2022-08-14 Pentecost 10
Updated: Aug 21
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I have confessed this to you people before that I am an Arts student through and through! All my life I have struggled with math. It just never did add up to me! From trying to count the sides of a paper dodecahedron to failing my grade 8 density quiz, I always felt like math was much like what a triangle said to the circle - “you’re pointless!” But I’ll bet that you didn’t know that Jesus was not only the great physician, but He was also a great mathematician. He talked about addition when He said “seek the kingdom of God and all else will be added unto you” (MT 6:33). He also taught about subtraction when He died on the cross to take away our sins! (1JN 3:5) And, He illustrated the concepts of multiplication when He took 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes and multiplied enough to feed the great multitude of 5000! (JN 6:11) Finally, Jesus teaches us about division in our Gospel text today: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (LK 12:51)
This lesson is from the “5th Gospel.” Ever heard of it? You can easily find the 5th Gospel when you thumb through the pages of your Bible and put together everything that is NOT highlighted or underlined. That’s the 5th Gospel! It’s all the stuff in the Bible you DON’T want to hear! These are the hard sayings or the difficult teachings of Jesus. They shake us and jar us and at the very least, they make us take pause and ponder! I immediately think of John chapter 6 when it comes to Jesus’ hard sayings. He told the crowds and the disciples all about the sacrament and how people were to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Naturally, because this sounded sensationally weird, some of His disciples said “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” (JN 6:60) The word for this even sounds harsh in the original Greek – skléros! This is where we get the term Mulitple Sclerosis from. With that disease, plaque hardens around the neurons disrupting normal abilities and activities. After Jesus’ skléros saying, John 6:66 says: “after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”
Jesus! He is the Great Divide. Or perhaps the great divider. He separates the sheep from the goats, the faithful from the faithless, the Christians from the Heathens, the disciples from the hypocrites, the right from the wrong. The world hates this Jesus. It will, however, tolerate the prince of peace Jesus, or baby Jesus, or hippie Jesus or giant fuzzy teddy bear Jesus who healed people and blessed the little children! But the world doesn’t like the fire throwin’, earth burnin’, family dividin’, Jesus! People don’t like to read those verses in Scripture like Hebrews 12:29 “our God is a consuming fire!” One of my parishioners on my vicarage in Kitimat understood the 5th Gospel pretty well. She said “if Dad says no, no means no!” But still, even Christians today tend not to want to deal with the hard teachings of the Bible. They will either twist them to say what they want them to or just chuck them all together. However, true disciples of Jesus hold all of God’s Word not just parts of it. You don’t just wear your Rider jersey when they win. You wear it on the hard days when they have 13 men on the field during the last play the Grey Cup too! A fan is a fan. A disciple is a disciple. Doctrine is doctrine. We heard also from our Jeremiah reading that the false prophets were the ones who “speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jer 23:16). Likewise St. Paul in his warning to Timothy says “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2Tim 4:3-4).
Should we really be surprised then at Jesus hard words this morning? Do you remember what was said about Jesus in Luke chapter 2? “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (2:34). So there we have it. Fire, Baptism and Division are indeed Jesus’ hard words for us and for everyone! When you think of fire, it is a two sided coin. On the one side, it destroys. On the other side, it also purifies – as in the case with precious metals. When it comes to God and fire, it often was linked with His divine presence. In the Old Testament, there was the tabernacle and the temple systems that utilized fire. In the New Testament, Divine Fire came down from Heaven at Pentecost! And even here, in God’s house, we have our firey candles on the Altar, symbolizing God’s presence among us. So in this hard reading, we have Jesus – who is indeed God in the flesh – present and the fire that burns away impurity and at the same time refines.
As it pertains to Baptism, we know that Jesus was already baptized by John in the Jordan. But the ‘baptism’ that He is talking about today, a baptism of fire, is a reference to His passion, His suffering and death on the cross where His blood was shed for the forgiveness of sin. This ‘bloody baptism’ burns up and destroys all of the world’s sin. And more, this fire continues to refine us in our Baptism. The faith that is created in our Baptism indeed separates us and divides us from the world.
Finally, Jesus brings separation of the baptized faithful believers and this unbelieving world. Your baptism separated you from sin and death and it purified and refines you. You have been clothed with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. Now, you are a member of His family and He gives you the faith and blessing to come to His table and eat and drink His forgiveness and life in this blessed sacrament. These are God’s Holy things for His Holy people. You all are His disciples and you are NOT the same as this unbelieving world that is not unified to Christ, but rather is unified with death. Jesus has indeed divided you from this hopeless death and has set you apart and declared you holy.
This hard teaching does create some friction with the world to be sure. And furthermore, we know that division hurts! It can put family member against family member. Instead of standing as a strong, unified family in Christ, often we see parents watch their kids fall away from the faith. Or, we see the kids leaving their parents at home to go by themselves to church. Or the time comes for marriage and kids marry unbelievers. The temptation exists then to try to blur the division. We are often tempted with approving sinful behavior – forced to choose between Christ and His ways and our own flesh and blood relatives! We are tempted to throw out God’s Word and teaching in order to “keep the peace” at home. Yet this kind of peace is no kind of peace at all. It actually flies in the face of the very prince of peace!
As Disciples and followers of our Lord Jesus, we must not trade faithfulness to God’s Word for any kind of perceived human unity or false peace. We must stay strong and faithful in the face of harassment, temptation, suffering and, even as the martyrs did, death itself. It’s not always a bowl of cherries! But recall the Apostles in the book of Acts. We are told that “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (5:41). And let us not forget our Lord’s Words in the sermon on the mount “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (MT 5:10). We will all most likely suffer for our faith at one time or another and in one way or another.
But what is the bottom line in all of this?! Well we know that life is hard! And it’s even harder for us who have one foot on earth and the other foot in God’s Kingdom. Life in this sinful world will brings us the good, the bad and the ugly. It can be heinously dark, bringing much suffering and we undoubtedly feel the effects of sin – either our own or others’ – and along with it comes guilt and shame, fear about our the future or this utter feeling of being lost and devastated. Such things often seem overwhelming and all of life can even seem hopeless. But it is here that we see the benefit of Christ’s division. It is here that we can fully rely on Him for Divine help and strength. The unbelieving world does not have this supernatural power source that you do as God’s baptized and beloved child. From our Lord we get forgiveness, life and salvation. We get help and healing and the confidence that our Good Shepherd walks beside us and leads us, during the good times and especially during the hard times we experience. God is always faithful. And we remember St. Peter’s words, after Jesus gave them the hard teaching: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (JN 6:68).
The world, Satan and our own sinful nature will continually try to pull us from our Savior. But can they overcome the Good News of the Gospel?? No, they cannot! They may snarl and appear ferocious and scary, but all they want is to try to make you reject Jesus. But this is the way of death. They continually work to re-unify us with the world and it’s wide and easy road that leads to destruction. Rather than have that happen, cling to Christ! Cling to His Word - and cling to all of it, not just the parts you want to hear. His Word is eternal life. It is the only source of life and light and hope for this troubled world. Our Savior suffered on the cross to save and heal you – trust His Word of healing. For truly He has divided you from sin and death! He has multiplied and added to you forgiveness and life everlasting! Thanks be to God now and forever more. Amen!