Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Not Peace But Division

My decision to resign from Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato came in the days immediately following the July 20 council meeting.  As I talked with others about it, it seemed, at the time, that my last Sunday as pastor of ELC/Cokato would be August 15.  Naturally, I looked ahead to the scriptures assigned for that Sunday and, as I did, I was astounded.

Since then, my last Sunday was changed to the 22nd* so I won't be preaching the 15th.  But, because of the stark nature of the texts assigned I've decided there are some things that should be said--especially about the gospel reading:
Luke 12:49-56
Jesus said:
49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!
51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
    father against son
        and son against father,
    mother against daughter
        and daughter against mother,
    mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
        and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

54 He also said to the crowds,
‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say,
    “It is going to rain”;
    and so it happens.
55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say,
    “There will be scorching heat”;
    and it happens.
56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
As I look at this text and think about the current situation at ELC/Cokato and in the wider ELCA, I wonder how it applies.  I say "I wonder" because the first application of the text is the fire of Jesus' own ministry, the baptism of his death and the divisions that were caused as the first Christians were rejected by their family members 2,000 years ago.  The "signs of the times" he was referring to have long since passed--they were the signs pointing to his time and the then upcoming completion of his work on earth.

On the other hand, because this is God's Word, it does apply to what goes on here and now.  The trick is knowing how it applies.  If we aren't careful, we can justify every division and every argument by appealing to this text.  If we're too careful, we'll reject any talk of division as evil or unloving and end up saying that this text has no present day application.  (See Spiritual Concierge? for more about that.)

It would be interesting to sit in on a variety of sermons being preached on this text on Sunday, August 15.  How many preachers will address these things?  How many will avoid the issue of "division" in search of more peaceful themes?  Those of you who hear preachers this Sunday, let me know.

I do believe the divisions Jesus speaks of here are rightly applied to divisions currently occurring in the ELCA today.  "Liberals" push us to "social justice."  "Conservatives" push "personal morality."  Both can be signs of the "sword of the Spirit" (God's Word) being applied.  The difficulty in the ELCA at present, however, is that some ELCA decisions and some within the ELCA want to push agendas that are not based on the Word of God.  That's real division.  That's real pain.

Without the written AND incarnate Word being the center of all we do and all we say, division will be truly devastating.  May we all return to God's Word and reconcile our divisions there.

* My last Sunday was changed to August 22nd from the 15th because we needed time to come to an understanding with the church council about "transitional support."


  1. Rev. Robert KitchenAugust 11, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    Pastor Steve,
    I commend you for making a clean break with the ELCA, even though it means taking a risk for the sake of rightly interpreted Scripture and Confessions. Bound conscience has become an issue only for those who are in power and can blackball others from new positions in the church (I know). Best wishes and God's peace go with you.
    "Pastor Bob"

  2. In the lay world, you would not be eligible for unemployment because you chose to resign!!

  3. Steve-- God bless you in your transition and wherever it may lead. You are a caring, thoughtful, passionate pastor with many gifts-- including writing. I appreciate your comments here. Rolf

  4. May the grace, love, goodness and joy of Christ track you down. Amen

    And may the broken peace of this world be replaced by the ultimate peace of Christ. Amen.

  5. Thanks, Tim, Robert and Rolf. I don't know any of you but thank you for your thoughts and prayers. Tim, if it were not for the grace of our Lord, if it were not for his love, his goodness and his joy, we would all be lost. But with his grace, bought at the cross, we are blessed. If in any way I am running from his "ultimate peace" I pray that he will indeed track me down and hold me captive. I've experienced that, I think, even in the storm as he finds me day by day, not because of anything good in me, but because he is so good.

  6. Anonymous 9:58 AM - I will remove or correct that comparison to "unemployment compensation" on this post. I think you are correct.