Scripture: Matthew 10:24-39
The past couple of weeks I have encouraged us to consider the future of the Church. At times I may have set some of us a bit on edge, but there is a reason for this. We live in a world of constant progress and change. This leaves each of us having to face the ever-changing culture around us and examine our faith and lives.
This is not exactly the most pleasant feeling. Just when we believe we have everything figured out something happens that causes us to question yet again. What in our current culture is causing this?
Today’s passage we meet Jesus speaking with His disciples as He is sending them out into to minister among the people. He is sending them out to minister to the people of Israel in a manner quite different than the people of faith are accustomed to. Jesus does not send His disciples to the righteous people of but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and to cast out demons. Sending them out without payment, taking no gold, silver, copper, bags, or tunics. This is not exactly the most common form of ministry during that day. But Israel had seen ministry like this before, during cultural shifts where something was about to change within the religious community that would change the future direction of the religious community. In each case these shifts had a prophet that began to minister, and in many cases only after the prophet lost their life did the religious see the value of their message.
Cultures shift there are technological advancements, that move into industrial advancements, bringing about economic advancements, that give way to a satisfied life, and then almost as suddenly as the good life hits there becomes a new challenge that causes us to question things. We have been faced with these sorts of challenges during the past few years. Technology has advanced rapidly, industries have developed around these technologies that have caused the economy and our standard of living to advance and then there is a correction that causes us to feel a pinch. These are cycles of life. But even when the recession was at its worst the changes to our society that the advancement had brought on still remain. If we are honest, there are luxuries that we have come to expect that many of us never considered doing without in the hardest times. Our culture as a whole still purchased Internet service the industry that drove the economy prior to the recession because we have come to see this not as a luxury but as a necessity. We still as a whole held on to our cell phones but many had allowed our landlines to go unused, again because our culture views that the wireless lifestyle is of greater value.
But there are some within our culture that were hit harder than other. Our culture advanced to the point that most employers only accept applications online, so those that lost their Internet connection became unemployable. And as they sunk deeper into the economic whirlpool they would eventually lose connection with the culture at large. There were some who were judged by the culture as being the cause of the problems and received harsher treatment and others received assistance. I do not wish to rehash the past decade of hardships but I mention this only to allow us to see that our culture is not the same as it was a decade ago, it is not the same as it was twenty or fifty years ago and to be honest we would not want to go back to those days because the comforts we enjoy have become too important to us.
Israel at this time was in one of those pivotal moments in history just as we are today. Jesus is sending his closest friends and his most dedicated students out into this volatile community where fingers a being pointed and blame is being place to minister. Sending them to minister to the ones left behind by the cultural mechanism that had left them behind. Jesus warns them that they will be faced with challenges that they may not expect but to stand firm in their faith and commitment to Him. “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves…” Jesus says to them.
Jesus was causing trouble in an already troubled era, He was shining light onto the practices of the people that said one thing but often lived another. The leaders of the were threatened by His ministry because he was building up a following among those people that they would rather have left in obscurity and as a result they called him a servant of the devil.
Let us just sit there for a moment. The religious were calling the one we call Lord, king and master, Beelzebul or the lord of the flies. Why? It is difficult for us to even consider such words being spoken of Jesus because we hold His very name in high esteem. But I want us to consider how easily we use words against those around us that we do not agree.
We live in a time very similar to this. We live in a culture that seems to be split and people on either side are hurling insults or worse across the chasm, yet neither side is actually seeking to do anything of real value, and woe to anyone who might happen to have a view that does not completely hold to the party line. It is difficult to live in eras such as these because you are damned either way, unless there happens to be a different path all together to begin to tread.
Jesus sent his most devoted students out into the world to minister to those left behind in the culture, He sent them to preach the Gospel, to tell the people living among them that the Kingdom of God is near. They were to preach this in a place where for many, it seemed that God was nowhere to be found.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” These words and those that follow are some of the hardest words to contemplate in all of the New Testament. What exactly is Jesus say? Is He saying that we must go forth proclaiming the Gospel with a sword in our hands beating the infidel into submission? In the past years I have actually heard this being proclaimed throughout the church in many ways, I have read articles demanding this just in the past week. But does this fit with the character of Jesus?
