Sermon: Division

A crack in a lava rock surface.

August 18, 2019
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 12:49-56

by Eric Anderson

When I was in high school, I made a shield volcano.

It was an independent study project, but I got a lot of help with it. Somebody cut down a sheet of plywood to a more manageable size for me. Somebody drilled a hole in the middle of it. Somebody helped me insert a rugged tube through the hole.

My job was to mix up some plaster of Paris (which somebody else had to show me how to do), put it in a plastic bag, go underneath the board to the lower end of the tube, seal the bag around the tube, and squeeze the bag.

That forced the runny plaster up the tube and out over the board. Then I waited for it to dry and took measurements. Then I did it again. The volcano grew gradually over about four weeks.

You knew it was scientific because I measured using the metric system.

Early on, though, I believed my model volcano was a failure. When the plaster dried, it shrank back, leaving cracks across the surface of the lava – I mean plaster – flows. That didn’t seem right to me.

It came as something of a relief many years later to see that cooling lava cracks rather more dramatically than my plaster model did.

Cracks. Separations. Divisions. We live on them.

We also make them.

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” asked Jesus. “No, I tell you, but rather division!”

Frankly, he needn’t have troubled himself. We human beings are all too ready to divide ourselves. We separate ourselves into genders. We separate ourselves into clans. We separate ourselves into religions. We separate ourselves within religions over doctrines. We separate ourselves into nations. We separate ourselves by the kind of work we do: blue collar or white collar. We separate ourselves by rural or urban. We separate ourselves by the color of our skin.

No, Jesus needn’t have bothered.

He was also right. People did divide over him. Some members of families followed him, and some did not, first among Jews, and as the message spread among the other peoples around the Mediterranean it was Greek and Roman and Egyptian families dividing. Join our Sunday morning Bible study of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and we’ll read together about the things they disagreed about in the first years of the Christian Church. Before the century was over, Christianity and Judaism were two separate religions. Within five hundred years, the Church had had its first major split between the Church of the East and the church associated with the Roman Empire. In the eleventh century, the Great Schism separated the church of the Orthodox traditions from the Roman Catholic Church. In 1517, Martin Luther penned Ninety-Five Theses and kicked off the Protestant Reformation.

Phyllis Tickle writes in her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2008), “The Right Reverend Mark Dyer, an Anglican bishop known for his wit as well as his wisdom, famously observes from time to time that the only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And, he goes on to say, we are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales. Now, while the bishop may be using a bit of humor to make a point, his is nonetheless a deadly serious exquisitely accurate point.”

If they are right – and other church historians also agree – and we are living through one of those times of church change, we are also looking at a time of significant church division.

Looking back, we tend to value those times of conflict and division, don’t we? We celebrate the courage of those who chose to follow Jesus despite the pressures of their families and the condemnation of the surrounding culture. We value the theologies that divided the western Mediterranean church from the eastern twice. We may not be part of a church that calls itself Lutheran, but we trace some of our foundational ideas about salvation to Martin Luther.

Michael J. Chan writes, “Jesus’ ministry has the disturbing effect of exposing human beings’ deepest loyalties, and often showing them to be idolatrous, ridiculous, and even demonic.” We trace our heritage to those we believe exposed loyalties that were idolatrous, ridiculous, and even demonic.

Division has its value.

Chan also writes, “One of the remarkable ‘gifts’ of conflict is that when it reaches a boiling point, the invisible social buffers melt away and one is left staring at a gaping chasm. And echoing off the walls of that chasm are the voices of our wounded communities. It is tempting to run from that moment and to shield one’s eyes from the horror — especially if we helped create it.”

The United States has done this repeatedly around what Jim Wallis has called the original sin of America: racism and white supremacy. The original Constitution had already failed to fulfill at least three of the purposes so poetically listed in its Preamble. It could not be a more perfect union, it could not establish justice, and it could not secure domestic tranquility as long as people held other people as slaves and did so because of the color of their skin. The division we call the Civil War deepened and exposed separations that already existed between North and South but also between white and black. One hundred years later, the Civil Rights Movement would expose those divisions again – it did not create them. It exposed them.

As in our lava fields, crevasses yawn beneath a fragile social surface that looks solid. It doesn’t take much to shatter the illusion and expose the division.

Like Mauna Kea.

The question of whether to build the Thirty Meter Telescope has not divided our community, but it has exposed the divisions within our community. When people say it’s not about a telescope, that seems correct to me. The emotions are too high. The commitments are too deep. This is about where people keep their hearts. This is about the things people treasure.

This is a conflict over competing sacrednesses.

Some don’t like to hear that. Sacredness raises the anxiety and the conflict level, and that’s true. But it already has. Ignoring the different ways in which people bring a sense of the sacred to this division will not help. I said a couple weeks ago that I could count four different ways in which people bring a sense of the sacred to the question of Mauna Kea. Today I count six.

These views simply conflict. There is no obvious accommodation.

We are divided. We are divided in our state. We are divided on our island. We are divided in our Hawai’i Conference. We are divided within this congregation.

We dare not ignore it. That’s when we fall into the crevasses.

Each of you will make your own choice about what should or shouldn’t be done on Mauna Kea. If the Civil Beat poll is representative, most of you already have. I have two thoughts about how we, the Church of the Holy Cross, might assist through this time of upheaval.

First, I hope to put together some opportunities to share with one another the ways in which we get through hard times. What have you learned in your life that keeps you well and as healthy as you can be when times are hard? What of prayer, or work, or reading, or silence, or singing, or craft-making helps keep you whole? What can you share with the rest of us?

I’ll point out that our Community Sing (that we’re having this Friday) began as a way to give us one opportunity for that.

Second, let’s all think about ways to live together in the present conflict that will make for a better future with one another. We share this island. We may be divided, and we may be deeply divided, but even deeper the edges of the crevasse draw together and we share a common life. What can we do in the divided present to honor that deep union?

I’m still working on that one.

I need your help.

Jesus brought division, whether he wanted to or not. We create division, sometimes whether we want to or not. We live surrounded by division. We live atop division.

We can learn to read the rock as well as the weather, to see the hidden faults, to acknowledge the separations without shattering them. We can build our resilience. We can honor one another on either side of the divide.

Someday, perhaps, we’ll learn to build a bridge.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon


Just as surely as human beings separate from one another, this preacher separates from the prepared text. We just seek to face it controlling our fear.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on August 18, 2019

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