Prince of Division – 2019
Remember the Batman series that came on TV back in the 60s? It was kind of corny and camp. Batman and Robin were kind of “goody two-shoes.”
In 1992, Michael Keaton starred in Batman Returns. The Batman he played was completely different from the TV Batman. He played a very moody sort of Batman. And not the “goody two-shoes” Batman I knew from TV. And not the upbeat, no-holds-barred Batman that I knew from the comic books. I found it a little disconcerting to see this brooding Batman. It’s not the Batman that I knew.
This morning’s Gospel presents a side of Jesus that I never saw in Sunday School. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child …” That’s the opening line of one of Charles Wesley’s well-known hymns. That really doesn’t fit the Jesus we see in this morning’s Gospel. This morning’s Jesus is more like, “Divisive Jesus, strong and riled …”
Division is a troubling word to hear in church. We’re all about being inclusive today. But divisive talk and actions from Jesus or about Jesus keep cropping up in the gospels.
Consider this: When John the Baptist was announcing Jesus’ coming, he said, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire”
And remember the early days of Jesus’ ministry, when he visited the Nazareth synagogue? He had a reputation as a preacher and healer. At first, the congregation “spoke well of him”. But Jesus didn’t to leave it at that. He provoked them with his “hometown” comments to the point that they wanted to toss him over a cliff.
When Jesus spoke to a crowd at the festival of booths in Jerusalem about living water, some those folks decided he was the Messiah. But others doubted it. Thanks The gospel narrator says, “So there was a division in the crowd because of him”.
Then there was the rich young ruler who wanted to follow Jesus. But first he wanted to bury his father. Jesus told him:”Leave all that!” If the young man did that, he would have effectively divided himself from his family.
In this morning’s Gospel Jesus talked about setting father against son, mother against daughter, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and vice versa in all three cases. And let’s not forget that parallel in Matthew where Jesus says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” Not peace but a sword? Isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace? Here he sounds like the Prince of Division.
Some of you remember Bishop Victor Rivera. At one point in his family life, he faced a dilemma. Bishop Rivera was one of the few bishops in the Episcopal Church who did not go along with the innovation of Women’s Ordination to the Priesthood. Instead, he stood with, the Roman Catholic Church and the worldwide Orthodox Church and most of the Anglican Communion.
But Bp. Rivera had three daughters – all of them Baby Boomer generation. And one of those daughters chose to be ordained to the priesthood.This presented a dilemma for the bishop. To foster peace in the family, would he attend his daughter’s ordination? He did not.
At his funeral, another daughter shared a very thoughtful letter that she had written to him that challenged his decision. She had written him: “Dad, I’ve always believed that nothing is more important than peace.” She questioned how he could stand in the way of peace in the family? Why couldn’t he be more inclusive?
Today we hear a lot in our culture and in the church about being inclusive. It goes hand in hand with the high premium the culture and the church places upon diversity. Inclusion and diversity. These are values that can mean different things to different people.
And so we go the extra mile not to offend. Indeed, we do all that we can to make people comfortable. God forbid we are ever called divisive. It’s a far cry from Jonathan Edwards sermon, “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.” How did we get here?
This focus on being inclusive started back in the late 1950’s with a German theologian named Paul Tillich. Paul Tillich was part of the liberal school of theology. These were theologians who believed a modern culture needed an updated version of Christianity. So they reinterpreted Christianity to accommodate to the modern culture.
For Tillich, Jesus Christ was not divine. For Tillich, Jesus Christ was not God incarnate, not God in the flesh. He wasn’t even God’s only Son. For Tillich, Jesus was just a human being, but a human being who during his lifetime achieved “union with God.” He wasn’t the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for our sins. For Tillich, Jesus was the great example of what we could do and what we could be. We too, like Jesus, could achieve that same union.
This understanding of Jesus certainly affected the rest of his theology. For Tillich, mankind’s problem was not sin, but separation: Separation from God and separation from one another. So, Tillich said that our focus should be on reunion and reconciliation. The role of the church must be to reverse this separation and bring everyone together.We must find ways to include.
Notice the big shift here. For Tillich, sin is not the problem, division is the problem. So we should not be talking about sin, but division. Our main concern should not be righteousness, but inclusion. Inclusion will bring the peace we all so desperately seek.
So we must find ways to include everyone. And if we have to blur the lines between right and wrong, between sin and righteousness, so be it. Because the problem is separation. And when everyone is included we will have peace. So where has Paul Tillich’s teaching led to?
There was a time when the lines of sexual propriety were clearly drawn and marriage marked the bright line. Indeed, Paul called for the church in Corinth to expel one of the flock because of that man’s sexual behavior. But not anymore.
Today’s western culture views sexual expression as an individual’s choice with no moral value attached to that choice. The inclusive church must accommodate to that culture. Don’t judge, just include. The inclusive church blurs the line between right and wrong to foster peace.
There was a time when marriage was clearly defined as the union of one man and one woman. Indeed, Christ used the institution of marriage to illustrate his relationship to his bride the Church. Not anymore.
Our culture has changed the meaning of marriage. It blurred the lines defining marriage as one man and one woman. So the inclusive church also blurs the line of marriage to foster peace.
There was a time when an abortion was a tragedy, regardless of the need or circumstances for it. Not anymore. Today western culture has dehumanized the unborn child so that abortion is not to be viewed as the killing of that child. And the inclusive church accommodates the culture to foster peace. There was an ordained seminary dean who spoke of abortion as a blessing. The lines are blurred to be inclusive and foster peace.
There was a time when you could call a man a man and a woman a woman. But not anymore. That would be divisive because some men believe they are women and some women believe they are men. To foster peace and to be inclusive, the inclusive church blurs the lines that once distinguished men from women.
