The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s187g07 Sunday 20 19/8/07
'I have come to bring .. division!' Luke 12.51
Often I hear theologians say things like we need a new hermeneutic, a new way of interpreting the Bible. For me the interesting thing is that those who reputedly take the Bible literally fail to see that these words of Jesus entirely contradict the fifth of the ten commandments to honour one's father and mother essentially no matter what. The problem with biblical literalists is not that they take the bible literally, but that they only take bits and pieces of it literally, and overlook the rest. The problem with biblical literalists is that they assert that the Bible gives one and only one answer to each and every question in life, when my text for today manifestly shows that this is not the case.
I am a person who is divorced, so perhaps I am in a position to appreciate the necessity of division in some people's lives though these words are all about used to be called 'the generation gap' rather than marital relations.
We might be tempted to think that Jesus' words need to be disregarded, yet the incidence of incest tells us that such a proposal is fraught. Perhaps we might start to consider some words of Jesus as, in fact, more useful and important than the ten commandments. (My version of 'Word' still wants me to put a capital 'T' and capital 'C'! I will put up with the squiggly green line under them.)
The problem is confounded because the law to honour one's father and mother becomes, all to quickly, the demand for unquestioning compliance to what religious authorities dictate. And the religious authorities of Jesus' day dictated his death!
In the parable of the 'prodigal' son, perhaps we could, in the light of this text, conclude that Jesus came to inspire the younger son to launch out on life, not to provide a literal basis for the parable Jesus told, but to bring some comfort and money to the prostitutes in the far country, albeit for a short time.
These words of Jesus tell us in no uncertain terms that we do not have to honour an abusive parent or spouse, and thanks be to God that this is so! How many abused people need to hear this message?
Indeed if we take what I have been saying about the propensity of religion to exclude others, 'christianity' and 'anglicanism' no less than other religions and faiths, the necessity to take Jesus words more seriously than those of the ten commandments becomes quite plain.
The Bible does not give us one and only one answer to each and every problem in life. If one looks at it carefully it often gives more than one, and often an opposite answer, as in the case today. If we look to the Bible to give us answers, or to the knowledgeable to give us the answers the Bible dictates, it keeps us subservient and (hopefully?) compliant. God wants us to think and the fact that there are different answers given to questions invites us to do so. For God, it is far more important that we think rather than we are compliant, for humans think, whereas animals can be trained to obey orders.
Again, often 'liberals' bemoan the fact that 'literalists' seem to have all the answers to hand people on a platter, perhaps accounting for their popularity. Having all the answers might well be a curse, if it keeps people subservient, less than fully human.
In the life and death issues of today the use of contraception both to stem the incidents of unwanted pregnancies and the prevention of AIDS in the world the rights of gay and lesbian couples to have their love for one another recognised and appreciated of women to hold office in the Church hierarchy as an antidote to centuries of enforced subservience, we can look to the Bible for answers. But the fact that Jesus contradicted one of the ten commandments in the gospel for today, so we cannot simply assume that the Bible is going to give us an unambiguous answer to any of these questions, and even if it did, to assume that it is a law for all time. For surely the issue of honouring parents is more basic that these other issues.
A long time ago I remember a 'high church' Anglican friend bemoaning the proliferation of protestant denominations. 'There are as many protestant denominations as there are protestants', he scorned, in contrast to the 'catholic' church. But of course there are an infinite variety of doctrines under the label 'catholic' as well. Somehow our 'chrisianity' must encompass these divisions, as well as, of course the division between 'christian' and those who call God by a different name, or call on no God at all, for division is far more prevalent than unanimity in our world.
Simply replicating what our parents have done is - is the primary characteristic of what the Mafia do, and surely God wants something different from that.
I was reflecting on Psalm 89 the other day and that the essence of idolatry is that the 'god' worshiped favours the worshiper over others. The essence of the true God therefore is that God is concerned for all humanity. Division is necessary to bring out this important truth. The warnings against idolatry are scattered right throughout the Old Testament, there was nothing new in Jesus' teaching here. It is of the essence of both the faith of the New Testament and the Old that God calls us to live in harmony with people who are different to ourselves.
I am grateful to one of my correspondents (thanks Jim) who recently wrote about holy communion - that: 'This is the part of human life that God seemingly "cannot" accomplish without humans choosing to answer the call. It seems throughout history that if humans do not do it (initiate inclusion), it simply does not get done.' If all of our Christian teaching on loving the other person does not extend to participation in the communal meal, what on earth are we to make of our claim to be loving or that the meal we share is holy communion?
Jesus came to bring division, so that other person is as likely to be lead by Jesus as I am! The proliferation of denominations and faiths is part of God's plan, just as is the fact that no two people think identically. These facts mean that our faith either encompasses these differences between people or denies their reality. Denying the reality of division means a lot of self-delusion if nothing else. Trying to eliminate these divisions either means we spend our time and energy trying to argue with others, or eliminating others entirely, as in the Crusades and Jihad.
Moslems, Jews, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, secularists, humanists, are all people we are called to recognise as equally lead by God, not just people to convert. The 'generation gap' is something God brings about and something we have to work with. The younger generations are equally being lead by God.
Jesus saying that he has 'come to bring division' is good news, because it recognises the validity of my personal spiritual journey along with everyone else's. My personal spiritual journey is that which God has planned for me. It is no less kosher for the fact that I have not got 'Saint' in front of my name, that I struggle with parts of the faith, (like the Creeds) or that I sometimes find I agree with the perceptions of people who do not call themselves 'christians'. I have a unique contribution to make to this world, a contribution that no one else can make, and these words are as true for everyone else as they are for me. There is no one who is 'ordinary' we are all 'extra-ordinary'.
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