Monday, August 15, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 13: "Fire and Baptism, Peace and Division"

+ 13th Sunday after Pentecost – August 14th, 2016 +
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.

There are a lot of things in life that divide us. Even simple, every-day things like Star Wars or Star Trek. American or National League. Pepperoni or Hawaiian 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’ll miss the point of today’s readings.

And the closer Jesus gets to Jerusalem, the more tension grows, conflict and rejection increases, and the Pharisees are increasingly 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. “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross scorning its shame…”

“The hell coming to us for our 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 us 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” (Nagel). Fire and Baptism and the cross.

Jesus’ ministry ends the same way it began - baptism. In the Jordan, Jesus was baptized and anointed for death. It was a baptism for sinners. And yet Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for you. Jesus stood in solidarity with us – one with our humanity, and one with our sin. In the Jordan river, Jesus received a baptism by water. On the cross, Jesus received a baptism by blood and fire. Jesus is baptized in our judgment, sin, and death. Baptism bookends his life and work, from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

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.

Jesus’ death ends the divide between God the Father and us his children. Jesus’ cross divides us from our sin and reconciles you to God.

And we know that the Christ’s cross brings another kind of division as well.

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.

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.

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. Ask any Muslim who’s converted to Christianity. Or look at the lives of those martyred for the faith across the world.

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 basic parts of Christian teaching. Division over whether or not our children or grandchildren should be baptized and taught the Christian faith. Division over worldviews.

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 (Rosenbladt).

And know also that you’re not alone. Amidst the Anxiety, worry, despair, fear, and frustration. Do not be afraid. You’re a member of Christ’s body, the church. Christ has joined himself to you in Baptism. Christ suffers with you. And therefore, we share these struggles with one another. Let your brothers and sisters in Christ bear your burdens with you.

God has also given you a pastor and a vicar who will visit with you, pray with you and for you, read the Scriptures and study Lutheran confessions together with you, administer the sacraments to 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. Pray 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.  We know things that make for peace – Jesus’ Supper, baptism, absolution. Jesus’ Words. And so, we have an opportunity in our vocations – wherever God has placed us – 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 gives you with his body and blood. His peace unites you with his death and resurrection in Baptism. His Peace 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 reconciled. You are at peace in Jesus’ crucified. 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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