14 Aug 2016
“‘Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.’” (Luke 12:51)
In the name …
Today’s Gospel is a bit disturbing. It reminds us that even Jesus ran into the intractable wall of this world’s reality, that even Jesus couldn’t make all the changes He hoped for during His lifetime. Jesus preached a message of community and of shared benefit and this was preached also through the life He led, but He came to realize that this very message and example were going to lead instead to division and separation. People would have to make the hard choice to listen and live according to Jesus’ gospel of shared benefit, but they would live among others who would choose otherwise. Christianity, in this way, would create separation and division among peoples, and that’s the sad reality that Jesus vents about in this morning’s reading from Luke. I think Jesus is giving way to a bit of frustration when He says what He says.
It’s been so hot this summer that it’s nice to think about the cold of Christmas. And when you go back to the Christmas story as told by Luke, the story we’ll read on a cold, December night – beautiful, just beautiful – we’ll hear the angels announcing Jesus’ birth by saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace …” (1:14) That’s the hope associated with the coming of Jesus into our world, and I think it’s a reality that Jesus believed in, but eventually He comes to realize the sad truth that leads Him to declare in frustration, “‘Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.’” People of faith have to make the choice to live like Jesus, to have priorities like Jesus, to see the blessing of community and of shared benefit like Jesus, and when they do that disturbs the normal order of the world. This is the frustrating realization of why real Christianity must lead to separation and division even as we work toward peace and community.
So this past week there was a man-eater of a snake hanging around at the bottom of the rectory porch steps. We sent a picture of it to Tim Fannin over at the US Department of Fish and Wildlife. Now Tim may have a Doctorate in biology when he tells me that the snake was a harmless Northern Water Snake, but I have a Master’s in Bible and I know that snakes are nothing but the devil in disguise. But I was nice. I threw that man-eater in the garbage can and took him over to the vacant lot beside the parking lot. He may figure out how to get back to his old nest by passing right through where we are now so if you feel something crawling up your leg this morning just be forewarned.
But that poor snake sure gets a bum-rap in the creation story, and it probably has something to do with how – I think the technical term is – icky they are. The second story of creation in Genesis tells us that God first creates man, then only after this does God create the Garden of Eden with all its beautiful plant life. The first creation story tells us that humans were the last act of God’s creation. The second one is quite clear than man is the first creation. Both can’t be right and that’s one of the reasons why we know that these are stories teaching us a moral lesson and that they’re not meant to be a science text. Man, says Genesis 2, is created in the real world. He’s made from the stuff of the real world and in the real world. Then, according to the story, God takes this man and places him in Eden’s paradise. This means that man is a foreigner in paradise, that this isn’t his native habitat. Nature, on the other hand, is born and belongs in paradise.
Everything is going along splendidly until that rascal of a snake ruins Paradise by tempting Adam and Eve when he says, “‘You will be like God.’” (3:5) Things deteriorate from this point forward. The animals who were created originally as man’s “partner” and who roamed about paradise in a peaceable union with man are now killed and garments are made from their skins. Not only was the man thrown out of paradise and back into the world from where he came, but he ruined paradise for the rest of creation too. The peace of paradise is lost.
That’s a lot to throw on the back of a snake, and that’s why, according to the story, the snake lost its backbone and must slither around in the dust. Now I really do believe Dr. Tim. I really believe that the Northern Water Snake at the bottom of the rectory steps was harmless, and that it was even beneficial because it eats mice and insects, but like I said the technical term is icky. That’s why I had to move it and I think that’s one of the reasons why the snake was chosen as the villain in the creation story. I moved it away from the house not because of what I knew to be true – that it was harmless, but because of what I felt – that it was icky.
The second Genesis story of creation is not about talking snakes or about the silly notion of a man being created before women or even plants and other animals. It’s a cautionary tale about the astonishing responsibility of “being like God,” and how easy it is to turn paradise into so much less when we try to be like God without paying attention to who God is and what God teaches. Keep this in mind when we consider the frustration of Jesus when He speaks to us about being the source of division in the world, between those who will listen to His message of compassion and community and those who will choose to make-up their own version of what it means to Christian.
But remember as well, that even though really following Jesus is going to separate us from a lot of others who won’t bother, there is still a visible and invisible community of followers to rely upon for support and inspiration. It’s what the Epistle to the Hebrews called this morning “so great a cloud of witnesses.” (12:1) Past and present become united as a timeless community of faith. In other words, we’re never alone. Division is a sad reality, but Jesus’ community is a stronger one, and may this help us to ever better be more like Jesus. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo