Saturday, August 17, 2013

Peace When There Is None

Sermon on Luke 12:49-56
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 18, 2013 (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.  We sang it toward the beginning of the service today.  And then we read this Gospel lesson.  Not peace, but division.  Not a cool breeze, but a hot wind that whips up fire.  War, not only between nations, but within families.  Clouds bringing thunderstorms and tornadoes.  South winds bringing drought and famine (ask Tina’s family about that one – they’re going through a terrible drought this summer, in fact, and this past spring their own county seat was damaged by a tornado, as well).  Conflicts between automobiles piloted by inattentive or even malicious drivers.  Conflicts between viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells against the human immune system.  All this unpleasantness, and Jesus says in today’s Gospel that He is here to bring us these conflicts.  What then of the angel’s message on Christmas?  What then of Jesus’ greeting of peace when He appears to the disciples in the upper room following His resurrection?  What then of all the places the word peace occurs in the Divine Service, including the pre-sermon blessing with which I greeted you only a few seconds ago?  What is Jesus saying here?

First of all, the division, the conflict, the wars and rumors of wars, the fire and famine, the tornadoes and the thunderstorms, all of these are not Jesus’ doing.  This world is unstable.  Whether you look at us people, or at nature itself, stuff just happens in this old world.  Often the wicked flourish while the righteous struggle along barely making it.  Fights break out in families, not only about religion, but about every other subject imaginable.  Fights break out among the human family, the human race, and when that happens hundreds or thousands die in the crossfire.  Fights break out between warm air masses and cold air masses, and tornadoes destroy property and lives.  Fights break out between tectonic plates, and earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear disasters happen.

None of this is Jesus’ doing; none of it is His fault.  He comes to fix all these things.  But He comes to fix these things in a particular way.  The most efficient and simplest way of solving the massive death and destruction Adam and Eve caused by their disobedience, is by destroying the whole creation in an instant and starting fresh.  But that would be to deny His own goodness as creator, not to mention dooming us, the crown of His creation, in the process.  And so, instead of simply stopping natural disasters, wars and rumors of wars, diseases, accidents, and, yes, family squabbles by just waving His hand and making the universe just disappear, He takes all these things into Himself.  He who knew no sin became sin for us.  He who can not die, dies.  He takes the whole mess upon Himself, and allows it to carry Him under the waves so that, instead of being merely immortal, merely sitting up in heaven wringing His hands, He is the Resurrected One, the one who cannot die because death swallowed Him and was fatally poisoned as a result, the one who laid with us in our grave so that those who believe in Him will follow Him into immortality and be seated at His right hand.  Instead of simply sitting up in heaven and watching the fire of sin consume and destroy everything He’s made, He allows Himself to be consumed so that sin itself is burnt out and can no longer harm us.

The problem is, of course, that this old world is still old, and getting older all the time.  The effects of sin still affect us.  Wars and rumors of wars, floods, fires, and famine all still happen.  These things are the reminders of the end times.  And that’s no accident, by the way.  It’s precisely the messes that are caused by sin that are the signs of the end times, because it is precisely because of sin that this old world is fatally damaged and will not (and can not) endure forever.  And because of that, the new and the old are inevitably in conflict.  He who cannot die comes into the world, and the world cannot help but kill Him, because His perfection is simply incompatible with imperfection.  His message, His good news, His eternal gift that the war with God is now over, that God has, for the sake of His Son’s death on the cross, unilaterally declared peace with us, is incompatible with human pride which wants to pursue God on our own terms, to find some way to make Him pay attention to or be impressed with us.  His peace, in other words, cannot help but be at war with the world.

And so, that means that, in addition to the fact that conflict naturally happens between family members, there is also conflict over the subject of religion.  Even wars are fought over differing views of what our relationship with God ought to be.  To be sure, in many cases religion is used as an excuse for a war that is actually motivated by crass nationalism, but nevertheless, there it is.  The Gospel of peace, simply by existing in a broken, war-infested world, itself brings division and war.  Not by its own fault, but simply because the brokenness of this old world is a brokenness that wants to stay the way it is, to try to fix itself, and which can not and will not accept that God could or would fix things from His side.

And yet, that’s exactly what God does.  He fixes it from His side of the battle lines.   He declares peace unilaterally.  He enters our humanity and our death and transforms it into resurrection.  And all of this at the right time.  That’s the other thing we in our impatient, breathless, anxious and angry society fail to recognize.  Some moments are more important to others, not only for us as individuals, but for God.  There are times and places that belong to Him in a way that other times and places do not.  He is everywhere, and yes, he is everywhen, but not everywhere and everywhen is set aside for Him to bless us.  Most of the Jews had no idea that they were living during the time that all of the promises of the Old Testament would be fulfilled in Jesus.  That hill outside Jerusalem on that Friday was the very center of human history, not necessarily in terms of chronology, but in terms of importance.  The whole reason God had established His temple there was because of its proximity to the place where the world itself would be redeemed.  And that time and place is here for you, now.  It is the body crucified and the blood shed which you eat and drink here.  You join the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven here and now.  You join Jesus on the cross and in the tomb through water, and you share in that body broken and made whole, and that blood shed and restored, this very morning, in this very room.  You can see in the west when the clouds come and it’s going to storm.  These days, we can pull our smartphones out of our pockets and see them even when they’re just starting to hit Madison or even Iowa.  But can you see heaven itself?  Do you know when the center of human history comes and visits you?  Wherever His Word is rightly preached and His Sacraments rightly administered, that is the time and the place that you are in Jerusalem in 33 AD, and you are in eternity itself seated at God’s right hand.  The world doesn’t like it, and the world will throw a tantrum about it, but you are at peace with God Himself, because you are always with Him where and when He made that peace.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

No comments:

Post a Comment