Sermon #190 St. James the Less #97 6/21/20
Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “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.”
You know every preacher has a different way of deciding what they’ll talk about on a given Sunday. Some will only preach from the Gospels, others prefer series based on a book of the Bible or a certain topic.
I go back and forth, if you haven’t noticed, but I will normally preach on the passage that raises the most questions. Whichever one is the most troubling or makes you scratch your head, that’s the one I want to dig into.
Today our readings are filled with head scratchers, we’ve got Jeremiah and the Psalms that both raise plenty of questions for the modern reader, but I think Matthew 10 takes the cake.
We can spend our whole life in the church and still wonder what Jesus is really saying here.
The truth is, he says a lot and we can’t uncover it all this morning, but there is a common theme that runs through this passage which may help us put his tough words into its proper perspective.
The guiding theme is this: Jesus is the Great Divider who unites us to himself. And there are three specific ways that he divides us: he divides us from the world, from our families, and from our own ambitions.
So let’s look at this passage and see how Jesus does indeed divide us.
Jesus-Divider of Believer & the World
Jesus starts out by telling his disciples that no one is greater than their teacher, as in, no one is greater than Jesus, and yet some will say that he is Beelzebul (which is pretty much calling him Satan). They say that the Son of God is the devil, ironic right?
And so, if people are willing to call Jesus that, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we get push back for our faith as well. A few will believe, but Jesus knows that many will oppose him (his followers will be a minority movement among the cultural majority).
And there may be active opposition from time to time, but it’ll usually be more subtle. People will look at us differently when they find out we’re a believer. Being “nominally Christian” is usually accepted in our culture, but someone might ask us, “You’re not devout, are you?” As if taking our faith seriously is the actual crime.
And so, Jesus in our passage is asking, “Who are we trying to impress? The world or God?” Success on Jesus’ terms is not measured by how much money we make, the house or car that we own, but if we can live your life like him.
If we are trying to impress the world then we will constantly be worried about what other people think of us. Do they think we are successful or that our life is put together? But what can they do compared to the power of God?
Jesus says, “Do you fear people and what they think of you, or do you fear God?” This isn’t a conversation about what God should do but what God as the perfect creator, redeemer, and sustainer of us all can do.
And Jesus qualifies this statement by showing how precious we are in God’s sight. God loves his creation, even the lowliest sparrow, and we are worth more than many sparrows. He is so engrossed with us that he even knows how many hairs are on our head.
Jesus is showing us that of anyone in this world who is worth being feared; of worrying what they think of us, it’s not our coworkers or neighbors or friends, but the Almighty God who loves us like no other. As one writer said, “Fear God or fear everything” (Bruner 484).
And so Jesus, who loves the world, even died for the world, warns us of how following him will divide us from much of what the world holds dear.
Jesus-Divider of Families
Jesus then says the phrase that likely made all of us squirm in our seat a little bit. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” he says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And then he talks about how he will divide families. Yikes…
Families are microcosms of the world, aren’t they? The stress and pressure we have in life can come full force within the context of our own family.
Being a follower of Jesus or for those of us who grew up in a Christian home—how we follow Jesus—can cause family conflict. And it’s this conflict that Jesus is warning us about.
Peace is the end goal, Jesus is the Prince of Peace after all, but there will be conflict and division in the present moment. The sword that Jesus has is the sword of decision and deciding to faithfully follow him may cut off some people that we hold most dear.
Jesus is divisive and his coming into the world and into our life can sever some of the most valued human relationships. He says it is his purpose that people come to a decision about him.
You cannot walk away from him unmoved. Either you hate him, you find him irritating, you’re troubled or disgusted by his words (especially here about dividing families), or you love him and seek to be closer to him.
This sword of decision cuts through so many relationships but notice that he says nothing about married couples. This certain relationship is too precious for God to cut through, likely because they are no longer two but one flesh.
Even so, Jesus is at all times calling us to walk the fine line between family idolatry and family neglect. And he knows this all too well, he himself had conflict within his family. Remember his mother and siblings came at one point to take him home, and he wouldn’t go with them. He said his family were those who do the will of God.
Jesus is even the Great Divider of his own family.
Jesus-Divider of Us & Our Ambitions
Jesus ends this passage by showing how he not only divides us from the world and our family, but how he divides us from our own ambitions.
We all have goals in life. We want to be successful, we want to be happy, and be a part of a happy family.
So many of the movies we watch are about a character who goes on a quest and through many different trials they “find themselves.” Go through any bookstore and you’ll see shelves filled with books on selfcare or self-fulfillment, written by some self-professed life coach.
Jesus says the exact opposite. The way of the believer is not to become your best self, but to die to yourself so that Jesus may become greater. All those hopes, dreams, and ambitions need to be put in their rightful place or die altogether.
The Christian story does not hold a fairly tale ending, and self-discovery is not theme of this film. If you want to find your life, Jesus says you gotta be willing to lose it.
The Story of Francesco
Jesus the Great Divider between us and the world, our family, and even our own ambitions. A man named Francesco experienced all three of these divisions when he decided to follow Jesus. I want to tell you his story.
When he was born his mother gave him the name Giovanni after John the Baptist. But his father, who was a merchant, returned home from France furious to find out his son had been given a biblical name. The last thing his father wanted was for his son to become a man of God – he desperately wanted his son to be a businessman, an Italian cloth merchant like he was, and he especially wanted a son to share in his love of France, so he renamed his son Francesco -- which is the equivalent of calling him ‘Frenchman.’
Francesco enjoyed a very rich easy life growing up because of his father's wealth. From the beginning everyone loved him. He was constantly happy, charming, and a born leader. If he was ill, people took care of him. If he did poorly in school, no one minded. In many ways he was too easy to like for his own good. No one tried to control him or teach him. As he grew up, Francesco became the leader of a crowd of young people who spent their nights in wild parties.
But he fulfilled every hope of his father -- even falling in love with France. Despite his daydreaming, he was also good at business. But he wanted more than wealth, he wanted to be a knight.
Going into battle was the best place to win the glory and prestige he longed for. And soon he got his chance, only to be captured and then freed by ransom a year later.
When the call came for knights for the Fourth Crusade, he made his way east, but only went a day’s journey before he had a dream in which God told him to return home. Throughout his life he wanted nothing more than to be liked but returned home humiliated, laughed at, called a coward by the village and yelled at by his father for the money wasted.
Francesco started to spend more time in prayer. One day while praying in a church, he heard Christ speak to him, ‘Francesco, repair my church.’ He assumed this meant the physical church he was in, so he then took fabric from his father's shop and sold it to get money to repair the church.
His father saw this as an act of theft -- and put that together with Francesco’s cowardice, waste of money, and his growing disinterest in wealth made Francesco seem more like a madman than his son. His father dragged him before the bishop and in front of the whole town demanded that he return the money and renounce all rights as his heir.
The bishop told Francesco to return the money and said God would provide. That was all Francesco needed to hear. He not only gave back the money but stripped off all his clothes -- the clothes his father had given him -- until he was wearing only a hair shirt.
In front of the crowd that had gathered he said, ‘Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, “Our Father who art in heaven.”’
Wearing nothing but castoff rags, he went off into the freezing woods -- singing. And when robbers beat him later and took his clothes, he climbed out of the ditch and went off singing again.”
This man, St. Francis of Assisi, had lost everything: the respect of his friends and neighbors, he was separated from his family, and lost the wealth and honor he had dreamed of for so many years.
Because of Jesus the Great Divider, Francis had nothing and yet possessed everything…Those who have ears, let them hear.
3rd Sunday after Pentecost. Year A. Mt. 10:24-39. Dale Bruner’s Matthew. Story of Francis quoted and paraphrased from https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=50.