July 4th, 2010
“Woe and Peace”
A happy 4th of July to all of you. I know many of us will be taking part in the celebration of our nation's birth with cookouts, parades, fireworks and the like. We'll feel patriotic and nostalgic. And it's a good thing to love our nation and give thanks to God for America – and to ask his blessing on it.
It's always interesting to relate a national holiday with our Christian faith. For we Christians are in the world, but we are not of it. We live here in time and space in a certain nation, now. But our true citizenship is in heaven, our eternal home.
I think in many churches today preachers are talking about what a great country we have. And in many churches today preachers are talking about what a terrible country we have. And there's probably a lot of truth in all of that. We have our good and bad points in this country.
But the important message for us today is not about the U.S.A., even though it's our national holiday. As Christians, we always concern ourselves first of all with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's where the real fireworks happen.
We have a message, given to us by Christ. Just like the 72 who Jesus appointed and sent out to preach. We have a word for the world, just as Jesus and his disciples proclaimed it to the towns and villages in their neck of the woods. And since we are part of that world, the word is for us too.
And it is a message of Woe and Peace. (Not War and peace like the novel). Woe and peace. Two key words in our Gospel reading today.
What Jesus wants is for people to have peace. He wants us to know his peace. The peace that passes understanding. A peace that is not as the world gives. A peace found in his work of salvation for us. Peace in a clean conscience and a certain hope of salvation. A peace that lasts forever. A peace that he won for us in the violence of the cross, and in the tomb which could not hold him.
All that peace is wrapped up in the disciples' greeting, “Peace be to this house!” As he sent these 72 preachers out with such good news – they went to real people in real places. “Every town and place where he himself was about to go”.
But it was a dangerous journey for them. They were as sheep among wolves. For those who carry the word of God have no defense but that word alone. And sometimes the word is rejected. Sometimes Jesus is rejected. Maybe you see it happening in the world you live in – in America today – or in your own neighborhood or family. In real times and places, there are unbelievers. And there is a harsh word of law from Jesus for those who reject his peace, for those who turn away from his kingdom. It is a word of judgment. “woe to you!”
Chorazin and Bethsaida receive this word of woe. For they had rejected Christ. Even though they saw unmistakeable signs of his authority and power – the calling cards of the Messiah. And so Jesus says they will be even worse off in the judgment than Tyre and Sidon, those pagan cities in the North. Caperrnaum, where Jeuss did many signs and wonders, where he preached extensively, also receives a harsh word of doom and gloom.
Too bad for them. But we're ok, right? Be careful. For at times, we too reject the message and the messenger. At times we are no better than Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. We, yes, even we Christians, deny God's power in our lives and shun his word and message. We act as if we are our own little gods – doing as we please, justifying it all the while. This is perhaps a particular trouble for us as Americans – the idea that each individual can do what he wants. But so often we turn our freedom into license, our liberty into a pretext for sinning. No one can tell me how to live my life. And that includes you, God.
And so we reject the message, and the messenger too. Perhaps it's hard to hear a condemning word of law from your pastor. Maybe you think we're talking about someone else's sins. There's a part of all of us that likes the fire and brimstone – when it's directed at someone else. Oh the cultural rot of America today. Oh the government, oh the greedy businesses and rich people, oh the enemies of our way of life and our freedom – sock it to 'em pastor! But don't point out my sin! That's no fun. That's not uplifting.
Pray that by God's spirit, we are not the ones who hear and reject. For rejecting the messenger, and rejecting the message, is rejecting the one who sends it. To deny our sin and need for redemption is to deny Jesus himself. No sin, no savior. And that's a terrible place to be.
Pray that by God's spirit, our hearts are brought to repentance and faith. And pray that we hear his word with joy.
Rejoice, Jesus says, that your names are written in heaven. And so are yours and mine. When we are baptized and receive his grace and mercy, his Triune name is on us. But our name goes in his book – as one of his own, belonging to him for eternity. Our Baptism is a seal of this promise, a downpayment on heaven for all who bear the name of Christ.
And when his messenger, say, the pastor, preaches a word of peace to you – it is for you! It's not a word of forgiveness and healing for some other sinner whose sins aren't as bad. It's for you! Peace be to you! Believe it!
Jesus words are real – and they are for real people living in real places. Places like Chorazin and Bethsaida. Places like the Unites States. His word of woe is for all who reject, and his word of peace is for all who receive and believe. So God bless America – not with wealth and success and power and respect or even with worldly peace. God bless America – through the preaching of his word – the saving work of Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners like you and me. A word of peace for every house that receives him. A word of peace to you. In Jesus' name, Amen.