Hebrews 11:29-12:2 & Luke 12:49-56

Disrupted into a new way
A reflection by Dan Spragg

This is one of those texts that preachers really wish they never had to deal with! I admit to emitting a sigh when I realised that I’d drawn the short straw and this was the text for the week, ha! And then I remembered a conversation I had once with someone who worked as a leadership coach/consultant. We were talking about conflict and how different people have not only various tolerances for conflict but also various approaches to how they deal with it. She drew two simple pictures for me to show two basic approaches. The first I instantly recognised as the way I naturally default to when it comes to conflict! Avoid it. Maybe some of you resonate with this too. The second way she said was like this, ‘Sometimes the only way to deal with a conflict is to go through it!’ Peace often lies on the other side of conflict, and sometimes you have to go straight through it to get there. The way to peace isn’t always about keeping the peace. Jesus, The Prince of Peace, overwhelmingly talked about a message of peace. There’s something in today’s passage which makes us uncomfortable. What are we to do with this as a church family which believes and strives to keep relationships as one of the most important things?

I was drawn this week to the types of relationships that Jesus mentions here. The Father/Son, Mother/Daughter and Mother in law/Daughter in law relationships in the culture Jesus lived in were all relationships that existed with a large sense of duty and obligation. These relationships were fundamental to how the society operated. The ‘family’ was large and the existence of these obligations ensured that the family not only continued but that societal order was maintained. We don’t have to think too hard about how these types of systems, while serving their function well, also served to exclude and alienate at the same time. I do wonder, coming from my viewpoint here and now of course, how much of an opportunity there was for joy in a web of duty and obligation. ‘Shoulds’ often weigh us down and exclude the possibility of doing things a different way. Here’s the duty and obligation of the daughter in law as an example: She was to live with her husband’s extended family and was duty bound and obligated to work with her mother in law… to serve the interests of the extended family. Interestingly the new wife was never really fully integrated into the family unit until she bore a son. Duty and obligation, and a particular social order and way of life is maintained. We don’t have to think too hard to recall that their religious order also created quite a sense of duty and obligation often making it impossible to ever feel worthy of God’s presence or blessing. A particular religious and social order. And into this Jesus comes with a message of disruption. “The time has come… the Kingdom has drawn near…” Jesus said earlier in Mark’s gospel (Mark 1:15). “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” he says here.

Sometimes we need a disruptive moment to awaken us to a better way or to help us see more clearly the system that we are stuck in. Because we can’t always see what we are in when we are in it, can we? We might ask a goldfish how the water is… and the fish would answer, ‘what is this thing you call water?’

We have a homestay student from Italy living with us at the moment. She is 17 and an intelligent and observant person. She has offered us a number of observations on Kiwi life so far. Here’s an example: We think it’s quite normal for our High School students to be at school from 8:30 – 3/3:30pm, and to follow this with sports, a music lessons, or homework and be home for tea at 6pm ready for a quiet night at home for the rest of the evening. Here on the other hand is what is normal for an Italian high school student: School is 8am – 1pm – six days a week – then home or out for lunch followed often by a rest or nap, then study through to 6pm, then out with friends or a visit with family for a couple of hours before being home for dinner at 8 or 9pm. After this it is common to do more study or relax before heading to bed at 11/12pm. This is normal for them and our way is quite normal for us but they are different. How often however, do we see our way as the only way! This happens in small and large situations in our lives. Until we are made aware of a different way, we have no idea that our way is not the only way.

There are some situations in life where we actually need a different perspective to be given or where we need to offer a disruptive point of view in order to create something new. The way to peace isn’t always to keep the peace no matter what. Relationships and family situations are some of the most tricky spaces to navigate but sometimes doing something divisive is the way to the greater good. An example might be the decision to move a dementia patient into care, or to contest for the power of attorney. The person themselves, if they knew what was happening may not be very happy with you! They may intuitively be a little put out and unsettled, perhaps other family members aren’t happy about it either, but ultimately the decision has been for peace despite the division that it may cause. Another example might be when we know a relationship or a marriage is in trouble and the people involved don’t appear to notice, or at least don’t appear to be willing to do something about it. To step in and say something isn’t always popular but can work for the good of those involved. Reading the signs of the times can often involve a need to be bold and brave enough to at least ask, does this moment call for a disruption? A disruption in the name of peace?

Last week Anne mentioned Isaiah, and the role of the prophet in the midst of a community to call out injustice and point to a new way. Many of the biblical prophets’ messages were extremely abrasive and disruptive towards the status quo. They brought a message to intentionally disrupt the order of things, to draw attention to the inbreaking way of God, to point to a new order of things for the good of all creation. When I think about the prophets I think, what a vast amount of courage they possessed. To speak so boldly and act with such conviction was nothing short of extraordinarily brave. They also exercised a complete trust; a certain faith in the way of God, that what they were declaring was exactly what was needed at that time. In our lives sometimes it takes a certain amount of disruption to pull us into the way of hope and faith. These crisis points, these points in which we are forced to decide on a new way are never easy. They are often painful. We are often left with scars to carry with us. The decisions made at these points are also not always popular and even if we are making these decisions in faith, often our faith is stretched and pushed beyond its normal comfortable existence. The life of a faith community together experiencing moments of division and disruption is also stretched and strained at times like these. Jesus, however, seems to imply that waking up to the signs of the times and pushing through disruption, division, dispute and conflict and turning our minds and hearts to the way of God over and above our normal patterns is indeed the way to the peace that God’s way in the world is working towards. Today, “This gospel text challenges our comfortable faith and our expectation that [we as] members of our faith communities will always agree.” However, this is ok. Being disrupted into a new way is ok. Jesus also said this, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Disruption is often good and creates opportunities, but how we handle it will make our journey into it fruitful and worthwhile.

I really like that the reading from Hebrews is held up as an accompaniment to Jesus today. Remember all those saints of old, those many people of faith who have come before you? It certainly wasn’t always easy for them enduring untold amounts of opposition and suffering. But they now form this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who cheer us on and show us how to live. This road of faith-fueled living is not a new thing, many have done it before and they surround us, their stories reminding us and causing us to remember who we are and what we are called to. There is in the midst of division and disruption always the presence of unity, the presence of peace to which we reach for as the better way for all with a thousand thousand examples and reminders of the community of love and grace to which we are a part.

Peace often lies on the other side of conflict. Sometimes the only way to peace is to have the current order disrupted and our perspectives widened, our horizons lifted. It’s often uncomfortable. It’s quite often painful. Division of any sort always is. But we know the way of God that Jesus shows us. And it is a way marked by life to the full and fullness of life for all. And that is worth fighting (lovingly!) for when the signs of the time say, the moment is now. .