27 June 2011

Not Peace on Earth, but a Sword that Severs

You heard from the Lord Jesus last week how disciples are made (that is, by Holy Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, and by ongoing catechesis in the Word of Christ), and how disciples are called to live: by keeping His Word, and observing all that He commands. To be a disciple is to be a follower, and that you continue listening to, learning from, and living with your Rabbi.

Now, as I mentioned last week, Christ Jesus is not unaware of the challenges and difficulties of discipleship; for He Himself has borne them. But the question today is, whether you are aware of those challenges and difficulties, and whether you understand them, and how you are bearing them. In the world you will have tribulation, and you will bear the Cross, if you are a disciple of Jesus: not peace on earth, but a sword that severs and divides.

It is a difficult and challenging Word that Jesus speaks, for example, concerning your household and family: that Christ and His Word must take priority over your nearest and dearest kin. Not that you are called to forsake or neglect your parents or children, but you are to love and serve them (and all of your neighbors) according to the Word of Christ; for your allegiance belongs to Him in all things. Any number of examples could be given, touching on such things as the awkwardness of negotiating feelings, the quandary of how to encourage your adult children to go to church, the anxiety of relatives and friends who hold a differing confession, and the far greater anguish of loved ones who have abandoned the church altogether. Then there are the volatile “hot topics” of living together outside of marriage (fornication), redefinitions of “marriage” altogether, contrary to the Word of God, and political debates over abortion (murder).

There is the constant challenge of speaking up and standing up for what is good and right and true, and of living in faith and love, and of forgiving those who trespass against you, for Jesus’ sake; all of which can be far trickier and more stressful when it comes to your own extended family.

But if the Cross that is laid upon your family and relationships is difficult, there is yet a deeper and even more demanding challenge that confronts you: For the Word of Christ is a sharp two-edged Sword that cuts you yourself to the quick and divides even your bones from your marrow. It separates you from your own sinful flesh, from the lusts of your heart, and from all the false beliefs of your mind, soul and spirit. It is perhaps even more like a surgeon’s scalpel than a barbarians broadsword. Jesus does not hack away at you, but He goes for the jugular, and for the heart of the matter. And His Word is piercing, cutting you to the very core.

Really, what Jesus is doing in this Holy Gospel is preaching the first and foremost commandment, the greatest and number one Law; namely, that you shall have no other gods before Him.

This is a most exalted claim that Christ Jesus makes concerning Himself, indicating His true divinity and His eternal relationship with the Father. And that identification makes the Law all the more pointed and poignant, given the Lord’s Incarnation, His Humiliation, and His own Cross and Passion. For your fear, love and trust, and your allegiance, your faith and worship and obedience, belong to this Crucified God — and you are called to follow Him, to be and to live like Him, and to find your whole life in Him (precisely in His Cross and Resurrection, in His flesh and blood).

That commandment (in which the entire Law comes into focus) exposes your sin, condemns it for the idolatry it is, and actually exacerbates it and makes it worse; it makes your sin utterly sinful. It brings to light, not only your lack of faith in Christ Jesus, but also your covetous lust, greed and selfishness for all manner of other (false) gods, from which you seek to find your life on earth.

The commandment thus puts you to death, and it cannot bring you to life; not because it is bad — far from it! — for the Law of God is good and wise, holy and just — but because it confronts and crucifies your sinful flesh, your sinful heart, your sinful body, soul and spirit. It condemns and puts you to death for your idolatry, which is the worst sort of adultery. For you have joined yourself to other gods, although your true Spouse, your heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord who is a faithful Husband to you, is the ever-living and life-giving God.

You have forsaken your marriage to the Lord your God, and you have married yourself to sin and death, and for this the Law sentences you to die forever.

But here you begin to discover the purpose for the Sword that Jesus brings: In cutting you to the quick and putting you to death, He cuts you off and separates you from your adulterous idols. There is, in this respect, an “intervention” of the highest magnitude, by which you lose your life and everything else in this world.

