Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Luke 12: 49-56 SaP13C
18 August, 2013
(Scene 1: The “Peace”)
It had been a fitful night of sleep. Rebecca had been staring at the dark walls of home for most of the night. The sonorous snoring of her father echoing through the shared space – at times is drilled like a bore into her brain. They slow, steady constancy interrupted only by his occasional rolling over. How could he sleep after the events of this past day. That night, as the stars of the sky twinkled over head, her mind kept replaying the events she had witnessed. Peace keepers, keeping the peace. Tears would drip from her cheeks onto the dirt of the floor. Making mud. And over and over again she saw how Rome – Legion as they are – kept the peace.
At the market the morning before the sleepless night there was Simeon, uncle to Rebecca’s best friend Miriam. Simeon was one of those zealots who would come into the village to gather some food and water and then retreat to the wilderness with the rest of the Sicarri – an extremest group of zealots who were more clandestine and dangerous than most knew. Rebecca and Miriam saw him wandering around the market as the sun began to rise, they were going to the well to fetch the mornings water. They watched as he wound his way around the still covered stalls – stealing what was needed for him and his band to eat. Miriam knew that she was supposed to tell her Av – daddy – if she saw Simeon, but this day her only confidant was Rebecca. They went home in silence.
The noon day sun filled the sky. It was cooler than most days had been at this time of year. The breeze was blowing and Rebecca and Miriam were letting this bursts of wind billow they tunics. Walking around watching their shadows turn from tiny ten year olds to waddling old men – fat with good food and wine. They were chasing Menachem, Miriam’s younger brother – around the market place when there was a scream that shattered the serene bliss of the afternoon. Ruth, the toothless widow, the one who used to be so bent she could not walk, who used to beg at the side of the synagogue came running into the center square – she was breathing like a dog caught in the sun trying to stay cool. Her skin was as white as the linens of the synagogue. Her words were stammering and difficult to hear, but Rebecca caught the word “Giaus.” Giaus was the head of the Legion that patrolled this area of Galilee. He was a man who kept the law and the peace. He was a frequent face, reminding the people of their place, reminding them they were the dogs of the empire.
The men of the villiage gathered around Ruth to try to understand what was going. Finally there was a murmuring amongst the men, and they spread like wild fire to all the women and children who were watching the scene from the marketplace. The men found their families and fled to the safety of their homes.
“Hush, now. Keep Quiet.” Instructions echoed to each and every family as they went to their houses. Rebecca saw that Miriam’s Av was moving slower than the rest and had gone as pale as Ruth, the widow beggar. Sensing that there was something profoundly wrong, Rebecca asked her Av, “What’s going on?”
“Giaus is dead.” With those words from her daddy, Rebecca’s knees buckled from under her. She knew what this meant. She knew that Simeon had done something after she had seen him. When she got back to her feet she bounded to the house, ran around back and vomited all of her breakfast meal. She was scared. She ran to her mat and curled up. “What’s the matter, Bat?” Asked her father. She said nothing and tried to forget.
She must have dozed off because she was startled awake by the screams coming from out side, in the market place. He father tried to keep her in the house, but she wriggled her way through his arms and into the square where she saw it. The Roman Peace. Pax Romana. She saw Simeon tied in ropes. Miriam’s Avy, tied in ropes. Menachem, the 5 year old little boy, tied in ropes. All of the men in the village realted to Miram and her mother were tied in ropes. Miriam was weeping into her mothers robe. The mother was standing there stone frozen – uncertain what to do or how to react. Frozen with fear – for she knew what was about to happen.
The men were nailed to crosses outside of the village. Stripped naked before everyone. Any semblance of dignity, stripped. The few from the villiage who dared witness this execution were held back by the spears of members of the Legion – Gaius’ legion. Menachem was dragged in front of the crosses, in front of his father and his throat slit. The Romans sought to kill anyone who could provide for Miraim and her mother – that included a five year old boy.
