By Paul Koch –
The gathering together of God’s people in one place for worship is one of the most beautifully complex and misunderstood events that regularly happens in any given week. I suppose it was somewhat different for ancient Israel, when they gathered around the Tabernacle or the Temple in Jerusalem. There they had a, “thus says the Lord…,” sort of direction to their worship. The parameters of what they were supposed to do and why they were supposed to do it where clearly laid out for them. Their options for a community in worship were somewhat limited compared to our day. But still there is some overlapping. And I do not just mean about the flow of worship or the elements of the rituals of the Church. I mean today, just as in ancient Israel’s day, those who gather for worship all bring with them a fascinating mixture of emotions and expectations, fears and desires, hopes and dreams.
See, I know intimately how my morning went. I know about the cup of coffee I made while putting the final preparations on this sermon. I know what it was like to preach it this morning to an empty and dark church before anyone else was here. I know my thoughts and my prayers as I knelt at the communion rail and went through my normal ritual to get ready for our worship. But I have no idea about you. I do not know what sort of coffee you had or if you even had time to make coffee this morning. I do not know if you have a well-rehearsed ritual that launches you from your bedroom to this place at this time each Sunday. I do not even know if you are here because you want to be here or, perhaps, it is because you feel obligated to be here. Maybe today was the day you sat for a long time on the edge of the bed and wondered why you should even bother going at all. Perhaps today was the day you asked some important questions about faith and life and are looking for answers. Then again, maybe this is just another day, another tick of the calendar, easily engaged and easily forgotten.
Gathered here in this space is a vast multitude of understandings of worship and reasons for being here. There are complex emotions and desires which govern our gathering together. Along with all of this come different ideas or images or expectations about our God. It is very easy, you see, for God to become the receptacle of all our hopes and dreams. If you are timid and afraid, God is strong and brave. If you are alone, He is companionship. If you are depressed, He is joy and happiness. If you are confused and worried, He is wisdom and certainty. Whatever it is you are seeking, whatever it is that brings you here today, you are hoping God is the answer to it. The prayers of God’s people reflect just who they think God is. He is the provider of good things. We pray for healing, for good weather, for a strong economy, for gainful employment, for wisdom, for strength and above all we pray for peace.
We gather together with these thoughts and desires swimming through our hearts and minds. And then it is like we hit a brick wall, like all our imaginings have been a waste of time. I am not sure how you felt when you first read our Lord’s words in Luke chapter 12, but I bet it does not line up very well with what you were hoping for. “Do you think,” Jesus says. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). It is as if Jesus reminds you of just who it is you are addressing in your prayers, who it is you come before when you gather for worship. A church may have comfortable pews or theater seating or a powerful praise band or dramatic choirs. It may evoke sentiments of love and awe and joy and happiness and peace. But make no mistake, you come before the Almighty God. He is not your puppet to fulfill what you are lacking. He brings division to your life.
These are shocking words to hear. Do you think I have come to bring peace? Yes! Yes, that is exactly what we are thinking. But Jesus reminds us of something important. The coming of the Son of God is the coming of the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. He encompasses all things and He came for a purpose which will cut through this world. In Christ we are faced with a dividing truth. There is no way to escape it. Jesus is the immovable line drawn in the sand. The only name under Heaven by which people can be saved and he does not make concessions. There is no bartering with God, no talking Him into seeing things from your point of view. Do not think He came to make peace, He did not. He came to divide.
Now we know full well of the divisions Jesus brings, we just do not want to feature it. You know about divisions cutting to the core of some of our most intimate relationships. He says He will divide households, fathers against sons and daughters against mothers. To confess Jesus Christ, to cling to Him alone as your savior is to put you in opposition to many others. Our world does not like exclusive claims. These days there are a multiplicity of genders and sexual orientations and pathways to God. You do you and let me do me and let us just agree to disagree on the rest. We find peace or make peace or claim to have peace not by action, but by inaction. By being silent in our opposition, by not speaking the Truth in love, we have found a good way to go forward. And then we gather together and want God to put His stamp of approval on our so-called peace.
But He says, “No! No peace.” See, He has spoken His Word into this world. He has made a declaration establishing the way, the truth and the life. So, we come together this day, with our various longings, our various desires of peace and happiness and we come into contact with something unyielding, immovable, that you cannot shape to fit your own understanding, no matter how holy it might seem.
Now, to be sure, division is not what got you out of bed and brought you to church on a Sunday morning. And perhaps you did not have enough coffee to prepare you to hear Jesus say, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49)! Then again, perhaps there is not enough coffee in the world to prepare you for that. We have gathered together not in hopes of division, but in hopes of peace, unity, joy and happiness, these sorts of things. The reality is, Jesus has in fact come to bring those, just not in the way you thought He would.
While Jesus certainly brings division with His Word, perhaps we do not realize just how deep the division really goes. For not only does He bring division with this world, and even division within families, He divides you as well. He divides you from your sin. It is painful to be sure. It begins by showing you your sin. By highlighting, once again, how you have failed to live as God desires. You have sinned in your thoughts, your words and your deeds. You have lived as if God did not matter and you tried to hide it all away when you came in here today. But your Lord’s Word roots it out and He shines a light on it. But then He does the unthinkable, He divides it from you.
Jesus sees your sins. He knows your sins. And He names them all before your Father in Heaven. Then He says, “All these are mine.” He divides you with His Word of Truth as He takes on Himself your sin and shame. His dividing truth is the only means to peace. Peace with the Father, peace to know eternal life is yours, peace to be assured you are not forsaken by God, and peace to live each day with the joy and confidence of an heir of eternal life. All this He gives in His unyielding division. We may have come searching for some desire of our hearts, but what you are given is the immovable gifts of Christ alone. And only here can any of us have peace.