2nd Sunday after Pentecost – 6/14/2020
Today is Flag Day. But I'm sorry to say, Brothers and Sisters in Christ and fellow Americans, that it is with a sense of profound sadness that I must acknowledge to you that on this day, Old Glory is not flying proudly. It is being tattered and torn by the ferocious winds of civil war. As these past two weeks of total civil upheaval and bloodshed have revealed, it is a war for our nation's soul!
One side in this quintessential struggle sees the soul of our nation rooted in the principle of freedom with justice for all as articulated in the Constitution of the United States of America and confessed in our Pledge of Allegiance. This side acknowledges the values and truths established by our Creator as delineated in the sacred pages of the Holy Bible and exercised through a fair and democratic political process.
The other side rejects such notions as being nothing but white men's privilege. Instead, they desire a nation based solely on the freedom of following one's passions without the restraints of any higher authority or transcendent ideals. They say they want a society where everyone can believe in whatever they want, live the way they want, and establish what is true and right for themselves. Yet they are anything but democratic. Under the guise of concern for rights and justice, their actual modus operandi is the seizure of power from anyone who presently has it. They preach tolerance yet contradict this dictum with the most violent intolerance our society has ever witnessed. Any conservative or traditional voice is silenced. Anyone who disagrees with their views is accused of being racist. They use threats, looting, torching buildings, and confiscating other people's property to bully others into following their will. They seek to transform America into a society ruled by the mob with ever-changing values established by whoever has seized control.
The fundamental differences and the vitriol between these two opposing sides have become a chasm too deep and wide for anyone to bridge. Aside from some of their ridiculous photo ops, our politicians, governors, and mayors seem incapable, if not incompetent, of establishing order, protecting the innocent, addressing the concerns of either side, bringing the two sides together, and bringing about any sense of peace. No one is stepping forward to be a peacemaker—instead, anger, hatred, chaos, and uncertainty reign.
A heavy and mighty hand could put down the anarchy and create a sense of order in the chaos. President Trump has threatened to do this with the force of the military, which is at his disposal and, indeed, is within his God-given authority to use the sword to protect the vulnerable and punish the wicked (Romans 13:1–10). But in the end, the blade will be insufficient to provide any real cure to what ails us as a nation.
What our country needs is the same thing you and I need in every relationship. We need a spirit of sincere repentance to overcome the hard hearts and a faithful Savior willing to step into that chasm of bitterness, rage, and hatred and reconcile all warring parties. Thanks to God's grace, a Champion of Reconciliation has been gifted to our world. His name is Jesus.
Above the din of war we see in our streets and experience in our daily lives through relationships with each other, there looms an even greater state of warfare and strife in all our lives. Here I'm referring to the hostility, separation, and war between humankind and the Father, God the Creator Himself. It is a pipe dream to expect any peace and reconciliation between Black Lives Matter and the police across our country, between liberals and conservatives, between constitutionalists and socialists, and between Democrats and Republicans if we are not all first made to be at peace with God.
Let's be clear: no one on this planet is neutral concerning God. By our very nature as fallen human beings, we are actually at war with God. The apostle Paul uses three terms to describe why humans are on the outs with God. He says that Christ Jesus had to die for the ungodly, the sinners, and the enemies of God. There is no other way to think of a sinner's relationship with God other than that it is hostile, estranged, and full of hostility.
That is no small matter! All of us human beings need to wise up to this harsh reality. Most people seem to live in a "make-believe" world, imagining that as long as they don't actively work against God, they are okay with Him, and He is their friend. Survey after survey of people's religious views consistently shows that most Americans believe they will be going to heaven no matter what they believe about God because they insist that God is love and looks kindly toward everyone.
I'm afraid many are heading for a rude awakening. Jesus warns: "The way that leads to life is narrow, and few are those who are on it, but the way that leads to eternal destruction is wide, and many are those who are on it" (Matt. 7:14).
It doesn't matter what you and I judge as just and proper. What matters is what God judges. And, as we are told in His Word, God sees none of us by our very nature as spiritually neutral, pious, godly, or friendly. Instead, he sees and judges that we are enemies.
Why is this? A spiritual "cat-scan" of what resides in the heart of every descendant of Adam reveals the opposite of respect, love, or even neutrality, toward God the Father. Earlier in his letter to the Romans, the apostle analyzed God's "cat scan" of our hearts: "There is none righteous, not even one. None understands; none seeks God; all have turned aside; together, they have become useless; none does good; their mouths are full of bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood; and the path of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Such warring madness against God is not limited to our society's atheism, humanism, pluralism, secularism, and hedonism. We can also witness such hostility toward God residing even within our hearts; yes, even in you and me, who claim to love God the Father and His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. When things go wrong in our lives or when troubles or death invade our existence, on whom often do we try to pin the blame? "Where is this God of love?" we cry in pain and anger. "How can He allow this to happen to me?"
