Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pentecost 2 (Proper 8), Series A

Sermon on Matthew 10:34-42
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
June 26, 2011 (Proper 8, Series A)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Okay, that sounds more than a little bit shocking, coming from our Lord’s mouth. What happened to “Blessed are the peacemakers?” Isn’t peace one of the blessings we receive from following Jesus and trusting in His promises of salvation and eternal life? So what is this talk of warfare and division all about? Especially since it involves divisions among close family members. The relationships among husband and wife, father, mother, and children are among the closest and most basic vocations He has created us to fill. And here He is, the One who made us for the roles of husband and wife, parents and children, saying that His coming among us will rend asunder those very relationships that He has created and blessed.

The problem, of course, is not His. The reason why His coming into the world causes strife and division is not His fault, but ours. He comes to fix what was broken back in Genesis 3 when our first parents fell into sin. The fact is, strife and division, even among husbands and wives, parents and children, has always been part of this old fallen world, going all the way back to when Cain murdered Abel. And trusting Jesus for forgiveness and rescue from this old and broken world only makes the problem worse, because this world is not prepared, and never will be prepared, to be at peace with God on its own. And so, the fact that the Word Himself has come into the world creates divisions and strife, is not the Word’s fault, it’s the world’s. It’s sinful humanity that rebels against its Creator. The Creator doesn’t purposely come to ruin the relationships He has created, but His coming causes those relationships to be ruined, simply because some will die to sin and be reborn to eternal life, and others won’t.

You see, our relationship with God, the one relationship we cannot ever no way no how fix on our own, is to be more important to us even than our own families are. And family is pretty important, from God’s perspective, because He created us to live in families, to give us a picture of the relationships that exist within Himself, between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. After all, the Fourth Commandment, the one that tells us to love our fathers and mothers, is the first one in the second table of the Ten Commandments. Out of all the commandments that deal with our relationships with our fellow human beings, the one that guards and defends family relationships comes first. And so, something has to be pretty darned important to be more important than our own families. In fact, there is to be nothing more important than our families, except for God Himself. And that’s where the problem comes in.

You see, since fear, love, and trust in God above all things is more important even than families, and since all of us have been corrupted and broken by the sin we inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve, turning to trust and follow Christ is going to cause problems for us in this world. We could lose friends, or even family members, over our faithfulness to God’s promises. That’s why Jesus came not to bring peace, but a sword: some will receive His free gifts, others will refuse them. And even the fundamental relationships within the family itself will fall victim to that particular division between believer and unbeliever.

But even this aspect of the cross we bear as Christians, Jesus can sympathize with. You see, the divisions brought about by sin are not limited to human fathers and sons. The Son of God Himself became sin for us and went through the pain of separation from His Father’s gracious presence on the cross. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” It is precisely the ultimate pain, that of separation from God Himself, that Jesus came to experience. He came not just to set a man against his father, but to be set against His own Father in our place. He came not just to call us to a life lived under the cross of suffering that goes along with being a new creation in Christ in the midst of the old, broken creation, but to suffer on the physical cross itself to reconcile us to His Father. He came not to save His own life, but to lose it for us.

And because He lost His life for us, He was able to rise again and bring us with Him. While it is true that following Jesus brings opposition and hostility from the world, it is also true that the world will eventually pass away. He does come to bring peace, but the peace He comes to bring is peace with God, the declaration that the warfare is over. Those who still see God as their enemy, of course, will regard us as traitors, and that’s why the sword comes into it. But we are at peace with God, and that’s what matters. He has declared the war between Himself and us to be finished, and so it is. We have fellowship with Him, and that’s what matters. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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