True Discipleship, Christ Brings
The basis of the sermon for today is from Matthew 10:34-39 and its parallel in Luke 12:49-53. The Bible verses in Matthew’s gospel are clearer than in Luke’s gospel. So I want to read the gospel story from the Gospel of Matthew as well as from the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel of Matthew starts off the same as the Gospel of Luke but it has a different twist to it.
Matthew 10:34-38. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 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; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
The novel titled TRINITY is one of the finest books I have read. It was written by Leon Uris. It is a story about an old conflict that has been going on for centuries in Ireland. It was and still is the perpetual conflict between Irish Catholics and British Protestants.
This conflict is still in the newspapers today. Recently, I read about a Protestant woman who sent her children to school. This woman had married a Catholic man. A mob shot two of her children and killed them, so the newspaper said. Yes, religious wars and religious killings are still going on in Ireland. It is still a mess. Prejudices still run deep.
In the book, TRINITY, the hero is a man by the name of Conner Larkin. Conner Larkin is an Irish Catholic. Conner Larkin is the biggest and the best in his school. He has the brightest brains. He is a scholar and the valedictorian of his class. He is also the greatest athlete in his class. He is a star rugby player in Ireland. He is a great artist. As Conner Larkin grew up, he became part of the Irish Liberation Movement. He became passionate about it. He became fanatical about it. The movement became his whole life, so much so that he didn’t want to fall in love and get married. To fall in love and get married would make him soft and less passionate about the mission that he was part of. He was to be fully dedicated to the Irish Liberation Movement. He was not going to fall in love with a woman and get married.
Just like many people who make solemn vows and lofty promises, Conner Larkin fell in love anyhow, in spite of his glowing intentions. His mistake was to fall in love with a Protestant woman. Conner Larkin fell in love with a Protestant woman and he secretly married her while he continued to be a gunrunner for the Irish Liberation Movement. Talk about inner conflicts. Conner Larkin was not only running guns, but he also blew up a castle, just about the time that his marriage to a Protestant woman was being exposed. The secret about his marriage leaked out, and it leaked out through a Protestant prayer circle. The women of that Protestant prayer circle quietly spread the news about “that woman” and her secret marriage to a Catholic man. By that evening, “that prostitute” had been murdered, dismembered and thrown into a garbage can. Meanwhile, Conner Larkin was captured and tossed into prison. When Conner Larkin found out that his true love had been assassinated and her body torn apart, he fell apart. He emotionally disintegrated in prison. Ever so slowly, ever so slowly Conner Larkin gradually healed from this enormous trauma. As he healed, he came even more fanatical for the mission of the Irish Liberation Movement. He became totally committed to the Irish Liberation Movement for the rest of his life.
It is with this mood that we approach the gospel lesson for today in the tenth chapter of Matthew and the twelfth chapter of Luke. In the gospel story found in Matthew 10 and Luke 12, you find a radical kind of commitment that God is asking from his true disciples. These disciples were to give their total commitment to Jesus Christ in the world. But what does that mean? What does it mean to be totally committed to Jesus Christ, to be radically committed to Jesus Christ in this day and age?
Let us talk about what that means: to give our total commitment to Jesus Christ? What does that mean in this twenty-first century when terrorists give their total commitment to a cause and wear bombs and blow themselves up for their cause? What does total commitment to Jesus Christ mean when terrorists clearly embrace their cause more than their love for their family, friends and even their own life? In our day and age, when does it mean to love Jesus Christ and be committed to him and his mission more than our love and commitment for our family? What does that mean for us in today’s real world?
In Matthew 10, like in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, Jesus was addressing his true and loyal disciples. Immediately prior to Matthew 5, 6, 7, Jesus had been talking to the crowds, but in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 Jesus takes his disciples up away from the crowds and he goes up into the mountain and Jesus gives his Sermon on the Mount to his disciples. Jesus delivers his teachings to those people whom he thinks have the potential to be totally committed to his mission.
