Hard, Hard Peace

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.


Hebrews 11.29-12.2; Luke 12.49-56

There is an image that I sometimes like to share with couples as they come to me in pre-marital counseling. We talk about how we, as human beings, when we are threatened or we face conflict, how we respond. We have two general ways of responding: we are either tigers or turtles. It’s another take on the fight or flight response.

But when you are a tiger, if your tendency is to be a tiger, when you are faced with a threat, when there is conflict, what do you do? You strike out. Others of us, when we are faced with conflict or when we’re faced with tension or division, what do we do? We’re turtles. We hide in our shells, we withdraw. We hide under those hard shells to protect us.

Now be honest, are you a turtle or a tiger?

Perhaps when we’re more confident we tend to be a tiger, or when we’re more uncertain we tend to be a turtle. Most of us are a little bit of both.

But is we would characterize Jesus today, if we listened to his words, we would definitely say that at least in this moment, Jesus is all tiger. As I read these words, I hear Jesus striking out, going on offense: “I don’t come to bring peace, but division.” And to be honest with you, I don’t know if I like it. I’m not sure if I like Jesus here, I don’t know if my Jesus would look like this, or speak like this. These words, in fact, make me very uncomfortable.

These sayings are hard, perhaps they’re offensive in any age, but particularly in the Middle East where everything in society is focused around family. Jesus goes right for the jugular. And he says, “When I come, when I speak, I’m not coming to bring peace, to smooth things over, to make everything calm and nice and rosy. I’m coming to bring division. And those intimate relationships that are supposed to be so peaceful, I’ve come and when I speak, son will be set against father, mother against daughter.” Say it ain’t so, Jesus.

I wonder if Jesus, as he is looking towards Jerusalem, as he thinks about his fate there, and all of the suffering that he is undergoing, as he feels all of the opposition starting to generate around him, I wonder if he’s beginning to feel frustrated. Maybe a little exasperated, maybe even a little anxious as a human being about what is to come. Do you hear how the NRSV translates it: “What a stress I am under. I wish I could just get it over with!” Perhaps he feels frustrated and exasperated as he heads to the cross.

Now we have two ways of responding to this language of division, this talk of not bringing peace, but bringing conflict. We can either like it too much or not enough. We can either be tigers or turtles.

When we like it too much, this talk of division, when we connect with it too easily, division becomes the goal in and of itself. Nurturing ferment becomes the sign and seal of our conversations and our actions. Oh, that Pastor Paul, he just loves stirring the pot. He just loves to cause trouble. And we like this language of division too much, we are not happy when people compromise or discover common ground. We are not pleased when the focus changes from what drives us apart to what brings us together. When we like these verses too much, we like to rock the boat and we are happy when those with whom we disagree fall into the sea.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Patience–for the Lord is Near

    I don’t often read from the book of James in the New Testament.  It’s a relatively short book, with instructions for Christians ranging from words about poverty and riches to warnings against judgment upon others, and finally to instruction on patience in the midst of suffering.

    Patience in the midst of suffering…  I confess that doesn’t sound very appealing.

    Suffering comes in so many forms, and all of them are significant and legitimate. Suffering varies, of course, and as a person living in the United States of America, I’m often reluctant to claim that I suffer from anything egregious. I have food, shelter, companionship, and various freedoms. But we do suffer. We suffer from lots of things. Isolation, job loss, self-doubt, economic uncertainty, criticisms or judgments from others. Criticisms or judgments from ourselves. There is no doubt that in one way or another we are even suffering from this COVID-19 pandemic. I miss you all. Meg and I are your pastors. We should be seeing you each week and praying with you, rejoicing at the good things in life, and comforting each other amidst the difficult time in life.

    It’s impossible to determine when we might get to the end of this, but I feel like we are about to turn a corner thanks to the hard work and miraculous creativity of scientists who are making COVID-19 vaccinations possible. I was in Colorado for a few days at the end of January to visit my father again, and it was such a blessing to drive him to a hospital where we received his first vaccination shot. The next one will be available in a few more weeks, and only then will I feel more secure about him, and the rest of us, making it through this.

    While reading James recently I came across this passage in the fifth and final chapter.

    Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

    James is writing to a group of people in first century Palestine who are wondering when Christ will return. He suggests they be patient for the coming of the Lord. I hope they were able to be so, because here we are two thousand years later…awaiting that same return. But in the midst of our ‘waiting’ we’ve learned something else about the Kingdom of Heaven. We don’t have to wait for the return of Christ for Christ to be present in our lives and across this world. The Kingdom of God is at hand. We help bring it about. We help bring about that kingdom of love and grace and comfort.

    James goes on to suggest that just as a farmer waits for his or her crop to sprout up and grow with the rains and flourish for time of harvest, we too must be patient. He then instructs them to strengthen their hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Patience. It’s been a long time, but I hope and pray we are doing well with patience during this pandemic.

    I am still in shock that around 3-4,000 Americans are dying each day from COVID-19 or related complications. It is staggering. The number is higher around the world. How do we mourn such a time? I’m not exactly sure, but perhaps the season of Lent which begins on February 17th will give us some room to do just that.

    This all brings me back to one of the central purposes of us as a congregation—the faithful worship gathering that we hold each week. I thank you for your patience and support while we worship on YouTube and occasionally via Zoom. I’d rather be in person with you, but not at the risk of anyone’s health or life. It’s a bit strange to me, being the church in this ‘digital age’ forced upon us by quarantine and social distancing. We’re doing our best, and I hope we’re doing it well. But I’m having a struggle with patience as I dream about seeing you all again in person. Session continues to discuss future plans; we will continue with our current setup for now and pray for a day when vaccinations are widespread and transmission rates approach zero. Not only for the sake of our worship, but also because of the value we place upon the health and well-being of each person.

    I’d like to also thank you for the love and support you have extended to my family as we’ve grieved my mom’s death on December 28th. My father received many cards from you, and he sends his thanks; they were all very meaningful. As you know my parents regularly visited Logan and enjoyed worshiping the Lord with us. Dad says when we’re back in person for church you can be sure he’ll be around to worship with us again. He, along with all of us, can’t wait to hear the Praise Band, Chancel Choir, and Westminster Bell Choir live and in person. Once again, thank you all.

    As James pleaded to those early Christians living in very uncertain times, may we strengthen our hearts, for indeed the Lord is near.

    Peace be with you all,  

    Derek

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