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Luke 12_49-56

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TITLE:  Peace on Earth?                   SCRIPTURE:  Luke 12:49-56

I came across a wonderful sermon title not long ago.  It was a sermon preached by Dr. David Leininger in an election year.  His title was this:

      Should the Church Stick its Nose into Things

      the Church Shouldn't Stick its Nose Into?

That is the longest sermon title that I can remember seeing -- 15 words! 

      Should the Church Stick its Nose into Things

      the Church Shouldn't Stick its Nose Into?

The thing that prompted that sermon was a nasty-gram that Dr. Leininger received regarding some comments that he made from the pulpit in an election year.  That caused him to ask the question:

      Should the Church Stick its Nose into Things

      the Church Shouldn't Stick its Nose Into?

He asked whether it is appropriate for the church to take controversial stands -- stands on issues about which Christians might disagree.  Shouldn't the church keep its mouth shut instead of taking the risk of offending people?

That isn't a new question.  It has been around for as long as the church has been the church.  It raised its head quite early.  The first Christians were Jewish, and they required prospective members to embrace the Jewish faith before embracing the Christian faith.  They felt quite strongly about that.  The Jews were God's chosen people, and you couldn't be a Christian without first being a Jew.

But then God gave Peter a different vision of the church -- a church open to all who would embrace Christ.  Peter shared that vision with other Christians, some of whom accepted his testimony and others of whom didn't.  It was a hot issue.  There were well-meaning Christians on both sides -- some who said that you must first become a Jew before becoming a Christian and others saying "No!" -- each side convinced that it was right and the other side was wrong.

We saw the same thing during the Reformation.  Some Christians thought that it would be a great sin to divide the church, and other Christians thought that they had no choice but to do so.  That resulted in a rift that has persisted for more than six hundred years.  In recent years, Protestants and Catholics have shown each other more charity than in earlier years, but the rift between Protestants and Catholics is still an open wound in the body of Christ.

We saw the same thing during the years when slavery flourished.  Many people, including many Christians, embraced slavery as essential.  They couldn't imagine life without slave labor.  They couldn't see how they could survive without slave labor.  They devised all sorts of justifications for slavery -- some derived from the Bible -- some that denied the humanity of dark-skinned people.  Some of them said that slavery was a necessary evil, but others said that there was nothing evil about it.

But William Wilberforce believed that slavery was a great evil -- and stood up in the British Parliament to say so.  From the time he became a Christian, Wilberforce became an unrelenting foe of slavery.  He felt God-called to oppose slavery.  His opponents were many and powerful, and his efforts divided "father against son and son against father," as Jesus put it in our Gospel lesson today (Luke 12:53).  But Wilberforce was ultimately victorious.  Just three days before his death, Parliament passed a law abolishing slavery for British citizens.  After his death, the House of Commons paid Wilberforce tribute, noting that his life came to an end just as he completed his great work.

The victory of Wilberforce against slavery in Great Britain encouraged opponents of slavery in the United States -- people who agreed that slavery was evil -- an Unnecessary evil.  The United States had to go through its most terrible war -- the Civil War -- before it was able to put aside that unnecessary evil. It was a walk through fire -- the fire of purification and the fire of judgment. 

That struggle was re-fought decades later in the civil rights movement of the 1960s -- and once again in South Africa through the 60s and 70s and 80s.  Each time we had to walk through fire -- the fire of purification and the fire of judgment.

Some people today believe that slavery should have been allowed to persist -- and that the church should stick to preaching the Gospel and stay away from controversy. 

But Jesus, the Prince of Peace, knew that we could have true peace only when we were willing to hold evil at bay.  And so he said:

      Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?

      No, I tell you, but rather division!

      From now on five in one household will be divided,

      three against two and two against three;

      they will be divided

      father against son

      and son against father,

      mother against daughter

      and daughter against mother,

      mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law

      and daughter-in-law against mother-in law.

The Prince of Peace came to bring us peace -- but we often have to walk through fire -- the fire of purification and the fire of judgment -- before we can find that peace. 

The reason is simple.  It is the presence of evil in our midst.  As long as evil exists, the church will need to oppose the evil and to support the good.

That will always be difficult, because there will always be Christians on both sides of every issue -- each side thinking that it is right and the other side is wrong.  There were Christians on both sides of the slavery issue.  There were Christians on both sides of the civil rights issue.  Today there are Christians on both sides of the abortion issue -- and the homosexual issue -- and many other issues.

That makes it imperative that we carry out our advocacy with love.  Jesus said that there are two great commandments.  One is that we love God, and the other is that we love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27).  He said, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:40).  That means that loving God and loving neighbors summarizes all the commandments of the Bible. 

We cannot succeed in fighting evil with evil.  Jesus fought evil with love, and teaches us to do the same.  If we can learn to love the sinner while hating the sin, we will be pretty far down the road to successful advocacy. 

Martin Luther King re-discovered that principle.  He said:

      Whom you would change,

      you must first love.

It isn't easy to love a person who disagrees with you -- and it is particularly difficult when that person advocates something that you believe to be evil.  I don't believe that it is humanly possible to love evil people.  But there are three truths that we must remember:

-- The first truth is that the Apostle Paul says that we are all sinners -- that we are all evil (Romans 3:23).  If we can remember that, perhaps it will give us the humility to love other sinners.

-- The second truth is that Christ calls us to love our neighbor -- not our sinless neighbor, but our neighbor.

-- And the third truth is that God is on the side of good -- and that means that we can live in the confidence that good will prevail.  Martin Luther, the great reformer, put it this way.  He said:

      Did we in our own strength confide,

      our striving would be losing,

      were not the right man on our side,

      the man of God's own choosing.

      Dost ask who that may be?

      Christ Jesus, it is he:

      Lord Sabaoth his name,

      from age to age the same,

      and he must win the battle.

Martin Luther King, who faced terrible opposition, put it this way.  He said:

      When days grow dark and nights grow dreary,

      we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature

      a creative synthesis of love and justice

      which will lead us through life's dark valleys

      and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.

So to do our work as Christians in a difficult world, we must love and we must hope.

I started this sermon by quoting the title of Dr. Leininger's sermon:

      Should the church stick its nose into things

      the church shouldn't stick its nose into?

Dr. Leininger answered that question by saying:

      THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS!

      You see, the church says that Jesus Christ is Lord,

      and if he is not Lord OF all,

      he is not Lord AT all.

      Nothing in human life,

      not even politics and government,

      is outside the Lordship of Christ.

To which I can only say, "Amen!

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