Monday, July 3, 2023

Not peace but a sword. . .

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, preached on July 2, 2023.

In a few days Americans will gather to celebrate our Independence Day, the day when patriots took up arms against their government to declare their liberty from the King and country.  But today we encounter words of Jesus that confound and confuse us, words that have been twisted to use as a pretext for many things “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Is Jesus giving permission for war and violence?  Is Jesus not in favor of peace between the nations, within our country, and within our communities?  What does Jesus mean?  What is the sword and what is the violence that Jesus has come to bring on earth?

When they came to arrest Jesus and St. Peter took out his knife in a show of strength but Jesus insisted that he put the sword away and then healed the man whom St. Peter had wounded.  Jesus says those who live by the sword, die by the sword. So was Jesus a pacifist and should we be also?  Some Christians would say so and some churches have taken up this cause – even using Jesus’ words as reason for gun control.  Is that what Jesus is talking about?  What peace and what sword?

According to St. Paul, the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit.  A sword is not a defensive weapon but an offensive one.  It is made to be an weapon of war, a tool for killing, and an instrument of violence.  According to the armor described in Ephesians, everything there is defensive except for the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  St. Paul is addressing the Church Militant – the Church contending for the Word of God in the battleground of mind, heart, and society and against the enemies of that Word.  

Hebrews describes the sword of the Word as a double bladed weapon that cuts both ways.  “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any  two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  This is the sword Jesus came to bring, the sword He is as the Word made flesh, and the sword wielded by the Church in His name.  It is this sword that would divide Israel, that would be set for the rise and fall of many as Simeon put it to the infant Jesus and Mary and Joseph in the Temple.  This sword would divide the home as well, father from son, brother from sister, daughter-in-law from mother-in-law.  This sword prunes and pares that the vine might produce good fruit.  

Jesus is not taking sides in earthly conflicts as if His cause was to create a world state under one grand government.  Jesus is taking sides for the kingdom of heaven, the eternal kingdom that is come on earth in the person and work of Jesus Himself.  The momentary pause created by the death and resurrection of Jesus would be replaced by constant conflict, discord, and division as this Word is preached among the nations.  Satan is always trying to stir up violence against the Word of God and those who believe it.  If that is not enough, there is still resistence within our own hearts and minds to the Word of God and the Gospel of peace that is come by the violence of our Lord’s death and resurrection.  This is what Jesus is talking about.

All around us the world and Christians are trying to diminish the shocking nature of the Gospel.  All around us voices are saying what you believe is not as important as the sincerity of your belief so stop fighting about doctrine.  All around us people are trying to water down the Word of God so that it fits the times and the opinions of those living in these times.  The truth is there is nothing as important as Christ, as His Word of truth, and as the preaching of this Gospel of life.  In the end it is the only thing that matters.  We live in a world where our values are skewed by the temporary things that we make eternal and the eternal things we dismiss as insignificant.  In the end all that matters is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God that brings us to repentance, implants faith within our hearts, and marks us for the eternal kingdom of God.  That is what matters. That is worth fighting for, what we ought to be contending for in our hearts, homes, and among humanity at large.

We have been warned about talking about religion – at least the religious things that divide us.  We are warned about how offensive an exclusive Gospel and Savior are.  The world has declared peace for every form of sexual perversion, every incarnation of sexual identity, every immorality that can be imagined, and every evil that proceeds from the heart of man.  We celebrate a diversity in which no truth is real, there is equity to make up for every victim of disadvantage, and inclusion for everyone who feels left out.  But if you dare speak God’s Word in the public square, you raise the wrath of a nation against you.  The last discrimination allowed is against the Christian who believes and speaks God’s Word faithfully.  It is to this that Jesus insists we must not be silent but must take up the sword of His Word without fear, without hesitance, and without apology.  There is only one name under heaven and on earth by which any and all will be saved and that is the name of the crucified and risen One, Jesus Christ.

The Lord is not looking to win friends or be popular; He is out to saved the lost, bring sinners to repentance, forgive the guilty by the blood of Christ, and deliver the dead to everlasting life.  The sword of God became flesh and sinew and bone so that He could cut through you and me to our hearts and bring us to the saving knowledge of His Son.  

Heaven and earth will pass away, our bodies will pass through death as well, but the sword of God’s Word will endure forever and will bring into eternity all those who believe it.   God’s Word is still our sword. The Church on earth is the Church militant, still fighting. The Word of God is still the sword that cuts and divides truth from error, life from death.  Where that Word is preached, there will always be resistence.  God did not make us alive by wishing sin and death away but faced its brutal reality with the greater reality of His mercy working in Jesus Christ.  We are saved by this mercy and we live each day because of that mercy.  But every day this Word of Life battles within our hearts, homes, and neighborhoods for the enemies are many and powerful.

The devil will not stand and we must not kneel before him — Christ is our victory, our hope, and our peace.  The day will come when at last the warfare is over, when the sword is beaten into the plowshare, and the enemies of Christ’s peace have surrendered and been banished from us.  That is not yet but it will be.  Until then, we press on toward the goal, heeding the upward call of God, believing the Word, being pruned by its blade that Christ may reign in our hearts without challenge, secure in the knowledge that God’s work is not to sanction the fragile peace of compromise but to raise up the sturdy peace of Christ, crucified and risen.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

1 comment:

gamarquart said...

Thank you. Great sermon. A Word especially for today, but also for the rest of time.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart