Sermon for A Pentecost 3 Based on Matthew 10:24-39
Real leaders tell the truth. Real leaders– genuine vehicles of vision, promise, and hope–tell the truth and they announce beforehand the cost. Then they tell the hearers what resources they have for what is to come. Jesus tells the truth. He does not mince words nor pull punches. He states clearly what the disciples are signing up for, states clearly how personally difficult it will get, and then assures those who sign up that they already are given all they need for the work to come, and everything they need forever after.
If you are going to follow him, Jesus says; if you are going to have a relationship with him, Jesus says, it also will make you different. It will mean that others who do not like your difference and the difference you make will conflict with you. This may include even those who are close to you, like family members. Sometimes the differences between us and close relatives may be somewhat benign as long as one does not scratch too deep. I’ve learned not to push my very secular sister too hard on her fondness for the therapeutic piety of a certain televangelist exemplar of dental hygiene who broadcasts from near here, because she otherwise will never darken the door of a real church. In one of the most loving affirmations if yet somewhat ambiguous that I’ve ever heard from her—this from she who jealously took my new glasses off my eight year old face to stomp on them and who pulled the tail off my Davey Crockett hat when I was five (really, I don’t hold those trespasses against her!)—she told me that I was not like all those other religious people she’s seen. But then you all already know that.
Real conflict greets the followers of Jesus from those whose confidence in their beliefs trumps the humility required actually to follow anyone, much more the Christ whose kingship is defined by his servanthood. Conflict surely comes against the people of the true God from those whose centers are themselves. By their fruits we do know them. If in their quest for power the clear enemies and false followers of Jesus alike cannot seduce you away from love of God and God’s world so to be loyal to them above all else, they will marshal all they can of cohorts, councils, and courts unto even the threat of death against you.
That’s what Jesus says. Follow Jesus, and you will know division even with those close to you who are not on the same way.
So how will that go down in a church new membership class?
What Jesus invited people to do was to follow him and by following him thereby learn from him what a deeper, more meaningful and more purposeful life is meant to be. But many people reject the invitation because, frankly, it upsets the systems we’ve created together to secure us for ourselves. The summary word for this activity is “politics.” But Jesus challenged politics not because he was not political, but because he saw that the higher norm for all politics, whatever their brand, was relationship with God and with each other; love God above all things and each other as yourself. Love God! That’s a rather open agenda, to love that greater than whom nothing else can be conceived. No “system” there! Only a real relationship with the conversation and the doing of stuff that relationships inspire can begin to supply the infinite content of what it means to “love God.” Likewise with loving each other. Only the divinely inspired discipline of relationship with my sister sustains and grows neighborly love, notwithstanding my “differentness” and her destruction of my Crockett hat and glasses (which I really do not hold against her).
Let me make the point another way. If our religion is only about “right and wrong” deeds rather than listening to, trusting, and following a Living Crucified Lord on the course of an adventuresome life, not only is conflict inevitable, we will come up short. When religion above all is about sin and its expiation, or (truer) the maintenance of any system and the expiation of misdeeds that threaten the system, then, really, any religion will do.
Christians have gotten the idea, however, that when Jesus and all the prophets called for repentance, they were calling only for confession of sins. Do not misunderstand me, it is important for good life together that we try to do no harm and practice both confession and forgiveness. But, frankly, I want at least a repetition of a different kind than doing wrong, confessing, forgiving, and doing it all again. The word that Jesus, Paul, and the prophets used that we read as “repentance” tells us they expect something more too.
The Greek word “metanoia” that is used throughout the New Testament means a “higher” or “broader” knowledge or mind! “Open your minds,” Jesus proclaimed. “To what?” we ask. “To the Spirit of the One God,” he answers. “To a real and alive spiritual power who infuses compassion, guides you on the right path, and sharing of a best news that there is a better way of living, the way that yes, is an adventure, that invites prayer that listens to God rather than just says what you want, that urges you to trust that the one who calls you to this will be with you at every step, day by day and minute by minute.”
What will it mean for you in your deep personal life and in our life together to trust that we have all we need, as do the sparrows, so to follow Christ on difficult roads ahead? What will it mean for us at Christ the King or at whatever authentic Body of Christ community to trust more than “believe” in the Spirit’s equipping and sustaining of us for whatever will be, including enmity? What will it mean for each one of us personally and honestly, to let our relationship with the real risen crucified and serving One shape all our relationships—and so all our politics—rather than for our biases to define him?
I trust that whatever difficulties the future brings, my following the One whose compassion defines his Lordship means that I will have gained all my life and all my family, and all of you, and all the saints of God. As for now, as Paul wrote to the Colossians, my life—your life!—is “hidden with Christ in God.” And “when Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Col 3:3-4).
Duane H. Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX June 25, 2017