Text: Jeremiah 23:16-30 & Luke 12:49-56
Old Testament and Gospel Reading for Proper 15, Year C
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 1:7)
Sometimes, people don’t want to listen. Consider the example of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Earlier this month, ELCA’s General Assembly took a surprising turn when a new policy about non-Christian religions was proposed. This new policy states that we cannot know for sure about what God thinks about other religions. According to this policy, neither can we judge those who practice other religions. What do they mean? They’re claiming that other religions can be legitimate ways to God. Adherents of religions which deny Christ, don’t need the Gospel. As a large group of inter-religious guests stood on the stage, one Lutheran pastor opposed the new policy. This pastor came to the microphone and said yes, we can know exactly what God thinks of other religions. “We have a clear statement from Jesus, who is fully God and fully man” John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.” Despite his protest, the motion passed by 97% because they simply didn’t want to listen what God’s Word had to say. Jeremiah the prophet also had a problem with people who didn’t want to listen to God’s Word.
Because it calls us to repent.
The prophet Jeremiah was commissioned by God during the final days of the kingdom of Judah. Like today, religious pluralism was the predominate view. There was a diversity of religious beliefs which were encouraged to co-exist in Judah’s society. Pagan gods were honoured right alongside the Lord. If that were not enough, the kings ruled like tyrants, and violence, oppression and immorality were rampant. The people were stiff-necked and refused to listen to the warning of the prophets. Judah was convinced that they enjoyed God’s favour. Contrary to popular opinion, Jeremiah announced that God was not only displeased with Judah, but that judgment was coming soon. God would send Babylonian armies to strip the temple and take Jerusalem’s people into exile. God had enough of Judah’s unrepentant idolatry.
Jeremiah proclaimed God’s Word, and the people of Judah didn’t like it. Jeremiah’s call to repentance and prophecy of doom met stern resistance. Jeremiah’s message wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Instead, they listened to prophets who eagerly told them what they really wanted. These false prophets contradicted the message of this prophet of God, “Don’t worry. I had a dream from God. God spoke to me and he says all is well. No disaster or judgment is coming. You’re going to have peace.” These prophets spoke what they wanted. They claimed to get dreams and visions from God, and they were lying through their teeth. The people ate their lies up because it was what they wanted to hear.
Jesus our Lord asks, “Do you you think that I have come to give peace on earth?” And we respond, “Well, yeah, we kinda expect you to bring peace on the earth. That’s what the angels told us! Peace on earth, good will toward men.” We expect Jesus to bring us all together. We expect Jesus to unite our families, neighbourhoods, and even smooth over divisions in the congregation and grow the church. And we get all anxious when peace doesn’t arrive with rainbows and unicorns, and we start to wonder what went wrong and why isn’t Jesus doing something about it. “Do you you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
But the prophet Jeremiah shows us why we often experience division instead of peace. Belief isn’t a collective thing. It isn’t something which we do together as a family, church, or community. But it is the individual who believes. Quite simply, when we hear what God wants in his Word, sometimes, like Judah, we simply don’t want to heart it. God’s Word tells us what God wants instead of what we want. The Bible tell us the will of the Almighty God himself for our lives. That will is proclaimed to us in his holy Law. God’s Word says to us: Love God. Love your neighbour. Don’t sleep around. Don’t kill your unborn babies. Don’t gossip about your neighbour. STOP IT! Jesus is the only way to heaven. And when that is proclaimed, it causes division. And what’s the response? “That’s mean. You’re impinging upon my freedom. You’re being too exclusive. It’s my body so its my choice. I’m not hurting anyone.” I found one response this morning in my news feed from USA Today. A 15 year old teenage girl said that churches will grow if they become less judgmental, less exclusive. Ditch the liturgy and try meditation and nature walks instead. Let teens find their own way to God. People don’t want to hear about God’s way, they way their own way. And so there’s division. The division between what God’s Word says and what our culture says seems to get wider every day. We’re sometimes even divided from our friends and family. Why? Because God has told us what he wants in his Word and its not what people want to hear. Sometimes God’s Word expresses things which are contrary to how we think they should be. Sometimes, we don’t like what it says and would rather hear something we like to hear, something which better fits with how we think the world should be.
But there’s more too it than just a different perspective on life or a different set of moral values and principles. The Creator God tells us how best to live our lives, and we sometimes think we know better than him. That’s true, but there’s more to it than that. Jeremiah says that if these false prophets had really been sent by God then they would have spoken his Word. They would have called the people to repent. God’s Word causes division because it calls sinners to repent and oftentimes we don’t want to repent. God tells us that we’re going the wrong direction. We’re heading for trouble. So we’re told to re-think our lives. We’re admonished to turn around, turn away, turn back. Stop going that way. Stop thinking like you did and start agreeing with how God thinks! Recognise what terrible things you have done, and feel sorry about it. Fear the penalty your sins deserve. Have the desire to do better. Repent!
And that’s exactly what causes division. Instead of repenting, some people just love their sin, and want to stay in it. Some people choose themselves over God. Some people simply refuse to listen.
Because it points to Christ alone.
The name of Jesus Christ also produces painful division, even in the most personal relationships. His claims to be the only Son of God and only source of salvation are offensive to a pluralistic society. Jesus did not come to tell people that all paths lead to God. He did not come to tell people that what you believe doesn’t really matter. Jesus did not believe that all people are good. Jesus did not say you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. His morality is radical. He demands costly obedience. He calls all who follow him to pick up their cross and come and die. And not everyone is willing to pay the price . Not everyone is willing to accept those who do pay the price.
Of course this is only half the story. Jesus does bring peace. He doesn’t always bring peace here among our friends, neighbours, and loved ones, but he does bring peace with God. The consequences of ignoring and rejecting God’s Word are high. God didn’t tolerate it with Judah, and he isn’t about to start tolerating it now. So Christ gave up peace so that you could have it. He could have chosen a path of safety for Himself, but He chose your safety instead. Christ never failed to proclaim the Truth, even though his own family, for a time, rejected Him. He spoke up, even though it meant the pain and shame of crucifixion. He did not shrink from these things, because of His great love for you. He did not hesitate to throw away the temporary peace of this life because He had the goal before His eyes: to purchase peace for you with His Blood. It was Jesus’ second baptism, his baptism into death where he was washed with death and gave of His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins that ended the division between God and sinners. No one comes to the Father, (Jesus says), but by Me. That means that the way to the Father is through Jesus. Jesus is the true prophet, the Word who was with the Father in the beginning, and shows forth the full message of God to us. On the Cross: you see that what God says is perfect, and all who ignore his Law die. Even the Son of God, as he bore the consequences of our sins, was not spared, but was crucified. On the cross you also find God’s mercy to us sinners. So much did Jesus desire to reconcile us to Himself that He found a way to remove our sins from take them upon himself. The peace that we desperately need, has been given to us freely in the water and blood which flowed from his pierced side.
If you pick up your cross and follow Christ, you will experience division. Sometimes that division will come from those whom we love most. Despite the division in this world as a result of those who cannot listen to God’s Word, there is also peace. There is peace with God and peace with one another. The peace of Jesus. He gave his all. He was washed with death so that we might have his peace. That’s a peace won by his shed blood.
That’s the peace of God which surpasses all understanding which will
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)