By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 21, 2020
Matthew 10:24–39 (ESV)
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And 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. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 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. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 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. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Those that follow Christ often face many struggles. Many come to Christ with the idea that by saying the sinner’s prayer all their troubles will magically disappear. It is not an uncommon thought, I, myself have often thought these things. It is difficult to not consider this thought process. Jesus himself tells his disciples that anything we ask in his name will be done for him. Each of us have faced difficulties. The pandemic we are currently going through is evidence that we still struggle in our world, even though we claim the name of Christ. When we turn on the news we are often challenged with the struggles of the world, and often we as followers of Christ are right in the middle of the conflict.
When we read scripture, the historical context often alludes our attention. We look at the words and our minds interpret those words through the lens of our contemporary struggles. This is an amazing and dangerous aspect of scripture. It is amazing because after thousands of years, the words of scripture are still relevant. Every time I open my bible, I read something that seemingly speaks exactly to the very issues I am currently struggling with. This phenomenon is why Scripture is often referred to as living, it is living because the Spirit that inspired the words is still active in our lives today. That same Spirit that inspired the Apostles to write and teach, is still just as active in our lives today as it was generations ago.
I said that reading the scripture through the lens of our contemporary struggles is amazing and dangerous. It is dangerous because those ancient authors were writing to people that lived nearly two thousand years ago. Those people lived in cultures vastly different than our own, and they had problems that we may not understand. If we are unaware of the history surrounding the words of scripture, we might miss something important, and we might make assumptions about doctrine or life claiming biblical authority that might not be accurate. We can give countless example of this. In the antebellum era those supporting the abolition of and the continuation of slavery used the same King James Bible to support their cause. Denominations that support women in ministry and those that limit the leadership of women use scripture to support their cases. We can use scripture to justify any activity we desire. Harper Lee wrote in her celebrated book To Kill a Mockingbird, “Sometimes the Bible in the hands of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of oh of your father… There are just some kind of men who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
Scripture is amazing but can be dangerous. This has been the case since the beginning of time, because even in the garden the interaction between humanity and the serpent were based on the manipulation of the words of God revealed to them. The serpent used words out of contexts to inspire desire, and Adam twisted the words of God to control Eve which eventually led to their destruction. Adam could have waited and asked God why they should not eat of the tree, they walked together in the cool of the evening, so it was not as if God were distant. But he did not want to wait, they did not want to seek the truth from the source, instead they relied on their own understanding.
In today’s passage we meet the disciples in a similar place. Jesus had given them the authority over all illness and affliction, and the authority to free people from spiritual bondage. The disciples were amazed at this. They had the authority to do everything they had seen Jesus perform to that point. Can you imagine that? These were things beyond their comprehension when Jesus performed them, and he is now telling them to go out and do it. Jesus gave them that authority, but there is a cost.
The disciples were common. At that moment they were not yet known to be the saintly men and women we regard them to be today. The people within the communities they were going knew who they were. When Peter walked into town, they knew him as Simon the fisherman. They knew Levi, as the despised tax collector that sat at the table when they we attempting to make their way to Jerusalem, they did not know him as Matthew the gospel writer. Then there was that zealot Simon, he was going to get people killed. Jesus sent these men into the communities. He sent them out to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and that kingdom was at hand. He sent them into the communities, where the people knew them and tells them to go without any provision but to rely on the hospitality of those within the community. How many of you would be willing to house and feed the tax collector that just extorted money from you?
Jesus knew that the disciples would face struggles. He knew this because he faced struggles. Jesus went into these communities, and he began to teach. There were already established teachers in the community, rabbis that had experience and reputations. People that had spent years of their lives learning everything they could possibly learn about scripture. And Jesus comes into their town, draws a crowd, heals some people, and they know him as the carpenter’s son. They are upset. And from the perspective of those leaders they have a right to be a bit disturbed. Jesus has their community in an uproar. They have been leading this community for years and suddenly they are getting questions that they do not know the answers to. They were not prepared for this, and it is Jesus’s fault.
I, myself, have an education. I have training. I have a degree that indicates that I have studied theology, biblical studies, counseling, and several other things. There are some things that I have faced as I have been a pastor that I have absolutely no training for. How do I lead and encourage those within this meeting through a pandemic? There was not a class for this, and if there was, I probably would not have taken it because there were too many more interesting classes to take. We struggle because we are unprepared and often unaware of what might happen.
The interesting thing is that Jesus is telling his disciples that they will suffer and struggle. People they love will turn their backs on them. People they respect will seemingly oppose them at every front. People they perceive as allies will become their enemies and many of them will be in seats of power within their own religious organizations. We are often our greatest challenges.
