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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
August 14 2022
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Twelve years ago this month, the very first time I stepped into the pulpit to preach as pastor of a congregation, this was the gospel reading. And it’s okay to laugh, because I sure did. And this isn’t the same sermon that I preached that day.
These eight verses are among the toughest ones in Luke’s gospel. This isn’t the “warm and fuzzy” Jesus; this is the Jesus who speaks a truth that’s hard to hear. And with all of the divisions in the world today, it seems like the last thing we need is Jesus sounding like he’s promoting more of them.
But when he was born, Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be “a sign of contradiction.” And he was.
When Jesus read the scroll from Isaiah at the beginning of his public ministry, and announced that he’d been sent to bring the good news to the poor, proclaim the release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – people were amazed at the words he spoke and the grace that came from him.
And then he started actually doing those things and people took a step back because he upended everything: people who had been cast aside were now part of the community. He called out the hypocrisy of religious leaders, and named truths about what was really going on.
And in the process, he was rejected by his home town of Nazareth. His family tried to stop him because they thought he was insane. His brothers didn’t believe in him. The people of Capernaum ran him out of town, and a Samaritan village wouldn’t even let him come into their town.
His critics said he was demon-possessed and “raving mad.” The religious elite opposed him outright. Many of his disciples quit following him. And he was executed for political reasons.
When it came to living who he was, Jesus didn’t hold back. He named the truth about what was going on. He called out the sin and brokenness and named it for what it was. As he did this, it empowered others to name it, too.
And in this process, the divisions that were already in place began to shift. And new divisions were created as people left their families and friends to follow Jesus’ way and pursue God’s vision for our world.
When it comes to divisions in the world, things haven’t changed all that much. Sin and brokenness are still rampant and the divisions that they cause are very real. Economic inequality continues to increase on a global scale with no end in sight.
Closer to home, there are ongoing disagreements about how to help people who are experiencing homelessness – both those who want the help and those who refuse it. We’re suspicious of people who might be different from us. And the current political rhetoric is violent and toxic.
As people of God, we know that working against these things is a long and difficult journey. But as people of God, we know that Jesus names the truth about it all. He names the sin and brokenness that’s already there. He names the disconnect between our world and God’s vision for it.
And because Jesus does this, he empowers us to name it, too. And to follow his way and seek God’s vision for our world.
And when the division is named, when it’s out in the open, we can deal with it. As that happens, the existing divisions shift and new ones form as people reexamine what it means to follow Jesus’ way.
As I prepared for today, I thought about what the most divisive issue is in the U.S. right now, and I couldn’t come up with just one because they all seem to be competing for the top spot.
I thought about racism. I just mentioned economic inequality and the current political rhetoric. What are some others that come to mind for you? At home, please put your answers in the chat. But in here, out loud, what are the most divisive issues in the U.S. right now?
When it comes to addressing these divisions, I think the hardest part for a lot of people – myself included – is listening. Not for the purpose of changing the other person’s mind, but for understanding. Because we can’t move forward unless, and until, we understand where the other person is coming from. And to understand them, we have to get to know them.
More importantly, though, we have to know ourselves. And for us, as people of God, those conversations start here in the church about who we are and who God is calling us to be as church.
For example, as people who are Lutheran, despite all the jokes – especially in this part of the country, we don’t define ourselves by any particular cultural or ethnic group or cuisine. We define ourselves by our understanding of God and that we’re saved by God’s grace through faith and not by anything we say or do.
We define ourselves by the promises we live out daily in our baptism, and that when we receive Communion we receive Christ’s presence. And that Christ is present in us wherever we go in the world.
When we equate being Lutheran with a specific ethnic or cultural background or the foods we eat, we aren’t only wrong to do so, we also exclude others who are equally as Lutheran but have a different experience.
And without their experiences, we are incomplete. Because the differences among us are gifts to be welcomed and enjoyed, not problems to be solved.
Naming realities like this and the work that comes with it is a hard conversation. And it might create new division. But when it’s named, we can work with it. We have to have conversations like these among ourselves and be honest. But we can’t do it in isolation.
We need people who are different from us for us to better understand what life is like in our country. We need each other, and we need to work together for the sake of one another as people of God.
When Jesus named the sin and brokenness that he saw, he named the divisions that were already there. He acknowledged them. He named the disconnect that exists between our world and God’s vision for it.
Naming it, in its specificity, is painful. It upsets a lot of people and causes things to shift, and sometimes it creates new divisions among us. But when the division, the brokenness, is named, when it’s out in the open we can deal with it.
And because Jesus does this, he empowers us to name it, too, and to follow his way and seek God’s vision for our world. Thanks be to God! Amen.