Biblical Text: Luke 12:49-53 (Hebrews 11:17-31, 12:1-3, Jeremiah 23:16-29)
The text is an apocalyptic saying of Jesus. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” On the face of it, it contradicts the message of the angles of Christmas. This sermon attempts to keep them together. How do we have both divisions and peace?
Occasionally you give a sermon that you know is going to be challenging, or is just not going to connect with some. That is the fact of being an every Sunday preacher. If you don’t that means you are never stretching any of your listeners. And worse you might not be stretching yourself. This is one of those sermons. I like this one. I also know this is one of the types that many preachers would stay away from. The only thing I would add is that we live in a technological society, and locally we have a national-class STEM school. That should be engaged.
Honestly what I wish I had was another 5 – 10 minutes. The set up, which is overly long as it stands, tees up two things that are both present in the text and are important for our Christian lives. A modern reality around AI asks questions both on our divisions and how they are created and about personhood. As I was writing I intended to bring both of those. But the personhood argument is left as something of a stub. It is there. Hopefully it will give you something to ponder.
Getting last week off from having to polish a sermon because our Seminarian Tim did a great job gave me a lot of time just to meditate on Luke 12. On first read Luke 12 is all over the place veering from the harshest warning and condemnations to the sweetest promises. I think in our modern American Christian imagination we are all Jeffersonians of a kind. Jefferson famously cut out of his gospels all the “fantastical” accounts (i.e. the miracles and the resurrection) leaving nothing but a moralistic great teacher Jesus. We don’t cut out the miracles, at least not most of us, but what we cut out in the prophet. We string together nice Jesus, and come up with some way to tune out fiery Jesus. But if we refuse to listen to Jesus the prophet, we end up in situations like the OT lesson from Jeremiah, where our “prophets” blow us sweet nothings and we are shocked at division from both man and God.
Attempting to boil the chapter down into a single paragraph, it is more coherent that that first read. It is Jesus’ correction our natural views of the intersection of division/peace and temporal/eternal with the messiah or the work of God. Our natural view is that we want peace expressed temporally. Peace within families. Peace between religions. Peace on earth. Or at least we want those things assuming that they come with the correct division. Our temporal physical tribe get the peace while the out group is safely divided from us. And all of that peace coming with a healthy serving of temporal prosperity for our group. We want a sugar-daddy messiah, and we don’t give a second thought to the eternal. Or just assume like the rich fool that the good times will roll forever. But Jesus corrects us in our temporal thoughts. Now is not the time of peace, but the time of division. It is the time of division because this messiahs, and this God’s concerns, are not temporal, but eternal. Jesus has come to give eternal peace which you have right now. But this peace is by grace, through faith. And those that believe align their lives with the divine purpose. They know the will of the householder for whom they have been left as stewards. But, not everyone believes. Many might know, but they are unwilling to live with that knowledge. And that is the division in this life. That is also the cause of the temporal strife. A strife that is not yet resolved in peace. Not yet resolved in the hope that the full number will come in.
You could say it is one of my pet theories of the bible – the order of seeing and believing. Most moderns would emphatically say that sight leads to correct belief. (And hence the high priests of modernity sneer at Christ.) I think the reality is that faith or believing comes first. What we believe about the world influences what we see. And let me extend that further, I think that having a solid ground (i.e. Christ/God) is very important to having a good grip on truth overall. Without Christ we are much more likely to see all kinds of non-truth as truth. (I get that from Romans 1 FYI.)
I don’t expound on it often because: a) the culture believes just the opposite so b) it is hard to get solid accepted examples for such a mystical point. But this sermon is an attempt at just that because the immediate past has three examples of belief influencing sight, some very poorly.
The core of the problem is that false belief is always an attempt to justify ourselves (and demonize the other). The secure ground is what John the Baptist proclaimed as the beginning of the good news – a baptism of repentance. God’s story refuses to divide us; we are all sinners. God’s story refuses to divide us; we are all saved not by our acts or the law but by the acts of God. God’s story isn’t pretty or immediately believable. It just happens to be true good news.
How to say this? There are some long running arguments about society and social structure that seem to be coming to watersheds or settlement points.
Here is the anchoress as First Things talking about the Priesthood in the Catholic Church. It has seemed to me for a long time that “the spirit of Vatican 2” crowd and the “typical every sunday” Catholic was something that couldn’t go on. If I’m reading this article correctly, it sounds as if it won’t. The being nice to each other phase is over.
That debate is related to this next item in a way. Ask yourself the question does marriage precede the state? Then ask yourself the question: is a fundamental of the essence part of marriage children or is marriage simply a personal arrangement? This is the original NYT column where Ross Douthat would call those who would say “no, simply a personal arrangement” decadent. Here is my favorite finance columnist, reacting to that column and the many mean-spirited responses.
We used to live in a society where:
a) marriage was about four things: a picture of Christ and the church, mutual support, lust control and children (please look up the liturgy of marriage on LSB page 275 to see these things spelled out, I’m not making them up).
b) marriage was an institution that preceded the state and in fact formed the stable foundation (Gen 2:24 and Mark 10:7, and the 4th commandment and Luther’s explanation)
c) bright lines were drawn between expected choices, accepted choices and choices out of bounds
The emerging society: a) marriage is only about mutual support, it is an individual contract, b) it can be redefined by the state, and c) drawing of bright lines is judgmental which you have no authority to be and might even need to be “re-educated”.
If you live or believe in that old society you see the new one as decadent and narcissistic which ultimately leads to collapse. If you live in the emerging society – “Hey, don’t harsh my buzz, you evil troll”. That is a divide in worldview that can’t be sustained or bridged. If something can’t go on, it won’t.