consider a lot of things when I sit down to write a sermon. I think about the things going on in our world. I think about all the things going on in your lives. The hard things. The joyful things. I think about the things going on in our denomination, in our town, in our neighborhood. I hold all of these things and put them beside the scriptures, trying to figure out what the Spirit is trying to say to us as a community. What motivation we might need. What comfort we might need. What call to action we might need.
So this week, I was obviously thinking about the picnic that’s happening after service. How we’ll welcome newcomers. How we’ll get to fellowship with one another over yummy burgers and pies. How it’ll be the first time I’ll really get to hang out with all of you outside of coffee hour. How we’ll have a chance to just have fun with one another.
So I put all of that beside today’s scriptures:
From our Hebrew Bible reading: “And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down...For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.”
From our epistle: “They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented.”
And finally, not to be outdone, Jesus says in our Gospel: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
Nothing says church picnic like a destroyed vineyard, torture, and savior-sanctioned division.
But I do think that Jesus has something to say to our community today, about the way we are in community with each other, the way we do community together.
So first I want to talk about anger. Jesus declaring “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” It puts me on edge, it stings. It sounds angry. How can this man who preached loving our neighbor, who brought healing, who taught reconciliation, wish for such destruction, such division?
Sometimes, I think it’s easy to forget that Jesus was human. We forget that he inhabited a body like the one you have, the one I have. That he felt rain on his skin and knew the smell of his mother’s cooking. That sometimes he felt afraid. That he laughed with his friends. That he even got hangry. You know, that irrational irritation some of us get when we need to eat? Remember that time in Matthew? Jesus was hungry and approached a fig tree that had no fruit so he cursed it? We’ve all been there.
Jesus was human. And, yes, sometimes he got angry.
Anger is sometimes called the covering emotion, or the secondary emotion. Because it’s never just anger. There’s always something underneath it.
When a politician tweets something angry at someone who has questioned his decisions—I’m not naming names—there is fear underneath that anger. Perhaps fear of being embarrassed or of appearing unintelligent or weak.
When a parent lashes out at their child who brought home a report card full of bad grades, there may be disappointment underneath at the ways they themselves have underachieved in their own life.
When someone in the church blows up about some seemingly small thing—when something is moved in the sanctuary or a prayer they love gets changed—I imagine there might be grief there. Grief for the church they love and the way it’s changing.
And I imagine that Jesus’ anger covers the deep devastation that his community cannot or will not see God’s kingdom at hand.
Frankly, he’s not wrong for being angry. Black Lives Matter is not wrong for being angry about police brutality against black people. I don’t feel like it’s wrong for me to be angry when other Christians tell me I’m an abomination for who I love.
Sometimes underneath anger is the heartbreak of injustice.
Sometimes anger is exactly what we need.
But, my God, anger makes folks uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable.
Here’s the truth: in general, we will fight for the status quo. We will fight for what’s familiar, what we’re used to, what feels safe.
That’s what Jesus knew. That’s exactly what Jesus is saying when he says that households will be divided, father against son, mother against daughter.” That’s exactly what broke Jesus’ heart. Because he knew preaching God’s kingdom would push against the status quo.
Yesterday, everyone was telling me to be safe as I was getting ready to head into downtown Portland for a Thorns game. You probably heard, but a group that calls themselves the Proud Boys rallied downtown yesterday, and a lot of people thought there would be violence. The Proud Boys are a far-right, neo-fascist organization who is often tied to white nationalism.
To be honest, what I think they’re fighting for is the status quo.
There’s no denying that this country was established through the erasure of native people. There’s no denying that this country’s economic force was initially built on the back of black slaves. There’s no denying that this country treated women as second-class citizens for a long time, and we’re still fighting for equal pay and equal treatment.
White supremacy and sexism are so deeply a part of who America is that some people think those things are what make us American. And so groups like the Proud Boys rally in places where they think those values are threatened.
But these same fights to preserve the status quo play out in quieter ways in places across the country. Whenever a white person bristles uncomfortably when someone says the words “white supremacy.” Whenever a guy on the internet tells a female athlete to get back in the kitchen. Whenever someone says, “I’m not racist, but…” Whenever a guidance counselor steers girls away from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics paths.
And, yes, I do believe all of this has something to do with following Christ. Because the time Jesus lived in wasn’t all that different from now. Instead of “white supremacy” they had “Roman supremacy.” The colonized people of Israel were subject to unjust laws and sometimes brutal oppression at the hands of the Romans. Women were second-class citizens.
Jesus defied all of that, claiming that the Kingdom of God was greater than any empire on earth. His kingdom lifted up love above power, justice above power, mercy above power.
And, yes, the powerful didn’t like that, but neither did those who had gotten used to the world as it was. To them, this kingdom Jesus talked about threatened everything they knew.
And so the Pharisees, who were fellow Jews, plotted against him. His disciples constantly questioned him. His own friends betrayed him.
So yes, Jesus brought division. And it broke his heart. And it made him angry.
Living the life Jesus calls us to forces a reckoning. We must make a choice. We can choose love. We can choose justice. We can choose God’s kingdom. Or we can choose the status quo. If we choose God’s kingdom, there will be division, because God’s kingdom isn’t always the familiar choice, the safe choice.
Being a Christ-follower can be hard. But it’s not always hard. Often there’s healing. Often there’s forgiveness. Often there’s laughing over a meal with friends. Like Jesus in that upper room. Like every Sunday at this table. Like after service today at our picnic.
May these moments of joy sustain us for the times when choosing the kingdom, choosing love, choosing justice is hard.