“Consequences, Conflict, Fear, and Promises”

Matthew 10:24-39

June 23, 2014

the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester and West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 10:24-39

 

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 

 

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him 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 apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 

 

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 

 

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

 

Prayer.

 

There is a false assumption created,

often times by well-meaning Christians

that the Christian lifestyle is all about being nice.

Indeed, this is the reality that many church attendees practice.

We are polite and kind to one another.

Criticism, conflict, even violence,

is something that happens outside the church,

among non-Christians.

We should all get along;

be unified;

love Jesus;

after all, who can argue with that?

 

Covered dish dinners,

Bringing forward donations to the food pantry,

Warm, feel-good sermons on a Sunday:

Christianity and America go together

like baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.

Christians should never make waves.

Christians hold the door open for others at the market.

Christians never lie, cheat, or steal.

We’re the fiber of society:

no taste, tolerated, and the guilt keeps us regular.

That’s the false assumption, anyway…

 

We are so privileged

to live in this great land of religious freedoms and tolerance

that we’ve forgotten

the fact that persecution is

a very real part of Christianity in the rest of the world.

In our church,

we’ve grown accustomed to

expanding our digital footprint,

inviting our neighbors,

and opening our doors.

 

Yet the world beyond our borders remains a dangerous place,

where Christians are persecuted, spied upon, burned out, and killed.

If we don’t see it, it is as if it doesn’t happen.

But it does.

We think of persecution

as being a rebuff or a sneer from a coworker or neighbor.

Many Christians in this world

experience persecution as being given a shovel

and being told to start digging their own grave.

 

So when we hear the apostle Paul

speaking to the church in Rome,

about death and resurrection,

we think to ourselves, “get off the death subject, would ya!”

What we don’t hear from the epistle

is the story of how the Roman Empire under various leadership

slaughtered every Christian they found;

crucified them upside down,

lit them on fire,

or fed them to lions.

The apostle Paul was living a Christian life in an environment of death.

Death and resurrection

- yes, it preaches.

 

Or, when we hear our Gospel lesson for today,

Jesus talking about consequences and conflict,

we are floored;

absolutely shocked by what comes out of the mouth of Jesus:

“I do not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

(Matthew 10:34)

This is the same Savior

At his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane

who told his disciples

to put away their swords!

Are you kidding me?

Jesus said he does not come to bring peace, but a sword?

“Certainly, it must be taken out of context,” we protest.

 

What gives?

 

Jesus knew how to attract a crowd.

Consider all the occasions when crowds of would be disciples

Followed him across the lake,

Put him in a boat to teach as everyone gathered at the shore,

Or packed the synagogue to hear the traveling rabbi.

People loved his Beatitudes,

Teaching about injustice,

And parables about the Kingdom.

Peace, love, mercy, and blessings win over a crowd,

Especially if a free, miraculous fish dinner is to follow.

But today’s Gospel message

Appears to be the complete opposite,

A totally opposing message,

As if Jesus is pulling back the curtain

And revealing the Evil Twin of Discipleship.

 

There are consequences of following Jesus.

We rarely hear about the thousands of would be disciples

who received his invitation,

but decided the price of discipleship was too costly,

so they walk away.

There are a few exceptions.

Consider what never happened because

  • one decided to return home first to bury their father, against Jesus’ advice?
  • one decided to walk away sad because he couldn’t bring himself to sell all he had and give it to the poor?
  • one decided the ridicule he would face from his family was too great for him to bear?
  • one decided Jesus had been just another shooting star who disappointed the nation?

Consider the Passover crowds who welcomed Jesus

With shouts of Hosanna on Sunday,

But who were screaming “Crucify Him!” to Pilot by Friday morning.

 

There are consequences to following Jesus, we are told today.

There is persecution and possibly death.

There is a price to be paid for exposing injustice,

for fighting evil,

for bringing the light of Christ into a world of darkness and shadows,

where the evil one veils himself

and hides his despicable work.

You will be falsely accused of working for the devil,

just as Jesus was falsely accused

of being the king of the Jews.

(Matthew 10:25)

 

Consequences for following Jesus run deep.

You may be estranged from your family

- those who are suppose to be the ones closest to you.

Say good-bye to football, cheerleading, and soccer:

You won’t be able to participate in Sunday morning activities outside the church.

