24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 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! 26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 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? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father 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 one’s foes will be members of one’s 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 up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Welcome to the Second Sunday After Pentecost. This is the time of the church year when we focus on what it looks like to be led by the Spirit of God to be a disciple of Jesus. Now some of you might remember that our readings are based on something called the lectionary, which is a 3-year cycle. Meaning every three years, the same scripture readings are repeated. Well, this past week, a pastor friend of mine posted this on her facebook page: Note to self: when 2017/Year A rolls around again and it’s the second week after Pentecost, plan on pulpit supply.
Now, for those of you who don’t do “pastor speak”, what she is saying is that in three years, when this gospel text comes around again, she’s going to plan to be on vacation. And I can’t say that I blame her. No one, and I mean no one, wants to preach on this gospel text this weekend. Listen again to what Jesus said to his disciples: 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 one’s foes will be members of one’s 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 up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
This isn’t your Sunday School, lovey-dovey, warm-fuzzy Jesus. This Jesus is hard to hear. Hard to accept. He seems so harsh and rigid, and I would much rather a text about Jesus being all about love and loving others. But no, Jesus says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;…whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.
And it is not exactly the ideal text when you have visitors for a double baptism of two adorable and loveable babies. I’d much rather have the warm-fuzzy Jesus today.
But you know, that warm-fuzzy Jesus isn’t entirely absent. Did you notice that three times, he said to the disciples, “Do not be afraid.” Which means he is speaking to people who are afraid. It is a compassionate and caring word, a parental kind of word for those who are frightened or fearful. And he tells his disciples, “God knows every hair on your head and you are more valuable than you know.”
And so I have to believe that whatever Jesus is saying here, in these hard to swallow parts, he is saying them out of care and love for his disciples. And anyone who has cared for and loved a child knows that sometimes you have to speak a hard and painful word to the one you love. Here is what I trust about Jesus – that even when Jesus speaks a hard word, a truthful word, he does so to bring about more life and love for the world. When Jesus speaks the truth, he always says it so that life can come out of it.
So what is the truth that Jesus is trying to speak? I think that the truth that Jesus is trying to speak to his disciples is this – Christianity, being a follower of Jesus is not about living a safe and clean and wholesome life. Jesus is sending out his disciples to be grace-givers. Grace meaning the unconditional love of God that is free and forever and for all. Jesus tells them that as his disciples, they will experience rejection, slander, and persecution, and even death. Jesus is giving them a heads up. That when it comes to grace – it will divide like a sword. It will bring conflict. I don’t think he is saying, “Go and cause conflict.” But rather, that when you follow me, conflict may be a byproduct. Because some will not want grace to be given to others. And, as Jesus says, it will even divide families.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke about one of my favorite new TV shows Friday Night Lights. And I introduced you to Lyla Gerrity, the 17-year-old high school cheerleader on the television show. She has recently “found Jesus” and she is ready to do the work of the Lord. She spends her free time putting flyers for her church on windshields in parking lots and she begins the school day in a prayer group. Well, in this particular episode, her new found faith also led her to speak to the inmates inside their local juvenile prison.
And you can see the fear come across her face as she passes through the metal detector, as some of the inmates hoot and holler at her as if she is a piece of meat, and as men her age are frisked up against the wall. And then it fast-forwards to the end of a speech she is giving to the inmates. We watch along as she limps to an unconvincing conclusion where she hesitantly says, “And…and…so…uh…that’s a few examples of why…um…it’s helpful to make choices in our lives…with Jesus…in our lives.”
Lyla is this beautiful, clean, goody-goody who is telling these criminals how to make better choices with Jesus in their lives. And it rang hollow. It didn’t connect with the reality of these young men’s lives. And so when she asks for any questions, she gets confronted with the hard truth. A young man raises his hand and says, “No disrespect. But you people are always coming in here acting like you care, right? When the truth is, if you seen any one of us on the street, you’d just run the other way.” And it left Lyla speechless. Because she knew he was right.
Which is why when that same young man is let out on probation and Lyla sees him walking along the road, she pulls over and opens the side door for him.
“What are you doing?” he scoofs back at her.
“I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” Lyla says.
Lyla then goes on to try and find him a job in their community. She asks her mom if they can pay him to paint the garage and her mother responds, “Do you even hear what you are saying? This boy is an ex-convict. You want him hanging around here with your brother and sister? It’s not right.”
When it comes to grace, that unconditional love of God – it will divide like a sword. It will bring conflict. Because some will not want grace to be given to others. And, as Jesus says, it will even divide families.
Jesus sends the disciples out to be grace-givers. And he sends us out to be the same. And those who need your grace, those who need the grace of God, just might be the very people no one wants you to give it to.
Which makes what we are about to do with these two precious children incredibly radical and risky. Because when we baptize children, we baptize them into a risky life. Christianity makes no promise of a safe life. Or a suffering-free life. But rather it is a life that is oriented towards being a grace-giver, in the name of Jesus. And that can be quite dangerous. But the promise that Jesus gives is that in the midst of that risky, grace-giving life, we need not fear. For in baptism we hear that God has claimed us and called us by name. That we are God’s beloved and we have been marked with the cross of Christ forever.
And here’s the thing, I pray that just as we promise to teach our children about God’s grace, I pray that they will teach us about it too. I pray that the children among us will teach us to be more gracious and more loving. That they may show us what we cannot see about ourselves. And so then show us how to live out of grace. And the consequence may be that it divides and strains us. Which means we also must pray that they will not be afraid to teach us to be more gracious.
I have heard from so many of you who were taught to never speak up in your families out of fear. “Don’t rock the boat” was so many mottos in our families. Don’t say what you really feel. Don’t say what you really think. Don’t risk conflict.
Let’s not pass that on to the next generation. But rather let us pray that the young ones among us might have courage and not fear to teach us how to be more loving and more gracious, as God is.
Remember, Jesus says over and over again, “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Yes, following me will be risky, but do not be afraid. For you belong to God. God knows every hair on your head. You have been marked with the cross of Christ for ever. And you are more valuable than you’ll ever know.” Thanks be to God. Amen