Monday, June 27, 2011
Sermon - Matthew 10:34-42 - Pentecost 2
June 26th, 2011
“Swords and Rewards”
So much of who Jesus is, and what he does is unexpected. Is it because he is mysterious and beyond us, or is it because our sinful flesh has warped expectations of God? Perhaps both. But in today's Gospel reading, Jesus shatters some expectations – at least puts some hard truths before us, concerning “swords and rewards”. But he also gives promise, and hope.
First, the Prince of Peace shocks us with talk of violence. What? Isn't this Jesus who teaches “turn the other cheek”? Isn't this the one who told Peter, “if you live by the sword you will die by the sword”? Isn't this the Jesus who isn't a military messiah but a humble donkey-riding king whose kingdom is not of this world? Yes, to all of that. But how do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory statements? Is he a peace guy or a sword guy?
Perhaps Jesus' own life is a starting point. For though he preached good news, healed the sick, and never thought of rebellion – violent men found him anyway, and pierced him with thorns and nails and spear. He didn't bring the sword, but his words and actions brought the sword down upon him. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, so our Lord was taken. Like a robber they came to arrest him with torches and clubs at night, though he taught openly every day in the temple.
We might be reminded of the momma-always-said bit of wisdom, “no good deed goes un-punished”. Or to put it in more biblical terms, Jesus suffered violence for doing good. He was persecuted for telling the truth. He made enemies by loving people. Who would have thought?
No the world isn't fair that way, because the world is sinful and full of sinners. And if it was that way for Jesus, it will be all the more for us, his people. So he warns us, he came to bring a sword. Following Jesus does not mean peace – at least in the sense of a peaceful coexistence with the sinful world around you. In fact, being a Christian might even mean trouble for you, even in your family. Holding to Christ's word may bring a sword – it may cut you, or cut you off from those you love in ways you don't expect.
Is it any wonder, though, when the Christian is even at odds with himself? St. Paul talks about the struggle between the good that he wants to do and the evil he finds himself doing. Wretched man that I am! We could all say the same. Who will rescue me from this body of death? Jesus Christ alone!
The peace that Christ does bring is a true peace – with God. Not an outward, false peace. Not even an emotional peace. Sometimes it doesn't feel peaceful. But he declares it to be so – and his word of forgiveness is the greater reality. You are forgiven. You are righteous. You belong to God, in Jesus Christ who died for you. You are at peace.
So whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for Christ will gain it. If you think you are just fine, if you think you are without sin, if you think you are at peace – Jesus comes to say otherwise. But if you are lost, if your life is a mess and fading away, if you confess your sin – Jesus brings a peace that passes understanding.
And he brings rewards. Here after all the hard words of warning about sword and trouble and family turmoil – he does not leave us without hope. He never does.
So whoever receives Jesus receives the Father, and whoever receives a prophet, receives the one who sent the prophet – namely, Jesus. This is why we hear the word of God. To receive that reward. To know that blessing. And we receive the righteous person – we care for, and love one another – righteous saints of God, even as we are already righteous in Christ.
Yes, there is reward enough in doing what is right. But when this world rewards your faithfulness with hatred, your trust in Christ with ridicule, and your works of Christian love with derision – know that your reward isn't ultimately here, but in Heaven.
No, we don't deserve these rewards – unlike earthly rewards. These are not dessert for cleaning your plate at dinner, or a paycheck for a hard day's labor. The rewards Christ promises are always of grace.
Our “just desserts” would be scary. We're sinners. But what we truly deserve isn't what he promises. Instead he gives us his own righteousness. His own blessedness. His own life – a resurrection and a glorious eternity. A kingdom that never ends. Another great surprise, eh?
Jesus never said being a Christian would be easy. No, he talks about crosses, and suffering, and swords. There's no promise of peace this side of heaven. But for the faithful, the reward awaits. The hope endures, always, only in him, who by his cross has conquered, and by his word sustains us. Believe in that word, come what may. And look for that reward, for it is sure. In Jesus Christ, Amen.