This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on August 18, 2019 in Holladay, UT.
Children’s sermon: Blessing of the Backpacks: Invite the children, adults, anyone forward who would like a tag. What time of year is it? School time! How did we know that it is school time? Stores have school supplies, you get a letter or email from your school or teacher, summer has gone on a long time and the weather should start to cool off soon, all signs that it’s time for something new! Now, it’s hard to say good-bye to summer, more time with friends and family, and more time for fun and vacations. But it’s time to go back, summer changes into fall. And we have a way to mark this change, we have these tags to go on your bags this morning. One side says “peace be upon you” and the other side has the name of our church. What do you think it means to wish someone peace? Yes, it can mean those things! So what’s weird is that Jesus says this morning that he didn’t come to bring peace to the earth, but division! What Jesus? Jesus often confuses me…Do you think that means that Jesus wants us to fight? NO! Here’s what Jesus knows, that peace is hard. And God’s peace doesn’t mean letting other people be mean to you, take things from you, say unkind things, call you names, and not saying no, just to get along. Peace doesn’t mean doing what other people want you to do, just to make them like you. Peace doesn’t mean letting everyone have their own way and keeping everything exactly the same so that everyone is comfortable. No, Jesus didn’t come for *that* kind of peace, but the kind of peace that is actually naming things in the world that harm other people and trying to change it. Jesus’ peace means change. Peace is being excited about all the new things that you will learn this year. Jesus’ peace is looking for where God is changing the world and us! Right now, you all are still physically growing, getting taller, stronger-and even adults, we grow too! We learn new things, see all the ways God is working for change/peace in the world and it causes us to change too! This tag can remind us to look for God’s peace, God’s change that changes the world so that everyone is whole, everyone is safe, everyone is loved! Let’s pray: God of peace, we are so excited for a new school year! You are with us always as we learn new things, meet new people, grow and change. Thank you for teachers, school admins, custodians and our friends at school. Thank you for a world that is always changing through your love and may we care for your creation and your people. Amen.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trained that keeping the peace is very important. I’ve been conditioned that I shouldn’t rock the boat with my opinion if it might cause someone to disagree, that I should strive to make everyone comfortable and happy, so no one feels uneasy. But then we discover that is impossible. Not speaking up can leave someone feeling uneasy if hurtful statements are left unchecked. Making everyone comfortable, turns out, is not possible, as everyone has a different definition of comfortable and ease. So we run from situation to situation, person to person, attempting to put out the fires of discontent, only to have hot spots smolder and spark back up over time. It’s exhausting isn’t it? And we also discover in this pursuit of false peace, that it’s not honest. In order to keep this level of peace, of status quo, we end up being untrue to someone, and it’s usually ourselves.
Being true to who we are is difficult as we have a world trying to make us into something else. People around us have expectations, rightly or wrongly, of how we are to act, think and be. Especially, when we layer the word “Christian” on top of those definitions. That word has become a loaded one in our country and in the world in the last 30 years. And just like the word “peace,” it doesn’t mean what people think it means. It doesn’t mean judgment, exclusion, self-righteousness, being perfect, having it all together and it doesn’t mean status quo. Being a Christian literally means being one who follows Christ and attempts to model their life after Christ’s example. Being a Christian, means we give ourselves over to Christ’s life-changing work in us and in the world. It means that we look for where God is changing the world, upending status quo and transforming hearts and minds. And as Lutheran Christians, we add that we are always reforming. We are part of a tradition that calls for everything to be reexamined and reformed for the sake of our neighbor to experience the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives. Just like peace, it is hard, and forces us to reexamine who we really are in our daily lives and what that means for our relationships and how we live. We listen for God’ voice, that voice that calls us to authenticity, vulnerability, risk, openness and seeing each other as Christ. And we discover, that God’s voice will often be antithetical to the world’s voice of Christianity or peace.
We get some insight into what this journey in following Jesus and listening for God’ voice might be like in our Luke and Hebrews passages today. This gospel text is one of the most challenging in the four gospels, maybe the NT, as Jesus upends our ideas of why Jesus came. We tend to think of Jesus coming as a little sweet baby with an angelic choir singing “peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Idyllic, comfortable, sweet and easy. We love to dwell in that pastoral scene hoping that it will never end and will stay the same forever. But Jesus is clear that is not what the reign of God looks like. From the beginning of Luke’s gospel, Mary sings the Magnificat, a manifesto of political change where the powerful are knocked off thrones, the lowly ones lifted up, the rich are sent away empty, the hungry fed, the proud are scattered and a poor, nobody Jewish girl from a backwater town will be called blessed for all generations to come. At Jesus’ presentation in the temple Simeon proclaimed that Jesus will be opposed, and a sword will pierce Mary’s heart. As Jesus began his ministry, he read from Isaiah and proclaimed the release of the captives, sight to the blind and the oppressed with go free. He called disciples who left family businesses as well as walked away from family. Jesus broke sabbath laws by healing, he broke purity laws by cleansing lepers, he took on demons. His actions did anything but kept worldly peace, Jesus was true to who he was, God’s son, and to his purpose, bringing change that would bring healing, wholeness and hope to all people, not just those at the top. God’s kingdom coming means nothing will be the same.
Jesus’ coming, God’s word made flesh, isn’t about comfort and maintaining systems. Jesus came to bring God’s peace to the earth-peace that enacts change and justice for the sake of wholeness in the world. The irony, is that when status quo is disrupted and people whom the world had silenced have a voice, divisions do occur. When oppression of people of different colors, economic status, religions, genders is no longer tolerated and people speak up, it’s uncomfortable indeed. When people on the outside are brought to the center and given leadership, it’s unsettling. When people begin to live as God created them and not in societal norms, it’s challenging to our held beliefs. But Jesus says that change is inevitable, how can we not see it? The weather changes and we see the storm and wind coming, we see how fire transforms objects, but why can’t we see the changes and transformations that God is up to?
It’s fine for some changes to happen, particularly if they don’t affect us. But Jesus is clear that God’s kingdom comes-to spark the fire of the Holy Spirit that is in us-to change our hearts, our minds and our lives. What is not truly divine in us will be burned away, leaving in each of us and in all creation, God’s goodness, God’s divine image. In God’s kingdom, nothing stays the same, even if it means that mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, in-laws disagree and are divided on what it means to follow Jesus and be changed by the peace that he brings. This kind of division won’t feel good and we will want to avoid it at all costs. But when Jesus’ peace is upon us, drawing us into God’s transformations, we become part of God’s work and we can let go of trying to keep a false peace. We can go toward the discomfort of divisions as we also live in the faith and witness of those who have gone before us, those who risked and brought God’s change and healing into the world. We trust in God’s protection into this death to false peace and being resurrected into the promises of abundant and full life in transforming peace. This is the race that is before us as Christians in the 21st century. It’s hard, challenging and moves us beyond ourselves. And the fire of the Holy Spirit is in us, with us and sparking us daily to live in the God’s true radical love, hope and mercy that breaks all systems of oppression, heals the broken and brings us into community with one another and God. We rise up with God, together, deeply loved, never alone, part of God’s transforming and life-altering work in creation. Thanks be to God!