Sharing something I did this summer for my active peace mission
As I was preaching for a fellow pastor on vacation, I took a chance and told the congregation how proud I was of Hillary Clinton when she announced why she was accepting the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. She said it was because she is a United Methodist and we church members believe in doing all the good we can in all the ways we can as long as we ever can. This teaching came from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
My text was a difficult teaching by Jesus as recorded in the gospel of Luke 12: 49-51, 56b.
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled. I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed. Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No I tell you, but rather division! — Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
It reminds me of another saying Jesus shared when he was on his way to his final trip to Jerusalem, just as he is here in this passage in Luke. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus says sadly, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who sent you, how I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
Jesus is grieving over the way things are, distraught that so many of his beloved people listen to him, but they don’t believe. And Jesus knows time is getting short. He has done his very best and he knows he will be giving his very life. Like he said, “What stress I am under until it is completed.”
Jesus lived at a time of divisions, just as we do now. If you don’t believe that, go see the new Ben Hur movie. Divisions are exacerbated during years of competition for political power. The wisdom of democracy and our political system which needs two political parties is compromised in the present time of angry divisions. Instead of working together and conceding leadership to the party that wins an election, it seems like each political party is out to prevail at all costs. We hear war battle cries like “take back the Senate” or “take a certain state.” We hear elected officials making vows to destroy the chances of a president or governor of the opposing political party from accomplishing any of their platform goals. No wonder our national government is at a standstill. How easy it is and actually scary that a few angry people can destroy democratic decision-making.
Beside the sharp edged political divisions, there are two other truly troublesome divisions in our society:
- between the rich and the poor, between the billionaires and their mansions and the penniless homeless people,
- between the races, as evidenced by the Black Lives Matter demonstrators and the difficulties of being a white policeman or a policeperson of any race or nationality.
Economic divisions, racial divisions, and political leadership divisions! Added together, we can understand Jesus’ question to his followers because it does pertain to us today – “How do we interpret the present times?” Don’t we have an obligation to try to address the deep divisions?
If Jesus were here, what would he do? He certainly wouldn’t ignore these crises. I believe Jesus Christ was and is deeply saddened by such a divided society. Jesus challenged his followers then and now to not smooth things over when they are currently all wrong. He challenged them and he challenges us to see what God is doing in our midst. Where do we see God in the current divisions?
A homeless choir started in Indianapolis at the Roberts Park UMC. Its name is Matthew’s Voices Side by Side. They will sing at the Spirit and Peace Festival in November. What a courageous work of mercy that must be for the musician leaders, what an experience for the homeless people to look forward to, and for the Roberts Park UMC members who will surely grow in understanding and compassion. (I intend to research this news story which was sent out on our bishop’s email.)
Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been joined by clergy and by individuals like you and me to build bridges that address deep rooted divisions between people in the political leadership realm, in the racial realm, and in the economic realm. Every day we can find ways to be respectful, learn the names, and draw into relationship those we serve or that serve us. Who knows how many lives will be changed? What could be a greater reward than this?