Text: Matthew 10: 24-39
Let’s address the elephant in the room. When I first read the gospel lesson this morning I didn’t want to preach it and when you heard Suzanne read it this morning you were probably hoping I’d preach on the psalm. I have to admit I considered preaching from the Old Testament this morning. That reading which we didn’t hear today is from Genesis 21, the story of when Hagar and Ishmael are sent away.
Hard to talk about that one and not see it in the light of our gospel passage from Matthew. After all, Abraham sends his son Ishamael away at his wife Sarah’s request. Talk about pitting families against one another.
This mornings gospel passage is one that preachers like to skip over and you can imagine why. It seems so contrary to everything that Jesus teaches. Is it not the beginning of Luke’s gospel where we read at the birth of Jesus that he is to be hailed as the Prince of Peace? How then can we have this passage from Matthew? How could Jesus possibly say such things?
I even thought about preaching purely on the discipleship aspect of our passage this morning, leaving out the aspects of division. No need to talk about how Jesus says I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. Let’s just focus on what Jesus teaches the disciples, except that the part about peace and the sword is one of the things he teaches them.
Whether I like it or not and whether you like it or not it seems we are stuck with this passage and we need to know what it is saying to us. Many scholars speculate that Jesus might be paraphrasing the prophet Micah. There is a strong correlation between Micah’s words and the words of Jesus. If Jesus is indeed paraphrasing Micah then we need to consider that Micah is lamenting how corrupt Israel has become. We also need to consider Micah’s closing words in the section that Jesus paraphrases. In Micah we read, “But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”
Why doesn’t Jesus quote this last part of Micah? Because he is the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel: God with us. The very presence of Jesus is the literal embodiment of Micah’s words.
Let’s hold this in mind as we consider the words:
No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I can to set sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughters in law against their mothers in law, your worst enemies will be members of your own family.
Let’s be very clear that Jesus isn’t anti-family. Jesus is also not advocating for violence. He isn’t advocating for breakdown of relationships. His very death on the cross restores our relationship with God. What Jesus is saying is that when you preach the good news, when you do the work of the kingdom, when you walk to a beat contrary to what everyone walks to, sometimes that creates discord. Sometimes that creates strife.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “The dominant script of both selves and communities in our society, for both liberals and conservatives, is the script of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life. It is our task to detach ourselves from that powerful script.”
That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says, “Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it.” As disciples we sit at the feet of Jesus and in following in his way we recognize that this may clash with the majority view in the world today.
Once upon a time followers of Christ marched to a different beat. They were ridiculed and persecuted for it. In those early days they were often put to death for their beliefs. Then one day a Roman Emperor, on a field of battle saw the Chi Rho symbol and he insists that God lead him to victory. Constantine legitimized Christianity and ever since then the Christian faith has been synonymous with Western society. Some of that legacy is good and some of that legacy is bad. What this legacy did was create an environment where everyone was nominally Christian. Except that we don’t live in that world anymore and we haven’t since the 1960s.
Today we live in a world which is divided. It seems that every option today is binary, right and left, conservative and liberal. Which is a great shame because when I open my eyes I see so many colours, I see so many shades of gray. As Christians today we must, as Brueggemann says, detach ourselves from the dominant script of the day. The reason we must remove ourselves from the dialogue of the day is because the gospel message is missing from it.
Why does Jesus warn us that there will be division? Friends, Jesus says this because the minute you stand up for someone who is homeless or hungry and suggest that away to help would be to provide the most basic standard of living, but that to do so will cost someone else what they have. Well the minute you make that statement, which is a gospel statement, you’ve made an enemy. You’ve offended someone who feels entitled to their hard earned coin.
The moment you support the meek, the powerless, the economically oppressed you will make enemies of those who benefit by having people remain meek, powerless and economically oppressed. But supporting those people is a call of the gospel.
Jesus warns that it might be your mom or your dad, sister or brother who disagrees with you. Jesus asks can you sacrifice that relationship for the greater good of God’s kingdom?
It may not be too much to claim that upon Jesus’ return, when he shows us his hands and feet we will recognize him, but not simply because they show proof of his crucifixion; they should be familiar because they match our own wounds (Working Preacher).
Following the call of the gospel will set us apart. It isn’t about power. It isn’t about winning victories on the battlefield. It isn’t about getting ahead or enjoying economic prosperity. The call of the gospel is about following Jesus, offering healing and liberation. It’s about addressing the elephant, not the one in this room, but the elephant in the room out there; that there is disparity, we know it and as a society we do nothing tangible about it. People are broken and alone and society offers silence because we are afraid to talk about it. People are dying of hunger and we know it and we don’t make food easily available. People are dying to violence and we know it, and we continue to make bullets and fashion bombs.
The call of the gospel is to go out and to do something about what we know is wrong and broken. To actively engage in the world, to advocate for change and by doing so we will make enemies. To risk our lives for Christ’s sake, because this is God’s good creation we are talking about and we are a part of that good creation. Thanks be to God. Amen.