Sermon text: Matthew 10: 24-39
Once, during a Bible Study, I asked the class this question. I asked, “Is there anything that you wished that Jesus did not say?” The question received a lot of quizzical looks—like “Pastor, don’t you know that you are the pastor? You’re not allowed to ask that question.” Eventually there were a few responses to the question, but most people agreed that they couldn’t think of a single thing that they wished Jesus had not said.
As a person who preaches for a living, I can tell you that I come by this question and this feeling honestly…all the time. Ladies and gentlemen, I now present you with one of my favorite examples. Listen again to these Red Letter Words of Christ: Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
There is nothing in that statement that makes me sing praise and shout amen. That is not a teen’s confirmation verse, or an image we see in stained glass windows, or the inspiration for everyone’s favorite camp song.
Not peace, but a sword. On the one hand, they may not be words of comfort, but on the other hand they are words of truth. And there can be uncomfortable power in truth.
It was my very first summer working at Camp Sequanota. I was young, 17 years old, and in front of me was my midsummer evaluation. It was the very first job performance review I ever received.
First there was the self-evaluation, a long list of questions, graded from one to five, about every aspect of the counseling job. After I filled out the questionnaire a member of the leadership staff handed me a copy of my performance review—all of the same questions answered from their perspective.
To tell it quickly, we had different understandings of my performance. I thought I was doing satisfactorily, and they thought that I had lots of room for improvement. Essentially, I was young and could listen, follow, and lead better.
I bristled at the review (who wouldn’t), and I even fought it in some cases…but it was the truth. I did have lots of room for improvement and there were times that my not fully-mature 17 year old personality was a detriment to my value as a staff member. Now, at the age of 34, I can admit that truth out loud. I knew it was true back then too, but I didn’t want to admit it.
The truth hurts, especially when it uncovers things we would rather not see and face. If we are in denial, the truth will divide. If the truth runs counter to current behaviors or patterns, the truth can get ugly. Jesus brings the truth, and with the truth comes a sword, not peace. That’s why I sometimes resist Jesus’ words. Not just because they sound wrong or can’t easily be worked into a contemporary praise song, but because the truth can cut deeply. And we you are a disciple of Jesus and called to speak your truth, or to stand up for what you believe, the reception can be rocky.
Here’s the thing: Jesus isn’t trying to pick a fight. He is simply letting his disciples know that peace is hard to come by when the truth is voiced. So when you point out that there is a disparity between what God desires in the Kingdom of Heaven and the way the world is operating, tension ensues.
This Kingdom of Heaven calls into question the rulers and systems and institutions that promise peace, but do so wielding swords of terror, oppression, and corruption. The Kingdom of Heaven comes with characteristics of true peace, the equity and justice that God demands.
That’s why Jesus tells the truth. He doesn’t sugarcoat it. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He tells it straight.
Believing in Jesus, really believing in what Jesus says, what he stood for, and speaking out in truth…that is risky business. It’s especially risky if it is heard for the first time or if it convicts. That’s why relationships could change or even end. Son against father, daughter against mother, and so on.
The truth makes us uncomfortable, and that extends to the church. That means that we, as the church, have trouble speaking truth to power. Speaking truth to institutions. Speaking truth to those in the wrong. What if we told the truth about:
Racism in this country…and how people of color are in the impossible to either remain silent in the face of abuse or to name this truth and face the scorn and wrath of a society that continues to validate systemic racism. Or how white people need to make these first, uncomfortable steps to break their silence and acknowledge a clear problem and take action in solidarity. This issue isn’t changing without the truth of the Gospel.
Sexism in this country…and how women still are not given equal opportunity to men. How in the year 2020 women still only make $.81 for every dollar a man makes in the same job. How in some church women are still cut down and silenced because of their sex. This issue isn’t changing without the truth of the Gospel.
Classism in this country…and how our Lutheran understanding of grace and mercy flies out the window once we determine that someone deserves their poor situation in life once we’ve judged that they did not work hard enough, or they made bad decisions, or they don’t deserve help or another chance. This issue isn’t changing without the truth of the Gospel.
The truth is that those with privilege—either through race or sex or position or class—those with privilege must decide if they will hear God’s call for equity, speak truth about the current situations, confront injustice, and create a world that models the Kingdom of Heaven and it’s values.
The Church must decide if it will tell the truth of the Gospel, the very gospel Jesus embodied and was crucified for, to bring peace to those who suffer, to those in need of healing, to those demonized, to those marginalized, to those who are oppressed. With justice comes God’s true peace, realized and made known through gladness, joy, fulfillment, contentment, happiness, and blessedness.
Or, will the church do nothing? Will we act in fear, maintain our mediocrity, protect what privilege we have left from the crumbling days of Christendom, and remain silent?
If we dare to speak the gospel of Jesus and believe in all the ways God frees us and unites us under the umbrella of Jesus’ care, then we should expect the sword. We are God’s agents of peace, and God’s peace expects justice blind to every division we can conjure. We are agents of God’s truth, and God demands value and regard for all. We know that this is true, for Jesus didn’t come to redeem and love and save some, he came to redeem and love and save all.
Given the current climate in our society I know that this is a lot to ask, a lot to bear, and a lot to risk. But that is the way of the cross. That is the way of Christ. AMEN