Advent 2: Prophets

Advent 2 – Year A

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7; 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
the prophets said you would bring peace
and save your people in trouble.
Give peace in our hearts at Christmas
and show all the world God’s love.

I love the season of Advent. I grew up in an evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and we were always big on Advent, big wreaths and candles in the church, special prayers and calendars at home all made for a growing sense of anticipation for Christmas. Marking Advent goes some way in keeping my cynicism towards the commercialisation of Christmas low. It is very easy to complain about the stuff in the shops too early or how the Christian message gets lost today.

If we do not prepare ourselves and examine again what it all means, then how can we possibly be the Prophets of today who can share the Good News of this season with others? The second Sunday of Advent, over time, has been set aside to remember and reflect on The Prophets of the Old Testament. This focus gives us the opportunity to reflect on the way Jesus’ birth was foretold in the centuries before it actually happened.

The people of Israel that Isaiah is speaking to have been through the mill. The first 39 chapters of the book speak mainly of punishment and the exile of the people of Jerusalem to Babylon. Chapters 40-66 begin to speak of things turning around with messages of comfort and the end of punishment for Jerusalem.

Within these two main sections there are further identifiable sections. Ch 1-12 (where we are this morning) is characterised by prophecies about Judah and Jerusalem which alternate between judgement and salvation.

The line of David had been devastated during the exile and many people had no hope of restoration. Isaiah is prophesying that a new shoot will spring up. The shoot will be in the form of a Davidic king who will bring a new age of righteousness and justice for Judah. Hope is on the horizon! Isaiah’s prophecy is telling the people of Israel what kind of person to look out for and what kind of changes to see in the world. The King is coming!

The wilderness, biblically speaking, is often a place of transformation and preparation. Jesus is taken for 40 days into the wilderness at the start of his ministry, the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before they reached the promised land.

The wilderness is also a place of loneliness, isolation and vulnerability. Christians can often speak of having those times in the wilderness when God feels distant, it can be a time of great doubt and despair. All you can do is wait and watch for God as though your life depends on it. This does not sit comfortably in the season of Christmas parties and carol singing.

John the Baptist bursts onto the scene in the opening verses/chapters of all four Gospels from the wilderness. John brings the message of hope for the coming of Jesus the Messiah. John also wants us to prepare spiritually for this coming. There are two things, according to John, that we need to do.

Firstly, we need to clear a path for the Lord and secondly that path is to be straight. The original Greek word for paths here means ‘a beaten pathway’; a well-worn path, a path that has seen some use, it’s been established, walked on.

In a personal way God wants us to prepare a path to him. If you were to picture what your path to God looks like, what do you see? Is it well worn? Lightly tread? Is our path to God straight? I know that mine sometimes is more of a meandering path. I have taken the long way around! I vividly remember a sermon where a rather charismatic preacher suggested we should ‘go to the throne before we go to the phone.’

Have we made a path for Him to come and do a major and powerful work in our lives? I trust that God wants us to make a beaten pathway to Him. We also need to clear that path of debris; this can be anything that stands in the way of God being able to work in our lives fully.

There are ways that we can make a beaten path. I will suggest two that I came across from a friend’s blog reflection on preparing spiritually for Christmas.

Firstly, meditate on the fact that we need a Saviour. We all need Jesus.

Ali in her blog writes: ‘My friend recently confessed that growing up in a Christian home, she has never really understood the depth of her need for a Saviour.

Another friend, after battling addiction for years, knows and relies daily on her desperate need for a Saviour, the very giver of her sanity, health and life. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between.’

I know that I need to deepen my awareness of God in areas of my life. It is embarrassing how short my memory can be sometimes.

Secondly, engage in sober self-examination. John’s first words when he appeared from the wilderness ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ It is also no coincidence that in Matthew’s Gospel, the first line of Jesus’ first sermon is ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ (4:17).

My friend Ali again in her blog, ‘This does not mean checking how many moles are on your back or how many wrinkles have appeared around your eyes (though there is a time and place for this type of self-examination).

Rather, this is a deep internal examination of how we are doing spiritually. The Christian writer John Piper says, ‘Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter’. There should be time for honest self-reflection, where we invite the Holy Spirit in to show us where we need His help and healing the most.’

