Fourth Sunday after Pentecost(Matthew 10:34-42)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Bethel Lutheran Church, Sweet Home, OR
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost + July 2, 2017
Text: Matthew 10:34-42

Jesus tells us in the Gospel today that He brings three things to those who follow Him: a sword, a cross, and a life.  This is in the context of what Jesus told his apostles before sending them out, and those instructions and warnings have lasting significance, so that we know what to expect as Jesus’ disciples in the world.  We should expect opposition and division, suffering and grief, and eternal life—all on account of belonging to Jesus.
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  What’s this sword all about?  Wasn’t it the angels who proclaimed at Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on the earth”?[1]  Didn’t the prophets foretell that Jesus would be “Prince of Peace” and that “of the increase of his government and of peace there would be no end”?[2]  The right question to ask is, What kind of peace are you looking for?  Is it a worldly, outward peace, where nobody has any disputes or disagreements, where they beat their swords into ploughshares?  When it comes to this world, this is not the peace that Jesus promises.  His peace is of another kind: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  Jesus gives peace to everyone who believes in Him, but it’s a “peace that surpasses all human understanding and guards” not gates and borders, but “hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”[3]
In Christ Jesus, there is peace, but with the world, there is division.  You will have the sword and conflict.  It cuts so deep that it even threatens to divide the closest of kin: “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 a person’s enemies will be those of his 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.”
Thank God when this isn’t the case, when husbands and wives, children, and even grand children and great grandchildren follow Christ together.  Would that God would bless our families with this precious gift of unity!
However, there are many families where this unity isn’t the case—when one spouse or the other turns their nose up at Christ and His Church.  There are many children who have grown up following the Lord, but have gone another way.  Their absence is felt, and it creates division.  Sometimes, it even creates hostility.  In Malaysia, a Muslim country, it was a landmark case that a son was actually permitted to convert to Christianity from Islam and not face legal and potentially life-threatening consequences for his conversion.[4]
But why is there this division?  Why would this animosity spill over on you?  Because, as a Christian, you are a living example of a sinner who depends on Jesus as Savior.  Many people don’t want to hear such uncomfortable things.  For them, life is no more than your health, your job, and your family.  If those things are going alright, then everything must be just fine.  But if you go to Church, confess that you “cannot save yourself from your sinful condition”[5] and believe that sin actually condemns and there is a real hell from which Jesus rescued you, this makes the self-righteous soul nervous.  Even angry!  They don’t want to hear from God that their deep-felt desires are sin in God’s sight, or that their noblest attempts at living a good life will still land them in hell.  Because you belong to Christ, they will take out their spiritual animosity on you.
That brings us to the next thing Jesus brings: a cross.  38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  The cross means the suffering we endure because we are a Christian.  We were marked with it in Holy Baptism as a symbol of our salvation, but in this world it is an instrument of suffering and death.  Following Christ will inevitably bring persecution and suffering.
This Tuesday, we will celebrate our nation’s independence and the many freedoms we enjoy.  Among those freedoms is supposed to be the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.  In spite of what the Bill of Rights says, America is becoming increasingly anti-Christian and in favor of “everything but.”  It’s one thing when the moral fiber of our society is degrading beyond recognition, but quite another when confessing Christian business owners are slandered and sued because of their beliefs based in God’s Word.  Followers of Christ are labeled as bigoted and homophobic when they refuse to celebrate abominable practices, and even have the gall to use their same First Amendment legal right to speak out against such things.  A cross is what Jesus gives, and a cross we shall take up if we wish to follow Him.
It might be more convenient to change our beliefs to avoid strained friendships, awkward conversations, lost business, or the threat of our pastor and congregation being sued.  Yet if we should do that, if we should set down the cross laid upon us, we would cease to be disciples of the Crucified One.
Yet, just as the cross is an instrument of suffering in the world, it’s also an instrument of death.  Namely, death to your sinful flesh.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death…”  To receive the cross is to die to your sins and evil desires, and to do this on a daily basis because we find in our hearts a bottomless well of evil.
Yet with that cross, Romans 6:4 continues, “…baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  That’s the third thing that Jesus gives us: a life.  “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  You will lose your old life, but Christ will give you a new one.  There are plenty of options out there to have your best life now—one that is filled with comfort and happiness, where you never have to crack a Bible, and you are the master of your own weekend including sleeping in on Sunday.  But for all your toils to gain this life, you will lose it.  It will be taken from you, and your good-enough self-evaluation will have to stand up to the test of God’s perfect righteousness on the Last Day.  You will have to answer God why you chose school sports over your children’s faith, why you chose to believe to your spouse’s repeated excuses for not going to church, and why it’s “good enough” to confess that you’re a sinner only on Christmas and Easter.
Yet, when you lose your life through the cross of Christ, you find it for eternity.  That’s because there is salvation in no one else and found nowhere else.  This is the Jesus whose own family was divided by the sword, for His own mother and brothers thought he was out of His mind.[6]  He took up His own cross—the cross of the sins of the world—and bore it even unto death.  Then, He rose from the dead, never to die again.  This is the life which He has to give to you!  It’s this life which you received in Baptism, and which you receive today at the Lord’s altar.
Even as you walk with swords and bear the cross, it’s in this life which Jesus has given you that you will have strength to endure all things.  No one can take this life from you—not strife, and not the sufferings you experience for the sake of Christ—because your Lord has ordained life for you.  Amen.
[1] Luke 2:14
[2] Isaiah 9:6-7
[3] Philippians 4:7
[5] Lutheran Service Book, p. 203
[6] Mark 3:21