Breaking Systems
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

August 14, 2016


Luke 12:49-56

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

Families are beautiful, difficult things.

In Jesus’ day, when he speaks of families of five being 3 against 2 and 2 against three, the families were similar to ours, but the culture was different. The basic unit of life was not the individual the way we think of ourselves today. It was the family. The family honor was the responsibility of everyone to maintain, but the father was the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the family all rolled into one.

So children were married off, not for love, not for a lifetime of marriage to their best friend, as we hope for today. Marriages were about honor. Children were married off to families in hopes of improving the status of the family.

And if you brought shame to the family, then your life might mean less to the family than the family honor. If this sounds like one of the Godfather movies, that is not a bad parallel.

But Jesus points out some other problems. Men were deemed more valuable, more capable, more important than women. If a man brought shame to the family, he might be punished or kicked out. If a woman brought shame to the family, she might be punished or killed.

For example, the Gospels famously have the woman caught in adultery, who is threatened with being stoned to death. But there is no man caught in adultery.

Did you notice how Jesus says the families will be split? Father against son, son against father, mother versus daughter and vice versa, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law at odds. This is not simply family fights. Jesus is trying to show how the power works in the families of the day. Fathers had power over the sons; mothers had control over their daughters; when a woman married into a family, the mother-in-law had seniority and ran the house.

We have our own difficulties in families, don’t we? Whether or not we fit this patriarchal model of the first century, or we try and be more equitable, sharing in the life of the family together, we still have difficulties.

Parents are our first images of God. They feed us, they clothe us, they take care of us, they hold us when we cry, they discipline us when we do wrong. They are our first images of God’s love, and they are our first images of God’s wrath. The problem is, they are human. The problem with our first images of God is that they never live up to the hype. The problem of being a child’s first image of God is we cannot fill those shoes.

I am not bashing parents. The only problem with parents is that they had parents.

However much I love my daughter, I cannot live up to the unconditional love of God. And however much I try to be my own person, I hear the voice of my father and my mother coming out of my mouth.

So what is Jesus talking about when he says that he is not bringing peace but a sword? What does he mean when he speaks not of the healing of families, but of their fighting?

Systems seek to keep things the same, whether the system is a family, or a church, or a business, or even the organs in the human body. Systems want things not to change.

But Jesus is about freeing people from those things that try to make them less than human. So he preaches Good News to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, he cleanses the leper, he frees the prisoner, he heals the sick, he raises the dead.

And in a family, just like in a society, when you take the one who has no power, no status, no honor, no hope, and you elevate them into full humanity, the system will try and fight back. It will either try and put them back down, or find someone else to put down in their place.

But in God’s view, there is no one less than others. In God’s love, there is no unworthy one. In God’s realm, there is no system where some get to lord it over others. Ever since Moses and the Torah, where foreigners were to be treated with the same respect as Israelites, throughout the prophets where God’s Temple was to become a house of prayer for all nations and those who had more than enough needed to share with those who did not have enough, and up to an including the Gospels, where Jesus sits and eats with sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes, the systems have resisted such moves.

Even in our own day, when people of color seek simply to be treated as human beings, the systems resist. When women seek simply to be treated as human beings, the systems resist. When people whose gender or sexuality do not conform seek simply to be treated as human beings, the systems resist.

When Jesus heals the sick, frees the prisoner, lifts the lowly, for the one healed, the one freed, the one lifted experiences a glimpse of the kingdom of God. But the system assumes he is breaking the rules, breaking the way we’ve always done it, breaking the system.

And this side of the kingdom we will always struggle with the systems we are in. But we are not of the systems of this world, whether family, or church, or business, or society.

We are of the kingdom of God. We are children of the one worthy of being called Lord. We are all the beloved of Jesus. You. Me. And Them.

Thanks be to God. Amen.