Matthew 10:34-42/ Proper 08A / 26 June 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” Matthew 10:34-42
Today’s Gospel reading comes chock full of seeming contradiction. Jesus, the Prince of Peace who promises “Peace, I leave you, my peace I give to you” says to His disciples, “I have not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword.” This kind of talk sounds so un-Jesus like. We bristle against this kind of talk, we who have lived through 9/11 and other acts of religious violence. Here is a passage that could be used against us. See, your Jesus says right here He comes to bring a sword not peace. Don’t you Christians claim to be peace-loving people? Isn’t Christianity a religion of peace? What’s this business of a sword?
These words sit hard in the ears. We almost equate the words “Christian” and family, though they don’t necessarily go together. Christians are supposed to “focus on the family,” right? Christians are known to be pro-family and family oriented, or at least we claim to be all that and vote that way. And yet Jesus says here that He has come to set son against father and mother against daughter. He’s going to divide families with His sword so that a disciples’ enemies will be the members of his own household. Wow! We make the family a near means of grace, and Jesus seems to brush it all off with one swift stroke of the sword.
And if that isn’t shocking enough, Jesus turns the volume up even more. “Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me.” Yes, that’s right. If you were looking for a reason to turn away and run from Jesus, these verses would give you reason. He places Himself over every human relationship. Nothing can come between us and Him, because without Him we will lose everything, including our own lives. To love another more than Christ is to make that person, whether father, mother, son, daughter into an idol. Idols always crumble under the pressure of being our gods. They will disappoint us; they will fail to live up to our expectations; and ultimately they cannot save us.
And the sword of Jesus isn’t quite done yet. There is still more killing to do. The sword that brings division must divide us even from ourselves. “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Cross kill. They stand for our death. The cross is not simply the little bumps, bruises, and inconveniences of this life. The cross is our death. Jesus is telling His disciples and all who would follow Him that to follow Him means losing all in order to gain it all. Everything we are, and everything we have in this life, must be nailed to the cross with Christ. We must literally become nothing so that Christ might be everything.
“Whoever finds life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This is the key and the heart of faith. Where do you find your life? In yourself, your achievements, your abilities, your riches? You will lose it. to find life in the things of this world is to find a life doomed to die with the things of this world. But to lose your life in the world for the sake of Christ, to die with Him and be joined to His cross, is to find the one real life who is the Life.
Christ must be at the center. Not high on the list of priorities – Jesus, family, work, etc. Christ and His cross must be central in all things. Christ must get between father and son, mother and daughter, between each and every one of us. Christ must stand in the breach or there will be no true and lasting peace.
We want peace. We want peace in our world, in our communities, in our families. The trouble is we want peace in our terms, according to our agenda. We seek peace in the security of wealth, thinking that if only we had enough for tomorrow and the next day and the next year, we could have a measure of peace today. But there never is enough, and each new acquisition brings with it new anxiety.
We seek peace in solitude, in isolation from others, thinking that if we could just insulate ourselves from the negative impact and energy of others, then we could have some measure of peace within ourselves. We wall ourselves up behind gates and walls and closed doors. In office cubicles, in our cars, in a world that minimizes any meaningful contact with our neighbors. We wall ourselves behind computer screens or TV screens or little cell phone screens, ignoring the real world around us with its real people in favor of a virtual world we think we can control.
We seek peace within ourselves, urged on by the notion that peace means “feeling good about ourselves.” And wherever we turn, no matter how loudly the prophets of peace shout “Peace, peace” there is no peace.
Peace always comes with the shedding of blood. Peace always comes at the tip of a sword. This is no cheap peace that Jesus is speaking of here. No half-hearted, comfortably complacent peace worked out by calculated compromise. This is peace that comes with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, a sharp two-edged sword of Law and Gospel that both kills and makes alive, that opens the wound and heals it. Only in taking the sword to Sin, to the Law, to Death will there be peace with God and peace with one another.
The sword Jesus brings is a sword that touched Him. His cross comes first, then your cross. His death comes first, then your death. It was for the sake of our sin and our salvation that He came under the Law, that He refused the easy peace of compromise with this world. The sword divided Father from Son. The sword put His mother Mary at the foot of His cross and pierced her soul with grief. The sword caused Jesus to experience the God-forsakenness of our humanity, the darkness of God’s wrath, the suffering of our sin. He took up His cross to lead humanity through death to life. It’s the only way for a sinner to live before God and that is to die with Jesus. Not simply to die. Everyone does that sooner or later. But to die with Jesus. To take up your cross, your death, and follow Jesus in the way He goes, namely through death to eternal life.
The apostle Paul talks about this in regard to Baptism, an appropriate topic for this morning, given the baptism of little Charlotte Marie. In Baptism, we are buried with Christ in His death. We are forensically declared dead to Sin but alive to God in Christ. As St. Paul said in this morning’s reading from Romans, we have died to the Law in the body of Christ so that we may now belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
In his prior letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote this: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” “I died,” Paul said, “in the crucified body of Jesus on the cross. For all intents and purposes, I no longer live. Instead, Christ is my life. Christ is the one who lives in me. And the life I now have in this flesh as I daily take up my cross and follow Christ I live by faith in Christ, the Son of God who loved me and who gave HImself for me.”
That’s exactly what Paul is talking about in Romans 7. He no longer lives. He has been declared by God dead to Sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. And that is something any baptized Christian can say. You have been declared dead by God. Dead to Sin, dead to the Law, dead to Death itself. You belong to another now. You belong to Christ who brings you to the Father, who pours out His Spirit on you.
The Law with its commandments cannot save you. It is a sword that will kill you. It is a magnifying lens that will enlarge sin and reveal it to be worse than you ever imagined. It is an amplifier that will crank up the volume of Sin to the pain level. It is an petri dish that will give rise to ways of sinning you haven’t even imagined. Paul says, “I didn’t even know about coveting until I read the law, and then I started coveting like crazy because Sin plus the Law equals Death.
The sinner must die. There is no way to rehab a sinner. We can take care of some of the gross externals and make them not quite so gross and not quite so external. We can discipline ourselves, with the aid of the Spirit, to not harm others and ourselves quite so much. But that’s a coat of paint on a condemned house. We must die and rise. The building must be raised and rebuilt as a new creation. We must take up our death and follow Jesus through His death, be joined to Him in baptismal faith.
Did you notice how completely Jesus identifies with you, His disciple? To receive the disciple is to receive Jesus. To give even the littlest baptized believer a cool cup of water on a hot day is to serve Jesus a cool drink. You are the body of Christ; He is your head. Your life is not your own. You belong to Christ, wholly and completely.
And only in Christ can there be peace in the family, peace in the world, peace in your hearts and minds. He didn’t come to bring the world’s notion of peace. He came to bring a sword, the sword of His cross. And by that sword, you have a peace the surpasses your understanding, a peace the world cannot give, a peace the goes on forever.
In the name of Jesus,