August 14 Sermon, based on Luke 12:49-56 and also Jeremiah 23
"Handling Conflict"
 
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says something that is probably difficult for us to hear.
He says;….
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?
NO, I tell you, but rather division!
From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided”.
Then he goes on to give specific examples of family members who could be divided against one another.

So how is it,… the one called ‘The Prince of Peace’ says that he does “not come to bring peace to the world”?
And how is it that,… the one Christians point to in support of the family structure, says that he has come to divide families?
Where is our gentle Jesus who says turn the other cheek to those opposed to you and love your enemies?
Where is the kind and forgiving Jesus who always seems to want us to just get along with one another?

Well, he’s still there….and still does want those things.
But Jesus is not a ‘peace at any price’ guy either.
That’s not to say Jesus endorses the conflicts we hear about in the news every day.
He’s not in favor of wars where nations fight to gain the other’s land.
He doesn’t support conflicts when violence is used to achieve power.
He’s not OK when we have divisions between one another over things like money, or jealousy, or pride.
But in certain instances, neither is Jesus is a pacifist.
There are situations in which he says people will inevitably be at odds with one another,….or “divided”.
What Jesus implies is that people will be divided because of him.

Now, as I thought about this passage I found myself doubting that many of us want to divide ourselves from others due to Jesus.
I think few Christians want to create divisions against people who do not believe in Jesus or think he is who he says he is.
There are some Christian people whose faith tells them to avoid or even shun what they’d call “non-believers”.
But most of our culture today is pretty much ‘live and let live’ as we keep our religious beliefs private, even within families.
I can’t think of one case where there was a family division over Jesus.
Most people, including me, even have family who never go to church or think Jesus was no more than just a good guy.
Yet, if we are truly followers of Jesus, we have to heed that he seems to endorse the idea of conflict over him, even within families!

So first of all…..let’s consider what Jesus is not saying here.
He is not saying that its a good thing for a father and son to be fighting over house rules like a nightly curfew.
He does not mean its OK for a daughter in law and mother in-law to have a spat about who hosts Christmas dinner.
But when it comes to Jesus’ way and the things of God,….then he says divisions are not only possible, but should be expected.
Not only expected,…..but maybe even necessary.
When an issue has to do with how he taught us to live or the gifts of God’s grace he brought to us,… then it sounds like Jesus expects there to be divisions.
Divisions among friends,…within families,…even in churches.

Conflict can be inevitable, when following Jesus is embraced by one person but ignored or ridiculed by another. 
So, when a father tells a son he’s foolish to take off work without pay to go on a mission trip to help others rebuild their home,…..recalling Jesus’ example of sacrificing for others,…that son might end up being at odds with the old man.
When a daughter ignores a mother’s advice to have her children brought up in the faith….and she thinks how knowing God’s love could help that child’s life,…
the two of them might struggle with some conflict.
When a father-in-law expresses hostile ideas about someone because they are of a different race or national origin,…. and a son-in-law takes seriously Jesus’ call to love all people,… divisions could occur within that family.
And conflict relating to Jesus can go beyond family into everyday life.
When a friends speak or act contrary to Jesus’ way,….
When clergy or church people forget who it is they are there for,…. 
conflict can arise if someone steps up and calls them on it.

So,….yes,…there are times when divisions among us can occur.
Maybe better said is that…. there ought to be times when a dispute arises and divisions occur because of Jesus Christ.
Being faithful to God in Christ does not mean total avoidance of possible confrontation and smooth sailing throughout life.
That has never been God’s desire for us, nor does Jesus change that.
In our reading from Jeremiah,…we heard about two kinds of prophets.
One bunch told the people what they wanted to hear in order to satisfy their self-serving passions and desires.
They kept things peaceful because they ignored what God said and told folks a bunch of syrupy stuff that made everybody smile.
The other prophets;  true spokespersons for God (such as Jeremiah), said what God told them to say.
And as a result they were mired in conflict and often suffered hardship, persecution, and even death.
Meanwhile…..the ones who kept the peace with false promises and overt lies,…..lived in peaceful tranquility.

When Jesus said “peace be with you” he didn’t mean to be passive in the face of wrongs and things contrary to God’s will.
Jesus said “peace be with you” because our trust in him would help us be well within our souls even in the midst of conflicts.
Our culture today does sometimes seem to promote this idea of ‘peace at any price’.
It is easier to get along and go along with things and people that we know from Jesus and in our heart of hearts,…..are wrong.
But sometimes in life,….you just have to take moral sides.

And, of course, most of us hate doing that.
Political leaders avoid doing that,….family members dislike doing that,…. church people almost never do that.
But taking the side of Jesus Christ can be the start by which wrongs are made right.
One of my favorite all time quotes was when Martin Luther King Jr. (paraphrasing Edmund Burke) said -“The greatest sin of our time is not the few who do evil,…but the many who stand idly by”.
So if conflict happens for the sake of Jesus’ goal to love neighbor,…let it happen.
If divisions bring about Jesus’ ideal of seeing all people as valued,.…bring it on.
If conflict begins from Jesus’ effort to make us right with God,…then let it begin with me.

Considering all of what Jesus says in scripture,….he did not advocate that divisions among people should be the last word.
Conflict is often a part of the process by which wrongs are made right and by which we become at one with God, and one another.
When we fall into conflict with God or each other, Jesus offered a way for us to end that and reconcile and be at peace. 
In his own ministry he created conflict all along the way.
But,…after he subjected himself to conflict among, not just his enemies, but also his friends and followers,…
He went to the cross to end the conflict and forgive them all.
In the end, that’s the only thing that can bring about the true peace that passes all understanding.

Amen