Summary: The difference between us and non-Christians exists because there is no substitute for Christ. But through Christ, we can make a difference!
Intro: Even in healthy families, there are sometimes differences of opinion: Which is more important—cleaning the house or mowing the yard? Is it better to save something that might be used later on, or to save space and be more organized by throwing it away? Is it better to put money in a savings account or to spend it on something that the family really needs? Healthy families have learned that conflict in itself is not necessarily bad. It’s all about how you deal with it.
Healthy, growing churches sometimes experience conflict as well. What is the best way to manage the growth? How can we change what we do and how we do it in order to better meet the needs of all our members and people in the community? Here again, there may be legitimate differences of opinion. These “growing pains” might be somewhat disconcerting, but they are better than the alternative! This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t always strive for unity, but show me a church where there is absolutely no conflict, and I’ll show you a church where there is nothing going on!
In our Bible passage for today, Jesus brings out an uncomfortable fact that for many is a painful reality: When he came into this world to be our Savior, his coming would brought about division and conflict—even within families! It is a joyful time when, through the proclamation of the Gospel, someone comes to faith in the Lord Jesus. That person’s life has changed. They are different. But what happens when the people around him or her (the family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers) don’t understand or accept what has happened? It causes all kinds of grief and sadness... and sometimes things that are even worse. This is something more than simply a difference of opinion. It is a serious and potentially eternal separation.
Yet, even this painful reality has a positive side. If God wasn’t doing anything in our lives in the first place, we wouldn’t be so different. If God wasn’t changing us, nobody would notice us; we wouldn’t stand out!
A) WHAT MAKES US DIFFERENT
1) Not that we are perfect; we are, like the rest of the world, conceived and born in sin. We are not “better” than anyone else! God loves all people, and is willing to forgive them for the sake of his Son, Jesus, who died for the sins of the world… (see John 3:16!). He does not desire the death of any sinner. It grieves him bitterly that not everyone will look to him for their life and salvation.
As Christians we are sometimes characterized as “holier that thou” by our non-Christian neighbors. (Do you remember Saturday Night Live’s “Church Lady”, who delighted in feeling superior to others?) We have to be realistic and confess that perhaps this reputation is in some ways deserved because of our attitudes and actions towards non-Christians. This is a sad reality, however, because this is not what really separates us from them.
If we have a friend or family member who isn’t a Christian, the place to begin with them is not by constantly harping on their unchristian behavior. (It is foolish to criticize people for not being something that they honestly aren’t!) They know all too well that we aren’t perfect ourselves, and can easily spot the inconsistencies between what we say and what we do.
Other false distinctions (besides the myth that Christians are perfect) can include the use of specialized jargon or unfamiliar customs. You don’t have to be German or Scandinavian to be a good Lutheran, and you don’t necessarily need to punctuate every sentence with an “Amen” or “Praise the Lord”. No, what makes us different does not lie in whatever language or traditions we use...
2) But that we know and trust in God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Faith in the Gospel: The church is defined as all—and only—those who trust in God for forgiveness, life, and salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. (By his suffering and death on the cross, Jesus took upon himself all my sin and guilt, and his righteousness is now given to me as a free gift. Everyone who believes this is a member of the Christian Church.)
The Means of Grace: The marks of the church are the Word (purely and correctly taught in its fullness) and the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, rightly administered according to Christ’s command and institution.) Through these “means” God creates in our hearts the faith which trusts in what Christ alone to redeem us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Illustration: On one of his old history books, someone once wrote, “In case of famine, eat this book; it’s full of baloney! In case of flood, stand on this book; it’s dry!” The world sees the Bible in much the same way: an outdated and often erroneous history book. But we know better! The Bible is centered in Christ Jesus, who is the “Word made flesh.” Through its main teachings of Law and Gospel the Bible truly can makes us “wise for salvation” through faith in Christ—it is useful for instructing us in every aspect of Christian life. “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jer. 23:29) “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming … Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:8,17)