Tonseth Lutheran Church of Erhard, MN
Pentecost 12/August 15, 2010
Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace.
Let those words sink in: Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace.
If your first response is: “Oh no, that can’t be true. You must have it wrong….”
….If you’re inclined to disagree—you are not alone.
Our natural instinct is to spring to Jesus’ defense, to say: “Jesus, a disturber of the peace—it can’t be true. He is the Prince of Peace. Peace is his greatest gift to us. How can you—how can anyone say that Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace?”
The problem, you see, is that it’s not just anyone who says that. It’s Jesus himself who says that, rather bluntly, quite clearly, here in this unusual text from Luke 12.
Here’s what Jesus himself has to say: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (vv. 49-51)
Then, adding insult to injury, Jesus tells us just where the division will be most acute: in families, in the basic social unit that makes up the fabric of human community. Jesus divides not strangers but kin--fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, in-laws, the whole family system.
Division will hit that close to home, that close to the heart of life.
Jesus Christ came to bring not peace, but division….and that’s probably the last thing any of us wanted to hear this morning.
Most wise pastors, when they see this gospel lesson coming up in the lectionary, ….schedule vacation time for themselves (inviting some guest preacher—say, the bishop!—to fill the pulpit).
Even pastors don’t like this text….and I don’t blame them!
Because we don’t need to go to church to get bent out of shape. We go to church to put it back together, to find some comfort, grab some hope and get charged up for another week of work.
So what are we to make of this strange, maddening text that the lectionary hands us this morning? What does Jesus mean when he says that he has come to bring not peace but division?
Here’s my best guess: Jesus declares himself to be a disturber-of-the-peace….because he has come into the world to change everything.
And change is something we fight, tooth and nail. The only person who likes change is a baby with a dirty diaper—and even then, the baby cries like crazy while the diaper is being changed!
Jesus disturbs the peace because he shakes everything up, turns everything upside down, leaves no stone unturned. Jesus came to change everything that we’re accustomed to, everything we take for granted, every assumption we make.
Jesus disturbs the peace because he has come to change
• how we think about God,
• how we think about ourselves, and
• how we think about one another and the world.
1. Jesus has come to change how we think about, how we imagine, how we relate to God.
We assume that God—if he exists—is Someone we have to deal with, Someone we have to get on the good side of, Someone we must “do business with.”
And Jesus came to change all that. Jesus came to reveal to us, to give us, indeed to be for us a God who is hopelessly in love with us—and there’s nothing we can do about that.
Jesus came to let us know that our God is not a “let’s make a deal God.” We can’t do a blessed thing to get on this God’s good side. In Jesus Christ this God has drawn near to us, embraced us unconditionally, and promised never to let us go—regardless of how hard we might push back.
Jesus came to give us—not a God we have to work at cozying up to—but a God who is “for us,” come what may.
And that alters all our assumptions about God. How can you “do business” with a God like that? Well, you can’t…and that unnerves us…to have a God we can’t bargain with, a God we can’t “buy off.”
2. Second, Jesus came to change how we view ourselves.
Left to our own devices, we see ourselves at the heart of everything. We’re at the center of our own little solar system—everything else revolves around us. And, when all is said and done, we can’t count on anyone BUT ourselves. We must secure our own survival and success.
Jesus came to change that, and in so doing Jesus has again “disturbed our peace.”
Jesus came to pry us loose from ourselves. To stop us from imaging that we’re in the center of the universe. Jesus came to restore our true dignity—the dignity of being a son or daughter of God, whose passionate beating heart is truly at the center of the universe.
And how did Jesus do that? By allowing himself to be dislodged, by letting go of his life at the Cross, by embracing hope not survival as the ultimate good—hope that not even death can destroy.
That’s what Jesus’ life, Jesus death and Jesus’ resurrection are all about—opening us to a radically new way of living—a way of life no longer defined by clinging to ourselves, but rather defined by letting go of life, entrusting ourselves to God, realizing that God clings to us—and that is enough.
3. Third, Jesus came to change how we view one another and the world.
On our own, in our natural state, we view other persons and indeed the world itself as competitors. If our chief goal is to survive, and we’re surrounded by others with the same goal, we’re born into a state of competition-to-the-death. And we live out our days in a sort of uneasy “peace” with that fact…
…..until Jesus comes along and changes it all once again.
Jesus turns us “inside out”…Jesus pries our fingers loose from the tight grip we try to maintain, holding our lives together…..Jesus opens our eyes to a new panoramic view of the others all around us….Jesus lets us see them not as competitors but as neighbors.
If we don’t have to do business with God, don’t have to win God over to love us….we now can turn to the ones with whom we do have business—the neighbors all around us, including the earth itself….which is more than a pile of resources at our disposal. Jesus gives us the earth once again, as God’s good creation, with gifts enough for all to share as we live in the hope that God alone gives.
So there you have it.
Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace….the fragile, precarious peace, that is, of a world and of people who had it all wrong in the first place. Jesus was a disturber of this peace that is no peace—no sure, lasting peace.
That peace—that false peace of a fallen world—Jesus came to sweep it all away. And so, if Jesus brings division into our neatly ordered world, it is a division between those who still cling to the old, dying, god-forsaken world….and those who have come to see and long for the New Creation that Jesus even now is ushering in.
One last thought: I’ve been saying that Jesus Christ was a disturber of the peace. But we could just as easily, just as accurately say that Jesus Christ is, Jesus Christ remains a disturber of the peace….because he is risen, he lives today, he lives within you and me and everyone else whom he has embraced in baptism, in faith, in discipleship and in God’s mission.
Which is to say: you and I may well be accused from time to time of “disturbing the peace.” In fact, such rabble-rousing is a mark of faithfulness to the God we have come to know in Jesus Christ.
I realize that most folks don’t use the words “Lutheran” and “rabble-rousing” in the same sentence.
But even for us calm, cool Lutherans, this is true: Jesus makes us uneasy with this old, dying world. Jesus shatters the false, walk-on-eggshells-peace-that-is-no-peace. Jesus living in you and in me and in all his followers continues to be a refining fire, a renewing baptismal stream, a dividing point between an old world that is passing away….and the New Creation that we point to, long for and are eager to inhabit in all its fullness.
So stir things up, my dear friends. You have nothing to fear from the change that Jesus brings. He alone gives you God as God truly is. Jesus alone bestows on you your true identity. Jesus only opens your eyes to see all humanity, to behold the earth itself, to receive God’s whole creation as the good gift it was always meant to be.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.