Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Divider or Reconciler?

Sermon for Pentecost 11, Proper 13C, preached on Sunday, August 4, 2013.

     Everyone knows how an estate can divide a family.  A little money can create tons of tension.  It is funny how money seems to bring out the worst in even otherwise decent folks.  I have seen it in my own family as I am sure you have yours.  So it comes as no surprise that Jesus would encounter two brothers arguing over their father's estate.  But instead of being drawn into it by taking sides, Jesus turns the whole occasion into a teaching moment for the Kingdom of God.  What is the true and everlasting treasure worth your full attention?
    When the unhappy brother approached Jesus, he asked Jesus to be a divider, a judge if you will, to determine what was fair.  The Greek word here is merisths.  It means divider or arbiter.  The unhappy brother was asking Jesus to enforce his legal right to a share in the estate, a legal loophole to the principle of the first son getting it all.  But Jesus refused to be the divider. 
    They did not need a divider.  The estate had already divided the family.  Jealousy and anger had already pit one brother against the other.  They did not need someone to choose sides, they needed someone to repair the breach.  What is gained by choosing sides?  What they needed was someone to bring together what was divided, a power greater than justice.
    We are divided from God and from each other by sin.  We do not need justice, we do not need someone to choose sides.  What we need is one to repair the breach and bring together what sin has separated. We need a life strong enough to bridge our unworthiness with God’s holiness, our sin with God’s forgiveness, and our death with God’s life.
    Jesus has come not to divide or choose sides but to reconcile.  The Greek word for reconciler is a letter off from the Greek word for divider.  Jesus refuses to be divider – merisths – but He is our one and only reconciler - mesiths.  Justice would mean we would be left with the consequences of sin's choice, left in death and in captivity to evil.  Mercy means hope, redemption, and reconciliation – the greater treasure in the Kingdom of God is always mercy.
    Jesus is not come to sort the righteous from the sinner.  We are all sinners and unrighteous.  He has come for the greater cause of mercy to redeem those marked by sin and suffering sin's consequences of division, guilt, and death.  The treasure of grace that He has come to give us is far greater than the treasures of the moment that divide us, that create jealousies, and that consume us with love of things.  This is not a story against wealth.  What Jesus shows us is that there is a treasure of far greater value.
    He has come to give us that which is of greater value and worth than justice, than earthly treasure, than a life lived under sin prolonged.  He has come to give us mercy.  The mercy of sins forgiven, of lives reborn from sin and death through baptism, of faith that trusts what eyes do not see, and of hope for life stronger than death .  Jesus did not come to make today our heaven but to lead us beyond this moment to the eternal moment of life without death.  This is the good and great treasure He has come to bestow by His dying and rising again.  Why are we so consumed for that which will pass away and so casual about eternity?
    When you have eternity, you can endure the next few minutes. So said Helmut Thielicke, a Lutheran preached in the confessing church in Germany resisting the Nazis.  When you own eternity, you can persevere through the struggles of this life. That is the word of Jesus to the brothers feuding over earthly wealth.  When you already own the greatest treasure, you are not consumed by the lesser.  When you have everlasting life as your treasure, you can be generous and giving with the treasures of this life.  Jesus is not trying to get you to believe that thing are worthless.  What He has come to bestow is a treasure of greater worth.  What do you gain if you choose the lesser treasure over the greater blessing?  We are not generous because we have a lot of money or things.  We are generous because we have what money cannot buy and the treasure worth more than our things.
    When we are rich toward God, we are rich in that which cannot and will not be taken from us.  When we are rich in things and poor toward God, all that we value will pass through our hands in death if not before, pass on to those who will not value it as we do or use is wisely.  As the preacher from Ecclesiastes warns, we leave this world naked of all that we worked for and it all passes to those who did not work for it.
    Heaven is not a greater version of today.  Today is but a shadow of eternity.  That is the perspective of faith.  Jesus did not suffer and die to give a bigger version of today.  He labored with His life not for a treasure that was passing, a treasure that time could devalue or inflation whittle away.  Jesus has come to give us that which remains the full and eternal treasure, the gift of mercy and the salvation ours by grace through faith.  Heaven is not a bigger version of today.  Today is but a shadow of what heaven is.  We are not redeemed for a temporary treasure.  We are set apart in baptism to possess that which no one and nothing can take from us.  If we are rich in this treasure of grace given us in Christ, giving will no be a problem to us, want of things and jealousy will not consume us.  Jesus has not come to take from us what we value.  Jesus has come to give us a treasure so rich it is beyond all value.  When we learn this, we learn what mercy is, what life can be, and how things can do eternal good. 
    Two brothers divided by things and jealousy.  Jesus offered them the greater treasure that would have reconciled these two to grief their father and stand together in love.  We come with many divisions to this place where reconciliation binds us together in the greater treasure of grace, spoken in the Word that forgives our sins, recalled in the splash of living baptismal water, and received as food at the Table of the Lord.  Our stewardship of God’s resources is not a resource problem.  It is a faith problem.  As long as our gaze is fixed upon the less treasure, we bristle with resentment and stand divided.  When we focus upon the greater treasure that is God’s gift to us in Christ Jesus, we are free to stand as one people under the banner of Christ’s love and to use God’s resources for holy purpose and eternal gain.  Amen.

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