Peace, but a Sword
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth;
In today's story we overhear Jesus reminding us that sometimes family members do not get along. Folks had known that a long time before Jesus pointed it out. The first family was divided and brother killed brother. Still today most murders result from domestic violence.
The new thing that Jesus was underscoring was that often folks fight about religious beliefs, especially when moral standards, values and goals in life differ because of commitment to Christ. When spiritual things do not much matter, then families have to find something else to fight about. Clergy sometimes get drawn into parishioner's feuds.
My pastor father had a family that often fought in the night. Preachers need their sleep on Saturday night but one 3:00 a.m. knock at the door awakened us all. Daddy looked out the living room curtain and saw Hobart with blood on his hands--- then we noticed that he had rung a chicken's neck. "Preacher I brought you a chicken because you need to come to the house and talk some sense into Willomena--- That woman came after me with a butcher knife again when I came home just a little bit late!" Daddy asked, "Are you drinking again?" Hobart hung his head as he often did, and said, "Yeah, preacher, I reckon I was." That family's issues were never resolved; indeed, the children carried the swordsmanship into the next generation. At least they did not fight about religion, they were all good Church folks.
But sometimes theological conflicts do bring dramatic divisions, as when the four hijacked airliners attempted to destroy Jews and Christians on 9/11/01. Indeed these fundamentalist Muslims also cut down a few moderate Muslims that day too. Often however, feuds are fought between so called Christians, such as the wars in Ireland.
It must be a true story because I read it in yesterday's "Atlanta Journal-Constitution." It seems that a preacher in Loxley, Alabama, on I-10 between Pensacola and Mobile, reminded funeral mourners that the deceased was, a drunkard and an adulterer bound for hell--- and they were headed the same way. The mourners attacked the preacher and drug him out of the church. His wife told the Associated Press, The adulterers didn't like what he said so they got up and beat him. (p. A-10). Usually Christian infighting takes on a more placid appearance.
In our text, Jesus is not encouraging conflict; he is warning us that because some family members and neighbors will choose to follow Jesus, and others won't, there will inevitably be theological debates and differences that will lead to power struggles and exclusion. As we take up our crosses and follow Jesus we will continue to struggle with others who hold different opinions. However, if our commitment to Christ is paramount we will want to gently take our stand. Yet sometimes we must face down the drawn sword, or worse, the sharp tongue.
In this rather difficult to understand passage there is the Good News that we can indeed find our lives amid the inevitable fray.
There are many examples of courage in conflict in recent history. There might be disagreements related to: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and now George Bush.
It may be safer to cite the conflict and fighting that surrounded the Wesleyan Revival 200 years ago in England. You'll remember that John and Charles Wesley's small band of college students at Oxford were given the barb names: "Bible-moths," and later "Method-ists," because of their devout beliefs and methodical lifestyles. In later years, John Wesley often faced down violent mobs that took issue with his field preaching outside of the Churches of England, from which he was banned because of his evangelical fervor. He took the gospel of free salvation out to the people and thousands of underclass coal miners and servants were hearing the message of God's love in Christ for the first time. The Good News is that the Wesley brothers, and thousands of their followers, found new lives of commitment to Christ and that they organized the Methodist Church which has made such an impact upon the world.
In our text, Jesus is reminding us that as long as we place him at the center of our lives we will be safe no matter what swords are drawn against us. Jesus says that the Father knows even when a tiny sparrow falls to the ground so we should feel protected by him because he loves us so much more. "So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to him than a whole flock of sparrows." (v. 31, NLT)
In spite of the inevitability of swords, we can maintain an inner peace because it is a byproduct of our relationship with God. We are not to be afraid of those who want to kill our bodies because they cannot destroy our souls where the joy of the Lord resides. It is in losing our small dreams for our lives that we find a larger vision in Jesus' calling to serve Him. "He who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (v.39, NASV)
The hymn we will sing at the conclusion of this worship service is about our Savior Jesus Christ who was tortured on a Cross for us; however, it is also about our lives as we follow him in seeking inner peace amid the swords: "O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee, thy life is still a summons to serve humanity, to make our thoughts and actions less prone not to please the crowd, to stand with humble courage for truth with hearts uncrowned."
Is this not the
life that is worthy of imitation?
synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor