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Jesus the Great Divider

Sermon #311 St. Martin’s #67 (Big Church) 6/25/23


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.”

Matthew 10:24-39


Troubling Passage

“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”


If that statement didn’t wake you up this morning, I’m not sure what will. It’s not one of those lines that Jesus said that you can quickly brush off. Whether this is the first time you’ve walked into a church, or you’ve been coming your whole life—today’s gospel lesson will make even a saint squirm.


But before trying to understand what in the world Jesus meant with this shocking statement, we need a little background.


You may not have realized it, but we have been slowly making our way through chapters 9 and 10 of Matthew’s Gospel for the past few weeks.


A couple of weeks ago, Jesus went around calling specific people, saying, “Come follow me.” And for one reason or another, they actually did!


And then last week, you may recall Jesus then set aside 12 of his followers to become apostles and he gave them specific instructions about where they should go, and what they should take with them on their travels. I know we have all been wondering how many tunics and pairs sandals we should take on our travels—but Jesus clearly says only one.


I mention all that because without this context we would be very lost when looking at our passage today.


If in the previous verses Jesus was focused on whose going out into the world to proclaim the Good News, and what they should take with them, today Jesus tells us who might be unsettled by a disciple’s choice to do such an audacious thing.


Jesus’ attention is now directed at the relationships we have, from those with “the world” in a broad sense, all the way down to our closest family ties.


Jesus isn’t naïve—he knows he’s a divisive character, the moment he walks into town there are those who run to be healed by him, while others run to trap him. He’s not one you can be neutral about after encountering him. You love him, you hate him, you may be irritated by him, challenged by him, but the one thing you can’t be after having a real encounter with him is indifferent.


Jesus is now letting his disciples in on the fact that he is the Great Divider.

Now, he goes about telling his disciples this shocking fact in a very pastoral way. As much as he wants them to travel light, not to be burdened with an extra tunic or pair of sandals, he doesn’t want them to be overwhelmed by how people might receive them in the days ahead.


He tells them the world will not get it, they’ve personally called him Beelzebul (pretty much calling him Satan); if they’re doing that to the master, how much more will they do that to his disciples.


So, don’t fear the name calling, the strange looks you might get for living out the Kingdom values—it’s better to fear the One over all things than it is another person—for in reality, what can they do compared to God?


As one commentator put it, “Fear God or fear everything.” At least you know that God loves you, he’s so obsessed with you that he even knows how many hairs are on your head. Seek to impress God rather than the fickle values of this world.


But families are not spared this tension either in the life of a disciple. 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 create family conflict.


Jesus is always calling us to walk the fine line between family idolatry and family neglect. And what a hard line that is. Family is everything, right? Unless it becomes a sacred idol that cannot be challenged even in times of unhealthy relationships or expectations.


And Jesus knows this all too well, he even 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 did the will of God. Ouch!


Jesus, in a way, is even the Great Divider of his own family when they stand in the way of his mission.


But Jesus’ work of division doesn’t end there. All this talk at the end of our passage about taking up one’s cross and losing one’s life in order to find it—well, in this case, Jesus is separating us from our selfish ambitions, those things that we may want but that cannot be guaranteed in the life of the disciple.


We all have goals in life. We want to be successful and happy. But Jesus reminds us the goal is not “self-fulfillment.” The way of the believer is not to become your best self, but to die to yourself so that Jesus may become greater, and we may be like him. All those hopes, dreams, and ambitions need to be put in their rightful place at the foot of Jesus’ throne or they need to die altogether.


The priorities we have in life, whether they be professional or personal, cannot be solely based on the deeply individualized self-discovery and self-fulfillment narrative that we have all bought into. If you want to find your life—the life that God has intended for you—Jesus says you gotta be willing to lose it.


The Sword

And so, it almost seems right that in this passage we would picture Jesus wielding a mighty sword. But not one that is used to kill and destroy, not a physical sword, but a sword a decision—one that is felt in the heart of every follower of Jesus when they are confronted with a choice either between the world, their family, or their own ambitions that contend with their faith and God’s mission.


In the moments when it would be more convenient to compromise our faith in order to gain favor or ensure stability—well, Jesus reminds us that that kind of peace is not peace at all.


As his followers, there is much to be gained, but much to be lost as well. What we prioritize, both great and small, shape the life of the disciple, and as much as it makes us fidget in our pew this morning, Jesus is the Great Divider, but he divides so that we may be freed to ultimately be united to him.


The Story of Francesco

This three-way division of the world, family, and our ambitions made me think of a person who experienced all of them almost simultaneously when he decided to follow Jesus. I want to tell you his story.


When this young man was born his mother gave him the name Giovanni after John the Baptist. But his father 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 him 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. No one tried to control him or teach him, and he spent many nights with his friends at 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. 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 he returned home and was called a coward by his neighbors 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 the voice of Jesus say 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 his son’s cowardice, his waste of money, and growing disinterest in wealth as a sign that he had gone out of his mind. And so, his father dragged him before the local bishop, and in front of the whole town, demanded that his son 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 an undershirt.

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, as Paul liked to say, he possessed everything.


Rarely, will we find ourselves in a situation like Francis, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the sword of decision pressing against us, even in small choices every week. These words are most challenging to those of us who are comfortable with our lives—the status quo is a safe place to be.


But, on the other hand, these words are a source of comfort to those who may feel challenged or unwelcomed by either the world, or their family because of their faith. Or on a personal level, they’ve tried to have all their ambitions fulfilled, only to still be discontented with life.


Jesus’ words are actually really good news for anyone who is not satisfied with life “as is” and who longs for something more.


And the “more” that Jesus offers is himself. As his disciples, we are citizens of his kingdom, members of his household. No blood relation needed, no fancy degree or resume required. Just a willing heart to follow where the Savior leads, and faithfully go where he calls.


And to be honest, I think we are all longing for something more. The whole world is longing for something more, we just sometimes get mixed up in our priorities and forget that it’s Jesus our heart and soul’s are longing for. And if we’ve got him, well then, no matter what happens in life we’ve got everything. Thanks be to God.




4th Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 7. 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.

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