Divided by Peace (10th Pentecost, Proper 15C)
Divided by Peace
10th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 15C)
Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
Jesus said, "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?"
A few months ago, we were in the middle of our Sunday School curriculum on the lives of many different saints throughout church history. Many of them were people who I was familiar with through my studies in divinity school. But there were a surprising number that I knew nothing or next to nothing about. I learned a lot through that material.
One of the people who I had never heard of before was a man named Enmegahbowh (d. 1902, pictured above), who is commemorated on our church calendar on June 12. Enmegahbowh is best remembered as the first Native American to be ordained a priest in the history of The Episcopal Church. He was born around the Great Lakes in Canada in the 1810s, and later traveled to Minnesota, where he served as a missionary under an Episcopal bishop and ministered to the various Native American tribes of that region.
This understandably put Enmegahbowh in some awkward positions. See, he was a member of the Ojibwe tribe. His grandfather was a medicine man of great esteem in his tribe, and his mother was a Christian, converted by Methodist missionaries. From his earliest days, he found himself bridging cultural gaps between very different people groups. As a young man, he met Episcopal missionaries who helped him and his family find a home in our denomination.
But there was always a tension. Enmegahbowh saw the plight of the native peoples after the United States conquered their lands by force. He saw the exploitative and duplicitous nature of their treaties. But he still knew and loved many white people, and grew to love Jesus Christ, the God whom the Americans introduced to him. In the words of the Rev. Marcus Halley (who serves as a Rector in Minneapolis today), “Despite this often tense, exploitative relationship, Enmegahbowh lived his entire life weaving together his indigenous faith and Christianity. Like many people who experience injustice, Enmegahbowh seemed able to take from Christianity what felt empowering and true and reject what was not.”
So Enmegahbowh was sympathetic to both sides at a time when it was difficult to do that. Enmegahbowh became a peacemaker throughout most of his life, following the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9). He repeatedly worked to negotiate peace between warring indigenous tribes, and most notably, between the native peoples and the U.S. Army.
In 1862, there was a relatively small war that I never learned about in history class. It is called either the Dakota War or the Sioux War of 1862. This conflict began because the U.S. government violated the terms of two treaties it made with the indigenous peoples who lived in the land we now call Minnesota. The treaty had promised over $2,000,000 to the Sioux tribes in exchange for their lands, but after forty years the government had not followed through on its promise. So the Sioux and other neighboring indigenous peoples rallied together and began to attack American settlers and Army forts.
Enmegahbowh prevented his own Ojibwe tribe from joining one of these attacks, when the chief intended to rally 500 warriors against an Army fort. To do this, he stood up against his father-in-law, the Ojibwe chief named Hole-in-the-day. Enmegahbowh knew this would mean terrible bloodshed for the Ojibwe tribes, and further abuse and oppression from the U.S. government, which already mistrusted the natives. Because of his insurrection within the tribe, Enmegahbowh was imprisoned, but was able to escape. After getting away from captivity, he traveled on foot to another nearby Army fort and warned them of the coming attack.
As you might understand, Enmegahbowh was considered a traitor to his people. For many years, Hole-in-the-day and his wife’s tribe would not welcome him back. In their eyes, he thwarted their efforts to fight for their own freedom. But, Enmegahbowh knew he was making an unpopular decision in order to save lives. Out of love for Jesus and love for all God’s creatures, Enmegahbowh chose to protect the weak and innocent. He tried to act with wisdom and foresight rather than a lust for vengeance.
Jesus said, “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." And we might add “son-in-law against father-in-law.”
Jesus tries to bring peace, but his message of love and grace for all creation will scandalize people into division. People don’t always respond to love with love, to kindness with kindness. Instead we often react to love with hate, to peacemaking with violence. People often find it difficult to accept the cost of peace, the humility it takes to work with enemies instead of destroying them. We often lash out at those who call us to these higher virtues, just as we killed Jesus and the Hebrew prophets before him.
This is not a prescription of how it ought to be. It’s a description of how it is. This is just what happens when Jesus’ message meets sinful human beings and human societies. It is not Jesus’ intention to sow discord or division. But he will not compromise his convictions, the truth of God’s love and grace for ALL, for the sake of people’s feelings. Jesus won’t sugarcoat the truth and allow us to continue hating each other. He won’t tell us its okay to seek revenge, even when we feel justified.
Jesus says that he brings a fire to the earth. This is a fire of love. It’s a fire that burns away our sinfulness, our rage, and our hate. Jesus inspired Enmegahbowh to pursue the unpopular path of peace, even when it hurt his closest family and friends. Jesus inspires us to lay aside our hatred because hatred is a denial of our deepest humanity. Hatred is a self-inflicted poison to all who carry it. In the words of Pastor Howard Thurman, “Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life; and hatred was the great denial” (Thurman, 77-78). May the fire of Jesus’ love fill us as it filled God’s servant Enmegahbowh.
Let us pray:
“Almighty God, who led your pilgrim people of old by fire and cloud: Grant that the ministers of your Church, following the example of your servant Enmegahbowh, may lead your people with fiery zeal and gentle humility. This we ask through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (LFF 2018, 325).
Halley, Marcus. “Enmegahbowh: charting the course toward understanding, compassion, and just relationships.” GrowChristians.org. Blog. Published 12 June 2018. Accessed 15 August 2019. http://www.growchristians.org/2018/06/12/enmegahbowh/.
The Episcopal Church. Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018. PDF. https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/21034
Thurman, Howard. Jesus and the Disinherited. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996 [originally 1949].
Wilcox, Alvin H. A Pioneer History of Becker County Minnesota. [Originally 1907]. Quoted in “Enmegahbowh,” Satucket Lectionary website, http://www.satucket.com/lectionary/Enmegahbowh.htm.