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LSB Proper 15C Sermon – Luke 12:49-56

August 15, 2016

August 14, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!  From now on five in one household will be divided.”

So much for the Prince of Peace moniker! That is one of the favorite titles given to Jesus. We mention it just about it every Advent and Christmas Season, as we read from the prophecy of Isaiah. But Jesus’ own words claim that He is not one to bring peace to the earth. Just the opposite: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Perhaps we should call Jesus the Sultan of Strife, the King of Conflict, or the Duke of Discord.

Maybe those new titles aren’t completely serious. But it is most certainly true that division is what Jesus speaks about. And not only does He speak about bringing division to the world, He says it will even occur in households: “Father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Even family ties will not hold together.

So what is all this talk of division all about? Why does Jesus say He has come to bring it? It is important that we not get the wrong idea about this division. Jesus is not saying that He has come with the purpose of causing strife: that is not His goal. It is most certainly true that the Son of God entered into the world in order to provide reconciliation. This is what we confess in the Nicene Creed: “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven.” Jesus’ teaching is full of statements that He has come to redeem what was lost, to bring eternal life to those who believe in Him and the One who sent Him, to bring all His sheep into one fold.

These statements demonstrate that Jesus was not sent here to wreak havoc in the world. Yet, by His very actions of redemption, Jesus does cause division. In our own time, we see how divisive of a figure He is. All sorts of people want nothing to do with Him or His followers. Some even have the desire to stamp out all evidence of Jesus’ existence in the world, even through the persecution and murder of His disciples. And even when people try to take more of a neutral stance about Jesus, they attempt to skip over parts of His life or teaching that they don’t really care for.

But what we see in our time is no different than any other era of history since Jesus’ birth, because He really is a divisive figure. And it’s not just Him: it’s anyone who speaks about things like absolute truth, sin and grace, the necessity of forgiveness for salvation, and the exclusiveness of faith. Recall the reaction that prophets in the past received, including Jeremiah and the others alluded to in the Epistle Reading: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.” Why is this so? Because they spoke about topics that get all people riled up, that cause division, because no one wants to hear about them. They are confrontational topics, items of discussion that can cause offense. At some point, talk of these topics leads to having the finger pointed at you and the declaration that you are wrong.

How much more so it is with Jesus! Remember what the Epistle Reading said: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” 

Why would Jesus receive such hostility? Because of the claims He makes about His identity and His purpose: He is the Son of God come to earth to provide salvation for sinful humans who will receive it, if they will believe in Him as the source of salvation and access that salvation through the means He has instituted. We can count up how many controversial things there are in that fairly simple proposition: 1) Jesus is God’s Son. 2) There is sin. 3) Humans are sinful. 4) Salvation is given, only if a person believes that Jesus is the source. 5) There are specific places where that salvation is doled out.  And even within those five controversial items, there are sub-items which have caused division.

Truth be told, all humanity will be split into two groups: those who believe in that proposition of Jesus and those who don’t. And we can find people on both sides even in the same household and family. Is that Jesus’ goal? Is that what He desires to take place? Certainly not! Remember, Jesus even prayed that all would be united, even as He and God the Father are united. Yet, this division takes place, even though Jesus is bringing salvation to the world. And there is no getting around that fact.

The question that is posed to you on this day is: In which camp do you place yourself? In the matter of division that Jesus brings, do you find yourself in union with Him or discord? It’s a bit more than a rhetorical question. And it’s not a question that some of the popular preachers will ask—those who go and run not speaking the truth that the LORD reveals. We’re not going to fill an arena asking it. But it is a question that we need to ask ourselves, especially when we are confronted by Jesus’ teaching.

Yet, today is not the first time that we’ve been asked that question. Most of you have been asked it at least twice in very formal settings. While the words might not be exactly the same, the question: “Are you on Jesus’ side?” has been asked of all of us who have received Holy Baptism and the Rite of Confirmation. At both of these times, we are asked to make confession about what we believe, especially regarding Jesus. We are asked if we have allegiance to Satan, Jesus’ enemy, or to our Lord. And we are asked to state our belief about who Jesus is with the words of the Apostolic Creed.

But those aren’t the only times. If you would look in your hymnbooks, in the catechism section, on page 329, you’ll find some more questions asked of us, or that we should ask of ourselves. And at the heart of that is that proposition about Christ’s identity, His mission, what He provides for sinners, and that we are needy sinners. Look at Question 1: “Are you a sinner?” Question 4: “What have you deserved from God because of your sins?” Questions 5 & 6: “Do you hope to be saved? In whom then do you trust?” Question 7: “Who is Christ?” Question 9: “What has Christ done for you that you trust in Him?”

Those are questions of division, because the answers that you give will place you squarely in one camp or the other. Either you take Jesus at His word—His word about who He is, what He does, how He supplies what you need—or you don’t. But those who are on Jesus’ side answer like our catechism provides: Yes, I’m a sinner. I have deserved God’s wrath and displeasure. I hope to be saved because I trust in my dear Lord Jesus who is the Son of God, true God and man. He died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Such is the confession of faith of those in the LORD’s household, whether it be two or three gathered in His name or the myriads of saints in heaven above.

But there is something else that we also need to know and take to heart. Being on Jesus’ side is not something we accomplish on our own. In fact, we didn’t even first choose to be part of His group; He called us to be His followers. We can’t on our own come up with the true confession about who He is, but He grants us the Holy Spirit that reveals the truth and the ability to make such a confession. We, as sinful humans, want to exercise our own wills, follow our own desires, things that would lead us away from Jesus’ side, but He grants us the Holy Spirit to keep us in the true faith. And in our lives, there will be times when we offend Jesus, disobey Jesus, even rebel against Jesus. But that is when He still summons us back to Him, to be present with His gifts that bring us forgiveness even for such grave sins.

The question isn’t exactly: In which camp do you place yourself? Rather, the question is: In which camp has Jesus placed you? Thanks be to Him that Jesus has placed us on His side. For that means we are heirs of salvation, recipients of His graciousness and goodness. And that doesn’t mean just for the day of our baptism or our confirmation, but every day of our lives, even on our dying day. For on that day, when those same questions about faith and trust are asked, we will answer in the affirmative: “Yes, I believe. I believe that I am a redeemed sinner and an heir of everlasting life, just as the Son of God has promised me.” And on that day, we will no longer be in this world where division exists, even in our families, but will live in the Heavenly Father’s household with all who have made the same confession about Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.

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

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