Rebecca saw all of this. And as the world went silent around her. Her best friend, beating on her mother’s breast. She just slid down the side of the wall into a puddle of her own despair. Wondering if this was what peace was. Knowing that there had to be something different. The Romans were causing division amongst her people. She knew her family would do what they could to help Miriam’s mother, but not many else would. They would be shunned for bringing this horror to the village. She knew, that sleepless night, that one day there would be … there had to be a peace that was something different than this – this Roman Peace.
(Scene 2: False Peace, False Divisions)
The great Pax Romana, The Roman Peace was only that because of force and violence. It was a world where the Orwellian theme of “war is peace” took a very literal sense. Peace was maintained through violent oppression of anyone who sought to undermine the power of Roman rule. People were slaughtered to maintain the status quo. To keep the peace. Divisions were made in order to keep people so afraid that they understood that they had no place other than that of servant of Caesar.
Sounds a little familiar to me. This imposed peace. These artificial divisions. The illusion of calm. The collusion of media and images. Colliding to create a picture.
Just the other day I read an article covering an event that a United States Senator had with a group of people who seek division. He pandered to them by saying that The United States was funding Christian Persecution. He told them that because enemies of America were burning the flag they sought to destroy Christianity. He was conflating the cross with flag. He was painting a false picture. Creating divisions that do not need to exist. Proclaiming a false peace could be achieved through militarism. Pandering for votes from those who thrive on division – it is them vs. us.
There are divisions being drawn in the news saying that black on black crime is the leading cause of death amongst young black males. 75% murders of black males is caused by other black males. This an epidemic of violence that needs to stop. But false divisions are being made in the media and by the parrots who deny that racism is as alive and well today as it was 150 years ago. They neglect to mention that 85% of murders of white people are cause by other white people! But white on white violence is not and epidemic that is news worthy. That stays out of the news because it doesn’t fit neatly within the us vs. them narrative. If we were to see that violence general as an epidemic that crosses barriers of race; we could not have the mentality that seems to give us – white folks a sense of peace. A false peace.
There are divisions between the haves and the have nots – divisions that perpetuate cycles of poverty and violence. The educational system is broken. Schools like #58 are struggling to provide basic services to their children while schools up in Carmel or Fishers have no problem doing the same. The inequality of funding based on geography and property tax base breeds divisions that seem like they can never be crossed. A false peace to those who have the power, and yet there are children – our neighbors – who like Rebecca sink into pools of their own despair. Thinking the only way for peace is to act out and get attention they are missing elsewhere.
Like the people of the Roman world, we have a false understanding of peace and security that pervades our world. Divisions are made in order to maintain peace. The haves and the have nots are kept at odds in order to maintain power, peace. African-Americans, Latinos, Those with non-white skin are kept to the margins by a system that, even 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation seeks to divide rather than unite. Divide so that power stays in the hands of those for whom power is the only way to peace. War is peace. There is a false notion in this country that we are followers of Jesus are being persecuted, a division used to drum up support of militaristic intentions. Until we are being murdered like our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt – we have no comprehension of persecution.
There are many who are calling for unity and peace, but their definition of unity and peace still seeks to divide: we welcome everyone unless you don’t think like us. Division leads to a false peace. A Peace that only works through power.
(Scene 3: Tears to Triumph)
As her tears mixed with the mud, Rebecca remembered the words that the traveling teacher spoke. Jesus of Nazareth, a village not to far from her own. Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” At first those words only brought confusion. Your followers say you are a prophet, a man of peace. And you say this? She had heard stories of Jesus reaching out and touching the lepers; healing the sick; giving sight to blind; speech to the mute; hearing to the deaf. She heard how he was bringing people who have been on the outside of the villages – the land of the leper; the unclean; into the synagogues as fully restored people. People who … Then she sat bolt upright. She understood his words.
She got up and leapt over Levi, her sleeping sibling. She burst through the door and sprinted across the village square. The dust kicked up in her way drifted in the thin night air, like the smoke of offerings before the Holy of Holies. She began ponding on Miriam’s door. “Miriam, Miriam…”
She kept pounding until Miriam’s mother opened the door. Her eyes puffy and red; her face gaunt and frozen. Grief had aged Esther years in these past few hours. “Rebecca. Go home. They are patrolling the village. Go home. Leave us in peace.”
