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A House Divided

August 22, 2016

A sermon preached by Lori Hylton at The White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 14, 2016. Ms. Hylton is well known to the congregation and serves as the Hunger Action Enabler for the Hudson River Presbytery.

 Luke 12: 49-53

Upon my first reading of the day’s text I was left a bit speechless. Jesus comes to bring division, not peace.  This is one of those texts that most of us want to avoid. And when I say us, I don’t mean preachers, I mean Christians. It makes us very uncomfortable. Where is the Jesus who talks about loving your neighbor and feeding the poor? Get him back in here.  And so in preparing this morning I read through several different version of the passage.  King James, New King James, NIV, Good News, but no matter how many versions I read, there was no softening, no polite avoidance of these words, and this reality. Jesus and the gospels are radical, and divisive.  Radical and divisive then, radical and divisive today.  So, what do I mean when I say that, well I mean that the world in not always ready and willing to hear what Jesus has to say and that’s where the division creeps in. The words may be peaceful but the reception that they receive is mixed, even within the church.              

In the scripture Jesus talks about a divided house and I don’t think the world has ever felt more divided than it does at this moment in time.  Every day we turn on the news and what we see is so disheartening. The news cycle is relentless in its constant drumbeat of death and destruction. The country in the midst of yet another election cycle has devolved into red states and blue states, the church is divided into fundamentalists and reformed believers, and now even our communities and even our homes are divided into camps of black lives vs. blue lives. Where is the understanding? Where is the compassion? Where is love?

And so it’s natural for us to want to retreat to a place where we can find some peace. It’s natural to want to tune out the onslaught of frustration and sadness. We need to be able to let go and as the saying goes “let God take the wheel”. But letting God take the wheel doesn’t mean abandoning the ship. Now more than ever we are needed to match hatred with love.

Jesus didn’t come to make our lives and the world around us more palatable. He came he to fulfill the prophesy, to abolish the law, to be the light of the world, to seek the lost, to save the sinner, to destroy the works of the devil, to bring the fire. He came to turn the world on its ear with his message of love. But he didn’t come to make things more comfortable for us.  And if the result is division then so be it.

As followers of Christ each and every one of us, have been charged with carrying Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness out into the world. So what does that mean? What does that look like? What does it mean to be the bearer of a radical message of love in the world today? It means standing up for justice, when it would be much easier to sit down. It means raising our voices to demand change and it means each of us speaking out against hate when it would be so much more convenient for someone else to do it.

Over the past two years, the nation has been rocked by the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tanisha Anderson, Laquan McDonald, Yvette Smith, Tamir Rice, Rakia Boyd,  Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and many, many others, at the hands of the police.   It seems that we don’t make it through a week without hearing a report of police brutality or an extrajudicial killing. In fact, just this morning we have started to hear about violent demonstration overnight in the city of Milwaukee over the shooting of yet another man. But the reality is that these incidents are not new, they are not one offs. They are just more visible.  They are part of a pattern of behavior on the part of law enforcement in this country that predates the end of the Civil War. Last month when after seeing the videos of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I was angry, but mostly I was afraid. Afraid that one day my son who is 10 but looks older because he is tall will one day be on the receiving end of the kind of brutality practiced against people of color that we’ve witnessed over and over in this country. I could no longer try to pretend that teaching him to obey the rules and appear respectable would shield him from the reality of the world. And so I held him and I cried. But that is not enough.  And after the deaths of the police officers in Dallas: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamaripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens and Baton Rouge: Montrell Jackson, Matther Gerald, and Brad Garafola I moved from afraid to terrified. But it’s not enough for us to cry and hide in the church.

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As followers of Christ we are compelled allow our faith to be our shield, and go out into the world to deliver Jesus’ message of love, despite our fears. And when I ask myself what that looks like, I’m reminded of Cornel West’s famous words “Just as tenderness is what love looks like in private, Justice is what love looks like in public”.  So practicing love in the way that Jesus describes is naturally going to be divisive, because seeking justice means overturning the status quo. In Jesus’ day that meant questioning the religious, economic and even political beliefs of those around you.  And in our time it means much the same.  But it’s time for us to set aside concerns about getting involved in politics and bring the voice and moral compass of the church to these conversations.  When we see people of any color being brutalized and murdered over and over we need to ask ourselves, what is at the heart of this hatred and then ask ourselves what are we going to do about it? What are we as Christians and human beings going to do about it? Because when we don’t act, when we don’t ask why, when we don’t demand justice we are complicit. We cannot afford to offer empty prayers, by rote asking God, to heal the wounds that are around us, while doing nothing.

In the book, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s call to Justice, the author Mark Labberton, uses the metaphor of a sleeping church very well to describe how easy it is fill one’s life with the many details, rituals, tasks, and legitimate personal crisis’s that can overwhelm us, making it difficult to look beyond our own circumstances. But in the scriptures Jesus calls us to act, to step out of the protective arms of the church and engage the community beyond our doors.

So how do we begin this kind of engagement? We begin by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, because much of what is happening around us will make us uncomfortable. By facing the fear, and the hate, and the violence with love.  We begin by getting used to the idea of living our faith rather than just professing it.  We begin by building trust in our community, intentionally entering into relationships with people who are different than we are, people whose voices have been marginalized our society.  And we important, we make room for those people not just in our churches, or on our streets, but in our hearts.

Engaging the world around us means that churches and individuals can no longer allow themselves to be lulled into complacency by ritual. It means the church has to wake up and “Stay Woke”.

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