Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Guest Post: Peace and Division

Today’s post is a bit out of the ordinary. It’s a sermon. In fact, it’s the sermon preached this last Sunday at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church by Pastor Gigie Sijera-Grant. I asked and was granted permission to share it here.

I am running it in this space not because of its religious content, but because it addresses a very current issue. What happens when citizens speak out and work against injustice? These days they are often called “divisive.” When the truth makes others uncomfortable, then it is the truth that will be accused of wrongdoing. 

If you don’t want to read a message couched in religious language, skip this one. You might want to read the paragraphs I’ve highlighted in bold, though. It’s some pretty powerful news.


I want to invite you to look at the front cover of your bulletin. There is a quote from Jesus in very large print: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” (Luke 12:51)

Do you think that Jesus came to bring peace to the earth? Why, yes! Of course, we do. After all, didn’t Zachariah sing about how Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, would guide our feet into the way of peace? And when Jesus was born, didn’t the angels sing: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among those in whom God delights?” And Simeon – didn’t he sing that he could go in peace because he had seen Jesus? What about the hemorrhaging woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe - and when she was healed, didn’t he say, “Go in peace?” When Jesus sent the disciples two by two, didn’t he instruct them to proclaim peace? And after he was
crucified and risen, didn’t he appear through closed doors and breathe peace upon his disciples?

So, yes, of course, I, for one, expect Jesus to bring peace. Yet, we hear Jesus today say that he did not come to bring peace but rather division! What a terrifying thought! Don’t we have enough of that already? But it seems to me that Jesus is describing what happens when truth is proclaimed, rather than prescribing what should happen. It is not that Jesus wants division, but he knows that when truth is proclaimed, division can happen. When we speak up in faith, it can be met with resistance, or even violence.

Those words about family members being divided against one another are loosely quoted from the prophet Micah, but Jesus could say them quite accurately about himself. His brothers didn’t believe in him. His family once went to try to get him home because people thought that he was crazy. Jesus would eventually be abandoned by his closest disciples, betrayed by one and denied by another. His passion and death on a cross were the conclusion of his fiery baptism.

The early Christian communities experienced division. As they grew in faith and spread God’s word, it brought about much divisiveness, not just in their own families but also in their communities. And as they grew in number, those who were in power and wished to keep the status quo, opposed them with a passion and sought to destroy them. But even within their own communities, people did not always agree about their theology, and so they would break off and form their own community or denomination.

It is sad to say that in any human family or group, there will be stories of conflict,  disappointment and relational cut-offs. There is a reason why the old saying tells us to never talk religion or politics at the dinner table where family and friends gather. There will always be one or more people who will disrupt the peace with divisive political talk or dehumanizing stereotypes. Have you ever experienced that? And what happens? People sometimes end up cutting off relationships. Some of them don’t talk for years. Sometimes, never. Sometimes, they make up and heal. Sometimes, they don’t, and they go on with life broken, hurt, and cynical. And then, there are many who choose not to engage at all to avoid conflict, so that there can be “peace.”  This is not the same peace or “shalom” that Jesus wants to give us. But so great is the desire to belong and fit in with family that we avoid confrontation, fail to speak up for others, or stay silent about our beliefs for fear of fracturing relationships.

However, the presence of God in Jesus Christ will bring holy disruption to the status quo of our lives, our families and our communities. The truth is that our broken and sinful world desperately hungers and thirsts for disruption, especially where systems of injustice work against the reconciliation, mercy, and abundant provision of God. While some of us cling to the privilege of remaining silent in the face of the suffering of God’s people, speaking up with the grace of God’s holy disruption will bring conflict and division even into our most intimate relationships. The question is will we be ready to stand firm in the gospel that overturns our own comfort?

I have to say that I am proud to be a pastor and member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). You see, two weeks ago, the ELCA Assembly (the highest legislative authority of our national church) met in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and approved several memorials that I believe will push us out of our comfort zone. I will mention two. The most important one is that the ELCA has declared itself as a sanctuary church. We are the first North American denomination to declare ourselves a sanctuary church body!

