Lectionary Scripture: Luke 12:49-56 (NRSV)
What was your family like growing up? Did you experience an easy childhood where everyone got along with one another? Or was it more difficult? Was there a lot of conflict and chaos?
Likely it was somewhere in the middle.
Family systems operate on cycles. They achieve a type of balance (theorists call this homeostasis) that may or may not be healthy. Sometimes there are larger family gatherings that upset the applecart. Old systems that have been escaped through family members moving out or moving away sometimes rear their ugly heads and you have heated arguments arise.
I’ve heard people tell me as a pastor, “I’m never going back to Thanksgiving dinner as long as it’s at so-and-so’s house.” I’ve also heard of people cutting off their relatives from communication because their relationship is unhealthy or emotionally abusive. Yet at the same time we mourn the loss of contact with people with whom we’ve grown up. We may even feel somewhat guilty about making a specific stand with relatives even if we believe it is for the best.
I grew up in a home that included a family business when I was a teenager. All of us worked the business - both parents, my older siblings and me. Money was tight and the stress of making ends meet was always present. Harsh words were often spoken between my father and brother on a cyclical basis. I often felt the need to play peacemaker between them. The words said in anger did not help relieve the stress all of us felt. Eventually, they would make up and we would continue to work together. This lasted for years until my parents retired.
When I received my psychological evaluation as a part of my preparation for ministry (all candidates go through this!), I was labeled as a peacemaker as a large part of my identity.
So when I read today’s text, I am at a loss. It doesn’t sound like what Jesus would say! We more readily identify Jesus as the Prince of Peace rather than a cause of division. When we identify Jesus with service and love, our reading for Sunday seems to run contrary to those characteristics.
Before preaching my last sermon, I mentioned that our scripture was a part of the genre of eschatology or end times theology. We see that continue in this reading. Luke in particular relayed the words and deeds of Jesus in an orderly fashion to share specific theological points. Luke wrote these things in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome which directly affected the leadership within the early church.
In a way, I believe that Luke is trying to normalize the stress and conditions that the early church would have been under. The violence and upheaval that they experienced were seen in the light of the Gospel as something to be expected.
This may actually be comforting when we are going through difficulty. If we experience family conflict and then find out that most families go through this, it can actually help relieve the stress we are under.
We do know that our relationship with Jesus when taken seriously changes our lives. We also know that changes are disrupting to the balance and patterns we already regularly experience. So in a very legitimate way, Jesus does cause division for those who would like for us to remain unchanged!
This Sunday, we will explore this passage further in worship. As I read it again, my first instinct was to say “let’s choose an easier passage to work with!” But I find that the greater fruit may lie with tackling the tougher scriptures. Luke included these for our benefit after all! I hope you’ll join us as we discover what that may be!
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