Pentecost 4 2017 Proper 8
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
July 2, 2017
Psalm 119:153-160, Jeremiah 28:5-9, Romans 7:1-13, Matthew 10:34-42
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
The Fourth of July holiday is almost here when we celebrate the Founding Fathers’ Declaration of Independence from England. We remember the bravery and foresight of those early patriots who were willing to risk their lives to achieve freedom from England and start a new nation. They had their priorities set. Their desire for independence was greater than their loyalty to the King; greater than fortune, family or life or.
What are your priorities in life? If you had to list your top four of five priorities in life how would they fall? Family, work, school, spouse, leisure? Where does God fit in? For some folks work comes first before anything else. For others, family. For others spouse. Some leisure. I think it is difficult to have a clear ranking, because, at least for me, it seems it is more of a balancing act rather than one thing clearly coming before others. But if push came to shove what is the most important in your life? Where does God fit into your priorities? Where does gathering together on Sunday fit into your life? Do you attend worship to receive the forgiveness of sins every week? Many of you only miss if you are deathly ill or out of town? For others, coming to church is something you might get around to once in a while if there is nothing else happening. Of course you all are here, so I am kind of preaching to the choir.
Our Gospel reading begins with Jesus saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Now Jesus certainly did come to bring peace on the earth; He is the Prince of Peace. At Jesus’ birth the angels announce peace. Indeed Jesus brings peace, but not always peace; not only peace. Jesus call for repentance comes up against the sin of the world and this causes opposition. Jesus brings peace and a sword, so likely we should understand this passage to mean, “Do not think that I came only so as to bring peace upon the earth; I came not only so as to bring peace, but even more, a sword.”
Jesus brings a sharp, lethal sword. Jesus comes to bring the Reign of Heaven and calls for all to repent and follow Him, but due to the sinful condition of the human heart and Jesus’ uncompromising teachings there is great hostility. Jesus brings peace but that offer of peace causes conflict and strife because Jesus’ truth is agonizingly absolute.
Jesus says, Matthew 12:30 (ESV) 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. You are either with Jesus or against Jesus. There is no middle ground.
This is an exceedingly difficult teaching. We are so much more comfortable with compromise than with absolutes. We don’t like the black and white clarity of Jesus’ uncompromising teaching. We don’t like black or white; yes or no; everything or nothing. We prefer middle ground. Instead of black or white we want gray. Instead of yes or no we want maybe. Instead of everything or nothing we want something. We much prefer a mushy gray…maybe…something middle where we can all just get along and we can ask, along with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?”
Folks desperately want to live in a mushy world of grays where you can have your truth and I can have my truth and they can have their truth and we can pretend that there are really many contradictory truths that are all equally true. We so much want to transform the sharp, lethal sword of Jesus’ truth into a dull, harmless butter knife that won’t cut anything. We want to soften Jesus’ truth and live in a world of maybes. But that world does not really exist. The world of maybes is just a figment of our postmodern imaginations. Jesus is truth. Salvation comes through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus’ forgiveness, eternal life and salvation are given through Baptism, the Word of God and Holy Communion.
Jesus is the way…the only way…and there is no other way. And this brings conflict.
We can see the sword of Jesus’ truth cut in the world as there are nations that have officially set themselves against the truth of Jesus. We see this in the outright persecution of Christians in so many countries.
We can see the sword of truth cut in our nation where currently the fastest growing religious group is the “nones”. Those that have no religious affiliation now make up 23 percent of the U.S. population. Eighty percent of our country’s population is not in worship each week.
We can see how the sword of the truth cuts among churches in our nation. As church attendance patterns decline there can be a great panic as to how to attract people back to church. What can we do to make them want to come to worship? Too often, I fear, the result is that churches rework the truth of Jesus so it is not so difficult. They want to sheath the sword of Jesus so that it is safer. They want to dull the sword to a butter knife so people are not made to feel uncomfortable about their sin. Too often churches will talk about anything rather than Jesus. Anything except sin, repentance and forgiveness.
We can see the sword of Jesus’ truth in our homes as family members start to follow the ways of the world instead of the ways of Jesus and will defiantly demand that we choose, “Choose me and my ways rather than your Jesus and His ways.” Now, believing Christians will patiently continue to love and care for the straying loved one but too often the straying loved one will force the issue; force the choice and as a follower of Jesus you need to choose Jesus. And this is so terribly painful.
We can see the sword of Jesus’ truth in the world, in our nation, in the Church at large and in our families, but that is not where it cuts the worst. The sword of Jesus cuts the worst in your own life as it cuts sin away from you. The sword of Jesus’ truth slashes deeply in my life as it cuts away the stubborn sin that clings to me; or more honestly, the sin to which I stubbornly cling. Jesus comes to cut to shreds all my compromises with sin; all my treaties with the evil in my life. Jesus’ truth is deadly to the old sinful Adam that daily needs to be slain in my life. Jesus’ truth cuts away everything that is sinful in my life. Jesus’ truth cuts away everything that is sinful in your life. Everything. Everything. Everything.
Jesus’ sword is unbending, unyielding and mercilessly sharp. Jesus’ truth is agonizingly absolute and terrifyingly personal.
And this cutting away is not a one-time cathartic experience where you are able to leave the old, sinful self behind forever and emerge a new, sinless person. It is not a weekend retreat or a revival meeting where you easily shed your sinful skin. It is not a happy ending; but rather it is a new beginning. You get a new beginning in Christ. You are born again in water and the word. You receive a call to live out life taking up your cross and following Jesus. Called to take up the sword. Called to a lifetime of cutting away sin while following Jesus on the way.
Jesus is the only way. There is no divided loyalty. You are Jesus’ first priority. Jesus is your first priority. You shall have no other gods.
Those who seek to find life in this world will only find a doomed life. To lose your life in Christ’s life is to find the real life. The true life. Eternal life. In Christ you have forgiveness of all your sins. In Christ you are washed clean and covered with the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. In Christ you have the fullness of life and peace forever. Jesus’ truth is absolute. Jesus died and rose for you. There is peace and comfort in the absoluteness of Jesus’ truth. In Jesus you find real life; eternal life. Jesus is the way and so you walk the way, following Jesus, carrying your cross. It is a long walk. Blessed is the one who offers a cup of cold water along the way.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001