Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Division Because of Jesus

A line from the Gospel reading from John appointed for today’s Daily Office struck me. In the wake of Jesus’ invitation to the thirsty to come to him and drink, people in the crowd offer rival and incompatible interpretations of his true identity. To which the evangelist offers this brief observation:

“So there was a division in the crowd because of him” (John 7:43).

These words resonate against the background of conflict and division taking place within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It’s a tragic irony. For it’s the same Jesus we all follow and we all respond to. But instead of bringing us together, our understandings of discipleship and our responses to Jesus’ claims divide us and create conflict.

It’s a story that repeats itself in every age. Just look at the conflict between Peter and Paul. Or the split between the Church in the East and the West. Or the splintering of the Church in the wake of the Reformation.

Jesus divided people from the start. And from the beginning, conflict has been central to the Church’s identity.

Why should it be any different in our time?


Robert said...

Peace or Division?
Sermonette by Robert Schmid
March 1990

Good morning brethren!

Please picture the following:
It's Sabbath morning and it's time to get up and prepare to go to Sabbath services. Father and mother are in the kitchen preparing breakfast. It should be a happy morning, but there is a certain apprehension on the part of the parents, for they know that one of them would have to go upstairs and wake up their 15 year old son who has no intentions of going to Sabbath services.

It was about 6 month ago when their son began to put up a fight, declaring that he no longer wanted to attend Sabbath services. The father in turn made it clear that as long as he lived in this house, there would be no choice but to go, like it or not. Since then Sabbaths have been anything but peaceful.

Or consider this scenario: A couple, married for several years, with a young son, and members of God's Church since they left college. They decide to visit the husbands parents who live across town. It's been several months since they saw each other, since the grandparents saw their little grandson. During dinner the conversation, as it always does, turns to religion, and eventually turns to arguments and accusations. How could you have possibly left the Catholic Church that you grew up in? How could you possibly join this cult that takes all of your money, keeps you away on Christmas, and probably makes you drink coolaide some day?

So - after angrily leaving the house, they vow not to come back again. What was to have been a peaceful family get-together turned into an ugly war, and feelings of anger, helplessness and guilt, will take months to heal.

You ask yourself what’s wrong? Didn't Christ come to proclaim peace and goodwill to all men?
Didn't He say: "Peace I leave with you" before He left to return to His Father? What do such scriptures, and there are many others, mean in the light of everyday reality? Let’s face it, we can all relate to such problems in one form, or to one degree or another.

Let's turn to Luke 12:51 Christ is speaking to His disciples, He is speaking to you and me and He is asking a question:

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?”

Now the very fact that He is asking that question, implies that at least some, and probably most, believe that He came to bring peace. Is that what you believe? Do you blame yourself and feel guilty when there is no peace in your family?

And so, Christ who knows us, is asking the question:

“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?”

Now I realize that it may be difficult for some of us to accept the answer, but here it is, Jesus Christ is speaking and He says:

“NO, I have not come to bring peace, but rather division!”

And in verse 52 he begins to explain what He means when He said:

“From now on (and I am reading from the Living Bible) From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me and two against, or perhaps the other way around. A father will decide one way about me, his son, the other; mother and daughter will disagree; and the decision of an honored mother-in-law will be spurned by her daughter-in-law.”

This is a horrible and depressing picture, Jesus is giving us, as to what to expect when we follow Him. On the other hand, this is really good news, for there is now no need for me to feel guilt anymore when there is no peace. It was Christ that brought the division - NOT YOU and NOT I.

But why would Christ, who is the Prince of Peace, bring war and division into our lives, our homes and into our families?

Well, He did so because He was beginning to call people and separate them for a different, for a specific purpose. He did so out of love and compassion, to accomplish a mighty work in our lives. He did so because there was no truth in the land, and truth must first be established before there can be peace.

The division that Christ brought is between BELIEVERS and UNBELIEVERS, between the CONVERTED and the UNCONVERTED.

So, therefore, whenever a BELIEVER comes in contact with an UNBELIEVER there is division, there is a kind of war, and Jesus Christ is the cause of it.

But, here is the Good News. You see, even though Jesus brought division in our relationship with unbelievers, He also provided a way for the believer to have peace with God, with his fellow believers and with himself.

This way of peace that God provided, is explained by Paul when he wrote to the Philippians.
In Phil. 4 beginning with verse 4 he says (and again I am reading from the Living Bible):

“Always be full of joy in the LORD; I say it again, rejoice!”
“Let everyone see that you are unselfish and considerate in all you do!”
“Remember that the LORD is coming soon!”
“Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything!”
“Tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers!”
“If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus!”

Yes, God will give you rest in the midst of trials and tribulations and division. Paul expressed it this way in 2nd Cor. 4:8 :

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Yes, Jesus Christ came to bring division between believers and unbelievers, but, IF you are a believer, IF you love Jesus Christ, IF you love your neighbor as yourself, IF you diligently search for truth, then, God promises you HIS peace, a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that you can have, even though there is division in the world, and in your home. Even though you may be sick or persecuted.

This is the Good News of the Gospel, that with Christ ALL things are possible, and that with Christ ALL things will work together for good, even the things that are not so good.

I pray that you all have a happy and peaceful Sabbath.

Bryan+ said...

Robert - comments are welcome, but please, no more 'sermonettes' ...

Speaking of which, I'm not sure I buy the notion that if we do things right, then (and only then) God will give us peace. Sounds a bit like works righteousness to me. What about grace?

Also, how does any of this account for divisions among converted, believing Christians (which is what my original posting touches on)? As I recall, Paul confronted division and conflict at the church in Corinth, and yet he still refers to ALL of the Corinthians as "those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus" and as "saints" rather than dividing them up into believers vs. unbelievers (1 Cor. 1:2). It's ironic, because, as the rest of the letter makes clear, the Corinthians are not only saints, but also (and most definitely) sinners.

And finally, there's a an important theological difference between the Sabbath (Saturday) and the Lord's Day (Sunday). We Christians often blur that distinction by calling Sunday the Sabbath, but it isn't. The Sabbath is the last day of the week, and our Lord was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. The Book of Common Prayer rightly makes the distinction with the content of the Morning Prayer Collect for Saturdays focusing on Sabbath themes and the Collect for Sundays focusing on "the glorious resurrection" of Jesus Christ (BCP, p. 98).

Anonymous said...

Bryan, -- sorry for submitting a whole sermon, it was just the easiest way to show that I share the concern you expressed in your original post.
In regards to what it is that “sounds a bit like works righteousness,” I do not know what causes you to make that comment, unless you consider that keeping the laws of God is “works righteousness?”
In regards to division, yes, you spoke of division between Christians, and I spoke about division between believers and unbelievers. On the one hand there is difference, especially in how to deal with the problem, on the other hand the fundamental issue is the same – division is division. When Jesus spoke about division in Luke, He said: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on Earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” That’s rather all inclusive. There will be no peace on EARTH, not only between believers and unbelievers, but sadly, also between believers, as you have pointed out. Peace on earth will not be, until the Prince of Peace comes and establishes truth, for truth must precede peace!
In regards to the Sabbath I will make a comment on your “Sunday is not the Sabbath” post.