It’s Your Move

It’s Your Move

A retreat leader once made the bold statement that evil is anything that divides. I had never heard this term defined so simply, but it immediately made sense. After all, evil is the opposite of good or that which originates from God, and God is always about bringing people, ideas or hearts and actions into unity.

As we learn from the long-view of our scriptures, when we think about God’s mission, and thus the church’s mission, we think about bringing differences together through reconciliation, unification of God’s will with the will of humankind, through the offering of the peace which passes all understanding, the compassion that connects our heart with others, the binding together of hearts through the love which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and as we reflect on the Feast of Pentecost, the emergence of a common understanding or communion in heart and spirit among a diverse group of people as they each experience the presence of the Risen Christ in their lives.

So, if evil divides, how do we make sense of Jesus’ outburst, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

If we stopped the text at the end of the question, “Do you think I have come to bring peace on the earth?”, we’d all shout “Yes! Of course!” We remember the angels’ proclamation at Jesus’ birth, that we see so often portrayed on Christmas cards, “Peace on earth and goodwill towards men” Or we remember scripture and recall that the central points of Jesus’ preaching and teaching were always about peace when, for example,  he sent his disciples out to proclaim peace to the ends of the world, or when he rode a donkey, a symbol of peace, into Jerusalem. Or when Jesus intentionally countered Pilate’s procession of armed marching guards and chariots affirming their domination and control over the people of Rome, those things which intentionally divide the people between those who have and those who don’t. Jesus always presented himself as a peaceful, non-violent leader, even at the end, when he heals the soldier whose ear was harmed during his arrest.

He would not allow violence, he would not condone anything that separated people from healing and mercy.

Yet, the words, “No, I tell you, but rather division!” were an impassioned eruption of the reality apparent within Jesus’ heart when he looked at the effect of the peace he calls his disciples, and us, into, upon families, faith communities, and the political and social context of his world.

The text focuses here not on the core message of his teaching, which will always be peace, but on the natural consequence of his teaching on peace: division. He is not saying our purpose is to divide, for that would be evil,

to intentionally separate one from another through our words or actions. Rather, he is saying that if we follow in the Way of Love, division will naturally follow us. If we truly love one another, if we “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God”, others who are attached to the values of our world, will reject our way of living and therefore reject us. 

“No, I tell you, but rather division” says to us that this is a natural consequence of following in the Way of Love. But I believe that Jesus is saying that, although division will occur when we bring Jesus’ message

of peace and love for all people into our world, division is neither our goal nor ending point. I deeply believe that the message of Jesus is that if people separate from us, if division happens because of what we believe and act as Christians, we must never separate ourselves from those who have separated from us, rather, we must always hold them in love and prayer, for peace and reconciliation is always the goal. As stated in one of my favorite movies, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, then it is not the end.” Everything will be reconciled in the end. If it is not reconciled, then it is not the end.

But holding the tension of division, living in the discomfort, choosing to listen more deeply to the other, is hard work and often work we have not been prepared for.

Most of us don’t like conflict and would rather walk away from it. Conflict is a division, as we are dividing ourselves from the situation, rather than working through it, toward some resolution and reconciliation. We learn our style of conflict management or avoidance largely from our family of origin but also from how our personalities have emerged. During my continuing education conference, when we studied the Myers Briggs Personality Types, I learned that that my desired outcome from any and all conflict is intact relationships at the end of the day. I want peace and reconciliation if there is conflict between family members or members here of our parish, whereas for others the hope or desired outcome is for respectful listening, or a sense of closure, or a defined process going forward.

But sometimes I think we have taught ourselves, or perhaps our culture teaches us, that it is better or easier not to engage in deep and challenging conversations that could result in a new and broader understanding of a situation, or someone else’s point of view, and rather settle for a superficial understanding of a topic or a political perspective.

For if we engage with others, we might expose our vulnerability, instigate a change within us, or release our fear that our conversation could erupt and cause a irreparable division of heart within a family or a parish. I understand this, because my childhood was in the 50’s and we were taught there were 3 topics never to be discussed and two of them were religion and politics. And I certainly know there are families now who run through the list of forbidden topics before people arrive for Thanksgiving dinner.

