Luke 12:32-40 "Where is Your Treasure?"
Luke 13:10-17 "Following the Unwritten Rules"

Luke 12:49-56 "Not Peace but a Sword"

My normal tendency is to be a peacemaker, not a rabble rouser, so while this passage causes me some difficulty, I’m glad it is in the Bible.  I learned a hard lesson when on study leave in 2002.  I used a sabbatical grant to study conflict transformation and mediation at Eastern Mennonite University and in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  After an enlightening summer I was eager to use my new knowledge and skills in my church and community.  I had always struggled with ways to deal with conflict and church squabbles frayed my nerves, causing many sleepless nights.  In envisioned that my new skills would allow my to reduce my stress and increase the congregation’s satisfaction as we moved through conflict and spent less time bickering and more time being about God’s work.  I know, I’m a dreamer.


Imagine my shock when my new skill set and insights actually lead to more conflict, not less.  Previously I had spent enormous energy keeping everyone happy.  I soothed frayed nerves.  I acted as a go between and a buffer so people with long standing grudges didn’t have to deal with each other.  My worst trait in conflict is that I would often try to distract people by showing them how good tings were in the church.  I would try to preach a great sermon or start a new program or point out how well the pledge campaign or youth group was going.  In effect, I would say to the congregation, “Look how well things are going.  Stop fighting or you are going to mess it up.”  Like the Wizard of Oz, I was dealing with conflict by saying, “Don’t look at that man behind the curtain.”  Ignore the conflict because I’m being such a great pastor!


After mediation training I had learned that my style involved a lot of triangulation, meaning I was always in the middle so the issues between people were never really resolved.  When I stopped doing this it was uncomfortable for the church.  Instead of fixing problems, I would say things like, “It sounds like you need to speak to Mary about that…. Let’s get this issue out in the open so we can hear all sides before making a decision. I sense there are strong feelings in the room-let’s try to understand where they are coming from.”  After a few weeks of this new behavior, our Sunday School Superintendent said, “I liked it better when you fixed everything for us.”  For the next few months I experienced more conflict in my life-at church and at home-than I had before the training.  While this may seem baffling, it is what happens when is dealt with rather than soothed and allowed to slide underground and wait for another moment to break out. 


About that time, our church organist resigned in a huff.  He had made an embarrassing scene at a joint worship service and I told him in private I thought he was out of line and should consider apologizing to the choir.  The next morning his keys were on the front office desk and he resigned to protest his “terrible” treatment.  Early in my ministry I probably would have pocketed the resignation, said that maybe I was a little hasty and persuaded him to stay.  As I pondered what to do, I thought of the many complaints I heard that the organist was inflexible, he played the same old music over and over, that he was lackadaisical at rehearsals.  Perhaps after 30 years enough was enough.  I talked to the head of the Board of Deacons and we agreed that we should accept the resignation and hold a special meeting after church where people could talk about how they felt. 


I braced myself for a firestorm of criticism.  My phone started ringing off the hook and I gently told everyone that we would discuss this together as a congregation after church.  We should all be heard together.  (Pastors know how exhausting it is to spend hours listening to every person who is trying to persuade them about what should be done.)  On Sunday we all sat around in a big circle and the head deacon said we would go around the circle and everyone would have a chance to speak in turn before engaging in any debate.  There were strong supporters who said it was a travesty to “fire” a 30 year employee of the church who had given so much to the church.  Others noted that he had quit, and that didn’t seem like the thing a dedicated employee would do.  Several members of the choir, and a couple of ex-members, were able to voice their dissatisfaction with rehearsals and repetitive anthems for the first time.  Near the end a long-term member with great respect in the congregation said, “I have sung in the choir for 25 years and the organist is my friend.  But right now he is holding back the growth of the church and it is time for him to go.  It is sad to say and hard for me, but we need to move on.”  No one else had anything to say after that. 


As with any big church conflict there is no simple and happy ending to this conflict.  Two long-term families were very upset and stopped speaking to several other members who had supported letting the organist leave.  They often expressed their dissatisfaction with other aspects of the church.  Our music program sputtered for a time until we found a new organist.  But a few months later I heard through the grapevine that the organist was enjoying his retirement and relieved to not have the weekly pressure.  He hadn’t realized how burnt out he was and leaving was a real blessing.  The congregation learned they could be honest about conflict and survive.  There reality was that conflict had existed for years and was underground because people were afraid to speak.  Sometimes trying to live in the “beloved community” may bring not peace but a sword.  We must learn the difference between peace and just another cease fire that allows those in power to keep the status quo for their own interests.  True peace seldom comes without a painful process of being honest about the real issues.  Peace can only be built if there is truth, justice, equality and respect. 



I’m not preaching this week but have many ideas if you are looking for more material.  Jeremiah 6:14 “They cry peace, peace when there is no peace,” is a great companion scripture.  Jeremiah says of the false prophets, “They dress the wounds of the people as if they were not serious.”  This passage makes me think of Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace for Our Time” speech in 1938 after the Munich agreement that allowed Hitler to occupy the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.  It certainly was not peace for the Sudetenland and its Jewish population who were quickly deprived of their rights as citizens.  Wikipedia gives some good info here.

Here are some links you might find helpful: 

Here is a current example of false peace.  Congress will soon be taking up the issue of either extending the Bush tax cuts or to let them expire.  Whenever issue’s of inequality are raised, some conservative politicians are quick to say liberals are stirring up “class warfare.”  This is crying “Peace, peace when there is no peace.”  America has been becoming less equal by the month and the wealthy are gaining while the poor and middle class are drowning.  Now even Allen Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, agrees that inequality is dangerous to the health of the nation.  

Here is the link from Meet the Press.

The Financial Times had an interesting article this week that notes America has less equality than any other developed economy and people can no longer move up through hard work:


"Nowadays in America," says the Times, "you have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures. To invert the classic Horatio Alger stories, in today’s America if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe.  Combine those two deep-seated trends with a third – steeply rising inequality – and you get the slow-burning crisis of American capitalism. It is one thing to suffer grinding income stagnation. It is another to realise that you have a diminishing likelihood of escaping it – particularly when the fortunate few living across the proverbial tracks seem more pampered each time you catch a glimpse." 

 See the full article here entitled "The Crisis of Middle Class America."


Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Mayor Bloomberg are jumping on the bandwagon too, urging billionaires to give away at least 51 percent of their wealth.  Buffett noted last year that he pays 17 percent of his income in taxes (which is less than I pay in payroll taxes!)  He did the research and found that his employees paid over 30 percent of their income in taxes.