The Rev. Dr. Duane Larson, Interim Pastor
Oh my goodness! Is this the word we need today, that Jesus’ brings division and puts child against parent, friend against friend, ad infinitum? Surely in this ad nauseum time of politics where we just wish to…um….heaven …that the election would be over and we get beyond lying and stupidity and name calling and identity politics, which is but a euphemism for the politics of division, we do not welcome Jesus’ words of even deeper division.
If division is Jesus’ intention, then we should turn to viral videos of cats, dogs, and dancing goats, or to the Olympics. In those there is some joy. With the latter, there is joy surely at seeing history made; joy that when once not so long ago a racist would drain a swimming pool because an African American girl dipped her toe in its water, now a local African American hero named Simone took gold in the pool and another African American Simone set new standards on the high beam. Sometimes the identity politics do contribute to and amplify the pride of equal human dignity.
But Jesus wasn’t speaking at an Olympic event. Jesus is speaking—rather—to those who must decide what sort of role he will have in their lives. And rather than create division, Jesus—I am convinced—predicts our own creation of division once again, as we would turn even religion into an Olympic worthy competition. We are, after all, gold medal experts at one general thing, which is to—um..”mess up” anything at anytime.
We are so sold on proving ourselves better than others. That is human-being’s chronic condition. Competition marks how we live and act with regard to most any activity. The world trains us into believing that only superiority is worthiness. We must be special. And special is defined only by gold medals. In the words of some loudmouths today, silver medalists are still losers.
Jesus knows who and how we are. Already his disciples have argued about who will get the better seats when Jesus reigns. Jesus knows that we human beings screw up even religion to make it about ourselves rather than God’s intentions of Just Love. Jesus knows too that there are and those of us who are more committed to what he really is about for God’s inclusive welcoming kingdom, and yet we too we are hard pressed not to celebrate how better we are than the Osteens down the block or the rabid Pentecostal in San Antonio. And what else does celebrating 500 years of Lutheranism this next year mean than the religious politics of division? We require others to be our benchmark, even parents or loved-ones. Admit it. We know how those discussions can go or have gone in the secret most anxious times of our intimate lives together. In our society, perhaps peculiarly so, being on top justifies our value and disguises our lack of self-esteem at the same time.
The criterion of division means that by default we suspect others before loving others. We assume difference means animosity. We fear difference rather than explore friendship. We accept the status quo instead of questioning our own allegiances (so Karoline Lewis). Today Jesus Christ demands a reversal of this chronic behavior.
Having called out our instinct for self-preservation over mutuality, Jesus means to call us to deeper listening to each other and to God! What do you know! There it is again, what Luke has been teaching us for several weeks; that Jesus calls us to unceasing prayer that is always listening for God and seeing how God binds us to all people at any time. This does not mean we are set free from doing the hard work of doing our best. It does set us free to be so secured in God that we will do our best for others. The distinctive Christian difference is that Jesus has done the hardest work, so that by Jesus’s hardest work through our hard work others too will get the gold.
Mother Theresa had on a wall in her Calcutta mission a desideratum that has become famous. Perhaps you’ve seen it. I believe it captures how well Jesus understands the human condition and what Jesus means us to do in the face of division. “People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
“It is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” That is the good news for you! And for those you thought different, too! Amen.
Jesus Calls Out Our Default Divisiveness Sermon for the 13 Sunday of Pentecost C
August 14, 2016 Based on Luke 12:49-56
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, Texas