I have sat with this passage studied it and prayed with it over this week. Questions came to mind that were not really comfortable. What exactly is peace? What is the sword that Jesus speaks of when we know that Jesus eventually says those that live by the sword die by the sword? It leads us to even question the very point of why we have entrusted our lives to God in the first place. The answers to these questions shake what we know as church to the very core. Because to often we have come to believe that if we have faith our lives will be perfect. But Jesus is literally saying, “I have not come to bring that sort of life.” Peace is freedom from worry, harmony, tranquility, and in some cases welfare and health. These are the things that churches across our nation have been preaching for the past century. But that sort of peace is a selfish peace.
Jesus did not come to us to give us the good life, he came to restore and heal the relationship between God and His creation. This is where the sword comes in. Jesus is not speaking literally in this passage but figuratively. The sword is a representation of discord or unease, division and conflict. He is saying to His disciples if you move forward with me there will be trouble, but it will be worth it.
These men live in a nation that is divided between two major camps. On one side is the status quo those that control the temple. On the other stand the righteous the ones that say if you perform certain things correctly, God will give shower you with blessings. Each party works to grow their influence over the people, leaving many behind to suffer. Those that control the temple demand perfect sacrifices, and they will provide those for a price. Some offer a life of devotion that they will teach you for a price. Jesus comes in and gets between these parties offering something different freely. He speaks to the lame telling them their sins are forgiven and then tells them to walk. By doing so those in the two parties are left without influence, if he can forgive sin there is no need for the sacrifice or the devoted life to earn favor.
This does not bring peace but discord. He is turning the entire cultural perspective of faith upside down. He did not come to bring these two parties together but instead to render both useless. Why?
Both of these views use fear. They use fear to control the people for personal gain. They distort the truth of God to hold power over those around them. The truth is that the Kingdom of God is near. This means that God is in our midst all around us. Fear is a weakness of faith. Fear does not believe in God, but places faith in our own abilities. There is no love in fear, no light only darkness.
We live in a culture of fear. This fear is not only in the world, but churches across the nation promote fear. They fear Islam, they fear the loss of our way of life, and they fear the loss of control over the nation. The world fears because they have nothing else to rely on but themselves. The church should not fear because our faith is in someone that overcomes the world. But why then do we fear?
We fear because we have not been faithful to the one that preserves our souls and have chased after other gods. We have grown comfortable in our own abilities and have neglected the relationship with our God. We have become intoxicated with power over our culture and have neglected our calling. We fear because we know that we have not been good and faithful stewards of the gifts that God has given us. Our faith in Jesus is not bringing peace but the sword. We lash out at those around us casting blame on others instead of placing it where it should be. We have failed our nation because we have failed to love. But perfect love cast out all fears.
Jesus says, “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” Jesus is calling each of us to come out of the shadows of fear and to walk with Him into the light. To follow Him in His life and His lifestyle as we move forward into the chaotic world around us. To not worry about what others will say or do, because none of that worry will accomplish anything, but instead to teach that God is near each of us today and always. God will lift us out of those shadows and set us on a new course. We live in a new era; one where we have the ability to communicate and encourage in ways history could never have done before. Yet still we are called to minister right here in our community encouraging those people God has given us to walk along with as we become more like our teacher and master.
We are called to become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. That calling and that mission is not one dominated by fear, but one inspirited by relationship. That relationship is fueled by the spiritual rhythm of Jesus’ own life of worship, prayer, and service to others. If we are to walk in that path it will cause discord and discomfort for those that refuse, but it will also provide a peace that passes understanding. But we must first face our fears and ask ourselves whom do we believe? Do we believe in only in ourselves and our culture, or do we believe in God? Let us reflect on these as we enter into a time of prayerful contemplation and communion with God and each other in open worship.