Luke 12:49-56 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
Reflection: I succeeded Rev. Francisco Gaytan as pastor of El Buen Pastor (The Good Shepherd) United Methodist Church in Edinburg, TX. He served the congregation for 19 years and a total of 52 years as a Methodist pastor prior to retiring in 2010. Rev. Gaytan was a mentor, friend, and an active ministerial assistant to me during my ten years at El Buen Pastor. He was always willing to preach, officiate at weddings and funerals, and help with visitation. He continues to serve Christ as needed to this day.
One day, he shared his story of how he came to be a Methodist pastor. He attended Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas and there he strengthened his faith in Christ and experienced a call to ordained ministry. He discerned, while still a high school student, that the present time had come for him to believe the good news and follow Christ as a disciple and ambassador of the gospel. The problem was that he did not know how his father would react to the news.
Francisco decided to break the news to his father one afternoon as they walked down a street in downtown El Paso. He said that his father stopped walking and stood still after Francisco told him he was going to be a Methodist minister. He turned to Francisco and said, “Hasta aqui tuviste padre,” translated in English to mean, “Up to now, you had a father.” His father, said Francisco, with a far-away look in his eye, then turned around and walked the other way. Francisco rarely spoke to his father afterward. He paid a high cost for his faith and for answering the call to ministry. He heard and followed a different rhythm that charted a new life path and caused a division between himself and his family.
Those of us who come from Hispanic culture and contexts understand this reality personally. Often, Hispanics and Latin Americans become estranged from their kin and community because their Protestant faith and ethics put them at odds with their family’s generational religious tradition and culture. Christians in other parts of the world such as North Korea, India, China, Indonesia, and parts of Africa also experience opposition and estrangement because of their Christian faith. That is why passionate worship, small discipleship groups where people find belonging, and authentic Christian fellowship are vital for sustaining, retaining, and equipping new disciples in their walk of faith.
The words of Jesus, “I came to bring division,” are uncharacteristic and hard to hear. But these words and reality are part of the whole of his saving message. It is not that Christ divides, but that people take offense at his teachings, claims, and promises, thereby separating their lives and wills from him and others who follow him. Those who receive Christ as Savior and Lord, follow and believe his teachings, claims, and promises are at times shunned from family and community because they come to see life, their purpose in life, and their values differently in the light of God.
The story of Francisco’s stand for Christ and obedience to Christ’s calling upon his life despite the division and estrangement it caused between him and his family is painful to hear. For God’s ultimate purpose in Christ for all human families is peace and unity in all things, especially in matters of faith. On the other hand, his story is inspirational to those who walk the same costly path of discipleship and experience hardships because of it. Its inspirational because whom Christ calls to follow Christ enables – by his own example as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (12:2) – to “run the race set before them with perseverance” (Hebrews 12:1). Even though Francisco’s faith and walk in Christ estranged him from family, friends, and community, he found belonging in the family God creates through Christ’s life, death and resurrection; the church.
Prayer: Christ, you are the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before you endured the cross and disregarded its shame. We thank you for all the faithful cloud of witnesses whose life and memory inspires us to trust in your promises despite hardships as we run the race you have set before us. Today we remember and bring before you all your faithful disciples in our world today – young and old, people from every nation, race, and language – that are experiencing estrangement, suffering, and violence because they walk in your ways and toward the abundant and eternal life you promise. Enable them with your Spirit to be strong and courageous, not afraid, not discouraged, and let them know that you are always with them wherever they go. Amen.