In a recent Gospel lesson from Matthew 10:34 Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law__a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”
These words have always challenged me as a christian and as a pastor and a chaplain. I have always thought of Jesus as the epitome of love. He came to reconcile. He came to bring people together. He came to right the wrongs. He came to heal the lame and free those in prison. So when He says, ” I did not come to bring peace but a sword,” it’s almost like getting a pail of cold water thrown in your face. It is shocking to think that if we follow Jesus there will be conflict and warfare in our own families. Surely if we as parents teach and act with love toward our children they will receive it and not rebel against it. Surely we should not expect them to resist the love and the truths we are imparting to them.
In light of father’s day which we celebrated yesterday and in light of the demonstrations and protests we have seen calling for racial equality and justice before the law Jesus’ words have taken on new meaning for me which I would like to contemplate with you and that is how challenging it is to impart life’s lessons to those who are under our care.
Because of father’s day and my mind taking me back to my childhood growing up on a farm I want to share how things went between me and my father as he tried to teach me some things he thought I needed to know and embrace if I was going to turn out to be someone who wouldn’t just take up space but contribute to the betterment of the human race.
What I remember is that the teaching started early and consisted of much repetition. There were no excused absences and no acceptance of whining and protesting. It didn’t matter if was dark and cold outside and my bed was warm and I was still tired. When dad called up the stairs that it was time to get up and do chores I got up. I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t want to fill the chicken feeders with ground feed and gather the eggs. I didn’t want to feed the pigs and fill the manure spreader with their waste. I was able to hold a pitch fork and lift it high enough to get the manure into the spreader so I qualified for the position of chore boy. I also was old enough to walk the soy bean fields and chop off the volunteer corn. I was old enough to recognize that cockle burrs and thistles were weeds and so they got pulled out as I walked my rows. Eighty acres or more, a half mile from one end to the other, on the hottest days of June and July, I walked with my father and my mother and my sister so that dad could later drive by his fields and see nothing but lush, green soybeans.
Dad and I did not have loud arguments or knock down drag out fights about why do I have to do all of this work and have so little fun in my life compared to some of my city cousins. But there was resentment and unhappiness on my part as I saw him as a taskmaster and a man I couldn’t seem to please no matter how hard I tried. It contributed to my decision that I would seek a different vocation in my life that wouldn’t involve walking bean rows and pitching manure. At that time in my life the lessons dad was teaching were not received with thanks or understood in terms of their importance. The idea that you have to have discipline in order to reach long terms goals, you have to get up every day and do the work, you have to till the soil and plant the seed and cultivate the crop if you want a harvest, were lessons that passed me by because I saw the work and not the reward of what hard work can bring to a person’s life.
But as I grew up and went off to school I found the discipline and determination to finish a job that I learned on the farm helped me master my studies and not mind the demands placed upon my time when I became a parish pastor and later a chaplain. I saw that whether we are farmers or pastors or any other calling the majority of our hours are spent tilling, planting, cultivating and if God blesses our efforts a harvest greater than we had hoped for. But the moment that stands out for me above all others in regards to my father was the day shortly before I graduated from the seminary when dad had a severe heart attack while planting corn. As I drove four hundred and fifty miles in a driving rain storm not knowing if he would be alive when I got there I knew how much I loved this man and how much he had taught me that I hadn’t realized until that moment in time. When I came into his hospital room and saw how pale and weak he was it almost broke my heart. He looked at me and said, ” I didn’t think you would come.” The more I think about that statement the more I wonder how much did the tension that was between us in my young years rest on my father’s heart as he hoped that someday that tension would dissolve and I would see that all the tough lessons he taught me was because he loved me. That was the moment where dad and I truly loved each other and I began to see what a wonderful teacher he had been in shaping my life.
As I think about my own life as a father and all the conflicts I had with my children in doing their chores and finishing their lessons for school and doing their paper routes there was often whining and resistance and I often knew I was not loved and appreciated by my children. They didn’t jump up and down and plead for me to teach them the hard lessons of discipline and determination. But when I woke up from my near death experience this last January and I saw my children standing around my bed I could see the love they had for me and like my father I saw that conflict with children is inevitable but if we can stick it out it will turn into love and appreciation.
This makes me think how important it is at this time in our society to see the importance of family. It has never been more important for fathers and mothers to be strong parents who withstand the resistance of their children to learn the lessons of life so that when our children finally grow up and see what we were trying to do we can pass from the conflict to a place of peace and love. I am in support of racial equality and equal justice before the law but I also want to join with all my brothers and sisters of every race in answering the call to arms that is required of every parent who want their children to become all that God wants them to be.