Sermon – the Maker, Troublemaker, Peacemaker

Here’s what I said on Sunday in the pulpit about that tricky gospel reading.

Not peace, but a division

Sometimes one reads the Gospel in church and everyone nods knowingly. You can tell that people think that what is being said is wise and good.

When we tell the story of the Good Samaritan, perhaps. Or the Prodigal Son. Or the stories of his response when people brought him those who were sick.

We hear Jesus being clever, holy and gracious. We see him healing and enlightening and blessing.

And we approve.

We approve of this Saviour for he is made in the image of all our hopes and our dreams.

This is a God whom we can like. He would not be out of place in our company. We would be honoured to take him home for tea.

But the truth is, Christianity is about something a little more than this. It is about following a Saviour who sometimes turns around and says things that we find tricky, difficult or bewildering.

Is this the God whom we adore? And is this the word of the Lord?

Such, I think is the nature of this morning’s gospel reading.

Firstly Jesus says that he comes to bring fire to the earth.

Then he speaks of bringing division rather than peace.

Then he talks about upsetting family life.

And to top it all, he has some rather creepy language about people not being able to interpret the signs of the times.

I have to confess that when we get a Jesus we don’t expect, it makes me sit up and take notice. We follow a faith which does not have a middle class Saviour and would be well to remember that his values may well not be our own.

So how do we hear this today?

Last Saturday morning, I happened to find myself walking through some of the streets where this congregation used to worship as I made my way to Glasgow Green. (Some folk are getting the treat of a walk around those places soon).

I was, unusually, dressed in clericals. As I walked I had the uncomfortable experience of having abuse shouted at me.

It wasn’t too serious and I quickly realised that the two people shouting at me were already too drunk (it being 10 am) to catch me if I needed to make a swift getaway. However, in three sentences they managed to be anti religious (because of the way I was dressed), then sectarian (presuming me to be a Roman Catholic) and then homophobic, (presuming correctly that I was on my way to the Pride march).

And, it being Glasgow, they also were very funny.

Nothing is every straightforward, is it? Even whilst they were shouting abuse they still made me feel at home, which I have to admit does make me realise that my relationship with this city is a little complex.

Now, the good thing about Scotland these days is that the police take complaints about that kind of thing much more seriously and though I didn’t involve the police that day, I know that if I had done it would have been dealt with better than once it would.

Do you think I have come to bring peace to the world? No I well you but rather division.

That rather disturbing statement in this morning’s Gospel seems fairly real to me.

And I am reminded that when I last sat down at an interfaith event just down the road, at which the police were invited, several people who there who wear distinctive dress on the street reported being targeted because they were perceived as religious people to be alien, other and disturbing. We realised when we spoke that it was something that we shared in common.

As I read this gospel this morning, I suppose I find myself simply nodding and saying, “Yes, this does appear to be the way that things are”.

Those who think that Christianity is an easy option or that Jesus is some kind of distant, holy tinker-bell figure probably don’t know much about the gospel Jesus whom we encounter every week in all his flesh and blood and awkward, troublesome ways.

Jesus said that he would set son against father and daughter against mother and so on. And I find myself wondering how anyone ever managed to hijack him for the cause of so-called family values.

It isn’t nice but it is true. (And it is worth thinking this week about that phrase – things that are not nice but which happen to be true).

This week, I’ve met people who live this.

I’ve spoken to someone whose spouse can’t cope with their churchgoing and who doesn’t believe in religion at all.

I’ve spoken to someone who was in the process of joining the Scottish Episcopal Church but who decided to tell their parents after the event because they knew what the consequences would be.

And last weekend I spoke to one person after another who wanted a relationship with Jesus and who also wanted a relationship with a partner and where somehow that meant nothing but trouble.

All these hard relationships that Jesus points to seem very real to me.

All the things that Jesus says about division being a consequence of his coming seem rather real.

And that is before I start to think about the plight of the Coptic Christians in Egypt – a community who cared for me for a number of weeks just before I was ordained. Caring for me rather well, it should be said, even though they were quite sure I was a heretic.

Even then it was obvious that one day trouble could come to that beguiling land.

One of the moments that I remember most on that trip was a conversation with one of the Bishops of the Coptic Church. I asked him directly why there was trouble between the Christians and the Muslims in Egypt.

He stroked his beard and thought for a moment and said, “It is because we have not loved them enough.”

I’ve never forgotten that answer and it seems like the right day to remember it out loud.

The way of faith is sometimes trouble.

The way of the cross is not pain free. The clue is in the name.

The way of Jesus Christ isn’t always easy.

But since Jesus spoke these words, the church has been at work trying to work out its role in relationship to them.

Jesus’s coming may not have brought peace. But maybe that wasn’t his job but ours.

We begin our liturgy with a bidding of grace and peace, in the middle of our service we greet one another with the sign of peace and at the end, we are urged on our way with the words, “Go in peace”.

It is that peace of God which is my prayer for Egypt today. And for those shouting abuse on the streets of this city. And for every one of you.

In the name of God, the Maker, Troublemaker, Peacemaker.


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