Decision and division

June 26th, 2019

Luke 12:49-56

There is one special day each semester on a college campus: the first day of class. All of the students will be there, most of them with freshly purchased, untouched textbooks. The teacher’s grade sheet is untainted by actual grades. The students are on time; their hair is combed. They begin the semester with the very same resolve as their teachers: “This semester will be different. I will not come unprepared to class, I will not give a halfhearted effort, I will finish the semester with as much enthusiasm as I begin.” This resolve usually lasts until about the first quiz, and then reality sets in.

With that reality comes division. The student tries to manage his or her time and balance obligations of work, family, and school. The student feels conflicted with too many different disciplines of study and not enough unity. Questions of identity and faith are crowded out by the immediate; the “urgent” pushes out the “important.” And with every decision there are choices left unmade.

So it is with the primary choices we make in our lives. When it comes to the way of Jesus, decision brings division. Jesus taught his first hearers, and he desires to teach us that the work of God inevitably brings division, because it requires commitment and decision. But let us not hide from such a call, because in the process of division, God will unite us to the spirit of life and love, the spirit that can make a life into a masterpiece.

God will, in the process of guiding our lives, take us places where we did not expect to go. I suppose every believer at one time or another learns that.

God will, after calling us, ask us to choose between friendship with the world and friendship with the Spirit. Who could hear these words that Jesus uttered: “I came to bring fire to the earth. . . . I have a baptism with which to be baptized. . . . Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:49-51). Who wants that? Surely, his disciples thought they were signing on for a little peace and security. But what they got was stress, fire, and conflict. They experienced the division that is known only by those who, above all else, seek truth.

Young adults, in college and out, face that challenge from the first day they arrive on campus. It is necessary that they transcend and move beyond the inherited values of their parents. They live with divided minds. They try to find the group in which they fit just perfectly, the campus ministry, the sorority or fraternity, the student organization. At some point or another, they find that they just don’t quite fit. They struggle to find their place, their identity, their direction; and someone is always asking them, “What are you majoring in?” or “What are you going to do when you graduate?” Most of these students don’t even know what they are doing on Friday night, much less when they graduate.

More often than not, this kind of insecurity, division, and conflict precipitates a crisis. In our language, crisis has a negative connotation, but it is a venerable old word, which only means a division-point, watershed, or dividing line. Conflict is something that we all, if we are honest, live through much of the time. There are so many choices, so many decisions, so many directions. How does today’s college student get it all together? Not without help.

That is the role a church can fill for young adults, as midwife to a new identity. As we see these students move from adolescent questions, such as “What group will I affiliate with?” to young adult questions, such as “Who am I really, in the mystery of human growth?” we can be there to help them through the questions.

Here is the way it must go. We do not know when it will happen, but it will happen. The student will be walking across campus someday, maybe out by the fountain, or over toward the student union, and he or she will realize that it all hangs together—the science class and the religion class, psychology and history, spirit, mind, and body—and the young adult will begin to integrate a life, rather than prepare for a career. In the midst of that life, if the church is there to offer them Christ, they may, just may, form their life in the shape of a cross. Then they will learn that in the divisions and crises of the days ahead, God will lead them through.

God will not leave us alone; God will ever be with us, to the end of our days. “What stress I am under,” said Jesus, “until it is completed!” (Luke 12:50). Jesus must have known that he would be the first casualty of the conflicts of spirit and world. Simeon said in the second chapter of Luke: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (vv. 34-35). Jesus would be the first casualty of division that attends the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. Jesus teaches us that when we live as citizens of the kingdom, we will be at odds with the world around us. It is not easy being a stranger in a strange land.

It is not easy being out of step with your environment. What stress we are under until our days are fulfilled. But at the end of the day we have been promised that out of division and conflict will come reconciliation, peace, and wholeness. All of the misunderstandings, aloneness, and crisis will give way to the cosmic, spiritual community of God’s people.

There is one other day for the college student that is as good as the first day of class: graduation day. What song could we play other than “Pomp and Circumstance”? The football stadium is full; the whole family is there to see the one on whom its hope rests. The teachers who pushed and cajoled and threatened are all dressed up in their college colors and standing in the aisles hugging their students. The divisions are healed, the crises are behind; these students, dare we say it, have grown up. A new day starts.

There is, you will recall, a peace promised beyond the stress of following a cruciform Savior; a united human family beyond any divisions that faith may have caused. There is no conflict, no division in the kingdom of God. It is our goal. Won’t you, by your faith, help us get there?

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