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Pentecost 10, August 14 - Luke 12:49–53 (54–56)
Other Lessons: Jeremiah 23:16–29 Psalm 119:81–88 Hebrews 11:17–31 (32–40) 12:1–3

“Peace be with you.” These are the words of Jesus to his disciples on the day of Easter. He proclaims peace and gives it to them. And yet, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus plainly tells them this seemingly contradictory statement in verse 51: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” So which is it? Does he or does he not bring peace? Well, certainly we know he does, our whole liturgy is filled with this word, we even share it among ourselves with a handshake (which was supposed to be the “kiss of peace” (Rm16:16)), so then the issue is not whether Jesus gives peace or not, but the question is how to understand the issue of division.

Our text for today starts with these ominous words from Jesus: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!” What is this fire? It is none other than the fires of judgement and condemnation. There is judgment because there is sin. And as such there is necessarily a division – a division between good and evil, a division between right and wrong, a division between sin and holiness.

It must be noted however that this division did not originate from God and his judgment. Division is the natural and immediate consequence of sin. In other words, any kind of division we see is the direct result of sin. This is a subtle distinction, but an important one nonetheless because people blame or even accuse God for being unloving and mean. So when God judges and makes a pronouncement, it is not that he is responsible for such division, but he is simply declaring what has already taken place. When there is sin, a division has already occurred. It then necessitates an actual separation. And the effects of sin are so devastating that affects the whole world. This is seen when Adam and Eve sinned. God declared that they can no longer be in his presence, furthermore, husbands and wives will be against one another (Gen3:16), they are still united in the flesh, but then childbearing becomes extremely painful, and finally, the earth becomes cursed with toil and pain. The world has broken apart because of sin.

Sin divides. And when Christ came, he revealed the truth about sin. This is why he says he comes to bring division, not that he comes to bring sin, but that he reveals sin and righteousness, he reveals what is good and what is evil, thus a clear demarcation is made. And people will need to take a stand on either side.

But the trouble today for the church and those in it is that they don’t know what is right and wrong because they have been so consumed by the ways of the world and the lies of the devil, not to mention the evil inclination of the sinful flesh. All these things pull us away from the word of God, which is supposed to be our guide and our lamp in darkness. But instead many people prefer to remain and dwell in the dark, they choose to remain as fools and ignorant of God’s word and truth and yet still call or consider themselves Christians. Here I am talking about both temporal and spiritual issues (including social issues of our day and doctrinal/practical issues of the church). These churches who do not hold to any biblical truths may prosper in this life for a little while, but their consciences are eroded and their soul is in great danger of eternal damnation for they remain in unrepentance.

Besides not knowing right from wrong so that they cannot divide rightly, many Christians and churches today are unwilling to make that division, or perhaps are embarrassed by it. It’s not that they don’t know what is right or wrong, but they are not willing to stand for the truth for fear of unpleasantries and embarrassment. It is the case that the confessional Lutheran churches are called unloving and/or intolerant, either because we don’t conform to the social issues or because we are unwilling to extend our hand of fellowship with other denomination. Why is that? Is it because we just want to be mean? Or is it because we actually believe in something to be so important that we are not willing, indeed, that we are not able to compromise? If what we believe is true and biblical, then it necessarily means that other people who teach differently are false, it is no longer mere opinions, but actual false doctrine. There are all sorts of false doctrines these days: false doctrine on gender, on sexuality, on the sanctity of life, on salvation, on baptism, on the lord’s supper, etc. When this happens, a division occurs. It’s not something we want but it is there by virtue of having false doctrine and we cannot be tolerated in the church.

The sooner we accept that it is sin that divides and that as long as there are sinners there will always be division, the sooner we can stand firm on what is true and good and holy, and actually not shy away from confessing the truth of God’s word. And the sooner we realize that there is a division between the church and the world, the sooner we stop trying to be like the world and trying to get the world to like us. Now, this has great implication for those of you who are in the “frontlines” in the world. Many of you have to deal with this at work, where these ideologies are forced down your throat. I am not saying that you are to openly and directly resist them every minute of your time at work. We have the example of the midwives in Exodus 1 where they were commanded by the evil pharaoh to kill all the male babies. Now, these 2 midwives being faith and righteous refused to heed the command and when pharaoh called them and demanded an answer from them, how did they respond? They didn’t say “we don’t listen to you because you are a wicked king and we will not murder innocent children because it is evil.” No, the responded very shrewdly: “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” They exercised wisdom to avoid directly confront their “boss” and still fear God and honor his word.

And so my point is twofold. In the secular context, it is for you to know where you stand and also to know your final limit without injuring or breaking your conscience. But in the churchly context, one must not only know the truth, but must also confess it boldly. For if you do not know what the bible teaches, how do you know what is right and wrong? How do you become a light of the world as a follower of Christ? Or are you content being in the darkness? Can a Christian remain in the darkness without harming his faith and his soul and his eternal standing before God? If you are unable, unwilling, or embarrassed to call evil as evil, can you still be considered a people of the truth? What then is the word of God to you?

And so stop avoiding the division from Christ, for the moment you came to faith means that you have been separated and divided from the rest of the world. And stop being embarrassed by the teachings of the world, yes the world laughs at us, the world ridicules and even persecutes us for what we believe, but why should we fear men rather than to fear God? Instead seek unity in Christ and there you will find peace. Indeed Jesus came to cast fire, not only as judgment, but also as a cleansing fire, which he has sent as the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost when he rested on the disciples as tongues of fire. Why is this important? Why is the sending and coming of the Holy Spirit so crucial that Jesus wants its presence already? Because it is through the spirit that faith is kindled. For in this saving faith can true unity be restored.

Even as God pronounces the curses on Adam and Eve, he also promises the seed of the woman who will crush Satan, destroy his power, and unites mankind once again to one another and to God. This seed of the woman came when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried…and the third day rose from the dead. This is what he came to do, to destroy the works of the devil, the destroy death, to banish sin, so that he may once again unite with mankind. Thus he refers his cross, his death and resurrection as his baptism, because through it we are united to him in his death and resurrection so that our sins are forgiven, washed away, and a new person emerges. This new person lives in Christ, that is to say, he lives in his word daily, he avoids sin and all falsehoods, but delights and lives in the truth. Thus there is not only a unity with God, but a unity with one another who have this same faith. This is a most wonderful thing that the world can never understand unless there is faith.

And so this is why we cling to God and his word, because it is through this that we can achieve true unity and restoration. We would like to think that we can achieve this by our own powers and wisdom. But it is God’s wisdom to unite all things in him through his death and resurrection. Therefore do not be deceived by the world and its prince, do not be dismayed by the seemingly lack of unity among churches, but trust and believe in God’s word. Despite false teachings in certain areas, despite our own sins God has promised to unite all his children in his own son. So therefore, continue live in his word, learn it, meditate on it, pray it, speak it, confess it. In the word and the truth of God there is true peace and joy.