Jesus tells them that disciples are not greater than their master, but it is enough to be like their master. Jesus is their master, he is their teacher, he is the one that has given them power and authority of disease and the spiritual realm, yet their master was accused by the religious leaders of being in league with the devil.
Jesus is sending his disciples out into the world like sheep among wolves. And he sends them saying, “have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known… And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both the soul and body in hell.”
What is Jesus saying? These are not exactly the most encouraging words that could be spoken. But the historical context is key. Remember the religious institution of Israel was probably at its greatest strength in history. They had a religious industrial complex that was the envy of an empire. People would travel three times a year to one place to offer sacrifices. And they had set this religious sanctuary up in such a way that they could not accept any currency because it needed to be sacred coins. Everyone that wanted to worship was required to convert their Roman coins into temple currency, just to be able to give their tithes. But there was a requirement for sacrifice as well. They would need perfect animals for the sacrifice. Priests would inspect each animal prior to sacrifice to determine if the offering were acceptable. If the animal did not meet the requirements it was rejected. That is ok though because you could convert more money into temple currency and purchase an animal to sacrifice that would be guaranteed to pass the inspection right there in the temple courts. Three times a year the people would participate in these holy festivals and then they would go home. When they got home there were synagogues to worship in. And these synagogues had rabbis trained in the porticos of the temple. Everything revolved around the temple.
Jesus is telling the disciples that they will not be greater than their master, but like their master. This is true even with the rabbis. They have influence because of who they were taught by, the better the school the more respect. Jesus was teaching and he did not have the proper educational background, yet he taught with authority and this set the religious world on edge. And they lashed out in words and deed. Jesus warned the disciples that it was coming, and they had already heard some of the words. They knew that Jesus did not fit the leadership mold, yet they trusted him.
Why? Jesus was not just words. He lived what he said. He would teach the disciples while they gathered by their evening’s fire and he then encouraged them to live it out in the day light. They had seen Jesus live this way. They had seen him worship in the synagogues, withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and minister to the needs of the community. Jesus was the same on the Sabbat as he was in the community the other six days of the week. His words and actions were consistent. And he says do not fear the struggles you will face.
Jesus lived a consistent life. He taught and he then proceeded to put his words in action. He proclaimed that Kingdom of God was near, that it was at hand meaning it is right around you. And he demonstrated it by restoring the lives of lepers, by healing the lame, the deaf and the blind. He called the children to him and included them among the adults. He allowed women to sit with the men while he taught, and he even said that some of the gentiles he interacted with had greater faith than Israel. Jesus said do not fear the world, because all they can do is take your life, instead focus on God. Respect the things that matter to God.
Over the past few months, I have struggled with this. I am a stubborn person. I have ideologies that I think are the best way to live. I think I am right most of the time. And I have come to a place where I do not have the answers. I cannot rely on myself. When our yearly meeting advised us to move worship to an online format, I was grieved, and I was on the board that made that decision. I sat in prayer asking how can we close and say we are living by faith? I struggle. But it is the right decision.
God cares for the lives of those around us. Not just the soul. He wants us to have an abundant life, now and in the hereafter. We can get ourselves worked up, on one aspect or another and miss the point. And that is what Jesus is speaking about. People will hate you and people will love you. Who cares? People will agree with you and people will disagree. It does not matter. What really matters is how are you living with those people during the disagreement and through the struggle?
The past few days, I have watched people go crazy over pancake mix. Pancake mix. I have watched people buy more pancake mix in the past three days than in a month. We are yelling and crying and have we ever really listened to ourselves? These past few weeks has shown me what Jesus means when he said that he has not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword. I have watched people argue over pancake mixes. It has nothing to do with pancakes, and in most cases those in the argument never even buy the questionable mix anyway. Jesus says that he does not bring peace, because people are too concerned with their own opinions. Jesus wants peace, that is why he came. He wants to give us an abundant life filled with hope, but all too often we are more concerned with our opinions than we are with the humanity of the person we are arguing with. We are more concerned with our reputation, and our heritage. Where is God in the great pancake debate?
We struggle. We find ourselves in the middle of struggles. Where is God in those struggles? For a couple of months, I have been alone in this Meetinghouse, preaching to a camera. And it has been a great deal of work. But last night I found myself longing for that time alone before the camera. I longed for it because I would sing and pray while I was setting everything up. I would listen to the service again while I was loading and editing. I would spend twelve hours a week in worship and prayer, just to get one hour of video. It is not about my opinions; it is not about my preferences. It is about God. We often want God to back our ideas, but we have not allowed God to shape those ideas with us. We have built institutions on the ideas we claim God is for, and God is nowhere to be seen. Jesus does not bring peace because we often have no desire for peace. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
We are in the middle of many struggles. How are we approaching them and how are we responding? We have been in a fast from church as we know it, have we learned anything from this time?