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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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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