Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Why can't we be friends?

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 15C, preached on Sunday, August 18, 2019.

    Isaiah got it right.  “Come, let us reason together. . .”  That is what we want, a reasonable religion, a negotiated faith, a polite dialogue, and a civil discussion in which we all give and take a bit in order to come to a reasonable agreement.  No one likes those rigid folks who refuse to compromise, who insist on all or nothing.  No, we want more than anything to have a reasonable religion that brings diverse points of view and diverse people together, a negotiation in which there are no winners or losers except unity.

    You might think that Jesus would be just the sort of fellow to fulfill Isaiah’s words and bring the disparate and diverse interests, opinions, and desires of the many together into one religion.  You might think that, but you would be wrong.  Jesus is hardly the kind of unifying figure we think He should be.  Instead, He is polarizing.  There is no middle ground.  You are either for Him or against Him.  You either meet Him where He has come or He leaves you behind in the dust.  He is not the leader who is able to over come all division but the Savior who stands for one Gospel and one Gospel alone.

    Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth?  No, not peace, but division – division within nation and community, tribe and family.  It is no wonder that we scratch our heads and wonder what Jesus is talking about.  We have enough dysfunction in the halls of power in church and state.  We want someone who can reach across the aisle to enemies and unite us as one people.  Surely the Messiah would be that man, right?  Then why is Jesus so blunt here about the division He will cause?

    The sword of His Word does not unite but divides.  It is not merely a division between those who believe it and those who don’t but even within churches that claim to believe the Word of the Lord.  People all over Christendom fight over what His Word says and what it means as if it could mean and must mean something different than what it says.  Some presume that the meaning of the words hides a secret wisdom which can be discerned only by a spiritual few.  Others insist it is all mostly myth, legend, and story without basis in fact but only spiritually true.

    Jesus did not come to bring peace.  He came to bring Himself.  It is not His Word that lies at the heart of the great divisions of Christianity but the question:  who do you say Jesus is.  It is not doctrine that divides but Christ who divides the house, setting father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in- law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

A house divided cannot stand, so Abe Lincoln learned from Scripture, but Jesus has not come to prop up the falling houses man has built.  No, indeed, He has come to tear them all down to the ground and to build up a new house of hope based not on what man thinks but what God reveals.  His soul is in distress until that is done, until the religion of works in which man makes himself pleasing to God is buried and the religion of grace in which God has reconciled us to Himself through His Son reigns supreme.

    You might think that Jesus has come to help you with your broken or disordered lives, that He has come to help you make sense of it all and find a way through it.  But that would be wrong.  Jesus has not come to help us fix our broken lives nor has He come to help us find an escape path.  Jesus has come to put to death your old life, kill it dead by drowning it in the waters of baptism and then raising up a new life for which you can take no credit and in which He is all in all.  Does that sound harsh to you?  It may.  Our old Adam is not yet ready to surrender our broken down lives and our sin stained selves.  Our old Adam is not yet ready to give up the fight to preserve what is dying.  But Christ is ready to tear down what is already broken and kill what is already dead so that He may make you new, endowing your life with His invincible strength.

    The sad truth is that we prefer the appearance of unity which masks the great divisions we have over the alternative.  We would rather work to prop up that which is falling than to trust the Lord to build us new and forge a unity from His new creation.  This world is already passing away.  It is not that we will die but we carry around death already in our bodies.  This mortal life has become the long wait for death for a people who confuse this wait for death with life.  Jesus has come to strip away the lies and give us the whole, blunt truth.

    This is not because He hates us.  If He hated us He would surely leave us alone to live our lies and the die the death that sends you straight to hell.  It is because He loves us that He cannot allow the falsehoods and lies we hide behind to stand.  It is because He loves us that He opens our hearts to expose the sins we have worked so to hide.  It is because He loves us that He strips away the shreds of fancy that we call wisdom in order to expose the foolishness of the cross.  This is not judgment but redemption and it begins with the call to honest repentance and confession.  You think your heart is distressed because Jesus has come to hear your confession but His heart is distressed by every moment we must wait for the healing of His salvation to begin anew God’s word and work in us.  He has a baptism to be baptized with, a death to die, and grave to sanctify, and He will not rest until it is done.

Beloved people of God, there is only one thing that matters, that will not pass away.
There is only one thing that is eternal, the Word of the Lord endures forever.  Those who carry this Word in their hearts, who are purified by its fire in repentance, who are washed clean by its water in baptism, who hear in it the voice of Jesus speaking, and who eat the bread of this Word in the Holy Communion, they are forever because this Word lives in them and they live because of it.
    God’s Word is not some little book of inspirational wisdom nor is it a simple guide book to get the most out of this life.  His Word is not some flowery and flattering voice but the Sword of the Spirit, that cuts clean.  Because it cuts, it will divide, not simply the believers from the unbelievers but the dead from the living.  Lies will always attract a crowd but truth is often lonely.  Where the Word of God is preached in all its truth and purity, there will be division and discord for it is painful to our ears and hard on our hearts and minds.  It is the Word that is worth a battle, worth fighting for, and worth fighting about.  It is the most precious treasure we have and it will always be a spring board of dispute – that is how much rides upon that Word and its faithful preaching.
    God has not come to rebuild our lives from the pieces of our old lives.  He has come to make us new, to create brand new what was not, and to endow us with the future and hope of His own glorious resurrected flesh.  What is this offensive truth that cuts to the quick and makes for such deep divisions – it is that Jesus is Lord and no one else, that there is salvation in the name of Jesus and in no other name, that there are no good works except those done by those who live in Him, that this Gospel is about the sins that must be forgiven and the only blood that cleanses us from all sin. 

    For now we look through the mirror dimly.  We do not see face to face.  We have only to trust in this Word and believe this Gospel, even though our minds find it hard to accept and our hearts still rebel against its voice.  Like Peter of old, we have no other place to go, only Jesus can give us the Word of Life.  Like Luther of old, here we stand. The whole inconvenient truth of this Gospel comes to us not by solid reason or negotiation or combined wisdom.  This comes only by revelation, by the power of the Spirit, and in conflict with the wisdom of this age.  But where Christ is, there is hope and there is life.   Amen.

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