Sermon on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost - June 25, 2017 (Ecumenical Service with Akeley Methodist on Paul's Patio)
Jesus Christ is the glue that holds the family of God together. He is the bigger hammer used to make some pieces fit that just seem not to. He is the place in which the body of Christ must adhere itself to or it will die. Many things will try to get in the way. Many people and things and stuff will come along as we are traveling in this Christian journey, but Christ is the one we rely on as ours. Our anchor while the turmoil of the world, of family or relationships, of life can be hard, difficult, even dangerous sometimes. He is there because he never promises an easy way as much as he does a way which is him, through all the stuff that tries to destroy us.
I say all of this because this reading is hard. It speaks of all sorts of division. All sorts of rancor. This shouldn’t be new to any of you though. Look at the country we live in. The world we live in. Division, categories we create to shove people into this box, or that box, are all around us. Names we call ourselves and others. Places we are willing to go because of some ideology and Jesus is not too worried about going there himself.
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
If they have called Jesus, Satan. If they have lined up the greatest good, the most righteous One, forgiveness incarnate, as synonymous with the Devil. If we have taken to heart what Isaiah speaks of in calling good, evil, and evil good – then we should not be surprised when something bad may come to us in Christ. Taking a stance for the Gospel, drawing a line in the sand. And I’m not talking about boycotting rated-R movies. I’m thinking of something more challenging, like swimming upstream against the opinions of your friends or community when it comes to the world around you, because your mind has been captured by Jesus, and turns to free forgiveness and merciful grace, instead of rhetoric, anger, and hate.
Being the odd one out is hard though. Being the one who may not fit with the trends of the world is hard for Minnesotans at least. We tend to be passive-aggressive, not aggressive-aggressive. Unless your German, than even love is aggressive, but we don’t like change. We don’t want to rock the boat. We sure as hell don’t want to actually do something, or say something, that might upset anyone or hurt their feelings. We don’t want to be offensive. Because then they might hate us. They might not talk to us. It might cause family problems. Worrying about our standing with loved ones, or the safety of our lives even. And yet –
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Do you hear that? You are worth something to God. God’s greatest possession, bought by his own blood in Jesus.
Offensiveness is going to come. You are going to be offended by something, or your family or friends might be offended by you sometimes, or for something, but Christ points us toward something more. Something greater. The idea that our lives are more than just…this. Who we are is more than just a heartbeat. Being offended becomes a little less scary that way.
I’m speaking of discipleship here. Of a Christianity that is more than culture or tradition, but life. Where we might actually learn from our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist neighbors. Those who must, under the rules of their religion live and die in a particular pattern set out by their God, gods, or prophets. It affects their dress, their food, their hours of prayer, their day. Peculiar people at a particular time when we think peculiar is unfortunate.
My Catholic brothers and sisters know what I am talking about. Fish on Fridays. Prayer vigils and processions. A Christianity that is more than just something we do for an hour on the weekend before lunch. Something more than what gets in the way of fishing or sailing. A life that becomes defined by devotion and love. By prayer and service. Captured by the heart of God, overwhelming you with the truth that you have a God who loves you. Desires you. Can’t let you go. What might that change, or what has been changed in you because of this God, that is you God?
In the Protestant western world, we have thrown all of that away for the most part. We live by freedom. Freedom in Jesus. A freedom won at the cross and tomb for you when your sin and death were defeated by Christ in his death and resurrection. And so now we don’t have to worry about laws and rules to get to heaven. We don’t have to worry about following some sort of prescription to appease our deity. We don’t have to conform in our dress, or food, or life to trust that when Christ says – I forgive you all your sin, he means it.
But what if our life would be centered towards a devotion that causes us to actually center our lives in such a way that daily living revolves around the forgiveness we have received in Jesus? What if we chose to live a certain way because we have become that peculiar people, called out as something different? What if we chose to be extraordinary, rather than ordinary because of this extraordinary God we have? This extraordinary Jesus we have? This trust we have in this extraordinary Savior? Who saves us, not necessarily from a hell we deny, but the sins and fear that take us captive?
