Conflict Is


June 21, 2017

By Shepard Parsons.

Scripture: Matthew 10:24-39 (NRSV)

A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
 
So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
 
Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
 
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one's foes will be members of one's own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
 

Scripture: Romans 6:1-11 (NRSV)

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
 
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Reflection:

The evening before my college’s annual musical production a few members of the cast showed up in the dining hall to promote the show.  They were dressed in outlandish costumes and began to sing when they were pelted with food.  Apparently this little skit was making the boys at several tables uncomfortable and their reaction was to humiliate the actors.  A friend sitting next to me went ballistic.  “Are they stupid?  I can’t believe this.  What do they think is going on?  This is outrageous!”  He was so red in the face I thought he would explode.  But my friend’s anger wasn’t directed at the guys throwing food, he was furious at the actors in costume for provoking the food fight. 
 
In this week’s lesson Jesus tells us he does not come bringing peace; rather, he comes wielding a sword.  How can this be?  How is it that the Prince of Peace brings violence into our world?  Paul claims the same sword-bearing Savior has freed us from sin into new life.  We are dead to the old ways and raised into a new life of obedience to God; and I think this is what Jesus is talking about: obedience to God and its consequences.  Liberated from sin and the fear of death we are sent into a world that neither recognizes the sovereignty of God nor the power of God’s love.  Acts of compassion, living in solidarity with those who suffer, confronting the powers debasing and dehumanizing anyone, everywhere, expose the fear and violence upon which stand all opposing the loving will of God. 
 
Throughout history peaceful and non-violent actions haven’t so much provoked violence as they have exposed it. The peaceful Indian protests seeking independence from Britain were met with the overwhelming force of the Empire’s military, exposing the violence at the source of British rule.  The non-violent protesters of the Civil Rights struggle were shot down, hosed down, attacked by dogs, bombed, and beaten by the people and institutions whose power was maintained through violence. Even Jesus’ ministry of healing, feeding, and reaching out to the poor brought down on his body the ultimate power of the Roman Empire.
 
But Jesus is not telling his disciples of the coming hardship to scare them.  He is giving them a word of hope: when these things are going on you know you’re doing the right thing, you’re doing God’s thing.  One of my seminary classmates served a church not long after graduation.  When an AA meeting began using the building, when new folks joined the community, and as the church’s mission began to expand conflict arose.  Consultants were helpful, but new life would inevitably raise its head again and so would the contention.  Finally, my friend left the ministry feeling he was a failure.  Would the trajectory of his life been different had he understood the conflict to have arisen, not out of some fault of his own, but from his obedience to Jesus? 
 
Peaceful protestors walking arm-in-arm across a bridge in Selma, Alabama; ordinary people peacefully walking to the Indian coast; a few actors in their silly costumes; women, children and men doing the work of God’s realm of love, all exposing a world order maintained by fear and violence.  Because conflict is present doesn’t mean we’re of necessity acting faithfully; but living faithfully means there will be conflict.  Remember, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we are no longer enslaved to sin and death, but set free to live new lives in obedience to God.  This is good news indeed!
 

Prayer:

Most loving God you send us into communities enslaved to sin and held hostage by death.  Grant us the grace to be instruments of your love and justice wherever we are, with whom ever we are, just as we are – your children.  This we pray in the name of Jesus, our friend and savior. Make it so!
 
The Rev. Shepard Parsons is honored to be serving the First Church of Christ, Woodbridge, where God’s work is alive and well!
 

Spirited Wednesday: June 21, 2017 , by Shepard Parsons.