Aug18

The Great Divide

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10th Sunday After Pentecost

The Great Divide

        Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

        When we seek the pleasures of this world, we have only the briefest of fleeting happiness. It is like trying to grasp the wind. This is what happens when we as sinners, place ourselves above God.

            It is true that we enjoy the presence of God through the Holy Spirit when two or more are gathered in His name. It is true that to worship God in His house brings us happiness because we see ourselves as redeemed sinners through the sacrifice of Christ. Yes, these are true and valid points, and through these acts of worship, we do indeed feel joy; but this is because of what God has done and continues to do in our lives, not what we do for ourselves.

            We are gathered together, not only to worship God with our lips, but also to worship God with our whole heart above all things. We show our thanksgiving in our prayers and we receive the blessings of forgiveness through the sacraments. This is all very well and good. Yet we are also to carry out the commands of our Lord each and every day:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. [Deut 6:4-7]

            This is why we gather together in His name, so that we obey His command to have no other gods but the one true God. As we all know, this is not an easy task. When we put God first above all things and do what God commands us, we will be persecuted. We will be in unrest. There will be division.

            We do not feel good when others oppose us. When society works against the laws of God we do not find it comfortable. Peace of this life will not be obtained, for to be righteous in the eyes of God means we will be shunned by those who cannot stand the truth and the light.

            People of this world do not wish to leave the darkness. It is like waking someone who is asleep by turning on the light. Do the people awakened jump up with a smile on their face and say, “Good morning! Thank you for ending my existence in the dark!” No, they curse you and throw things at you demanding that you leave them alone and return them to the darkness.

            In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus tells his disciples the reason he had come to this earth. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” His reason for coming to us is not to give us peace on earth. The point of our being here is not so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives.

            I know that this seems counter-intuitive. You may say to yourselves that, “Jesus loves everybody. He came to save us all. We should all be happy and get along. Jesus says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. This very command contradicts the idea of derisiveness and division.” Does Jesus contradict himself with these words? Let me answer in this way.

            In the past few weeks we have read of Jesus teaching his disciples to not put their faith in what is of this world. He gives examples of vanity and building worthless treasures here on earth. Jesus thoroughly encourages us to look to God the Father for all our wants and needs. He urges us to live with our hearts and minds in what is of God and not what is of this realm.

        If we do this, if we truly put God where he belongs, in that place above all gods and above all things, we will be separated from the people of this earth. We will be divided amongst our brothers and sisters and amongst our fathers and mothers. We will be one in the body of Christ and at the same time, in conflict with those who choose not to follow the truth and the light.

        “The family that prays together doesn’t necessarily stay together when they do not pray to the same God and confess the same Christ together. Sin divides, but the forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake unites. The confession of Christ may bring us into conflict with those nearest to us.”[1]

        This division comes from those who are followers of Christ and those who put things of this world before God. This division is a side effect of Jesus’ saving work. Those who believe in the salvation of Christ’s sacrifice for us have very strong convictions about sin, grace, holiness and must speak about them. Those who deny Jesus’ saving work have their strong convictions about how good they are, about earning their way into heaven or about living as they please. They speak their convictions as well, but “What has straw in common with wheat?”

        In these United States, we see the increase of division in families both physically and spiritually. We see an increase in divorce and abandonment. Even in families that are still whole, we see people who show no interest in worship of God.

        It is not uncommon to see a mother and her children in church without the father. How many times have I heard a husband say, “My wife and children go to church regularly,” Or the people who say they don’t go to church, but “My mother never missed a Sunday.” They seem to think that the faith of the rest of their family will take care of them too.

        These divisions exist outside of the family as well. We see division in communities, divisions between churches, hatred and even persecution. Luther separated from the Roman Catholic Church and since that time, the Lutheran Church has experienced division after division.

        We are not to give up the promise of God because we fear conflict or division. It is true that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Yet if our neighbor follows a path of self fulfillment, do not be dismayed in their rejection of Christ. The good Dr. Martin Luther did not wish division in the Roman Catholic Church. He did everything he could to reconcile, but when the Roman Catholic Church put man before God, Luther had to separate himself from them.

        We struggle daily with the growing separation between God and humanity. This is why we see a decline in the latest generation’s attendance to God’s house. We constantly ask ourselves, “What must we do to get people back into church?” We see the growth in churches that pander to the will of those in this world. We see the watering down of the Scriptures and the truth, all to get another person in the pews.

        This is not being true to God. We see the devastation caused by such thinking. Such churches may grow in numbers but they do not grow in faithfulness to our Lord. As Jeremiah states:

How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” declares the Lord. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the Lord. [Jeremiah 23:26, 28, 32]

            How are we to face these divisions? We are to hold pure and unblemished the teachings of Christ concerning faith, love and sacrifice. Moreover, although the Word is true, it will not remain un-assailed by Satan and those of this world. As Dr. Luther says:

Yes, he [Satan] will even use external divisions …to slip in and cause internal divisions in the faith. This is his method, which we know well enough from so many heresies.

Therefore, we will deal with factions in our time as St. Paul dealt with them in his. He could not check them by force. Nor did he want to compel them by means of commands. Rather, he entreated them with friendly exhortations, for people who will not give in willingly when exhorted will comply far less when commanded. Thus he says in Philippians 2 [:1–4]: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing through strife or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” [2]

        We suffer division because of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. When Jesus bore our sins unto death on the cross and rose again in victory over death, sin and the devil, we became separated from the evil of this world and joined together with our Father in heaven through the body and blood of Christ. With this holy covenant of God’s saving grace, what is our suffering compared to life eternal with Christ in the kingdom of heaven? As St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. [Rom 8:18-21]

            Our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection unites us in the body of Christ. Through him we are heirs to the Kingdom of God. Through Christ, we cannot be separated from our Heavenly Father. By the Holy Spirit, we suffer no division from our Lord and Savior. It is in this peace of God we can rejoice.

Amen

 


[1] Rev. William M. Cwirla, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Hacienda Heights, California: A Divided Word that Divides

[2]Martin Luther, vol. 53, Luther's Works, Vol. 53 : Liturgy and Hymns, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works, 53:46-47 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1965).

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