Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sermon -- 13th Sunday after Pentecost (August 18, 2013)

LUKE 12:49-53

In the name + of Jesus.

     There are a number of times each year when we hear the lesson and wonder, “That was the Gospel of the Lord?!”  We think of the Gospel as a reading that warms our hearts and makes us smile.  This one makes us scrunch up our eyebrows.  Jesus states, Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51)  Where was the good news in Jesus’ words this morning?  In fact, it sounds quite unlike Jesus. 
     Admittedly, these are harsh words: Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51)  Jesus produces the great divide.  He produces animosity and discord among various people, even family members.  It’s not that Jesus delights in doing this.  He simply states that this will happen when we let his words stand and when we take our stand on them.
     It cannot help but happen.  Darkness and light cannot exist together.  That which is holy cannot co-exist with what is sinful.  There is a division between the two, and they cannot be meshed together.  So it is with the Prince of Peace and the prince of this world.  Their kingdoms are divided.  You cannot be a child of God and a child of Satan at the same time.  You cannot live according to the Spirit and according to the principles of this world at the same time.  Jesus produces the great divide.  It can’t be any other way.
     But we hate the great divide.  We hate that we are marked differently from the world because that means we are marked.  And the great divide is not merely a difference in opinion or taste.  It is not as innocent as, “You like vanilla ice cream, but I like mint.”  It is a great divide, as in, “This behavior is pure and that behavior is wicked.  Those who will not confess and repent of their sins will perish.  Only those who repent and believe in Jesus will be saved.”  Jesus produces the great divide, and it is great, indeed. 
     Still, we hate the great divide.  We would rather straddle it.  We want to be loved by God and by the world.  We would like to have one foot in each kingdom.  We are influenced by our culture and we have adopted its ideas.  We are afraid to call immoral what God says is immoral.  We are afraid to condemn what God says is wicked.  We would much rather see people happy than repentant.  We don’t care if our children go to hell as long as they are happy now.  And if defying God’s word makes them happy, who are we to stand in the way?
     Now, you ought to know that if you let God’s word stand and if you take your stand on God’s word, you will surely see, know, and feel the great divide that Jesus produces.  The dividing lines may well be drawn up in your own family.  “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,” (Luke 12:52-53) and so on.  No, it is not fun.  It is not enjoyable.  And you will have family and friends get in your face and demand, “Are you happy now?!”  Happy?  No.  Grieved.  But then so is the Lord who is not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) 
     The world has a simple solution to all of this: Let sinners have whatever they want and call it good.  As long as the sun comes up and cows still give milk, why should you care what anyone does?  But guess what.  Every day, people are murdered, boyfriends use their girlfriends, women become unwed, single mothers, and workers cheat their clients.  And the sun still comes up and the cows still give milk.  Does that mean it is okay?  Not at all.  God sets the standard.  God enforces the rules.  Jesus is kindling fire to destroy a wicked world.  Judgment is coming, not because people have different opinions or tastes, but because people are wicked.  A holy God cannot tolerate sin.  And you play with fire when you adopt, tolerate, or turn a blind eye these evils.  If you want to straddle the great divide, you will fall, and you will perish.  Repent!
     The Lord Jesus Christ has a very different solution to all of this.  He is not wishing that any should perish. (2 Peter 3:9)  Therefore, he has acted to rescue you from your sins.  Jesus told his disciples, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50)  The baptism Jesus referred to meant that he would be immersed in God’s wrath.  As a result of bearing our sins, he would endure our punishment and curse.  Jesus was distressed because he knew what suffering the wrath of God meant.  He understood just how great the divide is between God’s blessings and God’s wrath, between life and death, between heaven and hell.  And yet, God the Son departed from his Father in heaven so that he would be forsaken by the Father on earth.  Jesus was cut off and banished for your sake, for your sins.  Jesus was damned by the Father so that you would be delivered from your curse.  Therefore, you have been redeemed from your sins.  You have been snatched from the kingdom of darkness, from the claims of the devil, and from the fires of hell.  You have been brought into the kingdom of God which is not ruled by judgment but by mercy. 
     Jesus produces the great divide, and that divide is still there.  As heirs of life, you have been separated from a dying world.  As children of light, you are noticeably different from the depraved and darkened world.  That fills your soul with peace and your heart with joy.  But if you are children of light, then you will also live and act so that your light shines in this sinful world.  How can you engage in what is wicked, especially since you know it incurs God’s wrath?  How can you tolerate attitudes and actions that are based in Satan’s lies and result in banishment from God’s blessing?  How can you expect God to bless that which you know God condemns?  God has rescued you from sin and death.  How could you return to it, even if the whole world would celebrate it?
     Granted, you may have to suffer for letting God’s word stand and for taking your stand on God’s word.  The world is still in rebellion against Jesus.  And since you have been delivered into his kingdom and bear Jesus’ name, the world will hate and rebel against you too.  You may see and experience the great divide as you are forsaken by friends and despised by family.  So be it.  With the Lord are mercy and forgiveness and salvation.  Apart from the Lord there is only damnation, death, and destruction.  That is nothing to celebrate, no matter how much the world demands that you should.
     You may be separated, but you are not alone.  Look at the people around you.  We call each other brothers and sisters for a reason.  Here is your family.  Here are the ones who have been rescued along with you.  Here are the ones who help you bear your burden now and who pray for you daily.  Here are the ones who kneel with you at the Lord’s altar to receive the body and blood of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins, for mercy, and for assurance that your place in heaven is secure.  Here are the ones you feast with now and will feast with forever in heaven.  Here are the ones to whom you are united; for you are all united to Jesus. 
     Jesus produces the great divide.  Though you have been separated from the world, you are joined to the kingdom of God.  And though the division Jesus produces is great, the blessings Jesus provides are greater, and they are everlasting.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.