Beckett: Sermon – The Kindling of Christ’s Word

Date: August 14, 2022
Festival: 10th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 12:49-56
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Jeremiah 23:16-29; Hebrews 11:17-40; Luke 12:49-56
Sermon Hymn: LSB #655 Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is no secret that the atmosphere of our culture is one that is fraught with division: racial tensions, the right vs. the left, orthodox vs. heterodox, pro-life vs. pro-choice, etc. It is no accident, then, that the Word of our Lord speaks to us today in a challenging and even startling manner. We speak of the peace Christ brings us—the reality that, in Paul’s words, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… [Rom. 5:1]. And it is true; we have peace with God through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

And yet, in our Gospel lesson today Jesus says something troubling, as He is known to do every now and then. In a world that asks why God allows suffering to continue, Jesus gives the unsatisfying answer, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” [Luke 12:51]. But this should be hardly surprising to us! For the majority of this Church Year, we’ve read mostly from the Gospel of Luke, and on the First Sunday after Christmas we read about Jesus’ name day when He was circumcised in the Temple. On that day, Simeon prophesied that Jesus would cause the rising and falling of many in Israel [2:34]—that many will indeed find peace in Him, the Prince of Peace [Is. 9:6], and yet He will cause division on earth rather than world peace. As painful as it is, Jesus warns that even families will be divided against each other because of His absolute claims about the kingdom of God.

As Mary, the mother of Jesus, confessed regarding the impossibility of her virgin conception, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word” [1:38], she unashamedly embraced God’s Word without caring about what it may have cost her. Her confession may have cost her family and friends. She and Joseph were betrothed, but not yet married. Despite what she may or may not have told others, you can bet that people would have gossiped about her—that she was unfaithful to Joseph and slept around. And instead of keeping it a secret and getting an abortion and thus dividing herself from her baby, this pregnant teenager embraces God’s will, marries Joseph, and brings baby Jesus to full term and a healthy birth. First-century people were not idiots; they knew it was impossible for a virgin conception and birth to happen. So, perhaps people avoided her and gossiped about her, maybe even some in her family.

dLike me, some of you know what it’s like to have friends and family reject you for unashamedly embracing God’s Word. Yet, like Mary, when a person identifies themselves as God’s servant according to His Word and His will, such a claim goes beyond the claims of family—because it is either embrace Christ or burn in Hell. As He says, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth. What more have I to desire if it be already kindled” [v. 49]![1] Our Lord came to cast fire upon the earth, which had already been kindled. The kindling occurs as a result of Christ’s preaching the Gospel; some reject it, others embrace it. Some are brought to peace as God’s saints, others cut their ties with them. Like stoking the kindling in a campfire causes the fire to rise and burn more intensely, so the preaching of Christ’s Word stokes the flames against the world. As John the Baptiser said, Christ came with an axe [3:9]; or as Jeremiah prophesied in our reading today, Christ came with His Word as fire and with hammer in hand [Jer. 23:29]. And the other surprising thing to us is that Jesus does not desire to extinguish the kindling His preaching has caused; He desires to stoke the kindling flame until it’s finished burning.

When Christ preached during His earthly ministry, He kindled that flame. As the Word made flesh, the devil—who is the ruler of this world—sought to tempt Jesus into submission, but He refused, dividing Himself from the devil [Luke 4:1-15]. When He preached from a scroll of Isaiah in Nazareth claiming it was fulfilled in their hearing it, the Nazarenes divided themselves against Him and sought to kill Him. When Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic man and so made Himself equal with God, the Pharisees divided themselves against Him and accused Him of blasphemy while others glorified God [5:17-26]. When He and His disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees again divided themselves against Him by claiming He broke the Law [6:1-5]. When Jesus allows a sinful woman to wash His feet and He forgives her sins, the Pharisee He was dining with became greatly offended [7:36-50]. We can list many other examples from Jesus’ earthly ministry. Division abound wherever Christ’s Word is rightly taught.

And still, the fire He kindled continues to blaze in the world. When you confess with Christ, “Male and female He created them” [Matt. 19:4], the world divides themselves against Christ and they call you transphobic. When you confess with Christ, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife” [Matt. 19:5], the world divides themselves against Christ and they call you homophobic. When you confess His Word that says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made through Him and without Him was not any thing made that was made” [John 1:1-3], the world again causes division and accuses you of being delusional. When you confess with God’s Word that God knows every infant before their life was even formed in the womb [Ps. 139:13-16] with its own unique DNA and genetic code since the moment of conception, as all biologists agree, the world divides themselves again and say you’re anti-science. And when you confess the love of Christ for peoples of all nations—whether black, brown, or white—again they cause division and call you racist.

Although we long for the day when divisions cease, it will not come to an end until the Word of God that divides joint and marrow has finished its work [Heb. 4:12]. Our hearts break as our homes are divided for the sake of Christ, and our souls are troubled as division increases in society, but we should be able to interpret these times as the nearness of Christ’s coming. To paraphrase from Jesus, when you see rain clouds, you know rain is coming. In ancient Israel, when they felt the southern wind, they knew a scorching heat would be coming from the Negev Desert. In the same way, then, because you see people dividing themselves against others because of Christ’s Word being preached and taught in its purity and truth, you know Jesus is coming. Like the great cloud of witnesses before us—Abraham, Enoch, Noah, Moses, David, and so many others—by faith we expect what we cannot see. Just as they all saw the promises of God by faith, though they did not see it in their own lifetime, so we look toward the coming of Christ with eyes of faith. Everyone wants a perfect world, and we as Christians desire the bodily resurrection in the life of the world to come, but a perfect world requires a fiery Word and a bloody baptism, which is what Jesus desires.

Having set His face toward Jerusalem, He desires the kindling to be finished. Jesus came not merely to bless or make people happy (like He says in the Beatitudes), but to set the world on fire—to make one side hate the other, to separate the sheep from the goats [Matt. 25:31-46]. But here’s the amazing thing Jesus does: He sets the kindling of one side dividing themselves against the other, and then He puts Himself in the middle of all that hatred so that He is divided from the people of Israel outside the holy city of Jerusalem and is killed on the cross, which brings a lasting peace through His death and resurrection. With both sides pitted against each other because of the Word He preached, Christ dies for all sides of division. On the cross, hatred becomes focused on Christ; He is baptised in His own blood for you.

Baptised in His own blood, He puts you at peace with God when you were once divided against Him. In your own Baptism of the Holy Spirit with His Word in and with the water, you are adopted as God’s children and brought into one nation under God—and it is not America, but simply God’s kingdom, which is not of this world. So now, with all the saints—the cloud of witnesses before us, the saints alive today, and the saints still to come— {2nd service: like little Charlotte} you have been brought into one united family of God, which Christ calls the church. And within this family—within the house of God—all of you are welcomed to the Lord’s Supper Table. Here, at His Table, all divisions come to a smouldering end—rich and poor, black and white, left and right come together as one family of God and dine together for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in Christ’s body and blood.

Thus, we see that the completion of Christ’s kindling is a now/not-yet paradoxical reality. In the now, the kindling has reached its completion in the baptism of Christ’s blood on the cross, which you receive now in His body and blood of the Lord’s Supper, so bringing you into His finished work on the cross. In the not-yet, you await the kindling of the world to be finished—that what you see and receive by faith you await with the same fear, love, and trust as the saints before us, knowing God will raise you from the dead just as He raised Christ from the dead.

Until then, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

[1] My translation.


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