“I can’t Ima Esther. I have good news. I need to share it with you. With Miriam. With any who will hear.”
“What are you talking about child? Miriam’s Avy is dead. Menachem has been murdered. Simieon, pht, the cause of all this is crucified. What are you talking about, Good News. Go home.”
“Ima Ester, please. Let me in.”
“Go home, Rebecca!” Just then an arm reached under Esther’s and pulled Rebecca into the house. Miriam, eyes sunken with sadness just looked at her best friend. Rebecca could not tell what she was seeing; definitely grief, maybe hope – anxiousness. Her friend’s eyes were a mixture of emotions, swirling together. Mixing melancholy with mania; pain punctuated with perseverance.
“Miriam, remember when Jesus came through town? Remember when we was saying those words that made people scared, ‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!’ Remember how they thought he was going to start a fight with Gaius and the others? But what did he do? Remember he went to the synagogue and heal Ruth. Remember How we went straight to the edge of the village and touched the lepers? How instead of having supper with the rabbai, he came and ate with you and me? How he put his hand on us and said ours is the Kingdom of God?”
Miriam just stood there. It seemed like ages, but then she whispered. “Peace.” Her eyes began to brighten, “Peace.” “PEACE!” A smile came to her face and she embraced her best friend. Esther began to cry, “What is wrong with you child? You father is dead. Your brother is dead. We have nothing anymore. All we have is gone.”
“Ima, don’t you see? Jesus gave us the Kingdom of God. When he touched us, we understood what true peace was. The peace of God is not like the Roman peace. That is what Jesus was saying. He dose not come to bring peace like we would expect from Rome. He brings a peace that brings healing. Even now, Ima, my heart is lighter. I am not less sad about what they did to Avy and Menachem and Simeon. But they can’t not separate me from that peace that I felt when Jesus touched me. I have seen the Kingdom of God. Felt the Reign of God. I want to be a part of that. Not to bring peace like Rome, but to be present in God’s Reign.”
“Stupid child, go to bed. You, Rebecca. Go home. What would your Avy say if he knew you were here talking this garbage. Go home.”
Rebecca went. Her eyes open. Her spirit free. In Peace.
(Scene 4: It’s time.)
The divisions Jesus brings are not the false divisions that we create. It is not a division between the haves and the have nots. It is not the divisions of persons based on skin pigment; religious affiliation; or language. The good ones and the bad ones. It is a division between those who have seen and experienced the Reign of God, and are are ready to embrace it and act and say “It’s time,” and those who do not, who refuse to see and refuse to act.
That is the division Jesus speaks about. It is the division of those who act out the Reign of God, regardless of the consequences. War is not peace in the Reign of God. Peace is triumphant – there is no war. Inequality and false divisions are not in the reign of God, but healing and restoration; reconciliation and redemption are. The Reign of God brings a peace that surpasses all of our understanding and will cause divisions with those who refuse to see and act.
It’s time to share the Reign of God. To offer the liberation it brings. The freedom. The wholeness. The reconciliation. The redemption. The salvation. It’s time to bring God’s peace in a world that has no understanding of true peace. It’s time to run across the village square like Rebecca, unafraid, because our hope is in the one who brings true peace, who ends division as we understand it. There is a fire burning – the fire Jesus longed for. Burning by the power of the Holy Sprit. Let it catch in this place and move us beyond the supposed safety of what ever false divisions we have created, let it move us into the Reign of God that brings us face to face with true Peace. Let it give us to the power to tell the world of true peace. Let us WORK together with the Holy Sprit to bring about that peace; regardless of the what may be the result. It took Jesus to the cross. It will bring division. There are consequences. But our hope, our grace, our good news, is knowing that through Jesus we have the power to end divisions that separate us. Through Jesus we have the peace that will call the storms. Through Jesus we have the gift of new life. Through Jesus all things are possible. Through Jesus – we are given the power to change the world.
Thanks be to God.