“Awaken me this morning, Lord to your light,
Open my eyes to your presence.
Awaken me, Lord to your love,
Open my heart to your indwelling.
Awaken me, Lord to your life,
Open my mind to your abiding.
Awaken me always, Lord to your purpose,
Open my will to your guiding.” Amen. (David Adam)
After a great time in New Hampshire on vacation and a fun/fulfilling week away at camp, it’s good to be home.
So I was looking forward to the sermon, a good Gospel, like the parable of the good Samaritan, instead Jesus boldly declares in today’s Gospel story: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you but rather division!” Really Jesus? It’s so hot this morning…
And he doesn’t quit: “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother…” and on and on. Why today? I wanted something simpler, let alone get caught up in conflict and division!
And yet it seems as though if anything is worthwhile, it does seem to bring conflict and division. And in spite of our best attempts at living in peace, the best peace does seem to come after conflict & struggle. And the greatest conflicts are often the ones in our own families, with the people we truly love the most.
The theme of this past week at camp was on the saints. Each day we looked at three “saints” and after learning about them, we let the campers vote on their saint of the day.
So much of the lives of the saints we discussed had conflict/division in them, the struggle & challenge to live out the Gospel and put love first.
We learned about people like Sojourner Truth, who was born into slavery in 1795 and escaped to freedom many years later. She was an “illiterate freed slave and an eloquent critic of slavery and sexism, transfixing audiences with the force and simplicity of her message of Christian love and tolerance. In 1843 she became a Methodist, and changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She told friends: "The Spirit calls me, and I must go" and she left everything behind to make her way traveling and preaching about the abolition of slavery. Her famous “Ain’t I a woman?” speech, delivered to a women’s rights convention in 1851, forever disrupted assumptions about race, class, and gender in American society.”
Her journey as an itinerant preacher reminds me of a story of St. Francis of Assisi, because Francis took bolts of cloth from his father's business, selling them and giving away the money, his father brings a legal suit against Francis. And Francis goes before the local bishop.
With remarkable composure, Francis rose from his place and approached the bishop. “My lord,” he said, raising his voice, “I will gladly give back to my father not only the money acquired from his things, but even all my clothes.” With that, Francis slipped through a side door of the cathedral, only to appear moments later stark naked, standing before the bishop and holding out all his clothes, with a cash purse placed on top of them. The astonished bishop took the garments and the money, handing them over to an acolyte.
Francis now turned to the crowd and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Until now, I have called Peter Bernardone my father. But because I have proposed to serve God, I return to him the money on account of which he was so upset, and also all the clothing which is his, and I want only to say from now on, 'Our Father, Who art in heaven,' and not, 'My father, Peter Bernardone.'”
Sojourner & Francis each heard the call of Jesus, they let everything go, they put love into practice and preached as the Spirit led them to do.
We also learned this past week about Wang Zhiming. He is martyr of the church in China. Educated in mission schools and ordained in 1951, Wang served as pastor to the Christians of Wuding County in Yunnan, his home. During the Cultural Revolution he opposed the atheistic persecutions by the Red Guards; he was arrested in 1969 and executed at a mass rally in 1973. He is remembered reverently in Wuding, where today there are some 30,000 Christians and more than 100 places of worship.
Beloved. There is conflict in following Jesus. No matter how we in our comfortable lives choose to interpret him, Jesus asks a lot of us. He asks us to do crazy, radical things. Love one another. Accept one another. Feed one another. And he asked us to put the love of God FIRST. Above everyone and everything else. The irony in that is that when we DO put the love of God first. When there is nothing closer in our hearts than God’s love, we can love others even more deeply.
It’s when we use church as a nice comfortable thing, or as a routine, or as something we think we “should do” or as something that just makes us feel good, or even when we mistakenly think that if we “act nice” we are good Christians, it is then that there is division and conflict in our own lives and families. Because our foundation is not strong enough. We might show up, but have we really opened our hearts?
We don’t have to be Francis of Assisi or Sojourner Truth or Wang Ziming, but there is conflict when we choose to love and live in a different way. The world doesn’t like it. It frightens people. It makes them suspicious. And perhaps it makes them suspicious because it’s so hard to trust that there really is a love so great, a love for ALL people, that they are not sure they can believe it. And so they get defensive. And they get racist and bigoted and angry and do all sorts of crazy things to protect themselves from something that they want so badly but fear is not true. But we know it’s true. And on this hot and sticky day, Jesus calls us to remember. And to change how we live and how we love.
Charles Foucauld wrote: “What could be meant by a peace which is not like the kind the world gives? It is a peace... stronger than suffering. Not a peace without warfare, but peace despite warfare, within warfare, beyond warfare. It is the peace of a soul that through love has come to dwell entirely in heaven and to share in heaven's own peace, regardless of anything earthly that can happen to it.”
Ah yes. The peace that passes all understanding. The peace that the world cannot give. The peace that each one of us has been given by the Prince of Peace, Jesus. If we choose to accept it and live God’s love out in our lives, we will find that peace, even in the midst of conflict, struggle, or division, even on the hottest or most difficult days. Amen.