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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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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