Consider what Paul Tillich’s inclusive church has brought us: The Inclusive Church affirms those who, confused about their sex, address their confusion with surgical mutilation. But does that bring them the peace they so long for? A 2011 long-term study followed 324 people for up to 30 years who had sex-reassignment surgery. The study revealed that 10 years after having the surgery, the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties. And their suicide mortality rose almost 20-fold above the comparable nontransgender population.
What about the reticence of the inclusive church to condemn sexual relations outside of marriage. Well, that reticence has contributed to fatherless families. Last year, 40% of births in the U.S. were to unwed mothers. And single parenthood is one of the greatest factors contributing to poverty. How does that contribute to peace in families?
To foster peace and inclusion, the inclusive church eagerly accommodates same sex marriage. After all, they say, who are we to deprive to people of finding meaning in their lives? But how many children of these same-sex marriages will grow up aching to know their mom or dad who will be forever hidden from them? What kind of peace will these children experience living with the conflicting feelings. They struggle with resentment that their parents deprived them of ever knowing their mother or father.
The inclusive church celebrates the blessing of abortion. But what kind of peace is there for the woman who now grieves the child she will never know because she once made a deadly choice? What peace did her unborn child experience during that abortion?
The inclusive church is not comfortable with the Jesus we see in this morning’s Gospel. He is the Jesus of bright lines. He is the Jesus who loves us so much that he will bring division. He divides truth from error. He divides right from wrong. He divides life from death. And that division does not always engender peace for the church.
Is peace the ultimate goal of mankind? Jesus said: Do not think that I have come to give peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. The sword that Jesus brings is the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. That word is Truth. And the bible says that it is “sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Truth divides light from dark. Truth separates sheep from goats. And truth will sometimes upset the peace. It certainly did when Jesus upset the tables of the money changers in the temple.
Jesus loves us so much that he brings division. And that division brings clarity in a confused world. The bible says “thy word or Lord is a lamp unto my feet and an light unto my way.”
We live in a culture that is blessed with freedom. More and more people want to exercise their freedom to define who they are and what they can do. And if the church does not affirm those choices, they walk away from the church.
Bishop Barrons is a Roman Catholic bishop who is engaging the culture on social media. The WSJ says that only Pope Francis is more popular to English speaking Catholics than Bp. Barrons.The bishop speaks on the church decline he sees and offers an alternative to “The Inclusive Church.” He calls the church to move out and engage the culture with Affirmative Orthodoxy. It begins with division. Drawing a bright line between the freedom that the culture offers and God’s freedom.
The culture says that each of us has the freedom to define who we are and how we will live. We define whether we want to be a man or a woman. We decide how we will satisfy our desires.
But affirmative orthodoxy says that we are sinners in need of a savior. And we don’t define who we are, God, our Creator, does. And while God does give us freedom to choose, affirmative orthodoxy teaches that we should align our choices with God so that we bring our desires and our wills into God’s desire for us and God’s will for us.
Affirmative Orthodoxy finds a touch point in the culture to affirm and to begin the conversation. And then Affirmative Orthodoxy goes on to present the Good News that God loves you so much that he gave us His Son so that we might know freedom from the bondage of sin.
Apostle Paul shows us the example. He went out into the public square and engaged a pagan culture. He started by noticing they had an altar to an Unknown God. But he didn’t affirm their lifestyles or their pagan beliefs. He went on to tell them about that unknown God. And there were some who received Jesus. A Jesus who left no room for other Gods.
Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace. But it’s a peace that comes from a clear division between sin and righteousness, between truth and lies. Jesus says, “Peace I give, not as the world gives.”
Indeed, the Church has not known the world’s peace for 2000 years. The first division was recorded in the book of Acts. when Jewish believers in Jesus were kicked out of the synagogue. Then for the next four hundred years, the church struggled with one heresy after another. There was no peace, there was division and dissembling all revolving around the person of Christ.
Then through the Middle Ages, the church introduced innovations which led to corruption. But then the printing press made the bible available to the laity. And the Sword of Truth sparked a reformation that turned the Western world upside down.
At the turn of the century, the Enlightenment introduced skepticism for God’s word. They said, “Mankind is evolving into a more enlightened state.” “We can reason our way to truth – we don’t need to believe myths about a man rising from the dead.”The Two World Wars that followed would put that false notion to bed.
Each generation of the Church has struggled with its own heresies. And Jesus does not bring peace, but division. The struggle is not only in the church, but in our own hearts.
How many times have you surrendered to a temptation? It felt good at the time – bringing a moment of peace in the surrender. But it’s a false peace, a temporary reprieve. And Jesus interrupts that peace with truth. God’s truth brings division within our very hearts between our desires and God’s desires. And you will know no peace until you surrender to His truth.
So when we speak of the peace of God, we really aren’t talking about a struggle-free life. We’re not talking about having the wherewithal to live comfortably. One commentator said: The peace of God is something like a magnetic center of calm toward which the person who is committed to Christ is drawn back in the midst of or after turmoil. The peace of God is an anchor that keeps us from being swept away in the storms of life.
Frederick Buechner is an acclaimed theologian and pastor. He says “For Jesus, peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.”
This morning’s Gospel reading presents a Jesus that might cause us some a little discomfort. It’s a Divisive Jesus. But for those who love truth, this morning’s Gospel presents a Jesus who loves us so much that he will not sacrifice truth for a false peace.
Bishop Rivera’s daughter had a question for her father. Isn’t peace the highest goal for us? She shared his answer in a letter that he wrote to her. His letter was fatherly, but firm.
He wrote: We are to be peacemakers. Yes, we are to seek peace, but never at the expense of Truth.