Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, May 21, 2018
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Faith and Conflict

Matthew 10:24-39

 Maybe this speech of Jesus seems strange to us, perhaps even radical.  It doesn’t fit with our generally easy and comfortable Christian lives.  Does it relate to us at all?

 For the record, I don’t think America is a Christian nation.  I’m not sure it ever was.  Now, certainly at times it has been friendly to the Christian faith.  I think especially of the 1950s and 1960s, which was the time in American history when church attendance was at its highest.  Christians seemed to have a lot of influence in society then, and not as much now.  I can say confidently that even within my own lifetime I’ve seen our society become less friendly and less accommodating to Christians.  Our views are no longer given the same level of preferential treatment.  

 And the fact of the matter is that, for the most part, the world has never really been friendly to Christ or his people.  The fact that Jesus was crucified after a three year long ministry of ministering to the outcasts, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, and performing miracles should tell us all we ever need to know about the world’s opinion of Jesus.  And most Christians in history have met some kind of resistance to their faith and their message.  Many have been martyred or imprisoned for it.  

 If we are not meeting resistance from the world, if we are getting along comfortably, then, if anything, we should question if we have made faith too easy, too comfortable, too much like the world.

 Jesus starts out saying that “The student is not greater than the teacher.”  If Jesus was persecuted and rejected by the world, then we should expect nothing less.    

 But we are also told over and over not to be afraid of the world.  In the end, truth will always win out.  The Hebrew people of Jesus’ day firmly believed that at the final judgment, everything secret and hidden would be revealed.  Sometimes it doesn’t even take that long.  I think of the Christians who suffered in Nazi concentration camps or Soviet gulags or the prisons of apartheid South Africa.  It didn’t even take till judgment day for the lies of those broken systems to be made plain.  

 Our job is to be faithful witnesses to the truth.  What we hear from God, we are to proclaim loudly.  And the first assumption there is that we should be hearing from God.  We can’t be a witness for God unless we are listening closely to God by reading his word and speaking with him daily in prayer.  

 We should not fear persecution by human beings who are only able to harm the body.  Instead, we are to fear God.  To fear God means to respect God, but with a stronger sense of the word.  It’s a reverent fear, a holy respect.  We should fear God because he controls more than the fate of these temporary bodies; he also controls the fate of our eternal souls.  

 And God is never unaware of our needs.  He knows when a sparrow worth a half a penny falls to the ground.  The Greek word here for “penny” is ASSARION, one of the smallest and least valuable coins.  It was worth 1/16th of the minimum daily wage of an unskilled laborer.  If you want to translate it into today’s economy, half an ASSARION would be roughly equal to $2.  Sparrows were sold in the markets, but only the very poor ate them.  As you can imagine, there isn’t a whole lot of meat on a sparrow, but for a poor person, it might be the only protein in their diet.  

 If God knows the fate of each and every sparrow, he knows the fate of every person, since we are much more valuable to him.  This is a QAL VAHOMER argument, meaning “how much more.”  If God cares for the sparrow, then how much more does he care about you.  He even knows the number of hairs on your head.  Some of us make it easy for God in that regard.  

 If we acknowledge God, then he will acknowledge us.  But if we deny him, then he will deny us.  

 To deny Jesus is more than just “renouncing your faith.” We deny our faith if we “minimize it,” if we keep quiet about Jesus in order to get along with the world.  We deny our faith when we are silent when we should speak.  As the saying goes, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.”  There are many evils in our world, and if we are silent about them, if we ignore them, then we are denying our faith.  Christ calls us to the work of justice and mercy in the world, and that includes speaking out against evil in whatever form it presents itself.  We can also deny Christ by our actions.  To know what God wants us to do and to fail to do it because it is difficult or unpopular is to deny Jesus with our actions.  

 Jesus tells us he did not come to bring peace to the earth.  He brings peace to his followers, a peace the world cannot give us. But he doesn’t bring peace to the world.  He brings a sword, a weapon that was used to cut, to divide.  Jesus brings division.  Sometimes that division is even inside our homes.  He quotes here from Micah 7:6:  “For

the son despises his father.  The daughter defies her mother.  The daughter-in-law defies her mother-in-law.  Your enemies are in your own household.”  Sometimes our faith in Christ will lead to division in our own families.

 Years ago I met a pastor who was raised by a man who hated God and he taught his son to hate God.  When he went off to college, of all things, he fell in with a group of Christians, started reading the Bible, came to faith, and was called into ministry, all in his first year of college.  At the end of the year, he went home and told his father about it.  His father threw him out of the house and said, “Never come back.”  As far as I know, he has still never been welcomed back into his father’s home.   

 In verse 37, Jesus talks about loving him even more than father and mother, son and daughter.  The love of father and mother was enshrined in the 10 Commandments.  It was one of the most important pieces of piety.  Only God could demand more love than parents.  

 “Take up your cross and follow me.”  To bear the cross is to accept the death penalty.  The Romans forced a condemned criminal to carry his or her own cross, or at least the cross beam, to the place of execution.  It was seen as a final act of submission to Roman law and power.  To follow Jesus is to accept the death penalty; that is the death of our selfish ambitions that we can fully submit to Christ as Lord.  

 Jesus demands a decision.  He will not be content with being only a part-time Lord or only having dominion over some parts of our lives.  There is a line in the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer that we have used here before that says, “Christ will be all in all, or he will be nothing.” If Christ is not Lord over every part of your life, then he is not really Lord at all.  And it’s not easy for any of us to surrender everything to Christ.  We are always reluctant; we always want to hold onto certain aspects of our life and keep them for ourselves.  

 We will face that decision daily in our lives.  Is Christ really Lord of all my life?  There will be other things that cry out for our loyalty:  Our family, our nation, our friends, our workplace, our political party.  But when we face those choices, we should choose loyalty to Christ.  Only then is he really Lord of all.

 “If you cling to your life, you will lose it.”  The lie of the world is that life can be found apart from God.  To the world, life is wealth, success, power, pleasure, fame, and so on.  The world says if you have those things, then you have life.  But it’s a lie.  If you

spend your life chasing those things, you will find that all of them turn out to be empty; they don’t deliver on their promise.  But it’s a convincing lie.  Many people fall for it.    

 If we give up that illusion of life, then we find true life in Christ, and a life that we can keep for all eternity.  Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance.”  Real life is found in the peace Jesus gives.  Real life is found in the security of a relationship with the Living God.  Real life is found in the sense of place and purpose we have in the Body of Christ.  Jesus offers more than the world.  

 The essence of what it means to follow Christ is all found here in this text.  To follow Christ is to make a faithful confession of him and his Lordship.  To follow Christ is to let go of worldly desires.  To follow Christ is to be loyal to him above all else.  

 If you have that kind of faith, it will bring you into conflict with the world.  The lies of the world don’t like competition.  But that is the kind of faith Christ demands.  Christ will be all in all, or he will be nothing.  

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