s045g99 Somerton Park 20/6/99 Sunday 12
"I have come to set a man against his father ..." Matthew 10.35
This is, it seems, one of those hard passages of scripture where we find Jesus stating his claim for total allegiance and his demand for utter and radical obedience to him alone. "Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven". Yet not is all doom and gloom for we are told that: "even the hairs on your head are all counted". I have always wondered why God would actually want to know this particular piece of information about myself. Still, I guess we all have things we hope God doesn't know about us. If God is content to know how many hairs on our heads, perhaps he won't notice some of the other things :-) We all worry at the words at the end of our passage for today. We call Jesus the "Prince of Peace", yet his words here seem the very opposite.
The key for me to understand this passage has been to realise that in the relationships which are set before us - we find they are all generational: son vs father, daughter vs mother, daughter in law vs mother in law. Nowhere does Jesus say man against wife. Immediately it becomes apparent that we have here an important corrective for the fifth of the 10 commandments: "Honour your father and mother".
For the reality of life is that not everything that one's father or mother do is honourable. I would not want to claim that to my boys. In the not too distant past very strongly patriarchal societies did not in practice care for females all that much. Family feuding was passed on down the generations. It could be argued that what some societies need is a total break from the past - otherwise ethnic and racial tensions will simply continue, "world without end. Amen." A continuance of the presuppositions and methodology of past generations will inevitably lead only to further bloodshed and fear.
The reality of life is we all need to be goaded into growing up. It is very nice and warm and comfortable clinging to the preconceptions of our parents, and, like the prodigal Father's elder son, we make it into a virtue. I am reminded of the words of the Rev'd John Stewart who once spoke very scathingly about the Church which finds it very convenient to keep parishioners like children. He spoke of the Church being unable to cope with adolescence, and so rather than allowing people to work through that stage to adulthood, it makes a virtue of childlike behaviour. However if our childish behaviour is an excuse for not growing up - of avoiding the real world - it is a positive hindrance to our spiritual maturity. There is no point is saying we are simply to be children of God - I am sure God would like some adult children as well as some younger ones.
Once we see these words as a corrective of one of the ten commandments written by God himself on the tablets of stone on the mountain, we see the necessity for the force which underlie Jesus' words. Once we recognise the temptation to make a virtue of childish behaviour we see the absolute necessity for the force behind Jesus' words.
These words are a powerful reason not to recite each week the 10 commandments or the two great commandments before confessing our sins. The 10 commandments, or the Lord's summary to love God and love neighbour, are part of the Christian faith. They are not necessarily the most important expressions of our faith, or indeed even the central core of it. It is the Cross and resurrection which has that honour.
It must be added that these words presuppose that Cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only in the light of the Cross that any claims for allegiance can be made. We don't become "better" disciples or more "spiritual" if we hate those around us and are only devoted to Christ. Indeed of course I would say that to do so we would completely miss the point.
Because of the Cross and Resurrection, our relationship with Jesus is eternal. The relationship we have with parents and with siblings is transient.
This is an excellent example to show that there are times in people's lives when it is spectacularly inappropriate to quote passages of scripture to them. It is obviously quite inappropriate to say to a parent with a new baby: "You have to be careful not to love the baby more than you love Jesus." Of course, the parent loves the baby, for the child depends on that love for all its needs. The parent loves Jesus by loving the baby. I suspect that I have learned far more about the Christian life from interrelating with my family and friends than ever I have done going on retreat or reading the Bible. I have always thought that feeding a young child or cleaning nappies are times when one really practices the Christian life and when we really grow in faith, than all the time we spend in Church.
Speaking very personally now, I continue to be as conscious as ever of God caring for and leading me. I do not wish to go into specific details - but as I look back over the years, I can see that I have said and done things, which at the time I was completely oblivious of the import or ramifications of them. I certainly didn't think God was behind them. Yet looking back I can see how much God was there. That relationship is of course hardly unique to me, and it started long before I came to Somerton Park. And I say this to also affirm that God is equally behind your lives and actions.
I and we take up the Cross, therefore, not as a burden, but as something which carries us. It is only with the realisation of the full truth of this that we can read these words and see the good news in them. Indeed if we were to take up the cross as a burden - it would not actually be Jesus' cross. We are surely told often enough: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light". If we think that we gain some merit by carrying the Cross, we are in fact denying that very same Cross. When we, either as individuals or as the Church corporate, say things to others which essentially mean: "You don't measure up to my expectations ..." we are denying the Cross in our own lives ...
Some people, sadly, do indeed have heavy burdens to carry. I think of parents who have had children who have committed suicide, those who have the 24 hour a day care of family members, disabled children, or the mentally ill, and those who suffer from depression themselves. It is hard to say that Jesus is helping when these people cannot see or know that; when they can't see any light what so ever at the end of that tunnel. Such religious platitudes will add to their burden - not lessen it in the slightest. We can but be with them in their need.
The saying: "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it" is a reality of life, not a command to follow blindly. If we live our lives, simply for ourselves we lose it. This can be materially, but there is also a spiritual materialism - when oue entire existance is concerned to ensure our own personal salvation. If we live our lives for others as well as for ourselves, we will find life - life in all it's fulness.
In John Austin Baker's book: "The foolishness of God", he says these words: "Happiness cannot be sought for its own sake. It comes as a byproduct of doing other things, making objects of beauty or use, making love, helping in a corporate achievement, seeking knowledge, being with friends, breaking records, celebrating. All such activities involve a concern for something or someone other than self, by which the self in self-forgetting is fulfilled ..." (p68)
My first training Rector told me wisely: the first thing you might suggest to someone who is sick and asks for your prayers - is to say to them to think of someone else they know who is also sick and suggest they pray for that other person. Simply forgetting our own woes for a while is a simple yet sometimes effective healing in our own lives.
We have some very strong words about denying Christ in this passage, which moves me to say that we deny Christ by denying his blessing of the contribution that other people make. We deny Christ by carving up the world into Christian and non-Christian camps, and saying that he is found only in the "Christian" camp. Jesus clearly spent much of his time sitting down and eating with sinners. If he did that then, he continues to do that now. To suggest the risen Christ is only to be found in Christian circles or in Churches is effectively to deny his Cross and Resurrection ...
Links to other sites on the Web:
About the author and links.
To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons and Readings.
To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.
Back to a sermon for next Sunday.
The Anglican Church of Australia.
The Province of South Australia inc the Dioceses of Adelaide, Willochra and The Murray.
Times of Services in parishes in the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide.