Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
13th Sunday after Pentecost
August 14, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
During the past 24 hours we have been reminded once again that our perceptions about faith and race may have dire consequences. Yesterday, in broad daylight in New York City, an Islam Imam and his assistant were gunned down after leaving the mosque, undoubtedly targeted for their faith. Last night an armed black man, a known felon, running from the police was shot and killed, to which the Milwaukee community where this happened decided to take matters into their own hands and riot, burning cars and buildings, and putting police and fire fighters at risk.
My friends, we look at the rumblings of war, of earthquakes, of hurricanes and wonder if the end times are upon us; divisiveness in my lifetime has never been more evident.
Hopelessness seems as if it’s becoming the norm. But Jesus wants to give us hope, and asks us not to be looking not there, to the matters of this world, but to be looking to Him, at the hope he offers, the forgiveness he bears for us and for all people, the promise that his Spirit will roam this earth until Jesus himself comes again.
Jesus’ words this morning remind us that we need to set fire to the old so that the new can emerge; just like new life emerges from the destruction of a fire, Jesus uses this metaphor of fire’s destructive power to urge us to follow him and give him our lives. We are materially rich, He reminds us, and spiritually poor. We’re disoriented. As Christians, we know that God carves men and women to be with Him forever. We know that He fills them with good things; makes them to love, care, learn and grow; and fashions them into what he was and is. We can do God’s work with confidence if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. But we have to let go of our sinful nature which entangles our lives, distorts our vision and robs us of spiritual vitality and stamina.
And we will need stamina because choosing to love and follow Jesus and to be filled will create division and conflict with those whom are empty. The sword of division about which Jesus spoke is the result of Christ-like love. To love people as Jesus did is to stand for something. To stand for justice is to stand against injustice. To stand for truth is to oppose hypocrisy and falsehood. To be a Christian is to love all that Christ loved and to be an enemy of all that crucified him. In short, to follow Jesus is to make enemies. Because neutrality toward Jesus is not possible. Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, “He who is not with me is against me,” and then gave us a choice-accept him or reject him. And know that the choice we make has consequences. If we accept him, we risk alienation from friends and family. If we reject him, we face eternal damnation. Either choice causes division-either us from friends and family, or us from God.
As we encounter Jesus this morning, we encounter a Jesus who was worked up because he knew his crucifixion was coming. He had a job to do before then-namely, to bring the message of God’s Kingdom to the people and the people to God’s love. As he was telling the disciples about living their lives in total commitment to God, he realized that his death was drawing near-and this stirred him up to the point where he became like a televangelist, speaking literally of the fires of damnation, judgment and spirit. He brought God’s judgment upon the people. And, in the process, He divided families, communities and nations. It’s an event, which I’ve stated off the top, which is still happening today.
And it’s happening, because, unfortunately, too often Christ is left for dead in this cold world. We often become desensitized to many of the things around us. We cannot understand the present time even though Christ is standing right there in front of us telling what is happening. We just choose to ignore Him. We think that we know better ourselves than God does.
But if we are persons who are filled with the Holy Spirit we naturally turn to Christ, and in turning to Him, we become concerned for social issues and justice-a concern that is contrary to the secular world. Jesus’ teachings and actions challenged the status quo of His day, and they do still today. In declaring war on the world’s injustices, the call to follow Christ is a call to relieve and, if possible, to remove the causes of suffering.
So, the question before us is, how can we live as faithful followers while keeping integrity with Christ’s teachings? First, we can use the teachings as a benchmark of our faith. As we walk with God, undoubtedly, people will disappoint us and let us down.
Circumstances will be hard, and the enemy will hassle us. Second, we can consider these teachings as a backhanded compliment, especially if our faith causes some people to feel uncomfortable with us. Finally, we can consider these teachings as a goal.
Because spreading God’s Word won’t hurt us. Sure, we will feel the pain of rejection, but without spreading the Word, we can’t build the church. If our faith matters to us, we MUST make it matter to others. If not, then our faith is merely deathbed insurance. We can’t hide because God will find us now or in the end.
And when we get tired of following Christ’s teachings, all we have to do is follow the advice of the writer of Hebrews 12 verse 2-“Keep your eyes on Him and keep on running to win.” In other words, all we have to do is keep our eyes on the prize-namely, eternal life. Endurance doesn’t mean casually accepting a setback and quitting the race of life early. Instead, it means doing whatever it takes morally and ethically to win. God wants for us the fullest, richest and deepest life we can have because he loves us. In return, he expects us to do Christ’s work in this place, in this community, in the world around us, and among those in our own generation. In his name and by his power, we are to confront the world of evil and evil people. We are to discern not only what time it is, but what time it will soon become. And Jesus makes it so clear that with the time we have left, we must get to work, for He is ready to light the kindling. Amen.