Chapter 10 in the Book of Matthew is similar to Matthew 5, 6, and 7. That is, prior to chapter 10 in Matthew, Jesus has been teaching to the crowds. But in chapter 10, Jesus pulls the disciples aside and he talks to them. In these disciples, Jesus saw the potential of great commitment, a great commitment that Jesus did not see in the crowds.
Jesus said to his disciples in chapter 10 of Matthew: “I did not come to bring peace on this earth. I didn’t come to bring peace in your family. I didn’t come to bring peace in your family gathered around your fireplace. I didn’t come to bring peace, but I came to bring division within your family. For there will be son set against father, and mother against daughter. I will set daughter in law against mother in law. For whoever loves his mother or father or brother or sister or friend or relative more than me; whoever loves his job and home and fireplace more than me cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
In these words, we hear Jesus’ great call to radical discipleship, his call to total commitment, his invitation to revolutionary Christianity. This is not watered down wine. You can take a glass of full-blown, strong-bodied Merlot wine and water it down. When you water down a good, strong full-bodied wine, you want to spit that watered-down-wine out of your mouth. Or, you can take a good shot of whiskey that sticks right in your throat and you can water that strong shot of whiskey down and it becomes nothing. But if you put a good glass of full-bodied wine in your mouth, it kicks you back. And if you put a good swig of strong whiskey in your mouth, it kicks you back. And likewise, if you put a good shot of true discipleship in your mouth, it also kicks you back. What Jesus is talking about in Matthew 10 and its parallels in Luke 12 is not watered down Christianity. It is what I would call, “Conner Larkin Christianity.”
Jesus’ words in Luke 10 and Matthew 12 are God’s invitation for you to be committed to Christ, the church, and the mission of the church.
Not just committed to Christ. Some people only want to be committed to a personal, private relationship with Jesus and avoid the church and Christ’s mission in the world. Such people quietly think to themselves, “It is me and Jesus, having our little prayer life together. Just the two of us. Reading the Bible and talking to Jesus. We have our sweet little time together in the morning and the night. That’s what devotion is, isn’t it?
Not just committed to the church. Some people unconsciously minimize their personal relationship with Jesus or minimize the mission of Christ in the world. Such people emphasize how important the church is to their personal existence. Such people often think to themselves, “I will come to the church and see all my friends. I will see all my friends before and after worship, have a latte and go out for breakfast with the gang. That’s what church is, isn’t it? To have your primary friends and social patterns be through the church.”
To be a disciple of Christ is to be committed not only to Christ and not only to the church but also committed to the mission of the church as well. Yes, the mission of the church as well. The mission of the church is to be the love of Christ in all situations of life. The mission of the church is to evangelize other people so that other people would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The mission of the church is to work for social justice and social compassion for all people on the globe. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
As a popular saying goes, “every child should have the equivalent of a glass of milk and two chocolate cookies before they go to bed at night.” Jesus would add, “Every child in the world should have cookies and milk before bed.” In the world. If you have a gallon of milk in your refrigerator and a tin full of cookies in your cupboard and do not share them with the world, you do not have the passion for the mission of Christ inside of you. You may be one of those people who want to be close to the person of Christ and want to be part of the church of Christ but not the mission of Christ in the world.
And so we find in this passage from Luke 10 and Matthew 12 that great obsession. Just as Conner Larkin had this great obsession for his mission for the liberation of Ireland, so Christians are who obsessed with Christ, the church and the mission of Christ.
This past week I have been thinking about people who have been obsessed with mission. Some years ago, Scott Carpenter died. Scott Carpenter was one of the great citizens of the United States of America. He was one of our seven first astronauts. He was truly a great man. Scott Carpenter was a man who had a sense of mission. Let me read what Scott Carpenter had to say, “This project of being an astronaut and going to the moon, gives me the possibility of using all of my capabilities and all of my interests and gifts at once. This is something that I would be willing to give my life for. (italics mine) I think a person is fortunate to have something that you care that much about that you would give your life for. There are risks involved, that’s for sure.” Then Scott Carpenter went on to say in the following words in a letter to his wife, “My dear, if this comes to a fatal, screaming firey end for me, I will have three main regrets. I will have lost the opportunity to prepare for my children’s life here on this planet. I will miss the pleasure of seeing you and loving you when you are a grandmother. And will have never learned to play the guitar.” Signed, Scott. He cared for his wife. He cared for his children. He wanted to play the guitar. But more than that, more than his love for his wife and children, more than his wanting to learn to play the guitar, Scott Carpenter was willing to give his life for the mission to go to the moon.
