Matthew 10:34-39 (2nd Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 6)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 26, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 10:
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 a person’s enemies will be those of his 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 his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
There are probably only relatively a few Christians who would not say that it is the mission of the Church to share the Good News about Jesus, making disciples so that many more people enter into the Kingdom of God. Even our own congregation’s mission statement says that as the people of God, we reach out in mission to all people with the saving message about Jesus in order to bring them into a living relationship with Him and His Church. Today, Jesus warns us that there is always the possibility of a dangerous naïveté when it comes to the urgent task of evangelism and mission outreach to the lost. There is certainly an urgent need to send workers into the Lord’s harvest field. But that sending and going doesn’t always mean that wonderful results will follow. Jesus wants His people and His Church to be active in mission and outreach to the lost, to those who do not know and confess Jesus to be God and Savior. But our Lord also doesn’t want us to live in a dream world. He wants us to be well prepared for the mission work that we pursue as His people.
Why is outreach such a task that Jesus has to prepare us for reality? For the same reason that we all admit that it is the work of the Church, yet the Church, the believers in Jesus, aren’t always hyper-enthusiastic about the doing of outreach. The answer is that we are sent to the unbelievers. We are not too thrilled to go to people who really have no interest in the message we have to proclaim. By their very nature as people without the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith they have no interest in the salvation that Jesus accomplished which we offer in His name. The result is that our vigorous mission outreach may, or may not, translate into great or even observable successes. And that can be frustrating.
When a Christian enters a mission outreach opportunity, he or she shares the faith in Jesus and tells the other person or group about the Savior who died and rose so that all can be saved from sin, from death, and the devil’s power. The Christian first talks about sin and separation from God, establishing the need for a Savior. Then comes the joyful proclamation that in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, there is complete forgiveness, life, and salvation for all who trust in Him because Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead winning that victory for all people. What follows is a 50/50 chance of rejection. Given the condition of the sinful human heart that wants nothing to do with God or salvation, given the unchanging nature of Christ’s message, which calls for repentance and faith, the inevitable result of Christ’s coming among the unbelievers in His Gospel is some type of conflict.
It’s Jesus and His message that causes this conflict among unbelievers. It’s a conflict or a division so severe that Jesus uses the brutal word, “sword.” When the Gospel meets sinners, when the Savior interacts with unbelievers who by nature are at war with God, you can bet there is going to be a battle—a battle of will and desire corrupted by sin against the gracious working of the God who came to save from that condition. We all long for those evangelism and outreach moments when some will hear Christ’s call to faith and discipleship, and by God’s gracious work through the Gospel, they will repent and believe. Yet as much as we look forward to that, there is that same call to the same status of unbeliever, but due to their own ingrained sin and stubbornness, they will reject the Christ who calls them to salvation. And the conflict and division that arises because of the Christ you love and serve can hurt as if a sword pierced through your heart and soul. Jesus presents us with the reality that even son and father, daughter and mother, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law could become fundamentally separated from one another because one will confess Christ, and the other will deny Him.
Whether it is a family member, a neighbor, a classmate, a co-worker, or even a perfect stranger, believers will sooner or later face the challenges from the unbelievers with whom they share Jesus. “Choose me and my ways rather than Jesus and His ways,” they call to us. Because the issue is the identity of Jesus and faith in Him, there is no middle ground. If the Christian should long for the old way of life and cave into the pressures of the unbelievers to reject Christ and His work, the Christian would lose the only real life there is: eternal life with God through Jesus Christ. On the other hand, when a Christian accepts the sword, carries the cross, and suffers the loss of former relationships and status, because he or she clings in faith to Jesus, that believer will discover that he or she has found real life.
So are we caught between a rock and a hard place? Do we dare risk the divisions and conflicts which come about because we are sharing the Good News of Jesus or do we leave our crosses by the wayside and choose an easier life in this world by going along with the ways of unbelievers? The choice is clear—whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it.
In Holy Baptism, we have been given a new life in and through Jesus Christ. Our old sinful nature has been crucified and has died with Christ. The new person of faith and repentance arises to daily live before God in true faith and good works by the power of the Holy Spirit. As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” As new creations in Christ, we rejoice in the complete forgiveness that we have received through Jesus’ cross and resurrection from the dead. That forgiveness assures us that we have real life, eternal life, with Him forever. In the power of our Baptism and in the power of Christ’s forgiveness, we have taken up our crosses in faith following Christ in the way of the cross for the sake of those who have not yet believed. We have left behind the old way of life and now walk in the newness of life, everlasting life, which is ours freely because of God’s gift of Jesus to all the world. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17-24)
In Christ, we are not able to heed the call of world and those who reject Christ and His gift of life. We can’t and won’t choose the ways of those who do not confess the Savior. As we follow the example of our Lord, we love the unbelievers with a self-sacrificing love. We take up our cross as did our Lord and as He faced the suffering of rejection, so we also would rather face the sword, the divisions, the conflicts, and the enemies of Christ so that by all possible means some may hear the Good News of Jesus, repent, and believe the Gospel and come into the eternal life that we so deeply cherish. Along with the apostle Paul, “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law . . . that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:21-22)
When Beth was a senior in high school, she was asked by one of her friends why Christians try to force their religion on others. She hadn’t thought much about that. She’d just always heard we’re supposed to tell others about Jesus. So she asked her father how he would answer that question. How would you answer it? Why do we tell others about Jesus? Because we want them to have what we have: the Father’s love. We don’t want them to miss out on the forgiveness Jesus gives. Our desire is that they have the strength of the Holy Spirit with them during all the times of their lives.
It is the Lord Jesus Christ who empowers us for this mighty task. Today, the Savior gives us the reality of our mission to the lost. He keeps no secrets from us. We know what we are up against. So Christ gives us the faith and the power of His Spirit to fight the good fight so that many will find eternal life in and through Christ. We willingly and joyfully take up our crosses and follow the Savior, intentionally going to the unbelievers with the message of real life so that they too will share in the reward we have been given by God’s grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.