And yet I wish, rather than avoiding conversation on topics around which people have passionate views, we had been taught the skills and developed the competency of understanding and dialogue. I often wonder, in our current culture, if so many topics have become so forbidden in conversation in the church, because these topics have also become politicized, even though within each of those topics there are humanitarian issues that are tied directly to the gospel teaching or the Way of Love.

Have we begun to limit the sharing of the good news, the walking of the Way of Love, so as to not offend anyone, so there is no division that happens as others see how we live and move and have our being in Christ,

rather than learn to engage in decent, careful, conversation with respect held among all people.

Have we become so afraid to preach and to live a life centered upon peace and reconciliation in fear that it will disrupt our comfortable status? I so wish we could believe that we could disagree yet still be held together in a bond stronger than any division we could create, that bond of the everlasting love of God.

As Jesus, I do believe there are times when division or separation is a necessary step toward reconciliation. This belief is reflected in my theology

of deconstruction and reconstruction being the same force of God which happens simultaneously in our lives, or Walter Brueggeman’s description

of orientation, disorientation, then reorientation.

Something must break open before it can be put back together in a way that is more whole or holy. Leonard Cohen writes about in his moving song, Anthem, “ Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

Something, someone, us, needs to break open for the light of Christ to come within, so we can be reconciled with the love of God and with each other.

The bread that is sanctified by the Holy Spirit on the altar, to be life-giving and affirming to each of us, has to be broken apart, has to be divided into many pieces, so we each can equally take within us the power of the Risen Lord, so we can be brought together in unity in the one Christ whose body we all share.

Jesus’ body had to be broken on the cross, in order for resurrection, the ultimate reconciliation, to happen.

There is an ancient Japanese art called Kintsugi: or, in English, the art of precious scars.

When a ceramic piece is broken, the artists use precious metals, often liquid gold, to bring together the pieces and at the same time enhance the break.

This technique teaches us that brokenness is not something to hide, but rather something to mend in a way that gives the art piece a new and refined aspect. It teaches us that breakages can become valuable.

This technique reflects a philosophy of embracing the imperfect, or the breakages, or the divisions, and beyond accepting it, honoring it for its raw imperfect perfection.

In our own brokenness, in our divisions between our own hearts and actions, in our fractured relationships, in our volatile society that feels as though it could erupt beyond mending, I wonder, if we can invite the gold of God’s grace into the cracks, to heal the ruptures, to erase the separateness we find ourselves inhabiting. I wonder if we can open ourselves up to the golden divine love that can put this world back together, not to hide our imperfections or differences, but to honor them,

so we can see the whole as beautiful again, in a brand-new way.

As we look into the places where our way of being, our following the Way of Love has already or has the potential to divide, may we first be certain that the division is not between us and the Way of Love, for if it is, all we need to do is offer our brokenness to God and the gold grace of God will fill in all the open spaces, and if the division is between God’s way of love

as shown through our lives and those who have a different set of values, where anger and fear and control rule, and people have separated from us, let us know this is the reality Jesus shares with us today. It is to be expected. But let’s never stop there. Let’s pray into those chasms, let’s deepen our intention around listening and open our hearts, so that God’s grace can flow between us and them, until finally there is only humankind.

Although Facebook can often be the source that incites division,

there was a post this week which I shared on our page, which read like this:

At the end of the day, the world will either be a more or less kind, compassionate and loving place –and I would add – a more or less united, peaceful, and grace-filled place –because of your presence.  It’s your move.

We can choose to water down the way of love so as to never make a mark on the world, to never cause someone to make a choice or consider another option that brings love and peace into difficult situations, or we can choose to be as Jesus, impassioned, fueled by the Spirit, and desiring to bring the Kingdom of God in now, that moves us through division into a deeply peaceful way of living.

It’s your move.

Amen.

the compassion that connects our heart with others,

the binding together of hearts through the love

which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, 

endures all things

and as we reflect on the Feast of Pentecost,

the emergence of a common understanding

or communion in heart and spirit among a diverse group of people

as they each experience the presence of the Risen Christ in their lives.

So, if evil divides, how do we make sense of Jesus’ outburst,

“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?

No, I tell you, but rather division!”

If we stopped the text at the end of the question,

“Do you think I have come to bring peace on the earth?”,

we’d all shout “Yes! Of course!”

We remember the angels’ proclamation at Jesus’ birth,

that we see so often portrayed on Christmas cards,

“Peace on earth and goodwill towards men”

Or we remember scripture and recall

that the central points of Jesus’ preaching and teaching

were always about peace when, for example, 

he sent his disciples out to proclaim peace to the ends of the world,

or when he rode a donkey, a symbol of peace, into Jerusalem.

Or when Jesus intentionally countered Pilate’s procession

of armed marching guards and chariots

affirming their domination and control over the people of Rome,

those things which intentionally divide the people

between those who have and those who don’t.

Jesus always presented himself as a peaceful, non-violent leader,

even at the end,

when he heals the soldier whose ear was harmed during his arrest.

He would not allow violence,

he would not condone anything

that separated people from healing and mercy.

Yet, the words, “No, I tell you, but rather division!”

were an impassioned eruption of the reality

apparent within Jesus’ heart

when he looked at the effect of the peace he calls his disciples,

and us, into,

upon families, faith communities,

and the political and social context of his world.

The text focuses here not on the core message of his teaching,

which will always be peace,

but on the natural consequence of his teaching on peace: division.

He is not saying our purpose is to divide,

for that would be evil,

to intentionally separate one from another through our words or actions. Rather, he is saying that if we follow in the Way of Love,

division will naturally follow us.

If we truly love one another,

if we “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God”,

others who are attached to the values of our world,

will reject our way of living and therefore reject us. 

“No, I tell you, but rather division” says to us

that this is a natural consequence of following in the Way of Love.

But I believe that Jesus is saying that,

although division will occur when we bring Jesus’ message

of peace and love for all people into our world,

division is neither our goal nor ending point.

I deeply believe that the message of Jesus

is that if people separate from us,

if division happens because of what we believe and act as Christians,

we must never separate ourselves from those who have separated from us, rather, we must always hold them in love and prayer,

for peace and reconciliation is always the goal.

As stated in one of my favorite movies,

the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,

“Everything will be all right in the end.

If it is not all right, then it is not the end.”

Everything will be reconciled in the end.

If it is not reconciled, then it is not the end.

But holding the tension of division,

living in the discomfort, choosing to listen more deeply to the other,

is hard work and often work we have not been prepared for.

Most of us don’t like conflict and would rather walk away from it.

Conflict is a division, as we are dividing ourselves from the situation,

rather than working through it, toward some resolution and reconciliation. We learn our style of conflict management or avoidance

largely from our family of origin

but also from how our personalities have emerged.

During my continuing education conference,

when we studied the Myers Briggs Personality Types,

I learned that that my desired outcome from any and all conflict

is intact relationships at the end of the day.

I want peace and reconciliation

if there is conflict between family members

or members here of our parish,

whereas for others the hope or desired outcome

is for respectful listening, or a sense of closure,

or a defined process going forward.

But sometimes I think we have taught ourselves,

or perhaps our culture teaches us,

that it is better or easier not to engage

in deep and challenging conversations

that could result in a new and broader understanding of a situation,

or someone else’s point of view,

and rather settle for a superficial understanding of a topic

or a political perspective.

For if we engage with others, we might expose our vulnerability,

instigate a change within us,

or release our fear that our conversation could erupt

and cause a irreparable division of heart within a family or a parish.

I understand this, because my childhood was in the 50’s

and we were taught there were 3 topics never to be discussed

and two of them were religion and politics.

And I certainly know there are families now

who run through the list of forbidden topics

before people arrive for Thanksgiving dinner.

