Sermon for Pentecost 4, Proper 8A, preached on Sunday, July 2, 2017.
We live in a time of great conflict, division, and stress. Our world is divided. Our nation is divided. Our families are divided. From religion to politics to economics to values, we seem to be constantly at war. And we are tired of it. We think that at least our faith should bring calm and tranquility. What good is a religion which only adds to division and conflict? And then we hear this strange and hard word of Jesus. I have not come to bring peace on earth but a sword.
Hebrews and St. Paul in Ephesians calls the Word of the Lord the sword of the Spirit. Sharp and piercing, this sword has the power to kill and give life. Like any real sword, it is not for show but is a weapon. With it the Church goes forth into the world to do God’s bidding and by it the Spirit works. The sword of the Word both divides and unites. Jesus acknowledges that this divides father from son, brother from sister, daughter in law from mother in law. But it does more. It separates the set apart from those who do not belong to the Kingdom.
The sword of the Word is not the whisper of peace in this world, but the voice of division that sets apart those who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and those who do not. Wherever this Word is preached it causes conflict and division between those who believe and those who reject it. Where the Word is preached, there will be fighting.
Because we do not like this conflict, we have dulled the Sword of the Word by making it a word of little consequence. It is no big deal. It is what you want it to be and not what it says.
In our world you are free to talk about anything but Christ. He is the subject of that Word and He is the forbidden subject of our modern day world. We can be fanatical about our favorite sports team or brand name or favorite food or hobby. But not about Christ. We have allowed faith to become something passive, private, and pale. It has become a rubber sword that bends in fear of public opinion, under the weight of individual reason, and out of our refusal to hold people accountable for what is preached and taught.
In our world, you cannot let religion offend anyone, you cannot let the values of the Kingdom speak if someone might be condemned for their sins. We have made God’s Word fragile and weak. We publicly admit to all our sins on social media, we proudly wear every piercing and tattoo, and we flaunt our every sexual perversion but we dare not speak the name of Jesus without apology. Faith dare not offend anyone.
But God has sharpened what we have dulled. The Word of the Lord will not be bound even by those who fear speaking it in public. The Word of the Lord will not cower in silence. The Word is the sword of the Spirit and He is living and active.
And where Christians will remember this, they will become strong in the face of persecution and fearless in the face of threat. Even if the whole world denies it, it remains the truth that endures forever. There is only one name under heaven and on earth by which anyone will be saved. The name of Jesus.
You do not have to believe in gravity to fall to your death. You do not have to acknowledge God for Him to be powerful. No, indeed. The Word of the Lord will endure forever no matter what your eyes see and your ears hear. And that Word is the tool and weapon by which the Spirit works to call people to faith and guard the faithful against their enemies.
Few of us believed that the day would come when in our own land the Church might be at war with those who would silence the Word of the Lord. But here we are. Some weeks ago a senator grilled a cabinet nominee who had written that Christ was the only one in whom there is salvation – a view intolerable by the world. Certainly we respect every person as a creature of God’s own making and having the dignity of life but we cannot admit that every religion is the same or that there is salvation anywhere but the name of Christ.
Friends we are at war but we fight not for an earthly kingdom. We fight for the Word with the Word. We battle not for geography but for the Word of the Cross and the voice of life.
God’s Word remains a sword but it fights not for real estate but for the heart. It battles against the old man born in sin to establish the new person created in Christ Jesus by baptism for righteousness. The battle is not simply out there but in here as every day the Lord must reclaim our hearts from the power of temptation or the reign of fear. The Word of the Lord endures forever and it is at work even when do not see its progress.
At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. We cannot exchange the real peace that passes understanding for the imitation peace that says shut up and get along. Too much is at stake. A world captive to sin cries out for freedom, a world in bondage to death sighs for hope, and a world fed up with the false promises of fake peace begs for the real peace that will not abandon them in their hour of need. And the only answer is Jesus Christ. So do not fear, the fight will go on until the Father has determined and until then we will not cower nor will we surrender the cross for anything. We shall not be moved from Christ and the power of His eternal peace, not fail to bear the cross until Christ lifts it from us forever, and not be silent when the the Lord bids us speak the cross to those who have not heard. But do not forget the day will come when soon to warriors cometh rest and our warfare will end, when the sun will rise in the east never to set, when the sword will be beaten into the plowshare and the lion will lie down with the Lamb. In the name of Jesus. Amen.