Division and Blessing

A sermon with the St. Paul’s Anglican congregation, Kingston, Ontario, Canada,

by Robert Brow     (www.brow.on.ca)  August 15, 2004

If our text today was the only part of the New Testament available to us, we might think it was written by Al Quaida terrorists. How can such words have been spoken by Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and the one who introduced us to the Love of God the Father? This is what he said:

Read: Luke 12:49-53

A. The problem with humans is that we think in terms of shades of grey. We see people are bad, moderately bad, more or less good, a few who are fairly good, and a handful are possibly saints. But in God’s mind there are no shades of grey. God works by clear cut sharp divisions. As Jesus explained :

We either belong to the light of God, or we belong to the darkness.

We are children of God, or the children of Satan.

We are building our house on the rock, or it is founded on sand. Nobody is half on the sand and half on the rock.

In the parable of the seed that God sows in his field, the opposite of good seed are the weeds.

Either we are on the narrow way that leads to life or we are on the broad way that leads to destruction.

Either we have eternal life, or we belong to eternal death.

B. In making this division God does not divide people as we do. We divide our world into Jews or Arabs, Canadians or Americans, Black people or White people, those who are educated and those who are ignorant, rich or poor. We even divide among Christians. My denomination is the right one, and others are in the wrong church, or belong to no church at all.

But God does not see as we do. We look on the outward appearance. He looks at the heart. In Jesus’ day the Pharisees viewed themselves as the righteous ones who tried to obey all the rules of the Law of Moses. But Jesus could see right into their heart. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock people out of the Kingdom of Heaven . . . . You blind guides . . . You clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence . . . You are like whitewashed tombs" (Matthew 23:13-28).

God is not primarily concerned about our performance or outward righteousness - that appears later. What counts is a person’s heart direction. He can see what he or she really loves and cares about. When we move a large rock, all the insects underneath that love the darkness scurry away to find a hole to hide in. They hate the light. Similarly John’s Gospel explains: "This is the judgment (the Greek word is krisis or line of division), that light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil . . . But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God" (John 3:19-21). The result is that no one who loves hellish darkness would be happy in heaven. And we can be certain that nobody who loves Jesus and what he has in mind could ever be excluded from heaven.

C. Thirdly humans tend to assume that bad people will remain bad. But that is not at all what God has in mind. He tries every which way to turn our hearts towards him and help us into faith. If you had known me 60 years ago when I was in the army during the war you would never have believed I would one day change from atheism into faith. My whole life style was totally opposed to anything Christian. But suddenly my first year at university I said to the Lord, "If you can do anything with me, please get on with it." And he did.

My father was a heavy drinker, and ran around with other women so that my mother had to divorce him. When I tried to talk about my faith, he had every argument against it. But I gave him a New Testament and he began to read it. When he wrote to say he had become a Christian and was going to church, I questioned whether he had really been born again, but a few weeks later I could sense the huge change that had taken place.

When I told my mother that I was going to serve as a missionary, she said to her friends "I have lost my son." But the year before she died she asked Mollie "What does Robert preach about life after death?" And I am sure she opened her heart to the love of God.

The Jewish people of Jerusalem cried out "crucify him" and when Pilate tried to avoid this they said "his blood be on us and on our children." But seven weeks later on the Day of Pentecost 3000 of them came to faith and were baptized. A bit later another 5000 were added to the church.

Saul, who was a terrible vicious persecutor of the early church, and had many of the early Christians imprisoned and killed, was converted on the road to Damascus and became the apostle who planted churches all over the Mediterranean world.

The point is that Jesus the Messiah continually works with us to bring us to faith. Nobody is too bad to change. And he longs for us to accept and enjoy the love of God.

In a few minutes we will accept the invitation of Jesus the Messiah to share in the bread and wine that symbolizes his royal banquet. As we do that, it is good for us to thank him for the changes he has already worked in us. Our heart has turned to love him and his plan for the world. We can admit we are still very imperfect, but we know he loves us, and will perfect us in due course. We can also declare that death is not the end. The Holy Spirit raised him from death, and the same Holy Spirit will raise us right into heaven when we die. That is why I like the prayer we used at the beginning of this Communion Service:

Prayer : "Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

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