And yet I wish, rather than avoiding conversation on topics

around which people have passionate views,

we had been taught the skills

and developed the competency of understanding and dialogue.

I often wonder, in our current culture,

if so many topics have become so forbidden in conversation in the church, because these topics have also become politicized,

even though within each of those topics

there are humanitarian issues

that are tied directly to the gospel teaching or the Way of Love.

Have we begun to limit the sharing of the good news,

the walking of the Way of Love,

so as to not offend anyone,

so there is no division that happens as others see

how we live and move and have our being in Christ,

rather than learn to engage in decent, careful, conversation

with respect held among all people.

Have we become so afraid to preach and to live a life

centered upon peace and reconciliation

in fear that it will disrupt our comfortable status?

I so wish we could believe that we could disagree

yet still be held together in a bond stronger

than any division we could create,

that bond of the everlasting love of God.

As Jesus, I do believe there are times when division or separation

is a necessary step toward reconciliation.

This belief is reflected in my theology

of deconstruction and reconstruction

being the same force of God which happens simultaneously in our lives,

or Walter Brueggeman’s description

of orientation, disorientation, then reorientation.

Something must break open before it can be put back together

in a way that is more whole or holy.

Leonard Cohen writes about in his moving song, Anthem,

“ Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

Something, someone, us, needs to break open

for the light of Christ to come within,

so we can be reconciled with the love of God and with each other.

The bread that is sanctified by the Holy Spirit on the altar,

to be life-giving and affirming to each of us, has to be broken apart,

has to be divided into many pieces,

so we each can equally take within us the power of the Risen Lord,

so we can be brought together in unity in the one Christ

whose body we all share.

Jesus’ body had to be broken on the cross,

in order for resurrection, the ultimate reconciliation, to happen.

There is an ancient Japanese art called Kintsugi:

or, in English, the art of precious scars.

When a ceramic piece is broken, the artists use precious metals,

often liquid gold, to bring together the pieces

and at the same time enhance the break.

This technique teaches us that brokenness is not something to hide,

but rather something to mend in a way

that gives the art piece a new and refined aspect.

It teaches us that breakages can become valuable.

This technique reflects a philosophy of embracing the imperfect,

or the breakages, or the divisions,

and beyond accepting it,

honoring it for its raw imperfect perfection.

In our own brokenness,

in our divisions between our own hearts and actions,

in our fractured relationships,

in our volatile society that feels as though it could erupt beyond mending,

I wonder, if we can invite the gold of God’s grace into the cracks,

to heal the ruptures,

to erase the separateness we find ourselves inhabiting.

I wonder if we can open ourselves up to the golden divine love

that can put this world back together,

not to hide our imperfections or differences,

but to honor them,

so we can see the whole as beautiful again,

in a brand-new way.

As we look into the places where our way of being,

our following the Way of Love

has already

or has the potential to divide,

may we first be certain that the division

is not between us and the Way of Love,

for if it is, all we need to do is offer our brokenness to God

and the gold grace of God will fill in all the open spaces,

and if the division is between God’s way of love

as shown through our lives

and those who have a different set of values,

where anger and fear and control rule,

and people have separated from us,

let us know this is the reality Jesus shares with us today.

It is to be expected.

But let’s never stop there.

Let’s pray into those chasms,

let’s deepen our intention around listening and open our hearts,

so that God’s grace can flow between us and them,

until finally there is only humankind.

Although Facebook can often be the source that incites division,

there was a post this week which I shared on our page, which read like this:

At the end of the day, the world will either be a more or less

kind, compassionate and loving place –

And I would add – a more or less united, peaceful, and grace-filled place –

Because of your presence.  It’s your move.

We can choose to water down the way of love

so as to never make a mark on the world,

to never cause someone to make a choice

or consider another option that brings love and peace

into difficult situations,

or we can choose to be as Jesus, impassioned, fueled by the Spirit,

and desiring to bring the Kingdom of God in now,

that moves us through division

into a deeply peaceful way of living.

It’s your move.

Amen.

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