Summary: The cross of Christ not only brings peace, but also division. When faced with opposition and division, disciples of Christ stand firm while loving and respecting their opponents.
Luke 12:49-56 “The Limits of Peace”
The night sky was cloudless and filled with stars. Shepherds watched their flocks, while they huddled around a campfire. Suddenly, they were surrounded by a multitude of angels. They were told not to fear because the angels brought them good news. A savior was born who would bring peace on earth.
What a stark contrast there is between that first Christmas night and Jesus’ words on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. He tells his disciples that he has come to bring fire on the earth, and not peace but division. The disciples were caught be surprise, as are we.
Though Jesus’ words surprise us, they, when combined with the angelic proclamation accurately describe both the work of the cross and the condition of the world.
WAR AND PEACE
The cross of Christ brings peace. Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins. There is no longer any barrier between God and humankind. We are now able to begin a new life and a new relationship with God because of what Jesus accomplished.
Barriers between people are broken down because of the cross of Christ. Paul writes that there is no longer the divisions of male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile. All are one in Christ.
At the same time, faith in Jesus Christ brings division. This was certainly true in the early church. Christians were separated from their families and from their communities because of their Christian faith.
Discord caused by the cross of Christ continued throughout the history of the church and it continues today.
A HISTORY OF DIVISION
Throughout history wars have been fought in the name of religion, though most often it is a mixture of both religion and politics. We have the Crusades with the Christians versus the Muslims. There is the Thirty Years War with Catholics versus the Protestants. More recently there is the Catholic/Protestant strife in Northern Ireland and the Jewish/Muslim conflict in Israel and Palestine. Now a new conflict has arisen with almost all religions against Islamic fundamentalism.
There is also a strong history of Christian fighting Christian.
• Fist fights broke out in the First Council of Nicaea in 325 as a position was literally pounded out on the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
• Germany lost 30% of its population during the Thirty Years War between Protestants and Catholics.
• In the early 20th century Lutheran Churches were ripped apart by a dispute over predestination—a doctrine that makes us yawn in this day in age.
• Christians struggled with civil rights, and the conflict over abortion still rages.
• Our newest conflicts confront revolve around gay rights and global warming.
The controversy, conflict and division are never ending.
PROACTIVE ACTION DURING CONFLICT
In his words that are recorded in Luke, Jesus gives us a hint at how we, as Christians, are to live in the middle of conflict.
Jesus’ focuses his words on the family. This sacred institution is not to be held above God. Loyalty to God comes first. This priority will cause division in families.
In families division is bridged by love. We may not agree with each other, but we do love each other. We are challenged to love other people even when we violently disagree with them. As Jesus instructed his followers, “Love your enemies and pray for them.”
As Christians, we are challenged to love each other even when we disagree with them theologically. We are still brothers and sisters in Christ. We are still saved by the same blood of Jesus and we still have a relationship with the same God. The ELCA affirmed this stance in its Churchwide Assembly in 2005.
Jesus calls us to live passionate lives of integrity—to believe and to believe strongly—allowing it to mold and shape our lives.
We are also called to respect others. Since none of us are prophets of God we must always consider the possibility that our opponents may be right.
Above all, we are called to love others in word or deed whether they are our friends or enemies. We do this so that we may demonstrate the overwhelming love of God, as so that others may say, “Look at those Christians, how they love.”