Sunday, June 25, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church- Manchester, PA
Is there anyone here who hasn’t felt uncomfortable having “the talk?” You know, the conversation parents dread having with their children about certain topics. Or maybe the dreaded conversation for children who have to tell their parents, “I broke your favorite vase,” or “I broke your favorite lamp,” or “I banged up the car.” Or the conversation family members engage in with their older parents about funeral arrangements for when that time eventually comes. At one time or another we all face with dread “the talk” – that conversation we need to have with someone about any number of things, yet we don’t want to do it, because we are afraid of the reaction. And no matter how long we try and postpone it, these conversations have to happen.
Today, it’s time for me to have “the talk” with you. In fact, all across the country pastors are having “the talk” due to our Gospel reading today, which in case you don’t already know, we pastors do not select. Our lectionary is based on a three-year cycle of moving through the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with the gospel of John interspersed through all of them. We are currently in year A of the cycle meaning churches who all follow the revised common lectionary – Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic – are all studying the same lessons on any given Sunday. It helps to foster unity in the church, something that Jesus talked about and prayed about all the time. Except for today, which is what brings me to “the talk.”
You see most Christians have this image in our heads of Jesus as the gentle, caring and loving Shepherd, which he was and is. We think of Jesus as soft-spoken and compassionate – again, accurate descriptions. When Christians think of Jesus they often think of him as being supremely passive. Scripture calls him the Prince of Peace after all. Today, however, Jesus himself says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Well, game over, this is not the bible text any pastor wants to preach on today. No pastor wants to have “the talk” about these words from Jesus. In fact, some may just avoid it altogether. That’s a great temptation, that even crossed my mind. I can’t avoid “the talk” as much as I’d like to, because if I do, I am not doing what God has called me to do – preach the gospel.
It’s hard to talk about this text because most people want to come to worship on Sunday morning to be inspired. They want to hear the Good News, words of hope and promise. Who doesn’t? Yet, sometimes the things that Jesus says convict us to change how we are thinking and doing things. They challenge us to leave the comforts of safety and live daring lives, take risks. These tough words from Jesus don’t stir in us warm and fuzzy feelings. They make us uncomfortable. These words are disturbing because they go against every image we have of Jesus, who here is saying that he hasn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. In fact, he goes on to say that family members will go against each other like enemies. Later in chapter 21 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus will overturn the tables in the temple, and yell at them for not being a house of worship. What on earth is going on with Jesus? Why is he saying such harsh things? One thing we can be certain of is that Jesus’ words are ones to be taken seriously.
So what is Jesus telling us with these words? Is he trying to bring us down? Not necessarily, though that might be our initial reaction. He’s trying to wake us up. He’s speaking to the reality of being his disciples and spreading the kingdom of God where we are. The church as the body of Christ everywhere is called by Jesus to be bold and daring in speaking about living the life Jesus modeled – love, compassion, mercy for all, and not everyone will welcome that because it means change. First, we have to model that behavior with each other through our words and actions. This means that we are to be kind, while still holding each other accountable to living according to our baptismal promises. What does that mean? It means that sometimes when a fellow Christian brother or sister is being unkind – saying hurtful things, yelling, or acting in ways that hurt the body of Christ we have to speak to them because the Church is Christ’s presence in the world. People look to the Church for guidance and direction, and if we as the Church are fighting and treating one another unkindly, if we are not attending to our spiritual hunger for growing in our faith and leading our children to grow in theirs, if we aren’t treating one another with the love and compassion of Christ, then we are denying Jesus, and leading others away not toward him. It’s not just clergy’s actions that are scrutinized, it the actions of the whole Church. What we do and say matters to the people around us – the people in our neighborhood. We have to live lives that mirror Jesus if more people are ever to experience him through us, and if the church is going to grow.
Jesus is continually telling us however, that this isn’t going to be easy. When you or I live our lives like Jesus we are inviting the possibility of rejection and ridicule. Our readings from the psalm and the prophet Jeremiah this morning reiterate this. God told Jeremiah what to say to people who needed to turn back to God and repent. Yet when Jeremiah spoke the words from God people ridiculed him and wanted to do him harm. Jeremiah was so discouraged at times. Not one of the prophets in the scriptures wanted to be a prophet because they knew they would be hated by many. Pastors often resist the call for the same reason – knowing that speaking the words God wants us to speak are often met with great hostility. Yet, I know I speak not just for myself, but other clergy that we do what we do because we love all God’s people, and we want the church to grow so that others can experience the wonderful love and grace of God. Mothers and fathers have a hard time when they tell their children no for their own good, but they too do so because they love their children so much. Anyone who cares for others – and that’s all of us here – knows that speaking the truth in love doesn’t always win awards, but we model Jesus’ actions. Christians aren’t called to be nice, meaning to go along with whatever someone wants; they are called to speak God’s truth of showing love and compassion and mercy towards others. When someone is being unkind, or acting out of their own desires vs God’s desires, we have to speak out even at the expense of being ridiculed.
Jesus’ words today are meant to wake us up, to realize that following Jesus sometimes means we have to make a choice between what we want to do and what God wants us to do. Our families, our friends, our society may want us to put other things first in our lives, but Jesus says we have to put the kingdom of God first. This may not always bring peace, and may cut and divide like a sword. People didn’t want to hear what the prophet Jeremiah had to say; God’s words spoken through him brought division. People didn’t always want to hear what Jesus had to say, and so his words brought division, but he didn’t back down. Jesus wanted people to experience a relationship with God through him and therefore he wasn’t going to just tell them what they wanted to hear. Jesus wasn’t afraid to have “the talk” with anyone even if they didn’t like it. If people weren’t showing compassion to another person, Jesus called them out on it. Jesus says later in Matthew 25, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me,” and “just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Living as disciples means we have to grow in our faith so that we can share our faith story with others as easily as we share any other story or experience that means a lot to us. When we listen and speak out of love, compassion, mercy, kindness, and a genuine concern for the well-being of someone else, then we are living like Jesus. That’s how we renew and grow this congregation and the wider church. Others will see our love, our faith, our excitement, our commitment, our joy, and they will want to experience that too.
The prophet Jeremiah was discouraged by his constant rejection, yet he professed with confidence, “But the Lord is with me like a relentless warrior.” Jesus promised to be with us always. He will give us the courage we need to be the bold courageous Christians that will lead others to experience Christ. So have “the talk” with others about how the kingdom of God has come near to us through Jesus. And “Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Amen.