If we were to interview potential messiahs, we more than likely wouldn’t hire the one who said, “I come to bring division.” Jesus doesn’t care about that. He didn’t get an interview. He doesn’t care about poll numbers. He’s not here for our peace. He has a vision that is going to divide people. He sees something that is as apparent as when we see dark clouds in the west and say, “It’s going to storm.”
The type of division Jesus is talking about isn’t division for division’s sake. It is division with a purpose. It’s a division I understand.
I was home from college for a long weekend. My mom, her then-boyfriend, my sister, and I went to Texas Roadhouse for some steaks. The boyfriend asked, “So what are you learning at that fancy college?”
I told the table all about my Native American History class. I learned what the native perspective was. Here are these invaders coming who think they can own land. That’s an alien thought to nomadic people. The land is the land, it is owned by everyone and no one. The tragedy of broken promises. The tragedy of white supremacy calling an entire people savages when they knew how to live off the land and had sustainable practices. Generations of wisdom were lost of how to grow and hunt and when to grow and hunt and when to move and where to move. Let alone the culture and dances and stories.
I told the truth. Which was my first mistake. I looked up and saw the look on my mom’s face who said, “I’m going to need another drink.” The boyfriend was red in the face mad. He couldn’t accept it. It was counter to his worldview. So he launched into how I was a know-nothing college boy, and I was wrong. I was flabbergasted. My new knowledge was not welcomed. This perspective was never even considered from a guy who loved John Wayne and all the westerns. When confronted with a history that didn’t come from the silver screen, his brain scrambled and the rest of the dinner was spent just yelling at each other.
I didn’t back down. I knew what I knew. He hadn’t read the books. He hadn’t listened to First Nations folk who came to the class and spoke of their lives and history. I guess I was divided then, mom’s boyfriend against son. I might have been right on history, but I was wrong in how I presented it. I had to learn how to talk so that my mom and her boyfriend could hear and celebrate what I was learning. I failed that first time. It hurt. Yet it was necessary for my growth as a person from under the care of my mom to becoming a young adult. Know what you know. Stand for it.
There are times in my life when I learned something I didn’t want to know. Like… seminary. Learning that I’m not the good Samaritan, I’m the dude in the ditch. That hurts. Someone came up to a pastor friend after she preached on the Good Samaritan and said, “Well, what about Putin?! Would you pull Putin from the ditch.”
“No, you misunderstood,” she said. “Putin is pulling you from the ditch.”
Ouch. That parable hurts. It was meant to. Parables are strategic strikes on our assumptions. Learning can do that. Experiences can do that. They can hurt. Julie spoke to you three Sundays ago about her civil rights pilgrimage. She spoke of what she learned and the pain in that history. In her story, you could hear how Julie needed to set aside something she’d learned in her past because it was wrong. Or it no longer served. Or it didn’t tell the full story. She learned that there was another perspective to learn from. Black history is American history, and we can learn from it and celebrate it and be better neighbors to our black and brown kin.
Ryan did the same thing in his sermon two Sundays ago. He was told growing up that he was a delight to have in class but wasn’t living up to his potential. He internalized this message and felt like a failure. The truth was he wasn’t living up to his potential because his brain couldn’t manufacture the chemicals needed. It’s been a long journey for Ryan but he’s learning how to divide himself from his old self. He sought help with his depression, and he’s learning how to live with ADHD. He told us how meaningful it would be to have a church that is open about mental health and celebrates folks growing and being honest about their mental health struggles.
I believe we all have stories of growth through division. We are not the same people we once were. Being the same person you were in high school is okay… if you’re in high school. For anyone over 22, it’s just sad. You have to divide yourself from your parents; from your past self; and yes, sometimes even from other people in your life.
Division isn’t always bad. Division is natural. Division is how things grow. Cells divide and multiply, and that’s how we get taller, stronger, faster. I would love to hear your stories of how you grew through division. A time in your life where you did the hard work, you went through the valley of the shadow of death, and you came out the other side and were more fully yourself.
Maybe it was a time in your adolescence, high school, or college. I look at our graduates heading off to college. They were just in confirmation, and now here they are as young adults. I am sure they can write the book on this subject. Maybe your time of division came just after your first fight as newlyweds; learning how to live with someone is tough and requires a lot of compromise. Maybe it was a job. You were promoted and your training and habits you had before weren’t working and you were called out for it. You got the training, you learned and you grew and now look at you!
And maybe… maybe in your teenage years, you felt divided from your parents. Maybe later you reconciled, maybe you will in heaven. That’s growing up.
We are in a divided time now, but it’s not a healthy division. It’s division for division’s sake on the national political scene. One group says this, the other says that. There’s no compromise. Bipartisanship is punished. There are even talking heads saying that folks of different political persuasions can’t be friends or even be married. That’s not healthy. Nor is it true.
We know and love our neighbors and spouses of different political persuasions. Unless they are cultlike fanatics, we get along for the most part. And yes, we get into conflicts occasionally, and we know what we don’t want to talk about. Or we have learned how to have the hard conversations with less yelling and name calling. Out of our love for one another, we can risk seeing their perspective and learn and grow. That’s the kingdom of God.
For me, there are somethings I have to cut out. I have to cut out leading the church I know and learn how to pilot a new church. I’ve told you in my sermons and detailed in my thesis about how the aberrant time is ending and how church has changed. Now I have to do the work to change my own leadership. I need to learn how to lead our church to grow. I will have to divide myself from old practices and learn some new things. As will our staff as we’re adding two new folks to it. Our music director, Jennifer Cochrane? you will meet at our Alive on the Square worship. And an associate pastor whom I’m really, really excited about. Yet these will require growth, and change and yes, even some division for us to become whom God is shaping us to be.
At the staff retreat last week, we picked our guiding Bible verse for the year. It was inspired by Lakewood UCC’s verse from Jeremiah 17:7-8: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in God.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
We will be rooted and generative. We are rooted in our heritage. Our people. Our history here in Medina for 203 years. Yet we also know we are to produce fruit. Food for the hungry. Shelter for the stranger. A welcome to the outcast. We might have our own ideas and assumptions about why people are hungry or without shelter or why folks are outcast. I have learned to divide myself from those assumptions and listen to the stories of those right in front of me. It’s harder to say, “You’re poor because you don’t want to work hard” to the face of someone working 3 part time jobs who still can’t make ends meet.
Jesus comes to bring division. To divide us from the false narratives that keep us safe and our neighbor languishing. Growth requires division. Sometimes it’s joyful. Sometimes it’s painful. Yet it’s meant to be generative. Fruit producing. It’s not division for division-sake. That is the way of the world.
I’m thankful Jesus said these hard words. I’m glad we didn’t have to interview him. He’s not the messiah we want. The messiah we want would tell us “oh, you’re just great. Just work harder and you’ll get that new car. Pray and you’ll get the promotion and six-figure salary with no change on your part.” Nah, that’s not Jesus.
Jesus brings division. Fire to the earth. Growth for us. Growth for more love, less hate. More listening, less judgement. More generosity, less greed. More openness, less tribalism and ding-a-ling rivalries. We each are growing in our own way. And this will divide us from some, yet it will unite us with the ground and source of our being. Our God, our Christ, the Spirit of us all. One God forever and ever. And therefore, this division is not a bad thing. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 Please check out her brave and informative sermon here: https://www.uccmedina.org/sermons/ucc-peace-justice-civil-rights-pilgrimage-in-alabama/
 Ryan’s glorious and vulnerable sermon can be found here: https://www.uccmedina.org/sermons/our-opportunity-to-become-wise/