SERMON PREACHED BY THE REVEREND ROBERT E. STEVENS, JR., CURATE
CALVARY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA
ON THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
19 AUGUST 2001
Luke 12:51 "Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!"
Taken at face value this is definitely one of those Gospels that a preacher is tempted to say, "I wonder what the Old Testament reading is today!"
What is Jesus talking about? No peace but division? Sounds like the antithesis of the Gospel does it not? Before we write this passage off as an aberration, let's look at the word peace. What does it mean? Webster's first definition is The absence of war or other hostilities. That sounds good to most of us doesn't it. But why then would Jesus say what he did in today's Gospel? The Hebrew word for peace is shalom which means fullness or fulfillment. This still leaves the question of why does Jesus say what he does about peace today. It seems so contradictory to what is in the Bible about peace.
Looking at just today's readings we seem to have contradiction. Paul says pursue peace with everyone.But then Jesus asserts with forceDo you think that I came to bring peace? No way! Add this to the text of John 14:27 when Jesus tells his friends, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." And it can seem utterly confusing.
I think the confusion stems from a misunderstanding of what Jesus means when he says the word peace. I think we tend to think of peace only in terms of what Webster said, no wars, or a slang greeting that somehow has kept current since the sixties. I must admit more often than not, when I hear the word peace I think of the phrase, "Can't we all just get along?"
Where Jesus might make us uncomfortable is that I think he would answer the question, "Can't we all just get along?" with a resounding NO! Just getting along suggests that we ignore the times that we disagree. Just getting along suggests that we are less than honest with our neighbor, our friends, our spouse or partner. Peace is not achieved by avoidance. Peace is achieved through action and in most cases no small amount of frustration and friction. Peace assumes that there is something worth fighting for. A favorite author and theologian of mine is Frederick Beuchner. He writes this about Jesus' apparent contradiction concerning peace, "The contradiction [about peace] is resolved when [we] realize that for Jesus peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.
Peace is not the absence of struggle but the presence of love.
If this is an accurate definition then what Jesus says about peace is not contradictory. Jesus is struggling with people who do not want him to make any waves. Jesus constantly challenges the status quo. He challenges the power structure that has been in place for a very long time. In the end that is what gets him killed. The Pharisees are concerned that he will "disturb the peace" Jesus' response to them is that there is no peace to disturb because there is no love. Jesus is concerned with people being connected to one another, to actually know one another. The status quo could care less about that. They just want to keep every one happy.
An let's face it this is not ancient history. How many times have you thought that something needed to be done only to hear, "We can't do that it will rock the boat." Or "we couldn't possibly do that, we don't want to offend anyone." When tranquility is the goal peace doesn't have a chance. Do not worry your idealistic curate is not proposing that we try to offend everyone in sight. But I am saying that if we make it our goal not offend anyone or to keep everyone happy then living the Gospel becomes utterly impossible.
Look aroundsee these people next to you. These are the people we start with. Here we begin to work for peace. I think that is a very appropriate phrase "work for peace." Peace does not just happen. Peace only occurs when people are actually engaged with each other and with God. Perhaps when we examine our lives we might not measure them by how tranquil they are, but rather by the relationships we have that have love and trust enough to survive even in midst of struggle.
I believe this to be very good news--Peace is not the absence of struggle but the presence of love.
I look forward to the struggles we will share and to celebrating our life together in the presence of God's love.