You Are Not Alone  Based on Matthew 10. 24-39

After deviating away last Sunday for our service for the National Indigenous Day of Prayer, today we’re going back to Mathew’s gospel, dropping into the second half or so of chapter 10, in the middle of what some scholars call the ‘missionary discourse’.  Now, what’s important to keep in mind when we read or hear the gospels, is that they wer written in the latter part of the first century or beginning of the second century, at a time of incredible difficulty and challenge for early Christians.  So Matthew’s intention, as he wrote his gospel, was to write about the life and teaching of Jesus for his community.[1]   So while in the chronology of Matthew’s story, Jesus has not yet been crucified, in reality, Matthew’s community did know the course of events in Jesus life, his death and resurrection.

This missionary discourse starts at the beginning of Chapter 10 and we read two weeks ago about Jesus having sent out the twelve apostles with the his full authority to go out into the community and proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead & cast out demons in his name.  They are to take nothing with them, and not take any payment either.  Jesus tells them that they are being sent out like sheep into the wolves, and if they are taken in by the authorities, not to worry because the spirit of God will speak through them, should they need to testify.

So today’s reading is actually a compilation of Jesus’ sayings.  We heard ‘A disciple is not above the teacher’ and if the master is called Beelzebul, meaning the devil, then the master’s disciples can expect the same treatment.  This, I suspect, may have caused the disciples hearing or reading Matthew’s gospel a few decades after Jesus death some concern, knowing of course, how Jesus’ life ended.  But Jesus continues, the message of the Good News must be brought into the light, let it be proclaimed from the housetops.   And, he offers hope and reassurance—do not to be afraid for “while their opponents maybe able to hurt them physically, they can do them no spiritual harm.”[2]

Jesus wasn’t sugar coating the mission he was sending them out on.  The apostles are being prepared for the worst.  But even in the midst of the challenges and problems they will encounter, they do need not be afraid of those who may wish them harm, or even do them harm.  They can have courage because they’re not in this alone.  It is God’s mission they’re on and God is with them.   He tells them just how deeply they are valued by God, explaining with a story:  if God knows and watches over what happens to sparrows, the lowliest of birds, how much more so will God watch over them, those who do God’s work, who carry out God’s message!  In fact, God knows them so intimately, God is so close to them that God knows the numbers of hairs on their heads, that’s how much God cares!  And he, Jesus will in fact, even be their intermediary before God.  Yes, discipleship to Jesus will bring challenges, but be reassured, God is there with you!

Disciple means learner.  To be a disciple firstly, is to be a learner, learning to understand the teachings of the master, and then of course to follow those teachings, to follow in the teacher’s footsteps. Jesus trained the twelve disciples, before sending them out as apostles, to minister in his name.  What we heard today are some of these teachings.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 I came to turn sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. 36 Your worst enemies will be in your own family. 37 If you love your father or mother or even your sons and daughters more than me, you are not fit to be my disciples. 

This kind of hyperbole—these exaggerated statements– sound distressing to our ears.  Jesus uses this kind of talk in his parables too.   You might wonder “Why does he have to say that kind of stuff anyway?”  This doesn’t sound like the Jesus meek and mild I was taught about in Sunday School.  We use hyperbole all the time to make a point.  For example, to explain your frustration with someone, you might say something like—“I must have told her that a million times”  or “It took forever to get through the line.”  Hyperbole, exaggerated statements do provide a certain impact, to be sure.  And when Jesus says it, does make you stop in your tracks and listen and think:  “What IS he really telling us?”

