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Disturb us, O God, and vex us

Today, our Worship Leader spoke about how Jesus calls on us to not be afraid of conflict, and being uncomfortable in our Christian faith.

I have to admit, I saw today’s readings and groaned. Audibly. Because today’s gospel is one of those texts that is really quite difficult to grasp. We like to think of “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, of the Good Shepherd, the loving God. We like to think that if we follow Christ our lives will be easier, will be blessed, will be peaceful. But then here we have Jesus saying I come to bring conflict, to bring division. In one version of the reading the words are:

Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m here to make everything peaceful and nice on earth. I am not here to paper over the cracks, but to drive a wedge into them, opening them up for all to see.

I am here to drive a wedge into the cracks between father and son; between mother and daughter; and between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. When it is flushed out into the open, the most dangerous hostility often turns up within families.

Don’t make the mistake I’m here to make everything peaceful and nice on earth.

Hang on – isn’t that what Jesus is all about? Peace, love and everything lovely and gentle?

Well, yes. And no.

The problem is that we are human, which means that we tend to put ourselves first. We want to have peace – in our circle. We want to feel blessed – in our lives. We want to love – those who we deem to be loveable. And it is easier for us to turn away from those areas that might cause conflict in our lives, than to face up to the fact that we are living in a world of oppression, of fear, of injustice.

But Jesus is asking us to work with him to shine a light onto the parts of this world that are not of his Kingdom. He is asking us to rip off the sticking plaster and to reveal the wounds that run deep. Because the Kingdom of God is not about peace for a few, but peace for all; it is not about justice for those who deserve it, but an end to all injustice. It is not about love for those who we consider worthy of love, but love for all. And revealing this, standing up for this will cause conflict. It may well drive a wedge between you and your loved ones, but Jesus is asking us Are we willing to be a part of this? Because if we are not willing, then we are not following him.

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.

That’s a really hard thing to hear. Jesus would deny us. “I never knew you”. I don’t pretend to know quite what Jesus meant by these words, whether he was using hyperbole to make a point, or whether he really will say to God, at the final Judgement “Alison Wale? No…she’s not one of ours” I certainly hope it was the former, and that my feeble attempts to follow Christ will be recognised and I will be welcomed into God’s Kingdom.

But even if that is the case, there’s no way I should rest on my extremely meagre laurels and do nothing. Just like you, just like every Christian, every child of God, I am being told here that I have to put my commitment to God before everything. Before my husband, Andrew,, before my family and friends, before my own comfortable life, before my own will and inclination. And this can, and probably will, cause conflict, both between myself and others, and within my own heart. And I should not be afraid of this.

Have you been in a group of colleagues, or friends, or even family, where there was a discussion about refugees, and how they are taking our jobs, or our government aid, how they are infesting our country – and you haven’t spoken up, because you fear you don’t have the words to explain what you believe about common humanity?

Have you ever been out with a friend shopping, walked past a woman begging on the street, and not given anything because you fear your friend will think you’re a soft touch and start lecturing you on how they’ll only spend the money on drugs?

Have you ever bought some fast, cheap fashion item, not thinking about who was paid pennies to make it, and without imagining the cost to the environment, because you “need” a new T-shirt?

I know I have. In all three of those situations, and many like them.

But this is not who Jesus wants me to be.

He wants me to be like the terrorist suicide bomber who is so committed to whatever cause they believe in, that they would be willing to put that cause before everything, even their own life. Jesus wants me to be like that - except without the bomb, of course!

Jesus was never a warmonger. His difficult words are, in fact, a reflection on what it actually means to love our enemies. At his time, in his place, which was a crossroads for travellers and armies and generations of war, this meant loving people of all different stripes, all different religions, all different family and financial and political and ethnic backgrounds.

And Jesus said, loving the other doesn’t always mean making nice. It means doing the difficult and controversial work of loving the Samaritan, and learning from him, and being hated for it. It means giving up the illusion that we own God’s blessing, and inviting others in, and being despised for doing so. It means giving up our privileges, even our lives, to build a world that all can share.

Jesus wants us to forget about our own comfort, our own bank account, even our own families if needs be, to be a part of the Kingdom on earth. Jesus said: 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. We are called to be like our Master – to love the unloved and the unlovely, to stand against oppression and injustice, not to shy away from difficult conversations and confrontations. We are NOT called to be comfortable. In fact, I would go as far as to say, if we feel comfortable in our Christianity, then there is something wrong.

There is a prayer said on the Eve of Passover, which may well have been a prayer said by Jesus before his last meal shared with friends. It sums up Jesus’ life, which was a life of conflict, of action, of confrontation. It calls on God to ruffle us – to disturb our complacency, to needle us with the injustices of this world, until we can do no more but to stand up and be counted among those who care, who love the unloved, who will not stand for injustice, who will DO something.

Disturb us, Adonai, ruffle us from our complacency; Make us dissatisfied. Dissatisfied with the peace of ignorance, the quietude which arises from a shunning of the horror, the defeat, the bitterness and the poverty, physical and spiritual, of humans.

Shock us, Adonai, deny to us the false Shabbat which gives us the delusions of satisfaction amid a world of war and hatred;

Wake us, O God, and shake us from the sweet and sad poignancies rendered by half forgotten melodies and rubric prayers of yesteryears;

Make us know that the border of the sanctuary is not the border of living, and the walls of Your temples are not shelters from the winds of truth, justice and reality.

Disturb us, O God, and vex us; let not Your Shabbat be a day of torpor and slumber; let it be a time to be stirred and spurred to action.

Isn’t that a prayer for every day of our lives: Disturb us, O God, and vex us: let not your Shabbat be a day of torpor and slumber. Let it be a time to be stirred and spurred to action?

Let it be our prayer. Even if it brings us discomfort, unpleasantness, discord, let us shine Christ’s light onto the dark places, and let us be the ones to bring comfort, love, and justice to those who are in need, while not counting the cost to ourselves.

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