John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is a way of getting our paths clear and straight. I think that many of us would assign this kind of reflection to Lent and not Advent. Yet it is through John we have a gateway to the swaddled baby, fleecy lambs, singing angels and wisemen that we hold so dear at this time of year.

Confession and repentance bring a cleansing and a change of mind and heart can help us turn back to God. It can clear and straighten the path like nothing else can. It is not easy and may not seem to fit in the season of mulled wine and mince pies. They don’t taste as good as a clean heart and mind feel though.

Repentance needs to be taken seriously. It means stopping and turning around. Is there anything you need to stop doing? We can of course ask for forgiveness for the things we do wrong. Yet if we don’t get serious about stopping sin we cheapen forgiveness. It becomes worthless and meaningless. This is what John means in his demand that the Pharisees and Sadducees to ‘bear fruit worthy of repentance.’

It is hard but not impossible. We have the God for whom nothing is impossible. He will help and provide.

In this Advent season my prayer is that you will know the hope of Jesus the Messiah as we celebrate his birth and await his return. I also pray that amidst the turkey and tinsel you find time to deepen your need for the Saviour who loves and cares for you. May you also know his love and forgiveness this season too. As uncomfortable as it might be, some serious self-examination might be in order to. Bear fruit worthy of repentance.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement be with you. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Trinity 17: Giving Thanks


2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

The weekend, the second in October, is one of my favourites of the year. It is Canadian Thanksgiving! Tomorrow is a national holiday in Canada; we don’t watch football or go shopping like our neighbours to the south. It tends to be more of a family time, the weather is generally nice so time can be spent outdoors before indulging in large turkey dinners and pumpkin-based desserts.

My family will all be gathering to do just this today and tomorrow. We have the tradition of going around the table (at the insistence of my Mother) so each person can say what they are thankful for. I think that there is something around this time of year, around harvest, that reminds us again of the need to be thankful. To reflect on the words ‘thank you’ whether that is to God or to those around us who may need to know of our thankfulness to them. There is certainly no shortage!

We have two responses to giving and receiving thanks this morning in the OT and the Gospel readings.

The story of Naaman in 2nd Kings is fascinating. There is a lot going on in it. Naaman is a commander of the Aramean army, he was a great man and in high favour with the king. He also suffered from leprosy. Leprosy would have been seen as a sign of God’s judgement in the days before medical microbiology and understanding of bacterial infections. It was a source of great shame and uncleanness. However Namaan was not shunned or made to live apart from society, let alone hold a high position. Maybe because he was deemed to be more important than other people?

He does, however, need help. The help that Naaman needs comes from an unlikely source; a young girl taken captive to serve his wife. Was she thanked for what she did? She likely took a big risk in speaking up in the first place; seeking to help the very person who had taken her into captivity. Maybe Naaman and his wife were a really lovely couple who showed kindness to this girl to the point that she felt comfortable speaking up. She was obviously convincing as her suggestion was taken seriously. Potentially out of desperation yet acted upon.

Sometimes help comes from the unlikeliest people. Are we aware of where our help comes from? Yes, it comes from God; thinking of Psalm 121.
However, God more often than not uses unlikely people to bring the help that we need. They, along with God, need to be thanked!

In the Gospel story of the 10 lepers, are we to be surprised by the one who returns to say thank you or the nine who don’t.

Which surprises you more?

The 10 lepers are clearly the outcasts of society. They kept their distance when Jesus came near to them as they had to call out to get the attention of Jesus. These ten had to live within the rules that had been imposed on them. On the surface they don’t have much to be thankful for. As a group they would have been instantly recognisable. Independently they would have been even more isolated and in greater danger. Maybe living the life they did had worn them down, made them suspicious, lacking trust and had given up on anyone caring about them.

Then they encounter Jesus and call out for mercy. There is no indication of how physically close Jesus came to them or if he even touched them. In fact, Jesus sent them away. They had to go and show themselves to the local priest to be declared clean. It was as they went away that they were made clean. I cannot begin to imagine the shock, the excitement, the overwhelming emotion that must have occurred when the ten realised they had been healed.

Maybe the nine didn’t go back because they were so eager to be declared clean and go home to their families that they simply did not think to go back and look for Jesus. But one did. Perhaps he had a greater need for gratitude. Luke doesn’t say that the other 9 were any less cured, but he is suggesting that they were less grateful. There is a message here for all of us who fail to thank God ‘always and for everything’ as Paul puts it. We can know with our heads, if we have any Christian faith at all, that it is God who gives us everything.

