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Sermon Text: Matthew 10:34-42
Date: July 20, 2014
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 10:34–42 (NIV84)
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“ ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
Who is Your Priority?
When we do any sort of marriage counseling, be in before or after a wedding, one of the exercises that I almost always have the couple do is create a list of the relationships in their lives and then from that general list create a top 4 or 5 list, ranking the most important relationship at the top of the list. The results of doing that exercise are telling. Often, people will come with two lists stating that one list is the ideal and the other list is closer to reality. That opens all sorts of windows into what is going on. If a person’s spouse isn’t high on the list or maybe doesn’t even make it into the top four, it can open eyes to see what the problems are creeping around in the couple’s relationship.
Of course our priorities are always changing, right? The planned all-nighter to launch that big project at work means that family takes a back seat for a day, while the family vacation means that the work email and phone calls are turned off. An emergency call that one of our members is in the hospital may disrupt our family dinner, but I’m certainly not going to talk on the phone with a company about re-stuffing our pew cushions in the middle of a date with my wife.
Priorities shift and change, but Jesus reminds us that there is one priority in our lives that should never change: our relationship with God. He should always be number one in our lives. But how often is he? Jesus is doing nothing else in this section from Matthew’s Gospel that restating the First Commandment: you shall have no other gods. If we could keep that commandment perfectly, we would never sin, because we would always put God and his will over and above our own. However, every time we sin we also break this commandment, because in that moment we’re taking what we want and making it more important than what God wants.
Who is your priority? Our gut reaction might be, “My spouse! My children! My parents! My friends!” Those are clearly all massively important relationships in our lives. It would be a struggle to function without them, and clearly we reap tremendous blessings from them. But Jesus’ words are startling and alarming. He asks the question, “If push came to shove, who would win? Me or them?” “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
How often do we think of Jesus as the peace-bringer? How often does the Bible itself say that Jesus is a peace-bringer? Then why does Jesus say he has come to bring a sword, not peace? The difference is where you’re looking for that peace. The angels on Christmas proclaimed to the shepherds that their message was one that would bring peace on earth and goodwill to men (Luke 2:8-14). But that peace was not between human beings on this earth. No, as Jesus makes plain, his work actually will do more to spark controversy and conflict that it will ever do to bring about peace.
We don’t have to spend too much time studying history to see this come out. People have responded poorly, murderously to the message of Jesus. Even more alarmingly, people have used Jesus as an excuse to behave poorly and murderously. From the early church to the crusades to the Reformation, Christianity has been at the center of conflict practically from the moment Jesus ascended into heaven.
Jesus invokes some language from the prophet Micah to show what that conflict might look like, though, on a more personal level. I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Perhaps you were blessed to grow up in a household that was totally committed to the truth of the Bible and sharing Jesus with the world. But many do not have that blessing. We likely all have people, at least in our extended families, who recoil at the very mention of “Jesus” or “religion.” They just don’t want to hear it, and because they don’t want to hear it, they lash out at us.
And so often we find ourselves being quiet; we find ourselves avoiding religion at the family dinner table to not start any conflict. After all, we don’t want to make people upset or hurt anyone’s feelings, so the less we wear our faith on our sleeves, the less likely it is that we’ll have a problem and things will go on in relative peace. “Relative” because ignoring a problem is not fixing it. A cease-fire amongst warring factions where animosity and hate still simmer or boil away will not last long. Being quiet only brings a surface level of peace.
If we shy away from religious conflict in our family, is it about our family members or is it about ourselves? Are we really worried that what we think or say might hurt someone else, or are we mostly worried that they might say or do something that would hurt us? Is our family really the priority over (and sometimes against) Jesus? Or is it perhaps ultimately that we have made a nice little idol to worship—and we see that image every time we look in the mirror? If we’re honest, we’ll admit that often we shy away from this conflict that Jesus predicted because we don’t want to experience it.
And thus, we show ourselves to be people who love our family, or perhaps more likely, ourselves, more than Jesus. We don’t make him the priority because we don’t want to. We avoid testifying because we’re scared of the fallout. We avoid living our faith because we don’t want the conflict of mockery. We try to keep that fake peace around as much as possible, all the while knocking Jesus down the priority list.
For as many times as you and I have not made Jesus the priority, he has always made us his number one priority. He made his Father’s will more important than his own, even when it meant pain, misery, and death. In fact, his priority was to go to his death because we had so messed up our priorities. So he goes, not caring about the torment that would befall him if it meant rescuing us from hell, which it did. Jesus’ work may have brought conflict to our personal, human relationships, but it also brought peace between us and God, a relationship that is far more important.
Now, because we were and are his priority, because he’s made peace between himself and us, Jesus has enabled us to have him be our priority. We’re no longer locked into the selfish, sinful way of thinking. We are free to give God the highest priority in our lives; we are free to put other’s needs ahead of our own.
Along with that comes some trouble. Jesus talks about us “taking up our cross” and following him. The cross at that time had no positive connotation. There was no message of joy and forgiveness in the cross. The cross was an implement of torture and death. There was nothing good about the cross, and yet Jesus tells us that we need to take up our cross, embrace the hardship in our lives and follow him.
But in following him, while worldly speaking we may have a difficult go of it, eternally speaking it is nothing but joy. Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” If our focus is on our life and what can make us happy, we toss our cross away and ignore the way that Jesus is walking. But, if we count this life as being worth very little when compared to eternity, if we embrace suffering that we endure as a Christian as a natural consequence of our faith, if we seek to follow Jesus no matter what the cost, we have found real life. Because real life is not found in the size of our TV, or the quality of our food, or the retail price of our car, or the number of friends we have, or our political power and influence. Real life is found in Jesus. Because the life that Jesus gives is not fleeting like the stuff of this life; the life that Jesus gives is the flawless perfection of heaven.
Cherishing that life, that gift, that, as Jesus says here, reward, means having different priorities. You’re no longer only concerned about yourself and what will happen to you. You’re concerned about staying devoted to Jesus, helping others, and sharing that message. Maybe that means encouraging your called workers and sharing in the joy and struggles of their work—sharing in a prophet’s reward. Maybe it means helping a fellow Christian in difficult times and encouraging them by reminding them of the love of their Savior, and at the same time, you find encouragement yourself—sharing in a righteous man’s reward. We show love and kindness to all people because we know that our Savior has shown the ultimate love for them. So if we can do anything for anyone, especially our fellow believers, be it offering a cup of cold water or anything else, we do it, because we know our reward is not here on earth, it’s in heaven with our Savior forever.
Jesus is our priority at all times because he’s the only one that can really help us. No matter how much I may want to find a way out a problem, especially the problem of my sin, there’s not going to be anyway to do it. But, when I see my earthly life as unimportant compared to eternity and I truly let Jesus take over and fix every problem—especially, again, the problem of my sin—then I have found my life despite the world’s opinion that I’ve actually lost it. When Jesus is the one in charge, when Jesus is the one who is rescuing me, rescuing you, from the worthless life of sin that we lead on our own, then we have found life, real life.
You have the life, you have the reward, because Jesus is your priority. He will be there to take care of the conflict that comes as a result of you living your faith. And no matter what happens, the forgiveness that Jesus gives cannot and will not be taken from you. You are his and he is yours. Thank the Lord and sing his praise! Tell everyone what he has done! Alleluia! Amen.