What does that mean? It means that we are committed to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country. It doesn’t mean that we will be breaking US laws to do that, as Fox News erroneously reported. It means that, through our partnership with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, we will provide legal assistance to immigrants pursuing their legally-protected right to seek asylum, and ensuring that undocumented immigrants are aware of their rights under US law. It means that the ELCA will continue to advocate for just and humane treatment of detained immigrants and will speak against xenophobia, racism, and fear-mongering against all people. These are actually long-standing practices of the ELCA, but this time, we are making an unequivocal stand for a group of people in the margins, following our fearless leader, Jesus Christ. After all, the Lutheran faith is an immigrant faith – transplanted from Europe into the US and the Caribbean by wandering Germans, Swedes, Norwegians and Danes.

Another bold thing that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly did was to present an apology, a Declaration to People of African Descent, with the intention “to develop a document that expresses a confession of this church’s bondage to the sins of slavery, racism, discrimination, white supremacy, and quietism, and begins the work of repentance, which this church confesses to be “the chief topic of Christian teaching.”

That is huge! What will the work of repentance to our African siblings look like? Will it cause division and disruption? Most likely. Presiding Bishop Eaton described it as a “recommitment to the process of right and equitable relations within this church, and the flourishing of Christ’s church universal.” What I found really touching was the response from Rev. Lamont Wells, president of the African Descent Lutheran Association. He received this apology on behalf of the people of African descent of the ELCA as a divine mark of repentance that serves as a catalyst for change.  

This is especially meaningful for me as president of the Association for Asians and Pacific Islanders – ELCA because it is a manifestation of the four years of work that the leaders of all six ethnic associations of the ELCA have done together. It started with the idea that individually, the voices of the Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders, American Indian and Alaskan Natives, those of African Descent, and of Arab Americans and Middle Eastern Heritage, were not loud enough for the church to hear. We have all been working separately, just working on behalf of own individual communities, for years. But we didn’t get too far. However, working together and speaking with one voice, with the help of those of European descent who advocate for racial justice, we discovered that we have a better chance of being heard by the church. So far, we have accomplished much together, since we started supporting and speaking for each other. Yet, there is so much more to do. The interesting thing is that the more we worked together, the more we found ourselves speaking for and supporting others who are also in the margins – such as the LGBTQ, women, those with disabilities, and we have even expanded to include our ecumenical partners.The author of Hebrews reminds us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – those who were mocked, flogged, stoned, imprisoned, tormented, and persecuted and yet, they continued and persevered to walk in faith.

And now, it is our turn to walk in faith. God’s work continues through us. When we follow God faithfully, there will be times when we may become countercultural, unpopular, even divisive, as Martin Luther experienced. Being part of a great cloud of witnesses is a marathon, not a sprint. We run that long race with perseverance. And we realize that we are in this together. As beloved children of God, we are created in God’s own image and likeness. That’s why Jesus modeled for us the practice of radical hospitality. He taught us that we are all worthy in God’s eyes. Children of Light, rooted in Christ. And so, we all need to make room for everyone at the table so that the party can begin!

Will we ever experience that peace on earth that only Jesus can give? What would that look like? Perhaps, it might look like what an anthropologist saw when he visited an African tribe. The anthropologist proposed a game for the kids to play. He put a basket full of fruits near a tree, and he told them that whoever got there first, will win basket of fruits. When he gave them the signal to run, guess what the kids did? They all took each other’s hands and ran together. That’s not a running race as we know it. And then, when they reached the basket, they all sat together in a circle, and shared their treats. The anthropologist asked, “Why did you choose to run as a group when you could have more fruit individually?” One child spoke up and said, “UBUNTU! How can one of us be happy if the other ones are sad?” UBUNTU in the Xhosa (Kosa) culture means, “I am because we are.”

Jesus came to proclaim the peaceful reign of God and to make it possible for all people to share fully in shalom, the peace of God. As the body of Christ in the world, may God’s grace and mercy pour upon us that together, we may experience the kingdom of God breaking in, strengthening our faith, relieving our fears, inspiring our work for justice, and reconciling broken relationships. Amen.


I believe that we are living in times where we are called  to speak out and work against injustice. It doesn’t require any particular religion or any religion at all. What it does require is the willingness and courage to care for others when it would be easier to look away. 

And that's my sermon.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.