"I did not come to bring you peace." - Luke 12:50
Phew. It is good to know that conflict is part of Jesus' intention for our world. Otherwise, I would be plum out of compliance. My warranty might even be up. Whether it is in church meetings or in family life or in friendships, conflict is a steady drum beat, always emerging from the least likely corner, always shoplifting whatever peace might have been on the shelf.
Consider marriage and family. The wedding vows only sound saccharine. What they really promise is sugary presence through conflict, like sickness and health or for richer, for poorer. They mean the sharing of conflict, as one couple said in their add-on to the vows:
"Your people will be my people. Your neighbor will by my neighbor. Your crazy uncle will be my crazy uncle. Your loud and boisterous family will by my loud and boisterous family. Your problems will be my problems."
One of the many things I love about Jesus is that he not a Pollyanna. He would flunk Hallmark. He is happy enough but in that way that happy comes after sad. As Douglas John Hall, Canadian theologian, put is so well in a succinct definition of the gospel: "It is the permission and the commandment to enter difficulty with hope." Permission. Commandment. Enter. Difficulty. With hope.
Most of us enter difficulty with despair. We flunk out before we even agree to take the test. It is the despair in conflict that breaks us, not the conflict. When we imitate Jesus, we are not despairing about conflict. Instead, we truly believe it when we say, "We can work this out." We are sometimes even glad at the arrival of conflict because we have learned to appropriately mistrust Hallmark. Really, why even say something like, "May All Your Days be Happy." How will you ever get to know a person if you don't fight?
One of our congregants has decided that she is a fraud. Why? She was just too nice for too long and there was no truth in it. Ah.
When Jesus says he has not come to bring peace, he means that he is bringing hope. He is bringing the kind of trouble that can truly change us and all around us. That trouble is good for us, especially as we enter it with hope.
O God, when we fear conflict, change us. Let us work strategically to stop the next war today, by entering, not avoiding, conflict.