You’ll not be able to go out for brunch with friends every Sunday morning.

You will have to turn down that job which requires you to work every week-end.

 

People will stare at you in disbelief and say, “what are you, nuts?!”

Your adult brother or sister will say to you

“We want our kids to get along with everyone else in the neighborhood.”

Your mother may condemn you for not pushing yourself harder to get ahead.

Your son or daughter will look up to you with tears in their eyes and cry,

“But it’s not fair!

Why do I have to go to church?”

 

The Consequence of following Jesus is conflict.

And it doesn’t always come from those outside the church.

I’ve been a part of 21 churches in my 53 years,

and I have inside knowledge of a whole lot more.

I’m here to tell you that there is not one church

in which there was no conflict.

Unfortunately,

Christians can be hurtful,

critical people,

just like the rest of society.

Not all Christians are nice all the time.

We make mistakes.

Sometimes we hurt others.

We are a community of sinners

Striving to become Saints.

 

I’ve learned one of the signs of a healthy congregation

is not the absence of conflict,

but how a church handles it.

  • Are people able to listen to God speaking in their own ear AND listen how God has been speaking in the ears of others?
  • Is repentance and reconciliation an occasional occurrence OR has it become so much a part of the community that a visitor would comment, “Look how much they love one another!”
  • Is joy ever found in submission OR is the will so strong everyone has to get their own way?
  • Is there gentleness in the voice, and faith in the heart, OR is there suspicion, criticism, avoidance, or sarcasm?

 

How does our church rate?

How do we handle conflict?

I pray we do so with prayer on the one hand

And the Gospel on the other;

With humility, dignity, respect;

With love, repentance, reconciliation, gentleness, and faith.

I pray we begin with Jesus

And allow all those issues that divide us

To be healed and swept away by the grace of God.

Let it go.

Let it be.

 

Do not fear! Jesus proclaims.

“Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered.”

(Matthew 10:26)

The truth will be revealed.

The truth will set you free!

The Lord is light, the Light of the World,

and where he is,

there is no darkness for evil to hide.

 

Do not fear! Jesus proclaims.

“Do not fear those who kill the body

but cannot kill the soul; 

rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

(Matthew 10:28)

Opponents to God have limited power.

They can only hurt you so much,

they can only go so far.

But God, on the other hand, is unlimited in power.

Fear only God;

He is the Lord of life,

and the Lord of life everlasting.

 

Do not fear! Jesus proclaims.

God’s love for you is detailed and compassionate.

If God is concerned with a sparrow not even worth a half penny,

isn’t He so much more concerned about you?

If God loves you enough to count the hairs on your head,

isn’t God so much more enveloping you in His love and grace?

 

Do not fear! Jesus proclaims.

Do not fear the consequences of being a Christian;

the presence of conflict in your life because you are trying to be faithful.

This, Jesus promises:

He will be our advocate to the Heavenly Father,

IF

we live our lives as advocates for Jesus.

(Matthew 10:32)

Build the Church of Jesus Christ

and Jesus Christ will make the appeal for you.

Extend the invitation to others,

on behalf of Jesus Christ,

and He will extend the invitation to salvation to you.

Grow your life in spiritual depth and maturity,

drawing close to Christ,

and He will draw close to you.

 

Do not fear! Jesus proclaims.

Do not fear the consequences of being a Christian;

the presence of conflict in your life because you are trying to be faithful.

This, our Savior also promises:

Lose your life for His sake, and you will find it.

(Matthew 10:39)

Sacrifice your time,

your energy,

your money

- give it all for the sake of Jesus Christ,

and you will discover true life,

with substance and meaning.

Serve the Lord,

and your fellow human beings,

and you will be served.

Take the seat of least honor,

and you will be lifted up.

Submit your will to the will of God,

and Thine will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Do not fear! My beloved.

Do not fear the consequences of following Jesus.

Do not fear the conflict that is certain to follow.

Know this, the Lord is Light,

in him there is no darkness at all,

he exposes all that lives in the dark.

The Lord is almighty,

having power and dominion over both the heavens and the earth.

The Lord is compassionate in His love for you.

Be an advocate for Christ,

and He will be an advocate for you.

Be willing to take up your cross,

your means of death,

and you will be given life;

life everlasting.

 

Thanks be to God.

Amen.