Proper 7A; Matthew 10:24-39
Last week we heard the calling and sending out of the twelve disciples/apostles. This calling and sending comes with a set of instructions which are basically the rest of Chapter 10 and all of our gospel passage today.
I mention this because it's too easy for us to compartmentalize gospel readings for a particular day. In the liturgical season (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter) the gospel readings focus on a particular event without necessarily having any continuity. But in this season of Ordinary Time, they are pretty much sequential readings over the course of Jesus' daily life. What we heard last week and the week before and the week before build on each other. So this gospel reading about being dragged before courts and flogged and intra-family civil war is part of the commissioning speech given to the twelve before being sent out.
Knowing all of that, however, doesn't make today's passage any easier to deal with.
“I haven't come to bring peace, but a sword. I've come to set a man against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law, and one's foes will be members of one's own household.”
How are we to look at this difficult passage depicting Jesus as a bringer of strife and discord instead of being a bringer of peace on earth and goodwill to all people? As always, there are probably as many possibilities as there are people in this room. But here's where I think Jesus is going with this:
If we were to boil down the message of the gospel, or the message God has been sending us through the Law and the Prophets, what would that most basic message be? It would be, “Love God, Love Your Neighbor.” These two basic tenets of the faith are expanded when scripture says:
Do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd Do not deny justice to the poor
Do not deprive the foreigner of justice Do not mistreat the foreigner
Do not oppress the foreigner Love your enemies
If you don't love those whom you can see, you can't love God whom you are unable to see
And the list goes on, but it all comes back to loving God and loving your neighbor, for “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
When we do these things, invariably we find ourselves in trouble because of them. When we do these things, we can find ourselves pitted against father, mother, sister, brother, father-in-law, and mother-in-law. When we do these things, we can find ourselves at odds with our biological families, as well as the families we have chosen – such as church.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Ignoring this commandment, churches fought to maintain slavery because it was biblical. The SBC was created for this very reason. Other denominations supported that evil institution, including our own. The LGBTQ community is full of stories about “good Christian families” evicting their children for who they were and for being attacked and beaten – Wednesday is the 54th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Trans people today are facing threats to their very existence. Women are constantly marginalized and stripped of leadership roles because it's unbiblical, never mind that without a woman Christ would not have been born nor would the disciples have heard about the resurrection.
Love your neighbor as yourself. Laws are being passed by “good Christian people” to limit who gets healthcare, to reduce or eliminate a child's ability to be fed, to terminate water breaks for construction crews, and other actions that are intentionally harmful and hateful as opposed to being loving in any way.
I could go on, but Holy Scripture is clear that to love God is to love your neighbor, and if you aren't doing the latter, you can't do the former. Here's where that division Jesus is talking about comes in.
When I stand here and say, “We need to support LGBTQ people because it's the loving thing to do,” or that reparations for past corporate sins is the right thing to do, or that we need to oppose and act against anything that strips people of justice and dignity because it's the scriptural thing to do, there are people who will oppose that on a number of grounds, including that their understanding of scripture clearly condemns those things. There are people who will look to scripture for reasons to restrict and marginalize people rather than looking to scripture for ways to provide love and support and a way to welcome people who are on the margins. We can look at the SBC who just last week voted to revoke membership to churches who had female pastors. We can look at how the UMC is splitting over the full inclusion of LGBTQ people. We can look at our own schism in the 90's over that same issue. We can look at churches who value landscaping over shelter and/or housing.
When we publicly proclaim and then act on the words of Jesus and the mind of God as attributed to Holy Scripture, people will become upset. In church families all over the world, when loving our neighbors is put into actual practice, strife and discord follow because there are those people who find that threatening; it is then you have instances of son against father, mother against daughter, etc.
Another reason this causes strife is because this business of loving God and loving neighbor, when put into practice, is a seven-day-a-week event. As I said earlier, it's too easy for us to compartmentalize scripture readings into a particular day. It's also too easy for us to compartmentalize Sunday worship into the time period between 8 & 9, or 10:15 & 11:45. It's fine to talk about loving our neighbors, caring for the outcast, and all that stuff during Sunday worship, but in the real world, in the world of Monday through Saturday, we need to do things differently; we need to be realistic.
Jesus is saying, “No, you don't. Live everyday like you are worshiping God on Sunday morning.” You want to talk about division, look at how the world treats people who advocate for the full inclusion of women, people of color, and foreigners.
We have our commission from Jesus: Go and proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons. But we must also know that people will be opposed to this message of God loving all people and advocating for us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is in those two things, loving God and loving neighbor, that strife and discord will appear, because there are people who just do not want to hear that message. As for me, I would much rather be the one who is advocating for the full inclusion of outcasts on behalf of God than the one who is advocating for a system of continued oppression and exclusion.
When we proclaim that message, Christ himself will acknowledge us before his Father in heaven. If, however, we fail to proclaim that message, then Christ will deny us before his Father in heaven. And if proclaiming that message causes strife, then so be it.