Conversely, who do we often credit or give thanks to when things go well? Is it God or ourselves? We are eager to give God credit for the disasters but ourselves for all the good stuff. At the same time, we often live in a state of fear of God's wrath. Although the comforting words of God's grace and forgiveness, for Jesus' sake, offered us in the Gospel, we still try to justify our sinful actions instead of confessing them because we are afraid that God might punish us. We are hardly at peace with God!
From where does all this hatred of God stem? It began in the ancient garden. When the first man and woman chose to eat that forbidden fruit because they wanted to be like God, they immediately set themselves and us against God. In essence, as Martin Luther has pointed out, the father and mother of our human race not only wanted to be like God but by their desire and disobedience, they demonstrated that they wanted to "murder God," putting Him out of the way so they could rule their own lives.
Immediately upon their sin, Adam and Eve experienced the consequences of their rebellion. They were overcome by shame and had to cover themselves. They cast blame on one another, the devil, and even God.
They learned their true fear of God as they sought to hide from Him. The love of God they had always known was replaced with the wrath of God. Their sin made them enemies with God and each other.
You and I and the rest of Adam and Eve's offspring have all inherited this hostility toward God. It's embedded in our very nature. We can't escape it. As the Psalmist confesses, so must we: "Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." This inherited, or original, sin, as it is called, puts us on the outs with God, knowing only His wrath. Talk about "irreconcilable differences!" How can the relationship between God and sinners ever be restored? How can we be reconciled so that we might enjoy God's grace and love? Or, to put it in worldly terms, how do you get Black Lives Matter and Antifa to sit down with the police and those who believe in the rule of law and make peace?
To reconcile such warring parties, you need someone willing to step into the gap—ready to give up His own life if necessary to bring peace.
Here's the good news our society so desperately needs. Our Heavenly Father gave us this person in God's great love for us. He gave His only son. "You see," Paul notes, "at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly... while we were still sinners, Christ died for us... when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to (God) through the death of His Son."
Invariably, when a neutral third party attempts to reconcile two opposing groups, he takes heat from both sides and is often despised by both. So it was with Christ. He incurred the wrath of both God and man. We read in Isaiah 53: "He was despised and forsaken of men... smitten of God and afflicted."
Despite this opposition, Jesus willingly stepped into the gap between heaven and hell to be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities." As a result, God's own spilled blood has broken down the wall of separation and the barrier of hostility forever. That is God's brand of justice. In Jesus Christ, our Father is truly reconciled with us.
What a clear demonstration of God's undeserved love for us! Paul notes that one human would not dare die for a good person or friend. Once in a great while, we do hear of a soldier who will throw himself on a grenade to save his body, or a mother who will sacrifice herself to save her children, or even a rescuer who will risk his life in the raging floods to save those who are drowning. But who would do such a thing for a wicked person or their most bitter enemy?
Yet, this is what God in Christ Jesus did for you and me. Jesus did not die for "good people." He didn't die for you and me because we deserved His sacrifice. He died for the "ungodly... sinners"—his enemies. All this means that He might restore peace between him and you again. That is the true reconciliation you have been graciously given in your baptism, through the Word of Holy Absolution, and continuously in the Holy Supper of the Lord, which you have received through faith in Jesus.
There is nothing like being reconciled. What a relief of tensions when the two warring factions can live together peacefully! What security is reestablished when fear of attacks and retaliation is removed? What joy fills the air when there is an end to the exchange of bullets and missiles, and there is, instead, the exchange of handshakes and cooperation?
No greater joy and relief can be experienced than when we enjoy peace with God. Paul concludes: "We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation."
Be assured of this, dear Christian: God has extended the olive branch of peace to you in Jesus Christ. God is reconciled to you. You no longer need to fear God's wrath against your sins. Through the faith the Holy Spirit has given you in Jesus Christ, you now have access to the fullness of God's grace. In fact, through faith in Christ, you are made to stand in that grace (5:2). You can freely and without fear confess your sins to God, imploring His forgiveness, having the full assurance that He will forgive you for Jesus' sake. You have Christ with you; who can be against you? No longer do you need to wonder if God is on your side. You have Christ for yourself.
Having been reconciled to God, you can even rejoice in your tribulations. Since you have been restored to God's grace, you can be confident that trials, sicknesses, pains, and heartaches are not punishments but simply manifestations of His permissive will to serve His ultimate good for you. Since He is reconciled with you through the blood of Jesus, by your trials, He is bringing forth perseverance of faith and steadfastness of hope within you.
Being reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, you can be reconciled to all those at war with you. You are set free in Christ to forgive as you have been forgiven!
Rejoice, then, even as you live in this time of war. The true reconciliation needed between all factions and sides has already been obtained by and in Christ Jesus. Let the banner of this freedom ever wave. Please pass it on!