Sunday 14 August 2022: Trinity 9, Twentieth in Ordinary time, Proper 15
Context: an urban congregation with average attendance of approximately 150 that describes itself as ‘progressive’
Aim: Jesus is a source of crisis that often leads to division. As people of faith, we must accept that sometimes unity is not the most faithful response to Jesus
There is an ancient spiritual saying that goes: ‘and what do the flower buds pushing up from the broken earth say about you? We break to grow.’ Honestly, most days that sounds like an irritating self-help cliché designed to soften the pain of what is broken. Yet there is truth in the fragments of clichés broken from overuse. We all know metaphors about healing and growth emerging from the broken places. Maybe many of us are in a fresh season of personal or communal growth — discovering something new and good out of the brokenness of two years of pandemic time. Many have sought new, more fulfilling vocational paths or found new ways to commit time to family. Many churches have discovered new ways of connecting and have a new appreciation for the treasure that is life in community.
That’s all well and good … but most often we think about how we react and grow when brokenness is forced upon us by the natural movements of life. What happens when we are actually called to be a source of breaking-apart — not just of ourselves, but of our communities? We resist this. We clergy, particularly, often judge our effectiveness on whether our communities are being maintained or growing. We try to walk on tightropes to maintain unity, especially when social issues with theological implications knock on the doors of our faith and cannot be ignored.
We sing songs like ‘They will know we are Christians by our love,’ that include words of unity: ‘We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand.’ Surely, there is truth here. Jesus draws us to community. Paul calls us to not only consider ourselves, but self-sacrifice for others so as to build up the church. But, that is not the full story.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is on his way to his Passion in Jerusalem. He is literally about to be broken open and he tells his followers, ‘Expect the same.’ The Jesus Way of love is one that leads not just to unity, but to brokenness — and not just physical, personal brokenness, but the fracturing of our most cherished community bonds. Fred Craddock comments on this text, noting that Jesus is the crisis of the world — one who forces upon us a point of decision: ‘An adequate image is that of the gable of a house. Two raindrops strike the gable and that moment could conclude with their being oceans apart. To be placed in the situation of decision is critical, for to turn toward one person or goal or value means turning away from another.’
Too often, we have tried to shut the door to the social-theological issues knocking on the doors of our faith communities or families. We fear the crisis they will bring. We would rather sing ‘they will know we are Christians by our love,’ and yet Christ says that to be his follower, we must expect division. We cannot love like Jesus without forcing a sense of crisis on ourselves and others, even those we love the most … and we cannot control which way others will turn.
I am reminded of a church I served in southern Mississippi. It was a church forever shaped by its decision in 1974 to accept into membership a Nigerian university student. In that time, in southern Mississippi, segregation might not have been the law, but it was the social practice, especially in churches. This church welcomed the Nigerian man into membership. Five of the church’s twelve deacons resigned and left. The church was broken apart, but it did not look back. The next year, that same church licensed to ministry the first Baptist woman in the state. Fast-forward to more recent years, that same church continued living out its story by embracing and fully affirming LGBTQI+ members. I was leading the church in that time. I felt the pressure — was I helping break a beautiful community apart? Was I to blame when forty members left? What about ‘we will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand’?
Well, Jesus warned us, did he not? To follow in his Way of Love does not mean to maintain unity. It means we must embrace the crisis of love, make decisions, and, yes, sometimes faithfully break apart.
See Craddock, Fred B. Luke. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990. Pg. 166
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