The Rev. Paul J Cain
Peace: Expectations, Priorities, Leaving, and Coming Back
Second Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 8A, 26 June 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Why then does He say what He says in Matthew 10?
“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 a person’s enemies will be those of his 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 his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The first paragraph of today’s Holy Gospel ends on a peaceful note, spiritually speaking, but what of enemies in one’s own household? How can the Prince of Peace of Isaiah 9:6 say such things?
I’m not saying that such a question is wrong. While it is most certainly true that if you ask the wrong question you will get the wrong answer, sometimes you will also get a less-than-helpful answer if your expectations, your definitions, your priorities are different than was originally intended.
Let’s assume Jesus knows what He’s talking about. Let’s ask some other questions to help us better understand Him.
Did Jesus come to bring peace to the earth? He says no. “Do not think [that],” He says. What did He come to bring, according to Matthew 10? He says, “a sword.” In the New Testament, a “sword” often means the Word of God. See Hebrews 4 and Revelation 1 and 2. And at first glance, that understanding does not seem to fit here. But does it?
Let’s reconsider. A man and his father often disagree on what God’s Word says, as well as a daughter and her mother. Life experience has taught you that in-laws can become outlaws J if politics or religion are discussed. Three quarters of all Americans consider themselves Christians, but support the theological positions of tens of thousands of different Church Bodies that often directly contradict one another. Let me boil that down further. Some theology, literally, “study of God,” agrees with what Jesus says in the Bible. Other so-called “theology” disagrees. There is the divide. That is the sword. Jesus, the Word, divides people. The Truth hurts.
There is also the issue of priorities. Does God come first in your life? While some folks would honestly say, “No,” most people want to say, “Yes.” The reality is that some folks live as if God did not exist. There is a gap between faith and life, a gap that you cannot bridge. It is a gap that can only be bridged by Christ, a gap that can only be filled with the Gospel of grace.
God’s priority is you. God loves you as if you were the only person in all creation. He loved you so much that He sacrificed His Son so that you would be His redeemed son or daughter in Christ. We finally have a better sense of what it means for Jesus to be our Prince of Peace. He is not the Prince of Peace in the way many define Prince of Peace, looking for peaceful times on earth, an end to war, and resolutions of all conflicts merely by talking. Jesus is the Prince of Peace between God and man. This is Gospel. This is what we mean by reconciliation, forgiveness, new life, new creation, atonement.
But sometimes, other priorities replace the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. That commandment is brief and to the point. Sometimes it gets a fuller treatment: You shall have no other gods before Me, literally “in My face.” What that really means is that we are not to wave our idols in the Lord’s face. Some have even misunderstood the First Commandment to mean that people could have other gods if they just kept the Christian God first. Yeah, it’s a pretty thin, pathetic excuse, but people tried it. “No other gods” means no other gods.
But sometimes, other priorities replace God. Like what? Anything. Work, family, fun, sports, money, sex, the outdoors, freedom, sleeping in…anything. And that is why God’s First Commandment is first. We can now better understand what Jesus meant about family conflict over Him and His Word.
“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 his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The issue is one of priorities. The father and husband is given to be head of household, a vocation that also should include his baptismal identity in Christ. He, like both father and mother, are servants under God’s authority, lovingly ruling the household for the sake of their marriage and the well-being of their children. Parents are given to parent their children. Children are not rule the home and always get their own way. When children dominate parents, or when a spouse gives in to their spouse’s will over the Lord’s will, there are problems, all because of the wrong priorities. Jesus says, “Whoever loves anyone more than Me is not worthy of Me…”
So far we have talked about wrong expectations and faulty priorities. Let’s apply them to a real life situation.
In 2009, Outreach Publishing printed a booklet of ten reasons people leave church and why they’re coming back. I quote their “reasons” but give my own helps so we can better understand the priorities and expectations of others and better respond in love and concern when we hear them.
One. I Don’t Believe in Organized Religion. This usually leads to the joke, “Well, come to church with me, there’s nothing more disorganized than the Missouri Synod!” We jest, but the real issue people have is with modern Pharisees in Christian congregations. People don’t become perfect when they become Christians. God sees us as perfect in Christ, but our lives can be a different story. Don’t judge a football team merely by its fans. Please don’t let a rude, crude, or lewd so-called Christian get in the way of getting to know Jesus.
Two. I Have My Own Way of Connecting with God. Some prefer TV services, internet Christianity, or being with God in nature. Invite them to meet the lonely prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19. God sent Him back to the people He had gathered to Himself. You can’t get Communion even from the Lutheran Hour. Chat room pastors can’t give you a hug. And nature is a law-dominated landscape. God is present everywhere, but where is He present for you and for your benefit? Only in Christ. That’s why Christians are gathered by the Lord in a place like this.
Three. I Got Tired of the Church Always Asking Me for Money. It probably wasn’t always. Those who are guests are not expected to contribute. Members should and do. How could the mission of telling the Good News About Jesus go forward without any money? The Church uses those funds to look outside itself and serve others at home and around the world as well as serving the young, the aged, and the rest of Christ’s flock in a given place.
Four. My Life Situation Changed, and I Just Never Went Back. Some people go through all the trouble of moving, changing addresses on their magazines, and finding a new home, job, and school for their children, and don’t get around to finding a sister congregation to the one they had before. Sometimes people don’t discuss matters of faith in Christ before they get married and their new spouse won’t go with them. Children, work, divorce, and death can also make Sunday morning seem more complicated, but isn’t this just another priority issue? If Good Housekeeping and Popular Mechanics can still find you, why can’t God’s Word and Sacrament?
Five. I Don’t Have to Go to Church to Be a Good Person. No, you don’t. What is meant by the word “good”? Good in the eyes of the world? Or forgiven by God and bound for heaven in Christ? No one is truly good except God. Why intentionally avoid His Word and gifts in Christ? Please ask the person to reconsider their expectations. Luther says, “Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in Him unless he knew where His believers are?” (14) The Lord has more in store for you in Christ than you may expect!
Six. I’m Too Busy, and Sundays Are My Only Time to Rest. Is there really rest outside of God who invented the idea of a day of rest? Being busy can be a good thing, but sometimes more is just more. This is also a issue of misplaced priorities. Rest upon God in Christ.
Seven. Church Is Boring. Instead of expecting the physical activity of an aerobics class, the entertainment of a rock concert, or coffee and treats comparable to Starbucks, pay attention to what IS going on. And participate. Don’t just sit there! What is God saying in the three readings from His Holy Word? How do the hymns, songs, Psalms, and canticles tell that same story of Christ applied to you? Consider altering unrealistic or irrelevant expectations. Hear the Word of Christ. Let it have its way with you for your benefit.
Eight. The People Tend to Have Their Own Cliques—I Never Fit In. Christians can always be more friendly. Phones and streets usually work both ways. Miffed that no one introduced themselves to you? Did you look approachable? Did you introduce yourself to anyone? Communication and friendship should go both ways, too. Congregations can always be more friendly. Please be aware that Christians have their own “stuff” going on. Everybody does, if you just ask about it. They may be focusing on their own old personal problems rather than on a new face on a Sunday morning. They may be shy, new like you, or hurt and need the comfort of Christ in the service just as much as you do.
Nine. Christians Are Judgmental and Hypocritical. Yes, some are. I once heard this saying on the radio: “If a hypocrite is coming between you and God, guess who’s closer to God.” If even the worst hypocrite is coming to church, and they heard the Word, and the Spirit renewed their faith and brought them to repentance, isn’t that better than avoiding saints, sinners, hypocrites, and the Lord by staying home? At least a church-attending hypocrite has the opportunity to hear the Word of God and be brought to repentance and faith and possibly out of hypocrisy!
Ten. I Don’t Think I’d Be Welcome Anymore—I’ve Done Some Bad Stuff. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). We all have “bad stuff” and are all sinners in need of God’s grace in Christ. Church is a hospice for all. That is why sinners are welcome here in Jesus’ Name.
Why do people come back? Some wish to be obedient to God. They want time with God, community and friendship, spiritual growth, love and forgiveness, peace, a healthier family life, balance, and most importantly, God’s Truth. In short, they are really looking for forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. In Jesus, we receive the Father and heaven itself. Our expectations and priorities are changed. We are welcomed. And we welcome others in Jesus’ Name.
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
What does this mean in practice? Pastors care for their congregations for the sake of the Gospel. Congregations care for their pastors and families for the sake of the Gospel. “He who hears you hears Me,” is often quoted in the Lutheran Confessions, demonstrating unity with the Lord’s expectations and priorities.
God’s priority is you. God loves you as if you were the only person in all creation. He loved you so much that He sacrificed His Son so that you would be His redeemed son or daughter in Christ. Jesus is not the Prince of Peace in the way many define Prince of Peace, looking for peaceful times on earth, an end to war, and resolutions of all conflicts merely by talking. Jesus is the Prince of Peace between God and man, between the Lord and you. This is our message to, our whole congregation, returning Christians (no matter how long they’ve been away), and to our community, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.