I don’t think Jesus is really saying he came to kill people with a sword.  But a sword is an instrument that cuts things up, is an instrument of division, and is used in conflicts. And the message Jesus brings is not one everyone wants to hear.  He knows his message, his teachings go counter to the prevailing way of thinking; how society tells us to function.  So yes, his message will bring conflict and division—even within people’s families.  Might even cause rifts so bad that will cause splits in families.  And indeed it did, even in Jesus time.  Remember Jesus’ healing the man blind from birth, and the stir that caused in the community?  The man’s parents wouldn’t testify on his behalf, they were so afraid of the religious authorities, and the once blind man himself wouldn’t denounce Jesus and was thrown out of the community!  We know in the years after Jesus’ death the degree of persecution that the early Christians suffered was extreme at times.   Jesus is saying in effect, if the fear of conflict even within your own family, is stopping you from sharing the Good News of what a life in Christ brings, well then, you might need to question and consider your priorities.  Because then, you are not fit to be my disciple.  He even goes so far to say he will deny you before His Father in Heaven.  That’s very harsh sounding, and so un-Jesus like. Again, hyperbole to make the point. I truly do think it’s meant to express extremely disappointment and sadness in selfish decisions we make, rather than Jesus actually disowning us.  That is just not in the nature of God, who loves unconditionally!

The message of discipleship is clear however, even in the hyperbole. It is a message of priorities!

Discipleship to Jesus is a life-long journey.  Learning the ways of Jesus, deepening our relationship with God the Creator, Christ the Redeemer and Holy Spirit the Sustainer doesn’t stop with completion of Sunday School or at confirmation!  Think about that for a minute.  Consider how much your attitudes and thinking have matured since you were even twenty.  Well, has your faith, your relationship and understanding with God, with Jesus, has it matured in the same proportion?  Or do you still believe in the same way as you did as a child?  Have you actively pursued opportunities to mature your faith?  You know the old adage, you’re never too old to learn!  Where is your relationship with God in your list of priorities?

If you love your father or mother… or your son or daughter more than Jesus, or refuse to take up your cross than you are not worthy of being Jesus’ disciple.   If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (from vv 37-38) 

What do you put first in your life?  Is it to follow Jesus?  To take up your cross—well that’s a huge subject worthy of its own study and a few sermons at the least.  Smarter minds than mine have made the cross their lifetime of study.  But in this instance, I daresay it means to follow Jesus’ example.  To do as Jesus did—to listen for God’s call for our lives and to follow that call, embracing all the challenges.  Some will be more difficult than others and thanks be to God that for most of us that call is not death on a cross; but whatever we are called to do in Jesus’ name; we do not go it alone.  Remember if God knows how many hairs are on your head won’t God know how to help you out when we need it?

I think this is an interesting message for Christian communities too.  It clearly says what the priority is—to bring forth the message of Christ into God’s world, to heal, to care, to love, to provide in Jesus name, in the way Jesus proclaimed.   And it comes with the warning that to do so may very well be contentious, may create dissension, for individuals and for families—even church families. Taking up the cross means deliberately choosing a life of risk, for Jesus sake, but with the love and support and God.  We don’t do it alone.

As a life-long disciple, what is Jesus calling you to?  What are our church communities being called to?  And then, what barriers are blocking that way?  How can we overcome those?  These are some of the questions your Church Councils will be pondering as we consider our church life in this new covid-19 reality and our post-covid world.   Life will be different, but when life changes direction, it provides opportunities for ministry, for helping and caring in ways we may not have considered before.

There are certainties we hang onto:

We are certain that the priorities for Christian communities haven’t changed, they’re same now as in Jesus time.

In our discipleship, we are certain that God in Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit is with us.

We are certain that when we ask in Christ’s name, we will receive answer to prayer.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, life is always full of uncertainty, but especially so at this time.  Lord, be with us as we consider over the summer months how you are calling us to minister in your name.  Our lives have been disrupted, our thoughts have been disrupted, our ministries disrupted.  Make it clear to us, your disciples, what you would have us do to fulfill our ministry as Christians.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

The Rev’d JoAnn Todd, Rector

The Regional Ministry of Hope

[1] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Introduction to Matthew.  (2001, Page 8 New Testament)

[2] David E. Lose’s blog “Living beyond Fear” June 17. 14  www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3259