Monday, June 27, 2005

Sermon - Pentecost 6A - Matthew 10:34-42

6th Sunday after Pentecost – June 26th, 2005
Matthew 10:34-42
“A Sword and a Cross”

I. Introduction –
I often hear modern parents us the phrase “I need to pick my battles”. As we try to decide when to correct a child and when to ignore a bad behavior, this handy little phrase reminds us that not everything is worth fighting about. Putting your hand on the hot stove – that’s a battle worth fighting. Putting your elbows on the dinner table, maybe not quite so important.

But Jesus in our Gospel reading from Matthew 10, today, is talking about something more than just squabbling with your toddler or a tussle with a teenager. He is talking about families divided: (text)

II. The Prince of Peace Brings a Sword
Jesus words here may come as a bit of a shock to us. What do you mean, Jesus, you don’t come to bring peace, but a sword? Isn’t this the same Jesus who is called “Prince of Peace”? Isn’t this the same Jesus who tells his disciples, “Peace be with you. My peace I give to you…”? Who says in the Sermon on the Mt. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Sons of God”? that “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”? Jesus is all about peace. So why all the talk of violence and sword and discord? Even in the family? Isn’t this also the same God who tells us to honor our father and mother?

To make sense of Jesus’ words here we have to understand what kind of sword he means. He is speaking of the divisions that sometimes come when believer meets unbeliever. When Christian is faced with non-Christian, especially in the same household. Jesus is telling us that following him is more important than anything – and everything – including your own family.

To be sure, most of us won’t actually take up the sword or break into fisticuffs against our non-believing family members. But the tensions that do often surface can cut us to the heart. When our children turn away from God and Church and Christ, it is hurtful. When our parents or siblings make derisive comments about our faith or our Christian values – it can pierce us. And there is something about Jesus that demands an all or nothing – either he is who he says he is, God’s Son, the Savior of the World… or he is a mythical figure or a liar or just a marginalized moralist, but not someone worthy of our concern or attention.

Martin Franzmamn, the seminary professor who wrote the hymn, “Thy Strong Word” puts it this way:
He brings no cheap pace, no half peace, no peace by compromise. He can create peace only by destroying evil; and since men love evil and cling to that which excludes them from the whole peace of God, His coming forces a decision between good and evil and proves to be, for all its peaceful intent, the sundering sword.”

And Luther says,
We must be guided by the principle that one must obey God rather than all men, be they parents, government, preachers, yea, even the whole church, if it were possible for it to oppose Christ.

III. He Bears a Cross, We Follow
You can see why Jesus also likens the experience of being his disciple to that of bearing a cross. It can be painful at times, dividing us, cutting us off from even our family, like a sword. But it can also make us suffer – like a cross. Jesus calls his disciples to follow him not just in the nice-ities of the faith, but also in the cross-bearing.

Here we aren’t talking so much about trouble we bring on ourselves (though we must bear that too). Nor are we talking about the troubles of life in a sinful world, like illness and sorrow and all other problems. Instead, bearing the cross means suffering for the sake of the Christ.

Now if you are like me, you don’t like to suffer. And you don’t like to be on the “outs” with family. Ridicule and persecution don’t’ sound like fun. These words of Jesus about swords and crosses, discord and suffering, are hard to swallow. They are even harder to fulfill.

How often do we, faced with even the mildest of persecution, bend like a reed, wilt like a flower. How often do we miss our chances, take the easy way out, and throw the cross from our shoulder. How often are we not worthy of Him.

But then there is His cross. Jesus never ran from his cross. His mission was always to bear it. To carry it, to die on it. Jesus’ call for his disciples to follow him and carry their own cross implies that Jesus goes to his cross first. His cross starts it all, fulfills it all, and brings life to all who believe.
Because of His cross we find forgiveness for our poor cross-bearing. In His cross we come to peace in our warfare with God. And in his cross we receive life, even life eternal. His cross makes us worthy. And only in the shadow of his cross can Jesus seriously expect us to carry our own. By the power of His Spirit, and under his forgiving grace.

Here Jesus shares another paradoxical saying, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”.
In other words: if you seek after life in this world – if your only worries are how to live long and suffer little, watch out – because life is fleeting and we all die in the end. But if you lose your life for Christ – that is, if you receive him as he comes to you, if you trust in him and his promises, and therefore even suffer for his name and carry that cross – then life is yours, and not just life but eternal life. Try to do it yourself, you will die. But if Christ dies for you, you will live. In fact, his death and his cross are our only hope for life.

IV. Sent With Encouragement
When Jesus spoke these words to his disciples - the words earlier in the same chapter we read last week, as well as the words we read today – he was sending them out on a mission. Yet there is a wider application here as Jesus wasn’t JUST speaking to them. These words are for all of us.

We aren’t all apostles, pastors and preachers. But we all have a mission and a commission from God. We are not all called to public ministry, but we are to privately witness, and to serve God in whatever vocation we hold. Sometimes this is even harder. For as a preacher, I have a friendly audience Sunday after Sunday. But for you who live and move in the “real world”, being a Christian isn’t always so easy. And so hear these words of encouragement from Christ.

Sure, there will be hardships, persecution, sword and cross to bear. But there will be those who receive the message. There will be those who welcome the prophet. There will be those who show an openness and a hospitality. For them, and for us, there is a reward waiting. We could see ourselves on both sides of this equation. Sometimes we bear the message of Christ’s love to another. Sometimes we receive the message with appreciation. Either way, we are blessed with a reward.

Not a reward that we have earned. But a reward Christ has earned at His cross. This is the promise that encourages us in the face of swords and crosses. This is the hope that inspires us and the glory we press on to one day see. In comparison to the reward, all else seems a small thing. St Paul writes, “I consider that our present suffering are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18).

So today, the Prince of Peace brings us a sword and a cross. And it’s not always easy. And sometimes we fail him. But in his own cross, we find true life. And by his grace we are forgiven when we fail, and empowered to carry on, and carry our own cross, for his sake. In his name. Amen.

V. Conclusion

The Gospel of Jesus brings peace and division, even in the family. But the cross is our only hope for life – and he encourages us as we follow him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Should Jesus return, do you really think he wants to see a Crucifix?