Every mouthful of food, every breath of air, glass of water or wine, every smile on every face and a billion other things. This runs counter in the world where too many people assume that they have an absolute right to health, happiness and every comfort imaginable. When we think like this, we easily lose any sense of thanks as it is replaced with entitlement. What is the antidote? Being thankful.

Naaman and the 10 lepers were given new life. The word for ‘get up’ used by Jesus at the end of the reading has to do with resurrection. The man who came back ‘was dead and is alive again’. New life had come through Jesus. Naaman recognised that he had been healed and he returned to Elisha to offer thanks and gratitude to God.

We also need to remember to thank the vehicles, the vessels, the flawed but beautiful people who He uses to help and assist us. Let’s also not forget that God uses us to help and heal the people around us. We need to accept thanks with grace and gladness and then return it to The One who gives us a new life.

The temptation can be to become very self-effacing; no need to thank me, etc. Actually accept it. God graciously receives our thanksgiving; we should be able to accept the thanksgiving of others. It is right to be mindful of our attitudes and motivations (doing something solely to be thanked isn’t great). If we have done something that another person feels is worthy of thanks and offers it; then we should accept it graciously.

The giving and receiving of thanksgiving all comes from God. We are kidding only ourselves if we think it does not. He is the one who we need to thank and keep on thanking for every good and perfect gift that comes from above.

Trinity 15: Life That is Really Life

September 25, 2022 – St Mary’s Turville & Hambleden

1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

It is probably something of an underestimation to comment that the impact of these past 2 weeks have brought up so much emotion; especially bereavement and grief for many people. This is on top of the normal ‘everyday’ grief that many people carry around. I hope that it was comforting to watch the State Funeral at Westminster and Committal Service in Windsor. I was reminded that many of the words used for The Queen are used across the Church of England day in day, week by week in funeral services all over the country. There has been a spate of deaths in the parishes recently too.

Both of the readings this morning speak of death among other important topics. Paul’s letter to Timothy begins with the stark reminder that we brought nothing into the world so that we can take nothing out. Paul then goes on to give instruction on how to live out the rest of our lives. We are urged to take hold of “the life that is really life’; beyond all the treasures and trappings of this life.

Luke’s Gospel reading does not make for the most comfortable reading in the best of times; let alone in a period of national mourning. We see in this reading there is a separation after death and not everyone ends up in the same place.
In this section of Luke there is an assortment of rather pointed parables designed to teach about stewardship of money, time and talents; the importance of forgiveness and faith, and the primacy of prayer in a disciple’s life. Time is short with Jesus; he knows this although the disciples don’t.

One of the examples is a rich man who held what seemed to be a godless view of wealth and righteousness. He has died and is being tormented in Hades. Hades in basic biblical terms is a subterranean underworld where souls of the dead went after death. Jesus is explaining that there is a chasm, a separation at the time of death between the wicked and the righteous dead.

Paul, in his letter to Timothy, warns that those who want to be rich will fall into temptation and will be trapped by senseless and harmful desires that ultimately plunge people into ruin and destruction. This is what appears to have happened here. The actor and comedian Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer”.

Each of these readings, letter and parable, at their roots are about attitudes. Jesus was trying to teach that material possessions are a trust, on loan from God. They are to be used responsibly for the good of everyone. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day held the view of wealth as God’s blessing and poverty as God’s judgement. Maybe we feel this way too sometimes when we look at the culture and world around us.

How is our attitude to the Lazarus’ of our day? They are out there and not so far away.
-What goes through our heads:
-Is it their own fault?
-They have chosen to live like…?
-There are agencies to help?
-They should go and get a job?
-If I give money they will only spend it on drink or drugs?

It is clear that the rich man had ample opportunity to ‘do good’ to Lazarus as he sat in his front garden day in and day out. But he did not. The rich man comes to the end of his life and finds himself in a place of eternal punishment. Not because he did not help Lazarus but because he was lacking a relationship with God. This man’s love of money was the root of all kinds of evil. This is Paul again. The evil was selfishness.

At some point during the rich man’s torment he is able to lift his head and he sees Lazarus in a position of honour at Abraham’s side. A place that the rich man was no doubt used to occupying during his earthly life. What I am really interested in are the requests that the rich man makes of Abraham and the responses he is given. His first request shows that old habits die hard as he asks something for himself. Given his circumstances I don’t think that this is at all unreasonable!

