Luke 12:49-56 * August 18, 2019
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and refining fire Jesus the Christ. Amen.
If you remember the gospel reading from last week as we began this journey through the twelfth chapter of the gospel of Saint Luke, you may recall the tone of that teaching from Jesus to be a bit more gentle. And I would argue with Pastor Julie’s thesis that mathematics is God’s language. I do not believe that. I guess we’d be divided on that thesis.
And you know what, that’s ok. After all, we are church.
I have a dear mentor and friend, a former Bishop in our denomination, who has his own theory about math and the church. He’s told me many times over the years that he believes Lutherans are bad at math. “We spend way to much time focused on subtraction and division,” he’d say, “rather than addition and multiplication.” The longer I am called to serve as a Lutheran pastor, the more prophetic and true I think this retired Bishop’s thoughts on mathematics and the church are. But we are still called to be church.
500 years ago, in essence, there was one Lutheran denomination that emerged out of the Reformation – whether Martin Luther wanted a new church to come out of the Reformation or not is beside the point. Today, as far as I can figure out – remember I’m not much of a math person – there are more than 150 Christian denominations around the world who identify themselves as Lutheran. More than 150 different kinds of Lutheran denominations. We are church?
I don’t believe the division we’ve seen in the Lutheran Christian movement over the past five centuries is the kind of division Jesus is speaking of in the gospel of Luke. It’s not the same thing. But I do believe with everything I am as a follower of Jesus, that the division we continue to see in the Lutheran world, and really all of Christian world, breaks God’s heart. I do not believe this is what God hoped would happen in our world when he sent Jesus into it. I do not believe that the divided church today is what Jesus intended to have happen. We are church.
If you’re only image of Jesus is that of a gentle, shepherd with a quiet voice, someone who is kind of a pushover, I invite you to spend some time re-reading the gospel text that’s in front of us today.
Jesus saying “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Doesn’t exactly give us a picture of a gentle Jesus.
Jesus saying, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Doesn’t exactly plant in my mind a gentle shepherd sitting by a lakeshore sharing stories that are easy to understand and apply to my life in ways that I can control. Ways that I’ll then apply to my life as I see the need. Ways that I can choose to do or not do in three easy steps from the comfort of my living room couch.
Jesus calling us “hypocrites” doesn’t exactly speak to unconditional love and acceptance and encouragement to continue destroying each other and sinning without thought of how it hurts us and our neighbors. We are church.
Today’s gospel reading is one of the only times where I think Jesus is actually a bit ticked off. He doesn’t like the way things are and the way they seem to continue to be. Remember, Jesus didn’t come in to the world to start a new church or religious denomination because he disagreed with the one that was already here. He came because God knew that we needed a savior. God knew that we were going to screw things up and it was only because of a savior that we were ever going to be able to start getting any of this right. We are church.
Jesus wasn’t talking about division in the ways we think about it today. I mean, come on, if I just say the word division, every one of you immediately has a picture in your mind of what that looks like for you in our world today. Our sin-filled world continues to be fed by division and it seems to get more and more divided with each passing day. Our unquenchable thirst and appetite for division didn’t surprise God 2,000 years ago. And I don’t believe it surprises God today.
Which is why Jesus is so eager to light a fire. Because it’s a fire of change. A fire of God’s goodness and activity in the world. A fire that will bring about God’s kingdom now. No wonder why Jesus is so excited to get this thing started. It’s really too bad that we still miss that today. After all, we are church.
I just returned from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Churchwide Assembly. This Assembly meets every three years and is the highest legislative and policy-making body of our church. I was not a voting member. However, this was my fourth Churchwide Assembly. I participate as part of the worship leadership team. I’m grateful for the invitation to help with leading worship each day of the Assembly.
And I’m grateful that we have something called a Churchwide Assembly in our denomination – they do a lot of good things. They also do a lot of things that leave me scratching my head for a long time after the dust of a Churchwide Assembly has settled.
The theme of this year’s Churchwide Assembly was simply “We are Church.”
There are policy decisions that were made at this year’s Churchwide Assembly that I’m not sure I will ever agree on, but I am thankful that the we in “We are Church” still includes me. Maybe that uncomfortable feeling I have in cases of decisions made that I don’t agree with is a little of the fire that Jesus is speaking of in today’s gospel reading. Fire that is challenging me to rethink my theological understanding of something. Challenging me to be open to a new way of doing something. Challenging me to stay connected to my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ that we call the church even as I struggle with my own belief.
There are also decisions that were made at this year’s Churchwide Assembly that I celebrate and cheer. But I know in the shadow of my celebration, there is someone who is grieving or even angry at the same time. Sin calls me to just push them aside. Jesus calls me to not be a hypocrite and to interpret the present time as an opportunity to offer care for the one I may have already pushed away. We are church.
Pastor Debbie Thomas wrote this week that, “If ‘tender Jesus, meek and mild’ is what we prefer, then this week’s text is not for us. If feel-good religion is the comfort zone we refuse to leave, then we’re missing out, because the peace of God is about so much more than good feelings. Or to put it differently, if neither you nor anyone within your sphere of influence has ever been provoked, disturbed, surprised, or challenged by your life of faith, then things are not okay in your life of faith.” We are church.
By the end of the Churchwide Assembly week, aside from being exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I was also very grateful. Grateful to have discovered anew how holy and beautiful the theme “We are Church” is. And how grateful I am to be able to be part of this thing called church. I am a long way from agreeing with everything we do together as a denomination or everything we do together as the congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church for that matter, but in everything you and I do together as followers of the risen savior of Jesus … “We are Church.”
I hope and pray that God continues to want us to be church for a long time to come. And I hope and pray that Jesus lights a fire in each one of us in ways that inspire us to get better at math – math that involves addition and multiplication rather than subtraction and division. Because we are church. Amen.