Christ Brings Division
The basis of the
sermon for today is Luke 12:49-53. But those same Bible verses are
also found in the Gospel of Matthew. 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. It starts off the
same as the Gospel of Luke but it has a different twist to it.
“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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
does it mean to give you life for THE mission of Jesus Christ? That
is the theme for today.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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