Sunday, August 29, 2004

Luke 12:49-53 - “Hello, I Am Dead”

13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C - LCMS Readings)
Thursday, August 26, and Sunday, August 29, 2004

Well, maybe you have a group of friends that meet together as a book club, reading and discussing books together. Or maybe you followed Oprah’s Book Club, where she chose books and had discussions on her TV show. Well, now we’ve all been invited over the past few weeks to join Pastor Miller’s Book Club. As he’s been saying, he plans on following the Gospel readings from Luke for his sermons through the next couple of months. The way the lectionary, the chosen readings for each Sunday works is that until Advent, every Sunday the Gospel reading is from Luke. Pastor Miller has been encouraging us all to read Luke and study it with him. I decided this week that I too will join Pastor Miller’s Book Club.

Today’s reading continues a lengthy teaching section in chapter 12 of Luke where Jesus is trying to help His disciples understand what it means to be His disciple, to be His follower. The disciples are learning that it is extremely challenging to be a disciple, to have faith in Jesus and learn from Him. It is scary, difficult, and lonely to follow His ways.

As you look through chapter 12, you realize that it keeps giving answers to the question: what does it mean to believe in Jesus? What does it mean to believe in Jesus? What does it mean to trust Him, to love Him, to do His will, to follow Him even when you don’t know where that’s going to lead?

When you get to verses 49-53, they’re the verses of death. Jesus says, “I have come to bring fire on the earth,” judgment on the earth, condemn the earth for sin. Jesus has come to bring death to the earth. Jesus says, “But I have a baptism to undergo,” a baptism of death, His crucifixion. Jesus came to be put to death. Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division,” separation from God, removing the sinners from God’s presence. Jesus came to put sinners to death.

Jesus came to pronounce our death, so what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means to believe these three things: I deserve the fire. His death is my death. I should be divided from God forever. Of course, there’s more that we believe about Jesus. Luke chapter 12 teaches other things about what it means to believe in Jesus. I think you know that believing in Jesus also means trusting that He forgives us, He loves us, and He gives us life after death. But according to verses 49-53, believing in Jesus means: I deserve the fire. His death is my death. I should be divided from God forever.

Another way to look at this passage is to realize that to believe in Jesus means labeling ourselves as dead. Like the picture on the front of the bulletin, when we believe in Jesus, that’s like putting a nametag on that says, “Hello, I am dead.” Hello, I am dead. I deserve the fire, the judgment of God, eternal death for my sins. Hello, I am dead. Jesus, well, His death is my death. When Jesus died on the cross, that should’ve been me. Hello, I am dead. I should be divided from God forever. God should have nothing to do with me, because I am sinful, corrupt, out to do my own thing, forgetting the things of God. Hello, I am dead.

When you say that you believe in Jesus, you are calling yourself dead in your sins.

But maybe you don’t like the picture on the bulletin. It’s too blunt; it’s a bit morbid; it doesn’t tell the whole story, because you thought that Jesus brought life, life to the full, the new life, life after death. And He does. He does bring life, but the “Hello, I am dead” nametag reminds us that we don’t see the new life right away. Jesus tells His disciples about death, because at first, when we follow Jesus, that’s all we can see. In order to believe in Jesus, we have to believe that we are sinful—dying because our lives are hopelessly beyond repair; we can’t fix ourselves. We have to believe that there is death, eternal death, death that lasts forever. What does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means putting on the nametag, “Hello, I am dead.”

Yet, what we don’t see, what we can’t see, what we’re still waiting to see is the new life that Jesus promises. Jesus forgives; Jesus loves; Jesus saves; Jesus rescues; Jesus resurrects; Jesus gives new life. It is like the nametag, “Hello, I am dead.” All you see is the word, “Dead,” but that nametag is over a beating heart. You can’t see it, but there is life where there is death. “Hello, on the surface, I am dead, but underneath, I am alive and free.”

By going with Jesus, what we can see is that we’re labeled as dead in our sins. Yet, that’s only the surface. By going with Jesus, what we cannot see, what can only see by faith is that we are alive. We have the promise of living after death. As Martin Luther said, believing in Jesus means believing that we will pass through death unharmed.

Why is it so hard for people to hear about Jesus? Because when you tell them about Jesus, when you tell them about their sins and why Jesus had to die on the cross, when you tell them all of this, you’re saying, “You’re dead.” You’re saying that to believe in Jesus, they too have to wear the nametag, “Hello, I am dead.” People don’t want to hear that; you don’t want to hear that. We don’t like wearing the nametag; we don’t like admitting that we are dead without Christ.

And that’s when the division comes. Jesus says, “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” The division comes, because people don’t want to be labeled as dead.

When you tell people around you that you believe in Jesus, you believe He is real, that He died for our sins, that only those who believe in Jesus will live after they die, when you tell people this, when you show them your nametag, “Hello, I am dead,” that causes division. No matter how close that person might be to you, no matter what kind of relationship you have, if they are offended, if they don’t want to hear about Jesus, if they think this Jesus stuff is all baloney, then there’s going to be division.

