View today's sermon on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFfjwbzBgKg.
New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
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.
Just so you know where I am coming from this morning, my sermon title, if I had a sermon title would be, “Jesus: Prince of Peace or Duke of Division?”.
Today’s scripture may have been one of the Biblical underpinnings for the catchy phrase, “Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”
These words of scripture that Peggy read for us this morning are stark and startling. Jesus asks, “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace?” He answers his own question with, “No, I have come to bring the sword of division.” He then warns us, “My message will divide father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Those who prefer their father or mother to me are not deserving. Nor are those who prefer their sons and daughters.” And Jesus goes on to convict us, “Unless you carry your own cross and follow me, you are not worthy.”
This particular translation I just read is from The Lost Gospel Q: The Original Sayings of Jesus. (Marcus Borg, Consulting Editor, 1996) The Gospel Q is a hypothetical source document, believed to have existed and been utilized by the authors of Matthew and Luke. It has never been found but is evidenced by shared text by Matthew and Luke that is not found elsewhere. The significance of this is that the document was believed to be the first written record of the oral histories of Jesus, thus likely the most accurate record of his teaching. “Q” by the way, is taken from the German word Quelle, meaning source. It was a German scholar who made the connection to the hypothetical lost document.
Do these words of Jesus go too far? How is it that the person that we believe came to bring unity now claims to be called to do the opposite… to bring not peace but a sword?
Is it simple hyperbole? An exaggeration to make a point? We may wish to think so. But I do not believe that to be the case. Christianity, or more plainly Jesus, has been tamed by time and distance; his teachings diluted to serve power structures of both church and state. Yet, Jesus did not walk through the world keeping the peace quietly. He upset the status quo. He loudly and sometimes forcefully questioned authority. Jesus made a distinction between kin-dom values and earthly values, answering to God above all else; keeping God ahead of family and government and yes, even putting God ahead of religion if, or when, there was a conflict between the two.
There are far too many examples of people putting religion ahead of God in our world and in our national history: churches covering up sexual abuses by clergy, the United States government, of the people by the people, guilty of putting profits and progress ahead of Indigenous people, Black people, Brown people, Asian people… as evidenced by the ongoing government sanctioned violations of their inherent worth and dignity.
There are times when Jesus found it necessary to use the sword to slice through unjust systems, just as there are times that we must do the same. Look around. One does not need to look far to see wrongs that need to be righted, to see people in need of compassion and hope and help.
Jesus used examples to illustrate his teachings that were familiar to all of his listeners. He chose to contrast peace and division through the very personal and familiar context of family life. Where one would expect to have respect and loyalty and dignity and love between family members, Jesus forewarned the opposite. Not unity but division. These verses are meant to upset us, to shake us awake, warning us against getting too comfortable or complacent in our lives. Jesus used immediate and intimate relationships to make his point but we could substitute most anything.
The point is, putting familial relationships or worldly goods ahead of God puts us out of balance with God, or as written in these scriptures, makes one not worthy.
What does it take to be in balance with God? To be worthy? Plain and simple, God must be first and foremost in our lives. Above all else. Above all others.
The disciples, we, should be like the teacher… therefore we are not to bring peace but the sword. Dangerous words if taken out of context. However, critical words for followers of Christ. Critical words if we are to make this world a heaven on earth.
Jesus was and we should be, always after the same outcome… unity with God and Creation.
I think we can recognize that the sword, the family discord, is not the goal but a tool to use in order to arrive at the goal. Jesus was concerned with the greater good. Always.
When considering the overarching view of Jesus, to achieve the long goal of peace, we must first have justice.
In these verses Jesus brings the sword, Jesus sets one against another, to bring a division of which the ultimate goal is peace, through justice. Not for one but for all. Not for some but for all. Not for the powerful but for the least of us. The most immediate need in that time and place, and in this time and place, was and is justice, justice for all.
We are ultimately striving for peace. However, we cannot have true peace without justice.
Take up the cross? I, maybe we in this community, don’t use that language very often. To take up the cross had a very literal meaning to those walking with Jesus and in the decades after Jesus. A footnote in the Lost Gospel of Q tells us that “The Romans crucified two thousand Jews during the rebellion that followed King Herod the Great’s death in 4 B.C.E, so Jesus’ followers were well acquainted with crucifixion even before his death. It was common practice in these executions to have the condemned person carry his own cross to the place of crucifixion.”
The crosses borne by the least of us today are metaphorical but no less real. Hungry, unhoused, unsafe in communities. Discriminated against for simply being as made by God.
Jesus teaches, by example, that we must do the right thing, even when it is dangerous. We must be fearless – or at least willing to go forward even when fear is pressing in on us.
Pick up the cross. Take on the burden of another. You will both lose yourself and find yourself in the process.
Rev. TJ Mack – June 25, 2023