The scary part though, is that much of our fear of being separated from others is that each of us has had some sort of family problems in our lives. Divorce. Remarriage. Mixed families. Drug addiction. Alcohol. Abuse. Wayward children, spouses, parents, grandparents. And Christ comes to us and gives us something that is not very soothing for one who speaks of peace and love so often:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. This seems to not fit with the whole, Jesus as the glue model. It paints a picture of Jesus like Texas Chainsaw massacre – dismembering bodies left and right. Especially his own body. But think of the world and people he is speaking to. Two groups of people heard and read this in the 1st century. Jewish converts to Christianity, and Greek converts out of the pagan political religion of emperor worship.
If you were a Jew in the 1st century who began to follow “the Way”, as it was called, you could find yourselves ostracized from most relationships. Making a living would be hard. Parents could and/or would disown you. Going to worship would be different because you would not be high on the welcome list of the local synagogue. This is nothing against Judaism as much as it is a factual explanation of what life was like then.
Greek converts would have been turning their backs on the national religion. They would have come into similar problems with doing business. Living in the cities. Developing relationships. Having any relationships. Being thrown out by their parents. Rocking the boat because you say, “No. I am not going to sacrifice a goat to Hermes, Papa.” Bringing, not peace, but a sword.
Makes us want to say – why can’t we all just get along? But the results of faith, the results of conviction can cause us to lose something and gain something. To lose relationships and gain relationships. To become a divisive person due to just believing in something that has changed our lives, versus going along with everything around us because that is the nice thing to do. Going along with the family religion instead of seeing that this Jesus who saw you as one worth dying for, and has gathered you into the fold of the Father’s love, means more than towing the party line.
It becomes a place in which the cross takes hold. A cross that speaks of suffering, not happiness. Of hardship and death, not ease and comfort. A cross you don’t want to take because it means change or conviction on things that the world sees as foolish. Possible actual persecution.
In a world where 100,000 Christians are martyred for their faith every year, and many more imprisoned - that is not us. We think of persecution as forced wedding cakes for LGBT couples. Not being able to have prayer services at school. But we stand out here, in the middle of Akeley, gathered as the body of Christ and no one has shot at us. No one has blown us up. No one has arrested us. But I wonder if maybe we do it wrong. I wonder what it would be like if we were to take the words of Christ, the forgiveness he brings, throwing out sin with grace, and let our faith become practice, our motivation love, our prayer life constant, our offering of our very selves to one another. A living, breathing faith. A faith mesmerized by a Jesus who cannot be anything more than God coming to you to give to you everything the world will take away.
Your home? Here’s Jesus. Your style? Here’s Jesus. Your favorite fishing spot on Sunday morning? Here’s Jesus. Your personal politics? Here’s Jesus. Your candidate lost? Here’s Jesus. Your candidate won? Here’s Jesus. Your family left? Here’s Jesus. Your child left? Here’s Jesus. Your body hurts? Here’s Jesus.
A faith that becomes active in a Jesus who came to bring division only because forgiveness of sins is so divisive. That in Christ, we have received forgiveness already because of the reality that he has suffered and died and rose for you. This forgiveness impacting our relationships that can be hard. Hard for us and even more difficult for others. Looking one in the face and loving or being loved even when we don’t want to be or do. All because your Jesus has legs to come to you. A heart to be broken over you. Blood to have been spilt for you. The Jesus who went to the cross and said it is finished. That Jesus who saw your sins as worth it, is your Jesus. Oh, what a wonder and glorious life of faith you could have. A faith so strong, built on the rock, that even the loss of your very self is not terrifying. That is a Jesus who has power. A Jesus who cannot be forgotten. Your Jesus. The Jesus who speaks to you today, and always. Thanks be to God. Amen