Monday, August 19, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 13: "The Cross, the Great Divide"

+ 13th Sunday after Pentecost – August 18th, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, Proper 15: Jeremiah 23:16-29; Hebrews 11:17-31; Luke 12:49-56

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 We’re used to the usual household divisions: Star Wars or Star Trek. American or National League. Pepperoni or Pineapple pizza. Country or Rock. 8 or 11 service. Or here in Southern California: USC or UCLA.

But Jesus’ words here sound altogether more serious than that.
A baptism by fire? Not peace, but divisions? What’s he talking about? It all sounds so un-Jesus like. This isn’t just one of Jesus’ hard sayings. It sounds contradictory. How can Jesus be the Prince of Peace and say, “I’ve not come to bring peace on earth but division?”

All our questions about the second half of this reading – peace and division – can be answered by looking closer at the first half – fire and baptism.
We must remember that what Jesus says in today’s Gospel he says on the way to the cross. If we lose sight of Jesus’ cross we’ve already lost the point of today’s readings. Fire and Baptism, Peace and Division – it all hangs on the cross.

And the closer Jesus gets to Jerusalem, the more tension grows, conflict and rejection increases, and the Pharisees get more and more anxious to kill him.
Jesus is anxious too… 

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled. I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
Jesus’ love for you consumes him. He longs to finish, accomplish, and complete his saving work for you. Jesus gives you a glimpse of the shuddering agony of Gethsemane. Jesus knows what it will cost, and he goes toward it. He goes on for you, bearing your sin, what wondrous love. “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross scorning its shame…”

“The hell coming to you for your sin He goes to, bearing your sin. He is forsaken by God in your place, and the fire of hell does not destroy him. Instead of that fire for you he kindles another. Hidden under the hard wood of the cross, the fire is kindled. From the ashes of Calvary, Jesus’ risen body has the light of Easter, and the fire is given out at Pentecost to burn in his witnesses.” (Norman Nagel)  Fire and Baptism and the cross.
Jesus’ ministry ends the same way it began - baptism. In the Jordan, a watery baptism, an anointing for death. It was a baptism for sinners. Jesus stood in solidarity with us. Now on the cross Jesus atones for our sin by a bloody baptism. Jesus is baptized in our judgment, sin, and death.

Baptism bookends his life and work, from the Jordan to Jerusalem. The cross is the great divide.
At Jesus’ baptism and his death - the cross is the great divide of your sin. Recall the old catechism definition of sin: our sin separates us from God. Sin divides. Sin cuts off. To depart from God is to die forever.

So when Jesus takes over your sin he takes over your death. His baptism put him to our death so that in his death we receive life in Baptism. His death ends the divide between God the Father and us his children. The cross is the great divide.
But the Christ’s cross brings another kind of division.

For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.

 Jesus taught his disciples about the division that would take place as a result of his death and resurrection.  The cross brings division, offense, and scandal.

Jesus also teaches us. For we also know about division. In the world, in our lives, in the church on earth – differences on what churches teach about the Lord’s Supper, on the form and content of worship; on being faithful to Christ in doctrine and mission. These are not idle or unimportant divisions (1 Cor. 11:19).
Today, in the 21st century, Christ’s church lives and ministers the Gospel in a time that parallels the 1st century. Rampant paganism. Hostility and antagonism towards the Church. Christ crucified is hated and mocked as foolish or mythical. Increased opposition to God’s gift of family, marriage, and sexuality. Persecution. Martyrdom. Division.

We may be tempted to call down fire and judgment on society. But just as in the days of Noah, God’s patience and long suffering remain. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God is patient that more might come to repentance and faith in Christ.
And that’s how we live in these Last Days. Eternal judgment is God’s job (thankfully) – and the world has already been judged on the cross. That’s where we point people - to the cross. Judgment poured out for you. Atonement made for you. We live not in fear of eternal judgment but by faith in Christ. Your life is not found in the Law, but in the Gospel, not in yourself, but in Christ Crucified.

Christ Crucified is the great divide. There’s no neutrality when it comes to Jesus. There is faith or unbelief – like the Pharisees. Trust or rejection. That’s why we struggle and wrestle daily – why we are in an all out war with ourselves – between our old unbelieving Adam and our new having-faith-in-Christ-nature. We live the same way Abraham and the saints of old lived – by faith in Christ Crucified. That’s really just another way of saying Christ’s life is your life. Christ lived for you, died for you, rose for you and now in baptism lives in you.
Of course, living this way – by the Gospel, receiving the sacraments and studying the Scriptures –will cause division in your life if it hasn’t already. Mormons and Muslims who come to faith in Christ already know this. Last week, more than 50 churches in Egypt burned because of this reality. 

Jesus teaches us about the division – the kind that happens among his people precisely because of his cross, as a direct result of his teaching. Our Christian lives will reflect that to one degree or another. Jesus’ words of division strike a chord with us. Maybe it’s that friend at school or a co-worker who won’t look at you when you walk by or ignores your phone calls or emails…they don’t say why but you know it’s because you’re a Christian; you don’t flaunt it, but you don’t hide it either.
Even our families are divided. Division over who can commune at Lutheran altars or not. Division over whether or not our children or grandchildren should be baptized and taught the Christian faith. Division over worldviews. We all know someone who doesn’t believe in Christ – or is even hostile in their atheism. Divisions even come on social issues: marriage or abortion and a host of other things we wrestle with daily.

These divisions and struggles are real. They come as a result of the Gospel. All the more reason to know that good theology is the most practical thing you can have (Rod Rosenbladt).
All of this may cause you anxiety. Worry. Despair. Fear. Frustration. But take heart. Do not be afraid. You are not alone.

You’re a member of Christ’s body, the church, as much as your hands and legs and feet are a part of your body. You’re united by Christ in baptism. Share these struggles with the Church. Let your brothers and sisters in Christ bear your burdens with you.
You’ve Pastors who will visit with you, pray with you and for you, read the Scriptures and study Lutheran confessions together with you, administer the sacraments for you.

Whatever the division is in your life, you’re not alone. Christ knows each and every one of your struggles. He endured and lived them all for you. Consider him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you may not grow weary. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  
Christ is with you and for you. You’re not alone. He prays for us. And we pray for others, for open ears and opportunities to open the Scriptures and proclaim the Gospel to those with whom we’re in conflict. Look for ways to speak the truth in love about why Redeemer strives to be faithful to Christ’s Word and Sacraments; or about why Baptism is the best gift we can give our children, about why we can believe that Jesus was dead and raised based on trustworthy historical evidence, or about why we support and encourage family, marriage, and life according to God’s gift and design.

Yet we do this with gentleness and humility counting others more significant than ourselves.  For you know things that make for peace – Jesus’ Supper, baptism, absolution. Jesus’ Words. And so, you have an opportunity in your vocations – wherever God has placed you – to speak a word, not of division, but of peace.  The same peace you receive here.

For we who suffer these divisions – and we all do in some way – whether at home, school, work or church – Jesus brings words of peace to you. Jesus is united with you in peace – the same peace he speaks as he feeds you with his body and blood. His peace that unites you with his death and resurrection in Baptism. Peace that kindles the work of the Holy Spirit in each of you.

Christ is with each of you in your divisions. For he has made all of your divisions his own in his death. You are at peace in the great divide of his cross. And you will never be divided from him.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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