Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Fedderson:
This Sunday’s Gospel lesson contains some of the most unsettling, if not disturbing, words Jesus ever spoke: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Similar words (from Matthew’s Gospel) began a section of a recent newsletter from LCMS Missionaries Brad and Genevieve Ermeling. They wrote: “These words of Jesus often strike us as harsh truths that many of us in Christian homes have never had to face. We grow up with the blessings of family devotions, bedtime prayers and the wonderful example of Christian parents. We attend church together, celebrate Christmas and Easter together and learn to make our faith the most important element of our lives. Of course, the Christian home is not a perfect place of love and good behavior, but it is a place where spiritual growth, forgiveness and love abound.”
Nonetheless, they see Jesus’ words come true every day in their work: “For many of our Christian students here in Japan, these words are present and real. In most cases, becoming a Christian is met with severe family resistance and opposition, even flatly forbidden.” They illustrated with two of their tenth-grade students. Both have been given faith in Jesus and want to practice their Christianity. Both want to be baptized, but they cannot. One said, “My family is not Christian, so I have to be patient and wait for them to understand.” The other said, “My mother said I can’t be Christian.” Japan is not the only place where the devil delights in using family pressure against the faith — using love and loved- ones against the God who is love.
Sadly enough, in some homes there is not enough Christian commitment to cause anyone a stir. In many churches it is a chore to establish, publish and oversee an acolyte schedule. There are many reasons for the problems, but the biggest problem is getting the kids and their parents to see that this is a valuable role. It seems like the one thing teens and parents share is apathy.
What if children came yelling at their parents to get up on Sunday mornings like parents yell at them on school day mornings? Conversely, if parents are the ones who see the value of worship, Sunday school, or taking a responsible role in the church, why aren’t they yelling with the same fervency they would use if their ten-year-olds played hooky from school?
As important as any of these things might be, Jesus isn’t talking about differences of opinion over such things as lighting candles or even attending services and Sunday school. He is not talking about the kind of divisions that are standard fare in churches — which fund you support, the type of service you like, decisions that are made and all the other stuff that shows we are as different as we are many.
Jesus knew that such divisions can be detrimental, even hurtful, but they are not what He meant here. Jesus was talking about something far more important — divisions over Him.
Too often, people get all in a huff over clashes of personality, preferences for this or that, and the normal struggles of humans in relationship. We sometimes forget, in our differences with the organization or its members, that the real demands on us come from our much more important relationship with God Himself! This thing between us and Jesus is costly. It cost Him everything!
William Willimon wrote, “As a chaplain at a large university, I don’t think I have received over one or two telephone calls from parents in the past decade saying something like, ‘Help, my college-age child is sexually promiscuous,’ or ‘Help, my child is hooked on drugs.’ However, I have received maybe a dozen calls in as many years from parents saying something like, ‘Help, my child has become a religious fanatic.’ ‘Religious fanatic’ is usually defined as someone who would go into the Peace Corps rather than to law school.”
Jesus came to this world, not to affirm us, but to forgive us and to change us. For those who think you can become a follower of Jesus and have none of your previous life’s most precious apple carts thrown all topsy-turvy, Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
These words from our Lord are among the many discourses that the Gospel writers recorded during His last journey to Jerusalem. Luke recorded more of these than anyone. It seems as if Jesus was becoming increasingly impatient as the journey progressed. Before He made the ultimate choice that would cost Him His life, He wanted people to choose, to stand up and be counted — for or against Him. As the end drew closer, He wanted it more and more. “Business as usual” was not acceptable.
A cartoon shows the typical prophetic figure carrying a sign that reads: “Jesus is coming tomorrow, or the next day, or one after that.” It is interesting that the sign is perfectly true. Every day we live brings us one day closer to His return. Is He becoming impatient again? Are we? When He was about to put everything on the line, He expected others to commit themselves — one way or another. Now that He is about to return, the urgency of His mission must be at the forefront of everything we, His followers, are about!
It is not likely that anyone was ever “disowned” by family for joining the Kiwanis Club or Rotary — maybe, the KKK! Does that mean that Jesus expects the Christian faith to be as controversial as a hate organization? No, it is not the controversial nature of the faith — although that might also be true in some cultures — it is the level of the commitment of the faithful that He knew could bring them into conflict with family and friends. If you are a “religious fanatic” when you think about the Peace Corps, imagine what people will say when you enter the foreign mission field!
In 1994, a 70-year-old woman donated $2,400 to her church. As a result, her son filed in court to be her legal guardian because she was “financially irresponsible.” Her older sister spent over $3,000 for a PSL (basically a seat) and season tickets to the St. Louis Rams football games. The same family thought that was “quaint.”