I read a reflection written by Mandy Hackland a writer living in Johannesburgh, South Africa, this morning. Her reflection was on the text in Luke 12 where Jesus says: “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!” (NLT). And if this wasn’t provocative enough a few seconds earlier Jesus began with “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!” (NLT). What are we to make of such statements coming from the mouth of our Lord who in Isaiah says “my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (NLT). We take Jesus’ words seriously and through the help of the Holy Spirit discern what this means for us. At least, this is what I try to do, particularly when I am a bit befuddled.
I read Mandy’s reflection through the context of our current worship series theme here at Asbury titled A Future with Hope. This week’s teaching is from Jeremiah and my teaching is titled Where We are Planted. God says through the prophet Jeremiah that the exiled people are to “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare” (NLT). This is a lot of scripture coming at me all at once this morning, like a kaleidoscope of words, connections and images.
I arrived in the City of Flint six years ago and settled into this Eastside neighborhood that is now my parish. It is where God has seen fit to plant me and I have no doubt that the welfare of my new community will determine my own welfare. But how do I tell others that this is good news despite our confidence level in the others I am depending on or their confidence in me? I minister with a divided community. We mirror a nation where we are bombarded daily with words from politicians intended to divide and influence and stories of conflict between police and civilians. Yes, Jesus, Your presence and certainly Your Word continues to result in division but not as the cause itself. The enemy is hard at work using our weaknesses against us and creating division in ways that we fail to recognize. You know that we cannot heal on our own. It is only by Your Name Lord that victory over division will be won. But not by violence. Only by love emanating from Your Spirit will we find peace wherever we are planted. Pastor Tommy