Sunday, August 18, 2013

United & Divided By Christ (Sermon preached August 18, Proper 15-C)

Sermon Text: Luke 12:49-53

In the name of T Jesus.
            Today’s Holy Gospel is one of those readings, after which it seems strange for the Pastor to say, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.”  Last week, those words made sense.  We heard Jesus say, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  And those words of Jesus are easily heard as words of Good News.  And when the words that Jesus speaks are easily heard as words which deliver Good News to those who are desiring and hoping to hear Good News, then when the Pastor says, ‘This is the Gospel of the Lord,” and the congregations responds, “Praise be to Thee, O Christ,” there’s an exclamation point at the end of their response.  Praise be to Thee, O Christ, for that was Good News in my ears indeed!  But the words which Jesus speaks to us in today’s Holy Gospel are likely to produce a question mark, rather than an exclamation point.  Especially the words of Jesus we are left with:
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five 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.”

            Indeed, when Jesus leaves us with these kinds of words, it is likely that the response—even of the faithful—will be one that includes a question mark.  How in the world is this the Gospel of the Lord?  Where is the Good News?
            And the truth is, the words which Jesus leaves us with at the end of today’s Holy Gospel aren’t Good News at all.  In fact, over two-thirds of what Jesus says in this passage from Luke, chapter twelve, is filled with hard words—difficult words—because they are Words of the Law.  They are words which Jesus uses to show us, and to teach us, and even to prepare us to deal with the effects of sin on the earth.  And the effects of which Jesus speaks to us today, are effects that all of you have seen to be true already in your lives.
            Which of you does not have a house that is divided?  And I’m not talking about whether you root for the Cardinals or the Cubs, whether you are a democrat, republican, or libertarian, or even whether or not you wish the South had won the war.  I’m talking about whether or not your sons and your daughters, your fathers and your mothers, your aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and other dear family members look at you strange when you speak of the one who has died in your place, and whose blood sets you free, and whose resurrection is the only hope you have of ever living in some sort of peace.  Which of you does not have a house that is divided about what to make of Jesus and the importance of His cross in your lives?
            You see, while Jesus’ words today are hard, and difficult, and deal with the painful realities of a sin-stricken world in which you and I live every day of our earthly existence; and even though Jesus’ words may cause us to pause, and place a question mark on the end of our praise; there is no escaping the fact that each of you know that Jesus’ words to us this morning could not be more true.  Because when Jesus talks about houses being divided, and when Jesus says that the very things which will divide these houses is His life and death and resurrection on behalf of poor sinful people who need Good News in the worse kind of way, you know from your own experience that he’s talking about something that is coming true in each and every one of your homes.
            It was about two months ago now, and after some function here at church, someone asked if I could talk.  This person had recently gotten back from visiting family, and was troubled at how she heard a relative speaking about Jesus and the Christian faith.  You see, this was a dear relative of hers.  And until now, she had always thought that this relative was a Christian; she had grown up in the Church, gone to Sunday School, and participated in the life of a congregation.  But when they were recently together, and the conversation began to go in the direction of religion, and faith, and even Jesus and the Bible, the words which her dear relative were speaking made it obvious that there was quite a difference in beliefs.  And these weren’t the sort of differences that you could laugh about—you know, which hymns to sing, and what color carpet to install, and whether the service will start at 10 o’clock, or some other time of the day—these were the sort of differences that made her want to cry.  Because she knew that to reject the Scriptures, or to believe that Jesus is only one of the ways to salvation, or to think that people would be rewarded with heaven if they just are kind and lead good lives, is to have a belief that Jesus says is actually unbelief.  And so, there we were, in my study, praying for a sisters-in-law who were divided from one another in the most unfortunate of ways.
            But this story isn’t unique.  This story is repeated, with different names and with different relationships, in each and every one of your families too often than we would like to admit.  It’s the division which causes you the deepest kind of grief, is it not?  But it’s also the sort of division which only proves Jesus’ difficult words to be true.  For when your child, or your parent, of some other dear loved one begins to speak of Christ in some other way than what Scripture has given us to speak, these words of Jesus that we have heard this morning, are the words which are coming true before our very eyes, and I’m not sure if there is anything that could be more tragic.
It’s the source of your most supreme sorrow.  It’s the cause of your deepest concern.  Knowing that you are divided from those you love on the only issue that has the power to make you united for all eternity.  Knowing that your child, or your parent, or some other relative has been filled with the vain hopes of the many false teachers of this world, and the faith he or she is confessing is something other than the faith that saves.  Knowing that someone for whom Christ died, is taking the message of the cross, and diminishing its power by choosing to remain in his or her sin.  And knowing, worst of all, that unless something were to change, you would be divided from him or her forever.
It’s enough to make you weep.  Because even more than being difficult to swallow, and hard to hear, you know that it’s true.  And so did Jesus.  In fact, it’s what made Jesus cry too.  You remember, when he had ridden into town on the back of a colt, and in the next moment was weeping over the inhabitants of Jerusalem whom he knew were not going to be brought to repentance and faith.  He had gone there to save them, and they simply refused to be saved.  He loved them, and would die for them, but they would esteem him not.  His desire was to give them life, but in the end he knew their end was destruction.  And so He wept, for He knew that while some would be united in the faith, there would be many who forever would be divided.
It is Jesus’ desire for all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  And the bad news is that many will not endure sound teaching, and will reject the exclusive claims made by Christ and those who believe His Word.  The Father so loved the world that He sent His Son, so that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.  But the tragic truth which Jesus puts before us today—the tragic truth which you see being fulfilled even in your own families—is that your families are houses which Jesus has divided.
That’s the bad news.  So what is the Good News?  The Good News is that Jesus is still speaking His Word.  And Jesus will continue speaking His Word to houses that are divided so that His Spirit would use that Word to bring repentance and faith to unbelieving hearts.  The Good News is that the Father has not yet decided it is time to send His Son in judgment.  The Good News is that the Father continues to send His Son in mercy and grace, and through Him He continues to offer forgiveness, life, and salvation because of the wrath He endured on the cross.  The Good News is that the distress of Jesus is what led him to the cross where he was baptized with death so that the gates of heaven would be opened to all who would believe.
The Good News is that the Word of God continues to be preached and taught by faithful pastors all around the world.  The Good News is that Christians today continue to bear witness to the Gospel not only when they’re together on Sunday’s but even when they are at home with those divided families.  You see, the Good News that you can cling to even when your families and dear loved ones are those from whom you’re divided, is that desires for all to be saved.  Jesus desires for all to be united in the one, true, Christian faith.  And so Jesus continues to speak the Gospel through His Church.  And His Church continues to confess the truth of the crucified and risen Savior which is the power of salvation for all who would finally be united in the faith, and live forever in a heavenly home that will never be divided again.
And so, while Jesus is bringing division here on earth, my friends, and that is the Bad News.  The Good News is that until He comes in judgment, He will continue to give us His Word.  And He will continue to speak His Gospel through His people—the Church.  And the Good News, is that His Gospel just happens to be the one thing in all the world that can undo the effects of sin, so that those who are divided, would be united, in the Church that will never stop rejoicing that Jesus endured the cross, and despised its shame, so that heaven would be opened to sinners.  And that, you see, is Good News with an exclamation point!

In the name of T Jesus.  Amen.

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