What does it mean to give you life for THE mission of Jesus Christ? That is the theme for today.
Another example of a person willing to give themselves and their lives for the mission was Julius Caesar when he was a soldier-emperor. You may remember that story about Julius Caesar and his soldiers when they were going to conquer Great Britain. As Julius Caesar and his army approached the isle of Great England in their boats, and as they approached the land and were still in their boats, the Brits were on the highlands and high cliffs, looking straight down at the boats in the water. The Brits were looking down and the Romans were looking up and all the boats came in to land on shore. And the Romans did one particular thing. Do you remember what they did in that classic story? The Romans burned their boats. There was no turning back. They were committed to the mission that was before them and they were willing to die for that mission.
As Conner Larkin was committed to the mission of freeing Ireland; as Scott Carpenter was committed to the mission of going to the moon; as the soldiers of Julius Caesar were so committed to their mission that they burned their boats on the shores of England, so you and I are called to be committed to the mission of Jesus Christ is this world.
The number one loyalty of our live is to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, more than to our wife, more than to our children and grandchildren, more than to anything of this world. What does that mean for us, in our world here in America? Do these words apply to our lives?
The great temptation of Christianity is always to have sugar coated Christianity with a sugar coated gospel, with a sugar coated cross, and to eliminate this great call to discipleship for the world. Our greatest temptation is that the cares, riches and pleasures of this life become more important than the call of Jesus Christ. And so the security of family, wife and friends and jobs and homes and vacations become more important to us than Christ and his mission. The result is watered down wine; it is watered down whiskey; it is middle class Christianity; it is complacent Christianity; it is comfortable Christianity. Come and sit in our soft padded pews and worship Jesus Christ with your personal style of music and comfort.
One of the great passages in the Bible is in the Old Testament where God says at the beginning of the Ten Commandments, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” I like the word, “jealous,” and I know what the word, “jealously” feels like. I remember when I was a sixteen year old boy growing up in Jackson, Minnesota, so many years ago, I was madly in love with a girl by the name of Lorna Finkelbaum. Lorna had this crush on this guy who was a little older than I was. He was bigger and better looking than I was and he was a leader on the football team. Worse yet, he seemed to be interested in Lorna. I want you to know that I became intensely jealous. I thought of nothing else morning, noon and night. I was jealous for Lorna because I was so much in love with her.
The Bible says that the Lord our God is a jealous God. If you love your wife, your children, your grandchildren, your way of life, your home, your job, your fireplace, your lifestyle more than God, you and I need to remember that this is the sin of idolatry. We need to remember that our God is a jealous God for he wants you to love him more than any thing else on this earth.
Do you remember that story of the Gospel of John, Chapter 21, where Jesus persistently asked Peter three times if he loved him? Peter had denied Jesus three times and then the cocked crowed. The resurrected Christ appeared to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee and the Risen Christ looked Simon Peter directly in the eyes of Peter and asked, “Do you love me more than these?” And what were the “these?” Do you love me more than your fishing boat, your fishing nets, your fish, your friends, your family, and all that other stuff there on the seashore? Do you love me more than these? Three times Jesus persistently asked that question of Peter, “Do you love me more than all of this?” That same issue from John 21 is the same issue in Matthew 10 and Luke 12. Jesus wants to know: “Do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than all of this stuff?”
What Jesus wanted more than anything else was not to have a 120 half committed disciples but Jesus wanted 12 fully committed disciples. Those 12 fully committed disciples would change the world.
