Sermon X Pentecost 18 August 2019
O God, who hast made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and didst send thy blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after thee and find thee; bring the nations into thy fold; pour out thy Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of thy kingdom; in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As a priest, I have a chance to speak a word of grace into so many parts of the human experience. I’d say that’s one of my favorite aspects of being a cleric. And, earlier in the week, someone very dear to me shared with me some of the trials they were enduring at work. They described the behavior of a coworker who was doing little tiny dumb things to elicit any sort of reaction. Some might call this pattern of behavior petty or perhaps even childish. In any case, we thought back and examined some of what the coworker had been up to in the recent past, and what we realized was that this person had set up a little kingdom: a little place where the coworker had set up their own tiny place of power- their own authority structure that was based on fear, open disrespect, and a sense that no other team or department had anything to do with anybody else. In the moment of the conversation, I was incensed at the offensiveness and banality of the situation. Later I would come around to the pitiable estate of someone so blinded by their fragile ego.
I suspect that many of you in the congregation have experienced something similar in a coworker, manager, or leader. That is, to put it mildly, a super bummer. Especially when we consider how much bigger the world is beyond the office, how much more is available to folks just outside of themselves. But in seeing people being so narrow-minded and selfish as they set up their petty little professional fiefdoms, we actually observe the smallness of human hearts that allowed Jesus to be able to say what we heard in today’s Gospel Lesson from Luke.
Recall those strong words again:
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
Whoa! Wait that’s not exactly the words of a serene sage so many of us carry in our minds. And honestly, whenever I get to this teaching, I always imagine pulling Jesus aside and reminding him what the herald angels said to the shepherds in second chapter of the same Gospel:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Was Jesus confused about the nature of his ministry? Did he mishear the angels? I mean he was just a little baby in a manger. I mean, we all kind of think that Jesus is about peace, but here he’s telling us that what he’s going to do is going to bring division and perhaps even rend the bonds of families!
And we would be scandalized if only for the fact that what Jesus said rings so true. For so many people, the values of the Gospel: things like charity, holiness, hospitality, truth, beauty, and so on, these values run completely against the values that they might find even in their closest family and friends. For so many of us, this apparently hard saying of Jesus is actually their lived experience, and indeed in my own small way, I definitely know that feeling. In today’s reading, Jesus’ teaching crashes right into our lived experiences of the kingdoms we’ve set up for ourselves.
Division comes, in this case, because the peace that the angels heralded, the good will among men and other glad tidings besides came from God and not from us. The peace of God that is truly meant to draw the universe back into alignment with God’s design, truly meant to draw humanity back together, truly meant to draw each person’s heart back to the loving presence of God, that peace is a peace that surpasses all human understanding. Therefore, as ignorant and benighted as we are in our trespasses, we can totally miss what Jesus means to draw us into, preferring the alternative of the kingdoms we set up for ourselves. With that in mind, we can see that Jesus was not speaking with his sometimes characteristic rhetorical hyperbole or exaggeration. Instead this morning we hear Jesus at his most realistic; which is in its way a little scary I suppose.
Scary, I think, if we only assume that peace of God isn’t a real thing. Fortunately, this morning, and for all of our brothers and sisters heading back to work tomorrow, God’s peace is not only real, it is present among us even now, and seeks to break down all those little kingdoms so that even they will end up glorifying God. Two things come to mind as I say that: the first, the Magnificat, the Song of Mary from Chapter 1 of St. Luke’s account. Recall that she sang that God:
“hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,” and “hath put down the mighty from their seats, and hath exalted the humble and meek.” In essence, the proud will not remain so lofty, and indeed are given the same chance all of us are given to be humbled and come and live under the yoke of Mary’s Son and surrender to his true peace; laying aside the small earthly kingdoms for God’s Kingdom of Heaven. I also think about the witness of the saints, so great a cloud of witnesses, that even having endured so many truly great trials, still encourage us by their witness, testimony, and intercession to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” With our Savior, Christ, as the goal of our lives, whose peace and grace will see us through even the pain of the earthly division that might sadly result in this life from our allegiance to Christ’s Kingdom, and certainly help us through the trials we endure on a daily basis besides.
As I said, God’s peace is real, and is among us, waiting for us, and working through us. I pray that the same peace would settle in our hearts this day and settle as a balm over every possible source of alienation, truly drawing people close together in the loving tether of the Spirit. And whatever vexes us in the petty fiefdoms set up around us, be encouraged that God is working at drawing them down and then truly drawing all things to his perfect intention. In Christ and by his grace, I pray that we would all be found working hard to overcome the short-sightedness of ignorance by the light of our love and the power of Christ’s everlasting peace.
To Him be all glory; from age to age. Amen.
The Very Rev. David Bumsted
Emmanuel Episcopal Church