June 21, 2015 | Matthew 10: 24-39 | Rev. Nancy Talbot –
This morning, in honour of Father’s Day, I decided I would serve up a “manly” piece of scripture for us to sink our teeth into. If you have come today looking for a family friendly Jesus you might be disappointed. This morning’s reading gives us Jesus at his most combative. “If you think I’ve come to bring peace to the earth, forget it. I have not come to bring you peace. I’ve come to cut a divide right through your family: son against father; daughter against mother; daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. I’ve come to make enemies among you.”
This isn’t exactly the Jesus we learned about in Sunday School.
As someone who grew up in a fairly tight knit family where arguments were few and love was plentiful I find this Jesus offensive. Who does he think he is telling me I should love him more than I love my parents?
But then again, perhaps his offensiveness is the point. On a day like today when we give ourselves over to the idealization of family life, maybe being offended isn’t such a bad thing. After all, is there anyone among us who can’t think of a time in our own families when there wasn’t division over something or another? Even perfect families have quarrels from time to time. How often is that division caused by advances in society that pit one generation against the next?
Did you notice that in this reading? How the division is intergenerational The division Jesus speaks of isn’t between husband and wife or brother and sister. It’s between the generations, between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters.
This week instead of reminiscing about all the wonderful things I remember about my Dad in anticipation of Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking instead about the things about which we disagreed, most of which had to do with me coming into my own as a young woman of my generation. I recall vividly an argument I had with my father in which I was defending my sister-in-law’s decision to keep her maiden name when she married my brother. My father, who was born in a different era, couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to have his name. I argued that she shouldn’t have to give up her identity just because she was getting married and suggested that perhaps my brother should give up his name instead. My father only gave in to this feminist manifesto when he realized that in my way of thinking his name might actually carry on through me, which he thought was a good thing.
Isn’t this how progress happens? One generation pushes the edges of the next and before we know it we have all move forward on the evolutionary chain whether we want to or not.
The difference is that in our day and age these kinds of family disputes aren’t generally matters of life and death, but in Ancient times they were. What’s hard for us to conceptualize is that when Jesus speaks of causing division in the traditional family unit, what he’s addressing is the basic social economic unit of the day. In ancient Israel, if you didn’t follow the same religious traditions of your mother and father, you lost your inheritance. If you had relationships with people outside the confines of your socially defined group, if for example you fraternized with unmarried women and lepers and tax collectors, you could risk losing your status completely. Losing your status meant losing your income which was literally a matter of life and death.
So although at first glance Jesus seems to be stirring up trouble in the basic family unit in this reading, on closer examination it appears what he is really doing is stirring up trouble in the overall social order of the day. He’s actually come not just to wreck our families, he’s come to wreck society as a whole. Why has he done this? While the text doesn’t actually say it, surely it’s for the sake of a better future, not just for some but for all. His is the kind of radical hospitality that tends to get us into trouble.
And trouble does seem to be what he is advocating for us to get into in this passage. If we pull our focus out from this morning’s reading and have a look at the verses that surround it what we’ll see is that this particular piece of scripture comes from a section of Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus is giving direction to his disciples. Included in this chapter is the well-known saying “see I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.” And although that might sound contrary to this morning’s readings in which Jesus sounds like he’s the wolf being set among the sheep, the message is the same, to be a committed follower of Jesus and his way means causing division, when division is the only way for justice to be served and for love to prevail.
If we need any evidence of the way the church has purposely stirred up trouble and division in human families over the centuries, we need look no further than this week’s headlines.
This week the Pope stirred up trouble on a world wide scale with his encyclical on climate change. He has angered the oil companies with his claims that we need to divest ourselves of our dependency on fossil fuels. He angered Jeb Bush who was quoted as saying “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my Pope.” Apparently he has angered many others who think this liberal leaning leader is being too unpeaceful for a Pope.
In South Carolina this week, all eyes were on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, home of the 9 innocent people shot dead simply because they were black. Emanuel was born out of division, as a breakaway church that departed company with a white church over a dispute about burial lands. It is also home to one of the first organized slave revolts in the historic south.
Closer to home, our Canadian family has been digesting the news of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For me this has evoked memories not only of the first time I heard about the Residential Schools and the stories of survivors, but also the stirrings those stories caused within our church communities as we began to speak of our responsibility for mistakes made by previous generations.
The truth is I wouldn’t be standing here this morning if my forebearers in the church hadn’t stirred up our “traditional” values and advocated on my behalf, causing division among our membership along the way.
The friction that is caused when son is set against father and daughter is set against mother is the friction we need to grow into the people we have been created to be. No division, no unity. No unrest, no peace.
This week a very well known son in certain Christian circles was set against his even better known mother. Anne Lamott is a liberal Christian author famous for her down to earth writing about being a single mother, getting sober, seeking faith and living real life. She is about as open-minded a human being as they come, known for advocating for the under dog. But this week Anne Lamott made a big and very public mistake. In response to an article in Vanity Fair Magazine in which Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympic athlete formerly known to us as Bruce Jenner, came out as a transgender woman, Anne Lamott made some very hurtful, ignorant and insensitive comments. In response to that, some people made very hurtful comments about Anne Lamott.
But it was the response of her son Sam who was also set against his mother who showed us how things that set us apart can ultimately draw us closer together when they bring greater understanding and grace.
Listen to Sam’s response to his mother’s comments about Caitlin Jenner:
I first learned about trans life from a close FTM friend who was willing and patient to answer my ignorant and incredibly personal questions.
Trans life is so outside pop culture, and my moms [sic] small town life. This is how the truth gets out, this is how we evolve. We talk about it.
I know. It’s shocking. When the adrenaline wears off, remember that before you knew about trans issues, you didn’t know.
For everyone who is intolerant of my moms “intolerance”, Anne Lamott is not perfect, but the best way to teach is with love and patience
Everybody gets to make mistakes. It’s a shame this lesson is so public, but the best lessons are often painful and embarrassing.
After her son Sam set her straight, Anne Lamott issued a public apology for her comments about transgender people and she vowed to learn all she could about the subject. What I love about this particular story is that it can’t help but make us wonder if the reason Sam was able to respond to his mother with such grace, love and open mindedness is because she is the one who taught him those values in the first place.
The irony of so many of our family feuds is that they come about because our children have an expectation that we will actually live out of the convictions we profess.
Maybe that is why at the end of this morning’s reading Jesus calls us to love him more than we love our parents and our children to love him more than they love us, so that we will be held in all of our relationships to the highest level of grace and the highest level of love even when we are experiencing division.
When the CBC was here filming us in April one of the questions they asked me was whether I thought the decline in the United Church of Canada was due to the stands we had taken over the years and the division that has caused. He was specifically referring to the ordination of openly declared homosexuals. I responded if that is the reason then so be it.
But sometimes I wonder if the decline in our church is partially because we haven’t been divisive enough. Perhaps our children expect us to be more Christian than we are.