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”I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:50-51 ESV) At the heart of these hard words from Jesus comes the truth of God’s act to save. Today at International Lutheran Church, we delve into the division of which Jesus speaks as it reveals the very depth to which God has gone to bring us back to Himself.

Long division is hard. When we begin the process of seeing how numbers are related and how they can repeat patterns and how they can be represented in an endless number of different ways, the challenge comes to keeping them straight as well as learning that some things just can’t be divided evenly or fairly. In the words of my father’s stockbroker spoken only a few months ago, “While we will do our best, there will be some discrepancies. Some things just can’t be divided by three!” Division is hard. It is also hard on the people and communities that undergo long division. This week we were reminded of the long division between the Taiwan Straits. If this bit of leftover math from WWII had been forgotten, it came back this week with new and improved means to force people to come back peacefully – or else. We aren’t that removed from this trouble here as we live along the most militarized border in all the world and of all history. Hadrian’s Wall was only a few feet high – meant to keep out the marauding Celts – the DMZ is an entirely different category.

But you might say to me, we don’t have to go that far to find division. We can just look at our own families and our own households. Fathers that don’t talk to their sons and sons that don’t talk to their fathers. Daughters and mothers divided or the division between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. This does not smooth over the hard saying of Jesus in this part of the travel narrative in Luke’s Gospel. “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51 ESV) These are hard words. There is no way to sugarcoat them. Jesus Himself brings division. But before we despair into the vaporous imaginations of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and the emptiness of our own modern-day prophets of prosperity and peace, the words that Jesus speaks immediately before this are critical. The division that He speaks of is something that will even touch Him. He will be baptized with a baptism and endure the fire of God’s judgement upon all our sinfulness. 

That the Father and the Son are divided not only points to the divisions within our human households, but even of that heavenly household. The Father and the Son are estranged from each other on the cross. This is why the cross remains such a divisive image and yet central to our faith and hope. Jesus endures the fire and storm of God’s wrath which God spoke of through the prophets, like Jeremiah. Jesus would be the very “Hammer of God” and at the same time the Rock which would be broken to pieces by that hammer. Our faith in Jesus is more than just some sentimental wish that we hope will improve our lives a little bit. No, He is the very cover and shield that can save us from the wrath of God upon all our sin. His division wins for us a unification not possible here and now. 

This does not mean we should stoke animosity for animosity’s sake. We should do all we humanly can with the use of God’s Word and promise to work out our differences and find ways to come together and support one another. This is why we are called to forgive one another and not hold on to a grudge. We are to turn away from our desire to seek revenge and reconcile with one another. That divisions remain are a sign and testimony that we are not in heaven yet, just as God’s Word reveals! We still need to press on toward the goal for which Christ has called us heavenward.

Jesus’ Words are also a passionate invitation for us to remember the baptism that we have been baptized with and the peace that we now have with God and with one another. This Word and promise of God’s love and forgiveness stoke a flame in us to share this good news with others in the face of the long division that still affects us. Yes, the long division of God’s Word moves us to live out the faith of our baptism so that others, too, would believe and trust in Him.

Pastor Carl