Most people recognize that it is through our hard-fought struggles that we learn the greatest lessons; the easy lessons of success often have much less impact and are more quickly forgotten. With encouragement from Louise and Emily, I learned a couple of significant lessons from my recent back pain. Louise encouraged me to pay attention to the way my own body processed the pain, to focus inwardly to find my own specific answers to what brought relief or further discomfort, before putting my faith in the generalized answers I might find by googling something like WebMD. Emily introduced me to the concept that movement is medicine, a necessary part of the healing process that allowed me to reframe the painful mind-body conversation that my injury had begun.
It was while I was in the process of writing about these lessons, that I heard two separate sermons on a difficult passage in Luke where Jesus says he brings division, not peace, to this world. (Luke 12:49-56). Not an easy passage, and not one that many people like to focus on. Both pastors, Pastor Glenn Schoenberger from Our Savior Lutheran Church and Pastor Earl Janssen of Our Shepherd Lutheran Church, recognized that this is not the way we usually like to think of the message of Christianity. As Pastor Glenn says, we prefer the Jesus of Christmas, the Prince of Peace; “the Jesus who invites us to come to him and he will give us rest, because his yoke is easy and his burden light.” We are far less interested in the Jesus who promises to turn family members against each other. Yikes.
Instead of giving us what we want, Jesus offers us some “edgy” stuff, as Pastor Glenn said. Pastor Glenn acknowledged that the early history of Christianity was one of near constant confrontation with authority and established structures, and that to follow Jesus at that time required “all of the passion and commitment and courage [His followers] could muster” because it was likely that they would “be divided from loved ones who [didn’t] understand or believe in [their] choice.” While this was the situation during the early days of Christianity, “the practice of our faith holds far less danger and challenge for us in American society today than in Jesus’ time.” While he recognized that this isn’t the case everywhere, Pastor Glenn suggested that perhaps we lose something of the original intent when we become comfortable in a certain place in our faith where nothing is risked and nothing is challenged.
For another take on this reading (along with a warning that paraphrasing Jesus is dangerous), Pastor Earl summed the passage up like this: Jesus says to those who were following him, “Really? What did you expect when you started to follow me? Did you really anticipate that I’d make your life easier? I’m proclaiming justice, I’m proclaiming selflessness, I’m showing you what being a child of God means. The powers of this world don’t accept that without a fight.” From either sermon, it’s clear that this text offers us something challenging, something potentially painful, something we might rather avoid.
Like the lessons I learned from my painful back, Pastor Earl suggested that the way to engage with this challenging and divisive passage is to turn our focus inward and then to move. First we need to find our answer to the question, “How does my faith inform my decisions?” This is not always an easy question to answer, and we can’t expect our answers to square up neatly with those around us. These differences in response might seem odd, since we “would think that the teachings of Jesus would lead us all toward a single definitive decision”, but instead often we find potentially painful division. But just as I learned from my back, that pain is not necessarily something we should shy away from; it is something we should move through: “… the reality is that faith informs each of us differently. That’s why … conversations are so important. Faith isn’t some kind of static thing. It is living, breathing, dynamic and so deeply influenced by the witnesses who have surrounded us.” So we first look inward, and then we put our answer into motion by engaging others in conversation: “How does my faith inform my decisions? Ask yourself the question often. Share your process with others. You will learn about yourself, deepen your faith, and serve as a witness to life in the faith for others.” And just as movement helped me reframe a painful mind-body conversation during my back episode, having respectful and open conversations about faith allows us to gain a greater range of motion in our relationships and an expanded ability to engage in life effectively, maybe especially when those conversations are “edgy” or challenging.