I have a favorite quotation which is above my desk in my study. The years have passed, and the paper on which this quotation was written has become old, brown and brittle. I borrowed this quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer years ago. Bonhoeffer says in his book, THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP, “True disciples are always few in number. Do not put your hopes in large numbers for true disciples will always be few.” Everyone once in a while as a pastor, when I get caught up by sin and want to see large crowds on Sunday morning which imply (to the eyes of the world and worldly church) that I am a “successful pastor,” I remember that Jesus ultimately found power in a small number of transformed lives rather than in the casualness of the crowds.
The second part of this Biblical passage for today is the awareness that struggle and suffering are part of discipleship. Being a Christian involves struggle. Unfortunately, many people want to eliminate the struggle from life and also eliminate the struggle from following Christ. Such people end up being weak, weak Christians.
I like that story about an amateur naturalist. There was this amateur naturalist who saw a cocoon. This amateur naturalist saw a butterfly struggling to get out of that cocoon. The butterfly was struggling to get out of the cocoon and was just about ready to break out of that cocoon. The amateur naturalist was closely watching as this miracle unfolded. Then, the amateur naturalist did a very dumb thing. He took out his pocket knife and he slit the cocoon so that the butterfly did not have to struggle. The butterfly came out and flew around but it was a very weak butterfly because the butterfly never had to struggle in its own birth.
Many parents make the same mistake in parenting, where the parents cut the cocoon and make it easier for the children to grow up, protecting their children from difficult struggles, and thereby the children never develop the inner strength that is learned through struggle.
So it is with Christianity. Christianity always involves struggle, whereby a person becomes a strong disciple. It is only through struggles that a person becomes strong spiritually or strong emotionally.
I like a quotation about the north wind. The saying is, “It is the north wind that made the Vikings strong. Without the north wind, the Vikings would not survive so long. ” If the Vikings had lived in a place that was warm, warmer and warmest, the Vikings would have never developed the strength that was deeply part of their lives in the cold north with its cold wind.
Author Toynbee, the famous historian, said, “It is the difficulties that lead to a flowering of a civilization. Any civilization which does not have difficulties or obstacles will not be a great civilization.”
Similarly, any Christian who does not have difficulties and obstacles that get in the way, that cause one to stumble and fall and get up again and cause one to stumble and fall and get up again and cause one to stumble and fall and get up again; any Christian that does not have obstacles in your way and difficulties in your life will never grow to be a strong and loyal Christian who is committed to the mission of Jesus Christ in the world. If you as a Christian want a sweet life with no problems, chances are that you will end up being a weak, weak Christian.
The quotation that I liked best in preparation for the sermon for today was by the Spanish poet, Oretaga, talking about the very famous French impressionist artist by the name of Gauguin. The artist, Gauguin, achieved success early in life. He was famous even in his younger days. What happens to many people who achieve great success in their early life is that they lean back and rest on their laurels. As the years passed by, Gauguin became very non-productive in his art and he ultimately attempted suicide. Oretega, the Spanish poet, says of him, “His creative energies degenerated into hobbies.” Yes, “his creative energies degenerated into hobbies.” What a terrible thing to say about anyone. Their energies degenerated into hobbies.
And when the creative energy of the Holy Spirit in us degenerates into a hobby, where Christianity becomes one more hobby among others, it is a way to commit spiritual suicide.
And so as we approach this gospel lesson for today from Matthew 10 and Luke 12, where Jesus Christ pulled the disciples apart from and away from the crowd. Jesus knew the crowds would always be large in number and the committed disciples would be few. Jesus said to his disciples: “I have not come to bring peace to this earth but division. I have come to bring fire, fire in the belly and fire in the soul. And a son will be against his father and a daughter will be against her mother and daughter in law against her mother in law. There will be divisions in the family. And whoever loves his mother or father or brother or sister or family or friend more than me and my mission in this world is not worthy of being my disciple.
In a world like ours, I believe that there is no greater temptation in the church today than to be a complacent, middle class, soft bellied Christian. Amen.