10th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 15 – C)
August 18, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
If you’re ever in the market for some Christian art, there is practically an unlimited supply. You can buy wall art, plaques, little things for your end tables. The verses come from all over in the Bible and are encouraging and focus on the promises of God. I really wanted to find one for today’s Gospel, but “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” doesn’t seem to fit any normal person’s décor. Christian plaques should have comforting promises on them and this verse seems like something Jesus never would’ve said. But He did! And His words today are just as true and just as valid as everything else recorded in the Bible: Jesus brings division on Earth and in Heaven.
Christians are known to long for the good old days. We wish we could go back to the time when our churches were full, the Sunday school was overflowing, and there was prayer in school. If only America was like that again, all our problems would be solved. I can’t deny there were times in the past when Christianity was the dominant force, however those times are far outnumbered by the times Christianity was despised and rejected. From the very beginning of Christ’s ministry to August 18, 2019, the message of Jesus has been divisive.
Jesus can rightly claim that He brings division, or as He says in Matthew, a sword, because the Word of God that He brings is countercultural. This means that what Jesus says has always gone against the ideas, attitudes, and behaviors of current society. Jesus called out the Jewish religious leaders for their hypocrisy and their focus on works righteousness. Up to the fourth century, the Church steadfastly condemned and refused to engage in the Roman practices of abortion, infanticide, homosexuality, pedophilia, incest, and cruelty to women and children. This made the Church stand out as different and while many were converted to Christianity, many more made the Church their enemy. Paul says that Christ’s message is divisive because we are in the world, but we are not of the world. The Church doesn’t go along with society just so everyone can get along. The Church has long worked against the sins of society, and today is no different.
In this time of tolerance and hatred of intolerance, the faithful Church once again stands up against the sins of society. The True Church speaks for the unborn. The True Church stands for Biblical marriage. The True Church fights against self-indulgent behaviors. The True Church teaches that Jesus alone is the Way to salvation. And as a result, the True Church is rejected as intolerant, bigoted, and hateful when the exact opposite is true. The True Church is clear that everyone who calls upon the name of Jesus will be saved and the Jesus wants everyone to be saved. It’s tempting for the Church to become wishy-washy about Biblical teachings and Christians fall into this trap all the time. We don’t want people to hate us so to avoid being embarrassed or making enemies we go along with the culture.
It may not be easy to hear, but to go along to get along is sinful. Saint James says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Christians are to be cut off from worldly attitudes and behaviors. You cannot be neutral: you’re either separated from the world or you are not. You can’t be wishy-washy and be a Christian only when it suits those around you. Christ’s Word separates the faithful from the unfaithful and this division will lead others to view you with animosity.
Sadly, the division caused by Christ’s message even enters our homes. We love our families and we cherish them and of all the places we don’t want divisions in our families. Yet Jesus says, “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.” Some of our family and friends will believe and others won’t. We’ll pray for them, encourage them, and nag them and they still might never believe. The division between you and your unbelieving child or spouse doesn’t have to be antagonistic. But if your family member gives you an ultimatum or encourages you to act against God’s Word, you must choose Christ over them, even when it hurts.
Divisions are difficult when they occur in our lives. We don’t want to be cut off by friends and family. We don’t want to be viewed as bigoted or hateful by society. We don’t like be outsiders. Yet, that’s what the message of Jesus does. It separates us. But…not all the division that occurs is bad or regretful. The division that occurs in Heaven is the opposite, it’s joyous! How can that be? Think about what God does for you: He sends His divisive Son to save you!
You see, through Jesus you are separated from your sin. Christ brings a mile-wide division between you and the death you deserve. You are cut off from the punishment you deserve for your sins – including the ones of going along with the culture. Jesus separates you from the guilt of your sin through the forgiveness of your sins. Forgiveness separates you from your sin and binds you to God.
Jesus says, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” The baptism to which Jesus refers is His baptism of suffering and death. Jesus didn’t want to be scourged and crucified. He didn’t want to be separated from His Father, but He never even thought of running away. He embraced what was coming because it was the only way you are saved from Satan, Sin and Death. As the author of the Epistle wrote, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” In Jesus we find the strength we need to withstand societies pressure to conform. In Jesus we find the willingness to fight against the world that wants to destroy itself. In Christ, we find the power to accept division in our lives because it means that we’re being faithful to all that God commands. In Jesus, we find the promise of God that no matter what opposition we face in this life, the eternal rewards are far greater. As Jesus promises, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.”
I suppose the reason why there aren’t many Bible verses about God’s wrath on pretty little plaques and pictures is that they wouldn’t sell very well. We wouldn’t buy them either. We don’t want to hear negative sounding Bible passages, and yet, we must hear them because they’re as true and all the verses about love and forgiveness. We don’t like the thought of being separated from society, culture, family or friends, it can be painful to think about. But that’s the cost of being a disciple, that we exchange unity with the world for the division that comes between us and our sins, and that we exchange unity with the world for unity with Christ who gave Himself up to save us.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen