Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
What’s up with these readings?
Jeremiah declared, “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29). Dear church what rocks are we willing to allow God’s “hammer” to shatter in our lives? Will we allow God’s hammering to reshape us from a fear-based life into a love-based life? Are we open to God breaking our hearts with compassion so we can better welcome the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, and the exile? Are we ready, in this Church, the ELCA, to make room in ourselves to be more diverse and inclusive (as voting members at this week’s Churchwide Assembly made so evidently clear is urgent?)
At his birth, an angelic multitude of the heavenly host sang ‘Peace be upon earth!’ Jesus declared “Peace I leave with you.” “My peace I give to you.” Every Sunday we share this peace with each other. “The peace of the Lord be with you.” “And also with you.” Ours is a religion of peace-making, peace-loving, and peace-keeping” (Debie Thomas, Disturbing the Peace, Journey with Jesus, 8/11/19). So, what does he mean, saying, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:49, 51). (Debi Thomas)
Aren’t we tired of all the tension, exhausted by all the violence, and threats of violence? These readings only seem to add fuel to the fire. The narratives being hurled as weapons by political parties are getting people killed. Suddenly, a legal search is grounds for civil war? This week, an Ohio man, fueled by such lies, was killed after breaking into an FBI office in search of vengeance. It’s frightening how ready some people are to jump toward violence. We need a pathway to peace, and we need it now.
Our gospel today is such a pathway. Yet, Jesus warns, the answer to our prayers for peace may not come easily. It won’t come with a snap of our fingers. “These texts invite us — or no, they compel us — to move beyond soft, saccharine Christianity, and wrestle with the hard, high costs of discipleship….It’s not Jesus’s desire or purpose to set fathers against sons or mothers against daughters. It’s certainly not his will that we stir up conflict for conflict’s sake, or use his words to justify violence or war. But his words are a necessary reminder that the peace Jesus offers us is not the fake peace of denial, dishonesty, and harmful accommodation. His is a holistic, truth-telling, disinfecting peace. The kind of deep, life-changing peace that doesn’t hesitate to break in order to mend, and cut in order to heal. Jesus will name realities we don’t want named. He will upset hierarchies we’d rather keep intact. He will expose the lies we tell ourselves out of cowardice, laziness, or obstinacy. And he will disrupt all dynamics in our relationships with ourselves and with each other that keep us from wholeness and holiness. This is not because Jesus wants us to suffer. It’s because he knows that real peace is worth fighting for” (Thomas).
Perhaps, this gospel is a far cry from the one we expected. This is more than we bargained for. We come to church seeking a place of comfort and quiet consolation. Yet, we must know that when we reach to God to heal us sometimes the medicine will bite. The gifts of God grace given become in us seeds of mission and discipleship.
God wields a hammer in us by our baptism into Christ. God engages a battle within us in the sacred food we eat at the table. In ways too wonderful and mysterious, grace transforms and reshapes us, like a hammer breaking stone. Baptism and eucharist kindle a fire with in us to burn down all our straw-stuffed idols. God’s grace brings both destruction and creation. Grace brings community and division. God’s Peace includes a disturbance of the peace. In AA they say that the truth will set you free, but first it might make you miserable.
See what power God wields with the hammer of grace. It is power, not of compulsion, but persuasion. It aims, not to destroy, but to build up. It seeks, not vengeance, but healing. It is power, not for power’s sake, but for love. It is power to resist and to redeem. It is the power of restorative justice. It is power to transform our enemies into allies and friends.
The hammer of grace is not like that of a bullet or a bomb, which only have power to destroy. But like water, the power of grace also gives life. Water has power to shape mountains and toss boulders. Water also renews, refreshes, and cleanses us. Water makes all life possible. Water is persistent, unfailing, untiring, and endlessly persuasive. Water always wins in the end. We must be like water.
Do not be afraid to pick up this hammer. Let your life go with this flow. In this mighty struggle, know this, you are not alone but are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who cheer for you now from the sidelines. Hebrews chapter 11 is sometimes called the ‘Faith Hall of Fame.’ I confess I find it a bit gruesome, like a Christian Game of Thrones. By faith the saints of God conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of Lions, and quenched the fury of flames. Many endured torture. They faced jeers and flogging. They were chained and put into prisons. They were stoned; sawed in half; and died by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated –the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and in holes in the ground. They were all commended for their faith but none of them received what had been promised” (Hebrews 11:35-39). They wielded the hammer of faith. Like a mighty river their lives bequeathed to us a legacy of compassion, mercy, and prosperity more firmly rooted in justice and shalom.
Rather than keep the peace that is no peace, grace teaches us the proper use of our anger to confront things that are not right and to set about making them better. Speak the truth in love. Confront bigotry with dignity. Overcome ignorance with learning. Seek wisdom. Speak the truth as you know it, and prayerfully listen. Strive to listen more than you speak.
In this way we keep a song in our hearts and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding in our minds. We dwell in the shelter of our Lord while we strive for the common good. We become more open to one another and to all strangers as though they were the Lord Christ himself, for indeed, that is who they are. Of course, we will not always be successful. But it is enough to know that in wielding the hammer of loving grace, we share more fully in the divine life at work within us and throughout the world.