Peace or Pieces
We long for peace, but we find ourselves going to pieces. Probably not publicly, maybe not even visibly, but most assuredly, we are more shattered than peaceful. Rather than finding ourselves at peace we find ourselves in pieces living the lives of quiet desperation that Henry David Thoreau wrote of. But what do we find our Gospel reading? A Jesus in pieces.
It sounds crude, but it's accurate. What we have in our text is a mini-Gethsemane. Jesus wants the fire of the Holy Spirit to be kindled on earth. He wants to complete the redemption of the world, but more than that He just wants it to be over and done with. Whenever Christ thought of the passionate suffering and dying that would be necessary for the Holy Spirit to be sent and for our redemption to be completed, sorrow overwhelmed Him.
Jesus knows well how it feels to go to pieces. He knows how you feel when you say, "I just wish it was over." Although none of us have the mountain of Calvary before us, we all have mountains that we can't go around. We all have things we would rather not face, but must. "I just wish it was over," young people say about an upcoming test or interview thinking there can't be many more big mountains like that in life. They don't realize that down the road there are medical tests for themselves and loved ones that will be bigger still. Then too they will utter, "I just wish it was over."
"Wish" isn't a strong enough word. Jesus goes on to describe His desire to be done with our salvation by saying how "distressed" He is until it is completed. Others translate "afflicted," "pent up," "troubled," "suffer." Luke uses the Greek word more than any other New Testament writer. It was a common medical word used to describe someone in the grip of a fever. Twice Dr. Luke uses it that way. You know, then, how Jesus feels in this text. Something has had you in a fever-like grip until it was completed. You've thrashed this way and that way on your bed at night, as if feverish, over something you had to do. Not only did peace leave, sleep did too. You were "afflicted" by the thought of having to confront this person. You were "troubled" by the decision you would have to announce the next day. You "suffered" until you were at last done with that project. You can relate, therefore, to the fact that Jesus feels shattered, in pieces, until He's passed through Gethsemane, the trials, the torturer, the crucifixion.
Jesus was in pieces until it was finished. Then on the cross, using the same Greek word, Jesus shouted in triumph, "It is finished." Now, for Jesus, it is a time for the "Easter triumph, Easter Joy" that we sing about. Now the work of redemption has been completed. Jesus has successfully brought the fire of the Holy Ghost to earth pouring it out on His Church on Pentecost. Jesus, having been submerged under all the waves of God's wrath for the sins of the world has emerged successfully paying the full price of our redemption. No more does Jesus say, "I just wish it were over." No more does Jesus say He is distressed, troubled, or bothered. He is not in pieces but at peace.
You know how Jesus feels. You know how good you feel when the test, interview, or confrontation is over. You know how peaceful you feel when whatever you had to do is completed successfully. No longer does it prey on your mind poking you, agitating you, disturbing your sleep and troubling your days. It is finished, done, completed. What once had you in pieces, does no more. You are at peace.
Here's where this text takes a funny turn. The completion of Jesus' messianic work really did bring Him peace on earth. No longer did He concern Himself with staying out of cities because the Jews wanted to kill Him. No longer was He hounded by their questions and accusations. No longer did His suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying loom large before Him. His work was done, completed, and successful. His triumph ushers in peace for Him, but something else for us. And He tells us plainly what it is, so that we might expect it and not be surprised by it.
While Jesus' waiting is over, while His being in distress until His messianic work was completed is over, ours just began when Jesus cried on the cross, "It is finished!" "From now on," Jesus tells us there will not be peace but division, that is, pieces. When you divide something, you get pieces. Health and wealth theology, the theology of glory says that with Christ's victory on the cross, good things come to those who believe in Him. Things like, love, joy, and peace. But Jesus says, "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." 3 times in 3 verses Jesus speaks about "division," "divided," "divided against." Far from expecting peace, we ought to be expecting division if we are Christians.
And be clear on this, we should be expecting division at a most basic level in life. Division not necessarily between countries and races but division in the family. And this division is not just here or there. Division is an abiding feature of family life to those in Christ. Do you remember years ago when Rodney King in an attempt to quell the riots in Los Angels made that mournful plea on TV, "Can't we all just get along?" Well, Jesus here tells His followers, tells you and me, "You won't be able to just get along. In the area of life where everyone most wants peace, the family, there will be division."
Why? The division comes about because of Christ. From hundreds of years before He was incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, to decades after His victorious ascension, we read things like Christ is the banner on the hill that some people gather around and others attack. Christ is the Rock that some stumble over and some drink from. Christ is the stench of death to some and the sweet smell of salvation to others. Christ is foolishness to some and the wisdom of God to others. Christ is the great dividing line.