We get a glimpse here of what it is to be judged by our own standards. The rich man was so shielded by his riches to the point where he could ignore Lazarus at the gate. He would have had servants to do the errands, he probably travelled in a carriage or on a horse, so he never noticed him. The rich man took no notice of Lazarus’ physical needs and now no notice is being taken of his.

The man’s second request shows greater awareness for others; as he is concerned for the eternal wellbeing of his five brothers. In Jesus’ time, tales of reversal of fortune in the next life were common. Jesus is not doing anything new here. However, in these tales, when someone asks to send a message back to people who are still alive on earth, permission is granted.

Jesus does not allow for that in this parable. This says something about the nature of death; it fixes our destiny and suggests there is no further opportunity for repentance. The response from Abraham to this second request is that ‘the brothers have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ The rich man knows that his brothers won’t listen to Moses and the prophets as they need a little more excitement or wow factor. Jesus suggests here that humanity is so sinful that it is unlikely even to listen to someone who returns from the dead in this manner.

What were the take home lessons then and now? There is an age to come and our attitudes and actions from this life will catch up with us. At the point of death there is no longer an opportunity to repent or make amends.

This leaves us in the present age! We must take seriously what Paul wrote to Timothy in the closing chapter of the letter: ‘There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called. Do good, be rich in good works, generous, ready to share, storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future. Take hold of life that is really life. ‘

What is life that is really life for us? We know that this life ends in death. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell opened his sermon with the “For many of us in the United Kingdom, there were two people whose deaths we could never imagine. Our own and the Queen’s.” I suspect that many of us do not want to contemplate our own deaths. The alternative is to take hold of life, that is really life. Show generosity and love. Pursue righteousness, godliness and faith with endurance and gentleness. Not because it will save us from the torment of Hades but because God first loved us. Ultimately there is no fear in death when we place our trust in God.

Trinity 10: The Rules According to Jesus

Barbara Schwarz, OP. Dominican Sisters of Amityville

Trinity 10/Proper 16

Isaiah 58:9-14
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Why do you come to church?
What answer would you give to that question if asked by someone who is not a Christian?
Maybe this is a difficult question to answer.

I was asked this question many years ago by a friend and I struggled to come up with an answer. I was very involved in the church I was going to; I was feeling like a ‘good’ Christian. Yet I did not have a clear answer on why I went to church. It didn’t help that she prefaced her question with the wry observation that ‘I didn’t seem the church-going type.’ The answer to be revealed later!

This is something to give thought to in light of the Gospel reading this morning as it takes place in a synagogue on the Sabbath. The Christian equivalent of church on a Sunday morning! We have three main characters: Jesus, the synagogue leader and the crippled woman. All in church on a Sunday morning. This is also the third story in Luke’s Gospel featuring Jesus healing someone in a synagogue on the Sabbath and causing problems with the leaders.

Firstly we need to understand the rules. The preface in the weekly email yesterday asked if you were a rule breaker or a rule keeper. The Jewish faith had very strict rules about the Sabbath going all the way back to Genesis when ‘God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.’

Sabbath rest was a solemn obligation, to set aside the day for rest from work. Its importance is shown as this is one of the Ten Commandments, so serious that to break it was considered a capital offence. There is, however, very little explanation about what is meant by ‘no work’ on the Sabbath. The only specific things in the OT were that fires could not be lit, sticks for the fire could not be gathered and the Israelites could not collect any manna. Sabbath was meant to mark and celebrate the relationship with God but how this worked out in practice was fairly open.

By the time of Jesus, many centuries later, the Sabbath was still very important although many rules had been made up over time. Different groups had different rules about what could and could not be done. How far you could travel, soldiers could not carry weapons, food had to be prepared the day before, no water could be fetched, no sex. It had also become customary to meet in the synagogue for corporate prayer, reading of Scripture and instruction. Church!

Jesus abided by the rules of both the Sabbath and his culture. He attended synagogue services and was allowed to teach there. But Jesus did not always behave himself in church! I am not sure what your reaction is to the people you feel do not behave themselves in church! We like our rules, our particular seats, hymns, people – the list goes on.

