+ A sermon for Pentecost +10C/Lectionary 20C at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 18, 2019 +

Texts: Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Audio: LINK

Later this week, Ryan and I will leave for vacation.
We’ve been planning this trip for months and we’re really excited about it.
But I tell ya, when I looked at our lectionary readings for today, how wish I that vacation had already started!

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?” Jesus asks, “No, I tell you, but rather division!”
Division? Really?
Jesus, have you looked at our country recently?
Have you seen our world?
You really think we need more division? megosztc3a1s-megosztc3b3-medium
I mean, it sure seems like our country is deeply divided on just about everything: partisan politics, guns, climate change, even the appropriate response to those advocating white supremacy.
It’s been said that this is the most divided our country has been since the Civil War.
In fact, one recent poll showed so much division on every single issue except for one—the only thing respondents could agree on is that this country is divided.
80% percent agreed with that.
I think we can safely say we have enough division right now, Jesus, thank you very much.
And all this division seems to just lead to conflict—conflict on cable news, conflict in our families, conflict in the streets, conflict all around us.

And if there’s another thing we can probably all agree on, it’s that we should avoid conflict.
It’s what we’ve been taught to do.
We avoid conversation topics that might start an argument.
We see division and conflict as something to be taken care of or managed.
We try to keep everything polite to maintain a sense of civility and call that peace.

And then we hear Jesus, the one we call our Prince of Peace, preaching words of fire and division.
The one who we imagine as meek and mild, kind and passive, comes with a message that sounds anything but meek and mild.
Because I don’t think Jesus is interested in what we have called peace, that passive politeness that is obsessed with avoiding conflict and only serves to maintain the status quo, Jesus comes ready to change things.
And when change happens, conflict is inevitable.

Jesus has come to bring the good news of God’s radically inclusive love and to radically reorder the world to reflect that love.
And if we look at his ministry so far, we can see how Jesus has indeed brought division wherever he goes.
When Jesus preached his inaugural sermon in his hometown synagogue announcing his ministry intended to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive, healing to the sick, and liberation to the captive, his friends and neighbors tried to throw him off a cliff.
When his rabble-rousing reputation went ahead of him, Jesus was barred from entering a Samaritan town, kicked out of Capernaum, and even his own family tried to stop him because they thought he had lost his mind.
When the implications of his message was realized, Jesus was rejected by the religious authorities and was labeled a subversive threat to the Empire.

Every where he goes, Jesus is bringing conflict and division, but never for conflict’s own sake as if he were some cable news talking head desperately seeking better ratings, but because conflict is inevitable from the proclamation of the gospel message.
Jesus brings the division that comes from trying to transform the world to reflect God’s vision for it.
He disrupts those social constructs that prefer a polite peace and maintain the status quo because so often those structures favor those with power and privilege at the expense of the powerless and vulnerable.
Because the power of his gospel, the audacity of proclaiming that all people are equal in God’s eyes and should be treated with respect, that we need to protect the vulnerable, care for the outcast, and declare God’s radical and inclusive love in word and deed, this gospel at the center of Jesus’ ministry by its very nature seeks to dismantle comfortable civility and disrupt the status quo.

And it turns out that when you preach this gospel, when you try to enact its message, you’re going to create division because the gospel is so completely offensive to those who are in power.
The gospel is an absolute threat to those who benefit from the status quo.
Jesus is seeking the fulfillment of that song that his mother, Mary, sang about that coming day when God will cast the mighty down from their thrones and lift up the lowly, how the hungry will be fed and the rich sent away empty, how the powerful will be overcome by the power of the gospel.
jesus-fire-of-the-earth2This is a gospel of division because of its urgency and the necessity for fundamental change.
This gospel is a fire that has been kindled by God that burns, and will continue to burn, until it radically transforms this world into what God has envisioned for the coming kingdom—a new reality where true peace reigns and all people can experience the fullness of God’s life and love.

And if we want to call ourselves followers of Jesus, we have been called to follow his example.
Following Jesus and his gospel calls us—compels us, even—to put things on the line, to roll up our sleeves and do the work of the gospel.
Not the quick fixes or easy solutions, not to rely on politeness and passivity, but to do the hard and risky work that will ruffle feathers, create conflict, and bring division, but will help transform our lives and our world as we build up the Kingdom of God.

And as the author of Hebrews reminds us, what following Jesus’ lead looks like will certainly change depending on our context.
In every generation, God’s people have faced different challenges for how they would work to transform the world.
From law-bringers to liberators seeking to expand God’s reign, from judges to prophets crying out for God’s justice, from kings to ordinary people trying to follow God’s direction in their lives.
Some found success and established kingdoms, administered justice, or were victorious in battle.

Early Christian martyrdom

But still others faced consequences for standing up for God’s vision for the world as they were imprisoned, mocked and beaten, persecuted, and even put to death because they dared to stand up for the gospel.
And we know that the division that Jesus brought would lead him to the cross as he was executed by the Roman Empire as an enemy of the state.
But we also know that in the Easter resurrection, Christ triumphed over this attempt to quell his message and proclaimed that the gospel is stronger than anything else on earth, that its fire will not be extinguished by those who oppose it, and that God’s vision for the earth will reign forever.

I am thankful to say that our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has a history of trying to follow the gospel’s call even though it may incite division.
At our Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee earlier this month, our church celebrated the ways it has tried to emulate the radically inclusive love of God, specifically through the upcoming 50th anniversary of the ordination of women as pastors and deacons, the 40th anniversary of the first woman of color, and the 10th anniversary of removing the barriers for ordination of queer clergy in relationships.
Each of these milestones was divisive when they happened—some still cause conflict.
But despite the anger and criticism and even calls for schism, our church took a stand to better reflect what we hear of God’s vision for us.

At this same Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA took a stand to declare itself a sanctuary denomination, publicly stating that we walking alongside refugees and immigrants as a matter of faith.
As you can imagine, this too has sparked controversy in today’s political environment and was even a featured subject of a cable news show.
Even so, our church sees this as an opportunity to stand up for our vulnerable siblings in Christ, despite the potential conflict, and follow where we see Christ and his gospel leading us.

These decisions are not easy.
They take commitment and risk; they take courage and the willingness to go into the unknown.
But we know that following Jesus is not easy, that he has called us to set aside our discomfort, our fears, and even our lives to join him in his ministry.
Jesus has called us to, as Hebrews puts it, run with perseverance the race that has been set before us with all the challenges and obstacles it may bring with our eyes focused on Jesus who has called us to follow him.

So I wonder, where have you allowed Jesus to disrupt your life?
Where have you listened to Christ’s call and gone where he has lead you even as you were unsure how it would turn out?
When have you faced conflict for the sake of the gospel?
And will you continue to allow Jesus to bring division to your life, to work with you to disrupt the world, to bring conflict and change, to build the Kingdom of God on earth?

My friends, when we make the choice to stand up for the gospel, to stand up to family members, to governments, to risk provoking conflict and division by following Jesus, it may feel like we stand alone, left exposed to criticism and derision and scorn.
thBut when we do this, we stand with all those saints who have gone before us, those people whose lives were disrupted by Jesus’ call and who worked to change the world.
We stand with this community and people of faith across the globe who are working to build up the Kingdom of God.
We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses who join us in our efforts as we work together to transform the world ever looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter our faith whose fire is burning until the world is changed.

So go: follow Jesus, kindle the flame, bring division, and transform the world.

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