My sermon for today was based on Luke 12:49-56.
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Before I was ordained a priest, I worked in a drug and alcohol rehab for teens and young adults. I am not proud to admit this, but every once in a while, a kid would come into the program that I just didn't like. There was one kid in particular, let's call him Chris.
Chris was just weird. He dressed weird, he did weird things and said weird things. He had a weird sense of humour and he interests were weird. I could find nothing in common with which to connect to this kid, and I am usually pretty good at that.
At one point, I was talking to the boss about how I felt about this kid, and I expected him to agree wholeheartedly with me. What he actually said brought me up short. He said, "Sound like you are the one with the problem".
"What do you mean?", I said, not really appreciating his tone.
"Well, he's just being who he is. If you have a problem with that, it's YOUR problem, not his".
He recommended I make an effort to get to know him, so I took him out fishing for a couple of hours, and as it turns out, he was actually a pretty neat, smart kid. But had I been left to my own devices, I would have left that wall between us and missed out on the opportunity to get to know him.
The Gospel passage for today speaks of walls, of how we connect and divide ourselves from one another.
I have trouble with the Jesus in today's Gospel passage, incidentally. I have an image in my head of Jesus, tender, meek and mild, the Prince of Peace who suffers the little children to come unto him and so on.
The Jesus in today's Gospel passage speaks of dividing families and bringing fire. In have trouble putting the two images together.
The reality is that we can't catch inflection and tone of voice in the written word. I don't think Jesus is saying these things gleefully while rubbing his hands together like a mad scientist. Rather, I think he is saying it in a tone of weary resignation, with the realization that no matter how much peace and love he preached, human being would find a way to screw it up, that even families would be divided over how to show love.
And how religion has divided us over the years! How did we do this? How did we take the fundamental message of most religions, that we are all one, and turn it into an excuse to judge, condemn and divide?
Do we really think that God cannot tolerate a little difference? Do we really conceive of a God who is so small and so petty that he cannot handle different viewpoints, different worship styles, different interpretations of Scripture?
I think Jesus came to help us embrace and celebrate our differences, but he was aware that doing so takes a fair amount of courage, far more than many people seem to have.
The problem is that it is so easy to build walls and say, "You are not of me, you are not of us". We do it all the time. We do it to women, LGBTQ+, immigrants, refugees, other religions, other ages. I did it to Chris.
I suspect the real reason we build walls is not that we really have an objection to other people, but because we lack the courage to embrace their differences.
When we stop and think about it, how much reason is there really to build walls between other people? People may have different skin colours, recite difference creeds, have different political views or sexual preferences, but in reality, we all love our children and our parents, we are all afraid of the future, we all laugh at pretty much the same things and cry for pretty much the same reasons.
In reality I would say that are more things that make us similar than make us different. I am pretty sure if we could just get past the walls we build around ourselves and others, we would find great gifts in other people.
The bricks we use to make walls can also be used to make bridges. I pray that today we would all have the courage to tear down walls and build bridges with them instead.