Rev. Carla Wilks at Mount Seymour United Church
August 18, 2019
As some of you know, I have a bit of a love for elephants, so when I was thinking about the readings for this week and looking at some research for the sermon, I came upon this very old story from India about an elephant. You may have heard it before, but now you get to hear it again!
Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”
The blind men went to see the elephant.
The first grabbed the tail and said, “I see the elephant is like a rope.”
The second felt a leg and said, “I see the elephant is like a pillar.”
The third walked into the side and said, “I see the elephant is like a wall.”
The fourth was cooled by the breeze of an ear and said, “I see the elephant is like a fan.”
The fifth held the trunk and said, “I see the elephant is like a snake.”
The sixth man held the tusk and said “I see the elephant is like a solid pipe,”
They began to argue about what the elephant was like, and every one of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated.
Does this sound familiar?
Have you ever been in a situation where you know you are right about something or that you have the better way?
Sometimes in my house this comes up in the way that the dishwasher is loaded or the way that the towels are folded, or the way the toilet paper is hung – over is the right way of course! I’m sure many of you can relate to those kind of situations.
Sometimes this happens in the church too, people get ideas of how things should be done and no other way will do. Sometimes this can lead to conflict.
So let’s rewind, and see what happened with the blind men and the elephant?
Someone else was passing by and saw them arguing. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. It is like a pillar, no it is like a snake, no it is like a pipe, no a wall!” The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched a different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features that you all said, but that’s not the whole elephant.
It was only when they all shared their perspectives, that they could see there was more to the elephant than just their single part.
Imagine what they could have seen if they had each felt the elephant from all the other angles… they would have had a more complete picture.
In today’s Gospel reading, as is often the case, Jesus is telling a story and his disciples just aren’t getting it…
But reading today’s story, I feel for the disciples, because it is a little shocking at first read. It seems to be the opposite message from what Jesus normally teaches. This is not his typical message of love and inclusion and tolerance and caring for our neighbours… rather it is one of division and turning family members against each other!
With so much divisiveness in our world today, the last thing we need is a Gospel text with that same message of division.
What could he possibly mean when he says: “I have come to bring division.”
When we look more closely, we can notice what Jesus does not say. Jesus does not say “I have come to bring hatred”. Jesus is not advocating the bloodshed which happens when one group unites against another group. Rather, Jesus says “I have come to bring division” –
Jesus has come to stir things up, to bring fresh ways of looking at things – to bring debate and the challenge of new ideas. If ever our thinking grows stale and our beliefs go unquestioned – the Gospel comes to create questions where we thought we had answers, and to shine a light on the different ways of thinking – the divisions which exist naturally between us. Through all of this, the Gospel compels us to grow and expand our thinking.
Jesus says, “From now on they will be divided: Father against son, daughter against mother, Mother-in-law against daughter in law”. Notice again what Jesus does not say. “nation against nation” or “race against race”. Jesus speaks of division within a family – between people who know each other and who love each other.
Jesus knows that following him will not always be easy. For the disciples, Jesus’ message was revolutionary and so it was bound to be divisive. For his initial followers, there likely was estrangement from family members who followed this person named Jesus.
For us today – this passage is a reminder that sometimes following Jesus’ way is not the easy way. Sometimes when we see injustice, following Jesus might mean standing up to people we love and respect, and possibly risking that relationship for what is right. Risking division for the possibility to forge a new way together.
Where the Gospel is – questions are being asked all the time, divisions are recognized and even embraced as a sign of God’s Spirit at work.
Another way of seeing these divisions is by seeing them as different perspectives from which we view our world. The elephant story helps us to remember that our perspective is limited. It is only when we see from all sides that we can see a more complete picture.
Jesus is shaking up the disciples, reminding them to open their minds and see things differently than they are used to seeing things.
Our world is suffering from conflicts every day, and we often ask the question – “Why can’t we all just… get along?” The Peace that Jesus calls us to is not one that is based on what we hold in common – whether it be nationality or race or even belief. Rather, the peace Jesus calls us to is one that is based on accepting that we are divided – but that being divided is not often a problem that needs fixing, but a simple fact of existence. By recognizing that we are diverse, rather than trying to stamp out difference by force, we remain open to the questions and challenges which God’s Spirit presents us with every day of our lives.
Just as the blind men had a more complete picture in their mind of the elephant once they heard about and then experienced for themselves all of the different parts, Jesus is calling us to embrace our divisions and use them to gain a fuller understanding of the Gospel and of our lives.
And in our own lives, as we embark on this adventure of what it is to live as followers of Christ together, it will not always be easy. We all express our faith in different ways, and we each have our own ideas of what is the most important way to live out our faith. For some of us, the most important aspect might be caring for our neighbours, or visiting the sick, or working on lessening our carbon footprint, or actively seeking right relations with our Indigenous neighbours, or maybe the most important way to live out our faith is by being grounded with our daily spiritual practices, or by a commitment to global justice work, or by speaking out against oppression.
We may have different ideas of what is the most important aspect of our faith, and we also have different ways of expressing our faith – but that need not divide us. If we keep our minds open to seeing from each other’s perspectives we may end up seeing a more complete picture of our mission, opening ourselves up to new possibilities that we never imagined, and we might just end up finding a new path together that helps us to live more fully a beloved child of God.
Praise be to God, who comes to bring divisions and open our eyes to a new way. Thanks be to God for stirring our hearts. Amen.