Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Most people don’t like conflict. Most people grow uncomfortable when they are in a situation where people don’t like them or disagree vehemently with them. There are probably some people who do enjoy stirring things up so that they can be at the center of controversy. They seem to thrive on conflict. But most people don’t like conflict. Most people try to smooth things over, try not to rock the boat or stir the pot. Most people prefer smooth sailing and will do almost anything to keep the peace, especially in their families.
That’s why Jesus’ words here start to make us a little uncomfortable. He is talking to His disciples after He gives them authority to preach the gospel, cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead. He is telling them that they ought not to think that everyone is just going to accept freely the good news about Jesus; it’s not going to be all rose petals and comfortable beds and joyous unity. Do not suppose that I have come only to bring peace on the earth. I have come, He says, not only to bring peace, but even more, a sword. Why do I put it like that? Because it’s clear that Jesus doesn’t mean He brings no peace. When He’s born, the angels sing glory to God in the highest and peace on earth for those on whom His favor rests. When He is raised from the dead, the first word out of His mouth to the disciples is peace. And in between, Jesus says, I give you peace, but not as the world gives it. I leave My peace with you. He is the prince of Peace. He is peace itself, the only mediator between God and man. He is the one who makes peace in His own crucified flesh between the enemy creatures of God and Jesus’ Father.
So it’s clear that He brings peace in Himself. But not only that. Not only good feelings and sentimental desires. There is a sword. It is the sword that comes from the mouth of Jesus, as the Revelation shows us: the Word of Jesus Himself. And Hebrews says that the Word is sharp, double-edged sword, dividing even between soul and spirit, bone and marrow. The Word is peace to those who believe, but it is division between those who believe and those who don’t. This is the result of Jesus coming into this world. Paul says the same thing to the Christians in Corinth, right at the beginning: I appeal to you, by the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that there be no divisions among you, but that you agree in all things, have one mind and one understanding. And then, ten chapters later, he says, When you gather as the Church, I hear that there are divisions among you—the same divisions he told them not to have. And to some extent, he says, I believe it. Because there must be factions; people will make choices that lead them to sectarian party spirit. They’ll follow Paul, Apollos, Peter—even Jesus—in order to claim the right for their group and the wrong for the other. There must be factions, Paul says, in order that those who are genuine will be tested and shown.
And what is the cause of this division? It is the result of Jesus entering this world as Peace itself. But Jesus is not the cause of the division. He did not come in order to bring division. Division is a result. But the cause is, as Jesus demonstrates, idolatry. Jesus says that if you love father or mother more than you love Him, you are not worthy of Him. And if you love your life more than you love Him, you are not worthy of Him. Notice what is happening here: Jesus identifies two of God’s greatest gifts, the first two gifts the commandments are meant to guard: Honor your father and mother. Do not murder. Your parents and other authorities are God’s gift to you. Honor and pay them the respect they are owed. Your life and every other life is God’s gift to us. Don’t harm another person in his or her body. Don’t murder. Help them to keep the physical gift of life God gave to them. These are good things!
But when you elevate the fourth commandment and the fifth commandment and put them in the place of the first commandment, you’re actually dividing yourself from God the Father, who is Life. When you give all your time, money, and energy to your family or to everything that fills up your life, then you are engaged in idolatry. When family or life takes the place of gathering with the people of God, then it’s idolatry. When you try to hang on to your family, even when they hate Jesus, or your life, when Jesus is Life, then it’s idolatry. When—to the point this week—we try to hang on to our country over the Christ who is Lord of all the nations, it’s idolatry. Sure, we can—and we should—thank God for the blessings of living here, for the freedom to gather in this place—which makes it ironic that we have the freedom and then we don’t take advantage of it at every opportunity. This is Babylon. It may be the best Babylon that’s ever existed. But it’s still Babylon. Don’t worship the best gifts of God as if they were God Himself.
We think peace is a good thing. And it is, generally. Paul says that, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. That’s good. But if you try to keep the peace over the division between those who are in Christ and those who are not, you’re actually putting yourself opposite of God, who says that there will be divisions in this world. Unity is not always a good thing: see the tower of Babel, the first voters’ assembly convened about whether to enter the Land of Promise, and all those who leave Jesus when He says hard things. Peace and unity are only possible in Christ, who is Peace. It is only possible between those who are part of His Body, who believe Him and all His words.
Lord God! Give us the peace of the one Lord, the one Faith, the one Baptism, the one God and Father of Jesus. And give to all those who are divided from us to believe in the one Jesus, crucified and resurrected for them, so that they may have communion with us. And our communion is with the Father and the Son in the Spirit. I appeal to you, I exhort you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ not to have any divisions among you, to agree under the one Word of God, to think the same thing and have one understanding of the things of God. May He grant it to us, here in this place, and throughout His Church, for the sake of His Son.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/30/17