When Christ kindled the fire and completed His work of paying for the sins of the world, He established a whole other kingdom here. A kingdom, not made with hands but by His Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace. A kingdom not visible but stretching all around the world wherever the Gospel is proclaimed purely and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ's institution. Christ has established a kingdom on the very earth Satan claims to be the god and ruler of.
Friends, we are in a combat zone as long as we are in this world. The forces of Satan which are not just fallen angels but people who are outside of Christ in anyway, relentlessly attack those in the kingdom of God. You see this from Genesis to Revelation, the people in Satan's kingdom attack the people in God's kingdom. Cain kills Able, the Philistines hound Isaac, Jeremiah is thrown in a cistern, Daniel in the lion's den; Peter is imprisoned; James is killed; Paul is chased from one end of Asia Minor to the other; John is exiled to the Island of Patmos. Jesus' disciples had little peace here on earth. But what could they expect? They were in a combat zone, surrounded by snipers, artillery, and spies.
That's enough to make anyone go to pieces, isn't it? No wonder we feel like we do. It's not that we're nervous people. We are people besieged by an enemy. It's not that we are Christians who can't believe enough, we are Christians who have been shot at and shelled too much. Would you tell someone returning from weeks at the front line that there must be something wrong with him because he was so jumpy and went to pieces at sudden noises? No, that would be normal behavior for someone who had lived weeks on edge. Well, I'm telling you it is normal behavior for God's people who are surrounded by division and conflict to feel like they are going to pieces rather than to feel at peace. If you are continually attacked, sniped, and shelled, it is normal to feel jumpy and on edge.
Friends, in the world we can expect pieces, but in Christ we can expect peace. Even in the front lines, the military tries to have bunkers that are virtually safe from anything the enemy can throw at them. So too your God and Savior. He knows that in this world you have people opposed to you, attacking you, tormenting you for no other reason than you are in His kingdom. O they may say it is because of this or that, but Jesus makes it clear in the text that the division is because of Him. Your Lord knows you're in a combat zone, so He too provides a safe-haven for you here. As the Psalm says, He is a strong tower that you can run into and be safe.
On the night Christ was betrayed, on the night when His battle erupted into full scale war, He told His disciples, He told you and I, two things. "In the world you have tribulation." In this world, you have the pressure, the distress, the trouble of being attacked by those who oppose Christ. It is not unusual for a soldier to get wounded, be afraid, be in pieces in a combat zone; likewise, it is not unusual for a Christian to be distressed, depressed, and overwhelmed in this fallen world. That's what Jesus is trying to tell you when He says, "In the world you have tribulation." But Jesus goes on to say, "But be of good cheer, I have conquered the world." Jesus says He tells us these two things "in order that IN ME peace you might have."
In the world, we can expect pieces and even to feel like we're in pieces. In Christ, it's another story. In Him there is peace. In His Body and His Blood there is peace. So here, in the bunker of His Church, each week, He gives us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. In this bunker, He puts before our eyes the font where He washed away our sins and clothed us in His righteousness. In this bunker, He proclaims His forgiving Word which pronounces peace to sinners even though they are standing in a combat zone. In here, in the bunker of the Church, it is like VJ Day in 1945. Some of you can remember that. O the parties, O the celebrations, O the joy that at last the war with Japan was over. In here, in Christ, the war is over too.
But we also live in the world, where the conflict rages on making us feel there will never be peace and that we're in pieces. That's why we come here into this bunker each week. After the Word of God is preached to us taking us back to Christ's victory over sin, death and the devil, the pastor says, "Now the peace of God which passes all human understanding WILL keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting." Then after we have partaken of the peace-making Body and Blood of Christ, we're told again, "Depart in peace." Finally, as the Lord's ministers have done for 3,500 years, the pastor dimisses us telling us the Lord blesses us, keeps us, lifts His countenance upon us and gives us peace.
Why all this peace? Because the Lord knows we are at war. He wants to get through to us as He said Maundy Thursday that although we have tribulation in the world, in Him we do have peace. So when your nerves our jumpy and your thoughts are shattered by the conflicts here, don't try to make yourself feel peaceful. You would have to be crazy to feel peaceful in a combat zone. No, run to God's Bunker where He distributes peace. Peace is a gift of God; all the wishing, hoping and trying to have it are useless. Peace must be given by God. He gives it here freely and generously in, with and under Water, Words, Bread and Wine. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XIII (9-2-01) Luke 12:49-53