What has Jesus done? In this case – Jesus heals the woman who is bent over double in the synagogue and on the Sabbath.

Let’s look at the reactions of the other 2 main characters:

Synagogue leader: upset! Jesus is not behaving. He is breaking the rules. The leader’s idea of the synagogue does not involve God or people. Just rules.

The Isaiah reading reminds us that the point of the Sabbath is to change your daily focus. Jane Williams writes ‘without a day on which you remember what you are for, and who your God is, you can just get into the habit of thinking only of yourself and your own needs. Isaiah sees the sabbath as a day that turns you back to God and so away from yourself and towards others.’

The leader’s argument is that Jesus has broken the Sabbath by healing the woman bent double. This was not an emergency or life-threatening. He is a leader unconcerned for the needs of his congregation. Come back at a more convenient time; there are six other days in the week for this sort of thing.

Why did the synagogue leader go to the synagogue? Duty? Tradition? Maintain the rules?

The Woman. Why did she go to the synagogue that day? Was she a regular? She would have been a social outcast, on the margins. Did she have a family? Her condition was likely seen by others as a result of her sin. We are given the specifics of her condition; bent over double. No NHS. Was it painful? Who helped her? Did she have friends? Always find these people fascinating when you stop to consider their circumstances.

The rabbi and leader would not have had much to do with her as they did not associate with women. Maybe she had some expectations when she went to the synagogue? Something would happen – would she be healed? Made better? Well that Sabbath she was. She walked into the synagogue, not seen by the leaders, bent over double like every day for 18 years. But she walked out straightened up.

Jesus saw her. Jesus took the initiative and with a word and a touch she was healed. This is amazing stuff!

And the synagogue leader is upset.

Jesus has a word for him too!

It was hypocritical for the leader to deny the woman what he would have done for a donkey. The rules that the synagogue leader lived by demanded that compassion be shown to animals in distress including on the Sabbath. Jesus highlights that his priorities were wrong.

This Gospel story reminds us that we can get it wrong. We can miss the point of coming to church. If we make it more about rules and regulations than about the wholeness and abundant life in and with Christ. We become like the synagogue leader; protecting our religious systems as we like them and want them. Yet we are also like the woman with the bent back. Weighed down by the worries of the world and our own situations.

We all need Christ to straighten us up! To release us, unburden us.

So – why do you come to church?

What is our expectation level of Jesus?
Do we expect him to show up?
Do we leave room in our religion to let him in?
When I was unable to answer that question, another, cleverer friend came to my rescue. She said that she went to church to be challenged in her relationship with God.

That was the answer I was looking for and have hung on to.

We would all be (I hope) greatly challenged if Jesus walked through the door and performed some healing this morning. Wouldn’t you?

I go to church to be challenged in my relationship with God.

We need to be regularly straightened up about a few things. We need a challenge and this should come through the musical worship, the words, the readings, the prayers, the preaching (I hope I am doing that for you!). We can, of course, be challenged through our relationships with other people.

Church does not exist apart from God and other people. Sometimes our interpretation of the rules needs to be challenged. Let us pray we do not lose sight of that.

Trinity 9: Run the Race

Proper 15

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

I have said a few times in my last few sermons that we are in a season of teaching as we hear again the parables and stories of Jesus’ life and ministry.
This was all well and good with me until I read this week’s readings. All this talk of fire, hammers, torture, unfulfilled promises, division, superficiality, uncertainty! It’s August, it’s supposed to be summertime and living is easy!

Fortunately I came across a story about the great composer Beethoven and a trick he used to sometimes play on polite salon audiences that weren’t really interested in serious music. Beethoven would perform one of his pieces on the piano, usually a slow movement which would be so gentle and beautiful that everyone would be lulled into thinking that the world was a soft, cosy place, where the audience would relax into semi-slumber and think beautiful thoughts.

Then, just as the final notes were dying away, Beethoven would bring his whole forearm down with a crash across the keyboard and laugh at the shock he gave to the assembled company. I think that we have something of the shock of the crash in the readings this morning.

“Many great heroes of the faith,” writes the author of Hebrews, died gruesome deaths, but “did not receive what was promised.” “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I came to bring division!” Jesus cries as he makes his way towards Jerusalem and death.

Maybe we need a reminder in this summer season that a real Christian faith is not one that is soft or easy, without cost. Maybe a reminder that peace comes with a price and how easily we can misread the signs.