That is not yet the whole story, however, for your true Bridegroom is not after vengeance, but reconciliation. He is not out to rob you of life, but to grant you the true divine eternal life that none of your other lovers could ever give, because it is found only in Him.

He is zealous for you, because He loves you, and He wants you to have real life in Him. And to that end, He suffers the mighty Sword of the Law to be turned upon Himself, in order to put sin and death to death in Himself, in His own flesh. This itself He suffers in fulfillment of the whole Law; that is, with perfect faith in His God and Father, and in wholehearted love for His Father and for you. For this is not the suicidal despair of a heartbroken Romeo, but the heroic Self-sacrifice of the Lord your God, who bears your sin to atone for it by His blood, and who dies your death in order to free you from it.

Thus, the Law is wholly satisfied and perfectly fulfilled in Christ Jesus. So, too, the faith and love of Christ are not for nothing: His faith is not disappointed, and His love is not wasted. But He, who laid down His life in love for you, receives it back again in His Resurrection from the dead.

And having gone to the uttermost of your sin and death, to set you free from that bondage of your own idolatry, He brings you back, in and with Himself, into newness of life.

The Life in Christ is, now and ever, truly yours. Yes, even now it is yours (in the midst of death).

He does not bring or promise “peace on earth,” but He has reconciled you and all the world to His God and Father; which is to say that God is at peace with you, and you have peace with God in Christ (by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins).

It is that peace with God which enables you to be at peace with all your neighbors, and even with your enemies — not by compromise, but by the courage of Christ (and His forgiveness of sins). Not in fear of man, but in the fear of God (which also loves and trusts in Him, in Christ).

The fact is, there are always going to be those who hate you on this earth; actually, most of the world will hate you for Jesus’ sake, and in countless ways will do its best to hurt you, to kill you.

But the world cannot rob you of your life in Christ; the world cannot destroy your peace with God; nor can the world take away the new household and family to which you now belong as a child of God — for you are His little one, and He shall preserve you steadfast and save you. Has He not given you His own Name in the waters of your Holy Baptism? Yes!

And in His Name, He sends to you His Prophets and Apostles, His pastors and teachers, His preachers of His Word — and if that Word is a Sword that divides you from yourself, from your sin, from your idols, and from the whole world, it also gives you the Spirit and Life of Christ Jesus. For in the hearing of His Word, in the receiving of His sent ones, you hear and receive Christ Jesus Himself — and in Him you hear and receive His God and Father as your own — and in His Name, His Gospel grants you His Righteousness, which means also that His Resurrection (and His Life everlasting in body and soul) is now yours.

Consider what all this means for your relationships with all those many others who bear the same Name as you do, by God’s grace, as Christian disciples of Jesus.

Look around you at the congregation that surrounds you: This is the household and family of your God and Father. This is the house and home of your heavenly Bridegroom. These all around you, who also are baptized (and catechized by the same Word of Christ) are your brothers and sisters; these are your fathers and mothers; these are your sons and daughters; these are your family.

Therefore, beloved of Christ, love one another: care for one another, forgive each other, and serve one another with whatever means the Lord provides. If you have but a cup of cold water, by all means, share it with the one who is thirsty.

Let neither any sin of yours nor any sin against you divide this household and family of Christ Jesus. For His Word does not divide but truly unites His Church in heavenly peace, and that by the forgiveness of His own Cross (whereby He was divided that we might be made whole).

Here, by His grace, whatever has been broken is repaired. Enmity and animosity are healed by His reconciling love. Whatever has been wrong is made right in His Resurrection. He speaks and bestows His peace upon you; not as the world gives (or attempts to give), but perfect peace with God in heaven, true peace with Himself in the newness of the Spirit, and genuine peace with each other through His free and full forgiveness of all your trespasses.

And to you, His beloved disciples, He pours out a cup for you to drink, not of simple water only, but the New Testament in His Blood — for life with God — so that, having been united to Him, you shall not lose His Reward, but by His Cross shall enter into heaven with Him forever.

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

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