A family member sees you saying, “I am dead in my sins,” and they’re not ready for you to say that the same thing about them. You’re handing out “Hello, I am dead” nametags, and they don’t want to wear that kind of nametag. They don’t want to label themselves as dead, as nothing, as condemned in God’s eyes. When we approach people and tell them about our faith, many people may turn away saying that we’ve got it all wrong, that they don’t want a dead religion, that they don’t believe in a God that calls us bad people. When you tell someone that believing in Jesus means saying, “I deserve the fire. His death is my death. I should be divided from God forever,” when you tell someone that, it may very well cause a division, cause the conversation to stop, cause tension, cause a relationship to end.

Yet, didn’t Jesus come to bring peace on earth? You know, the Christmas angel says, “Peace on earth! Goodwill to all people!” Division and separation, getting people upset by telling them that they’re dead in their sins, that doesn’t sound like peace in Christ.

But peace in Christ is not “everyone happy together, no one says anything that might be upsetting.” Peace in Christ is being at peace about knowing that we are dead. Christ comes and puts that nametag on us, tells us that we are dead, that we are sinners, but He gives us the peace of forgiveness, love, and the hope of being saved from death. He gives us peace about knowing that we are dead.

The peace is not some kind of surface level, smiley, everything works out alright kind of peace. The peace of Christ is that deep, penetrating, life-changing, peace at the core of your heart. Everything might be spinning out of control around you, everything in your life might be touched by greed and disease and death and despair, everything in your life might be a mess, and Jesus comes to give you peace. He doesn’t clean up the whole mess; He doesn’t fix all of the problems; He doesn’t stop the things that are out of control. He walks right into the center of your life, kicks out the faithlessness, the hopelessness, the emptiness; Jesus walks right into the center of your life and puts the peace right there. Now as everything spins and gets tough and gets messy, now there’s this center, there’s this core, there’s this thing that doesn’t move, doesn’t change, doesn’t breakdown. That’s the kind of peace that Jesus brings.

So you’ve got that peace in the core of your heart as you tell a loved one, a friend, a coworker, a fellow student about Jesus. Then when there’s division, when the walls go up, when the conversation gets strained, when it looks like everything is spinning out of control, then Jesus has planted that peace in your heart to be unmovable in these divided, separated, conflicted, fighting, warring times.

Jesus warns us about the division, about how His message isn’t going to be received so well, because He wants us to be prepared when we start to speak. He wants us to know that there’s going to be division, that people are going to be upset, but He expects it. When someone tells you they don’t want to hear anymore about Jesus, Jesus is saying, “I know that’s going to happen. It’s not your fault. It’s the message, but I still want you to tell people about Me.”

Jesus warns us about the division that is possible, because He doesn’t want us to tiptoe around the message. That’s what I tend to do. People ask me about Jesus, and I end up tiptoeing around this “Hello, I am dead” stuff, kind of hem and haw about this major truth about God, try to mumble my way through when explaining sin and judgment and hell. I say, “Ah, yeah, God is nice, but I guess, well, we also believe that God is. . .well, you know, a little concerned about our behavior.” A little concerned? What am I thinking? Jesus is ready to cast down fire on the earth. Around and around I’ll go, but I never get around to saying, “Believing in Jesus means admitting that you deserve the fire.” It’s like writing their nametag in one of those invisible markers, only to be revealed much later.

But if you didn’t know you were dead in your sins, if your nametag was a secret, then you wouldn’t know why Jesus died, what His death has to do with you, and why we need to have a Savior. Jesus warns us about the division caused by His message, because He wants us to be courageous, speak the whole message, knowing that the whole message is what brings true peace, true life. The whole message of Christ is how we know that we will pass through death unharmed.

So let me tell you, the passage from Luke made me think of the reality TV show, “Big Brother.” Could “Big Brother” be based on what Jesus said about one house being divided? A show like “Big Brother” where they put a bunch of strangers in a house to live together, to compete, to try to be the last one left, to be the winner, is that the kind of division that Jesus is talking about? No, Big Brother and other reality TV shows get people to be divided based on looks, strategy, personality, greed, competition, pettiness.

Remember the kind of division Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with you personally. There will be division in your families, among your friends, because of Jesus, because of His message. This isn’t like Big Brother which is about the individuals, but this is a reality series. The division that will come your way because of Jesus has some elements of a reality series. When you speak about Jesus, people will turn against you. People will set up alliances against you. People will vote you off the team.

But your goal, your mission, your task on this reality series is not a million dollars, is not fame and fortune, is not to be the last one alive. Your goal is to tell people that through Christ, we are dead—and alive. We are judged—and forgiven. We are divided from God—and brought back to Him.

The reality series Survivor ends with Tribal Council where the players speak about what’s been hard, what’s been making them mad, and how they think things are going. And then they vote someone off. So mainly they point out what is wrong with the other people.

With Jesus, the Tribal Council is about admitting what is wrong with ourselves, something that you wouldn’t want to do on a reality series for fear of everyone deciding to vote you off. But in the Tribal Council with Jesus, we say, “I deserve the fire. His death is my death. I should be divided from God forever.” And then instead of Jesus putting out your torch, instead of Jesus saying, “The Council has spoken. You must leave the game,” instead of getting kicked off, Jesus says, “I will protect you from the fire. I died so you didn’t have to. I have brought you back together with God.”

May we invite other to a Tribal Council like that, where people can admit that they are dead in their sins and then get eternal life through Christ.