There are a few phrases that I want to highlight from the readings this week and what they might have to say to us:

Run with perseverance the race that is set before us

Hebrews chapter eleven is often called the “Faith Hall of Fame,” since it highlights the remarkable lives and achievements of those who lived “by faith” in the Old Testament. Indeed, the achievements of these faith-filled men and women are awe-inspiring.

During their lifetimes, they “administered justice,” “shut the mouths of lions,” “quenched raging fire,” “won strength out of weakness,” and “received their dead by resurrection.” How much more impressive can you get? Yet maybe they feel distant, the persecution they faced as unrealistic to us now and their actions are ancient history; not practical to today. The lions we face are likely to be metaphorical and the foreign armies are over there, somewhere.

There are other things on the list, administration of justice and obtaining promises. If you caught any news this week, maybe you saw 7 year old Tony Hudgell at Downing Street to receive his Shining Light award. Tony was abused by his birth parents, resulting in the amputation of both his legs as an infant. His adoptive parents have fought for Tony’s Law to increase the length of sentences on those who abuse children. They fought for justice and obtained promises with perseverance and love for Tony. Heroic.

What is the race set before us? Whatever it is – physical, social, psychological or spiritual, look to Jesus. The author and perfecter of our faith. We do not have to have a photo finish, Jesus will meet us where we are.

“Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised.”

The “Hall of Fame” has a dark side to triumph and victory. Many of God’s faithful were tortured, flogged, mocked, and stoned to death. Many went about “destitute, persecuted, and tormented.”

Many spent their lives wandering in deserts and mountains, in caves and holes in the ground. And all of them — all of them – died without receiving what was promised to them.

What does this mean? Well, among other things, it means that God’s timing doesn’t always align with ours. It means that crises of absurdity, meaninglessness, pain, and horror are part and parcel of human existence, regardless of whether we profess faith in God or not.

It means that we Christians need to be clear and honest about the faith we profess. Yes, there is joy in the Christian life. Yes, there is beauty. Yes, there is the promise of love, wholeness, healing, and grace. But the life of faith is also hard and risky. The life of faith does not ever guarantee us health, wealth, prosperity, or safety. To suggest otherwise is to lie, and to make a mockery of the Gospel.

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? NO, I tell you, but rather division!’

The Gospel of Luke begins with the proclamation that Jesus will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” At Jesus’s birth, an angelic choir sings “Peace on earth!” On numerous occasions during his ministry, Jesus offers men and women words of peace: “Go in peace and sin no more.” “Peace I leave with you.” “My peace I give you.” “I have told you these things, so that in me you might have peace.”

Many of us, following Jesus’s example, “share the peace” with each other every Sunday morning: “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” “And also with you.” We assume — the vast majority of us, anyway — that ours is a religion of peace. Of peace-making, peace-loving, and peacekeeping.

It’s not Jesus’s desire or purpose to set fathers against sons or mothers against daughters. It’s certainly not his will that we stir up conflict for conflict’s sake or use his words to justify violence or war. Yet his words are a necessary reminder that the peace Jesus offers us is not the fake peace of denial, dishonesty, and harmful accommodation.

His is a kind of deep, life-changing peace that doesn’t hesitate to break in order to mend and cut in order to heal. Jesus will name realities we don’t want named.
He will expose the lies we tell ourselves out of cowardice, laziness, or stubbornness. He will disrupt all dynamics in our relationships with ourselves and with each other that keep us from wholeness and holiness.
This is not because Jesus wants us to suffer. It’s because he knows that real peace is worth fighting for.

In the gospel Jesus forced choices from just about everyone he met during his years of ministry. No one met him without feeling compelled to change. He consistently brought people to the point of crisis, tension, movement, or transformation. He consistently led people to decisions their families and communities didn’t understand. And he still does. When Jesus speaks of divisions in households, he is talking about the division that his message will bring. Families will split up over it, the OT prophets spoke about this happening too.

Jesus did come to bring peace and wants everyone to put their faith in him. The reminder is that this is not easy or to be undertaken lightly. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on so we can run with perseverance. We have been set examples in the heroes of the faith and our modern heroes like the Hudgell family.

Like Beethoven’s arm coming down on the keyboard and shocking his polite audience, let’s let the words of the readings this morning grab our attention again.