“Simple, but Dangerous”
Sermon, Year A, Proper 7, June 22, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Matthew 10:24-39
These are some rather harsh sounding words from Jesus. Words that we might often offer in public discourse. Not that they are mean words, or vindictive, or insulting. But they are certainly challenging words. “Whoever loves mother or father more than me is not worthy of me,” and so on. “And I have come to set a man against father, to set a daughter against mother,” and so on.
Challenging words. And seemingly harsh words. They sound almost anti-family values. As though we are not supposed to like or love our family members. But I don’t think that is quite what Jesus is saying. I don’t think he is saying “Don’t love them”, and I don’t think he is saying, “My sole intent in coming to you is to cause disruption and division and once I’ve turned the world into chaos, then my job is finished.” That is not his intent, to disrupt and cause division. I think what he’s getting at here is just to offer some sense of reality. He is saying, “My message of love, my message of radical inclusion of others, of the outsiders, of the least of these... my message of love, if you live that out, if you follow my way, that will cause some tension and division in your families and in your community because not everyone is going to want to do that. It will be challenging to some people.”
And those early Christians, those early followers of Jesus before they were called Christians – they were called Followers of the Way or Jesus Followers – there was division in families and in the community. What they were doing did cause disruption and some stress. Those first followers of Jesus, and Jesus himself, were all Jewish. They came out of the Jewish tradition. And later on down the line, non-Jewish people started coming into the movement and being Jesus Followers as well. But those first ones were all Jewish. They came out of Judaism, and for the first 50-60 years or so after the resurrection, they were still worshiping in the synagogues with their Jewish brothers and sisters and families as well as gathering on Sundays for a meal and to remember the resurrection and talk about Jesus. But they had stayed in the synagogues for quite a while.
And that caused some tension. They weren’t really sure, “Are we Jewish, not Jewish? If Gentiles come in, do they need to become Jewish first and then become followers of Jesus?” And those that weren’t following Jesus at all were getting annoyed by the Jesus Followers coming into the synagogue. So it caused some tension. We know also that it caused tension in individual families in which some members became Jesus Followers while others did not. So there was the regular tension that one gets with family members holding to differing religious beliefs. There was also persecution happening of followers of Jesus, coming from Rome and also from some in the Jewish leadership. So there was some tension also just around safety issues. Family members saying, “We want you stop with this Jesus thing, because you are in danger. We don’t want you to have problems.”
So there was religious tension, tension about safety for the Jesus Followers, and caused tension in that wider community of the Jewish family. Especially once the Jesus Followers started bringing in Gentiles. Around the time that Matthew’s Gospel was written, around the year 80 which is about 50 years after the resurrection, is also about the time that the Jesus Movement started moving out of the synagogues and the split between Judaism and Christianity started to happen. The Gospel here is also reflecting some of that movement. That movement out of the synagogues also caused rifts and tensions in the families.
So at some level, Jesus is simply being realistic by warning that by following in his way, some people will be annoyed, challenged, or others from one’s family and community that don’t want one to do that.
It will cause some disruption. Not that disruption is the intent, but a side effect. For whatever reason, that message of “Love your neighbor” bothers some people. It will bother, and it does bother, some people. Still does today.
I think also in these words about loving mother or father or whoever more than Jesus not being worthy of Jesus, is a larger message. Not to not-love the family, but a warning about loving family more than one loves Jesus. Jesus will say later in Matthew’s Gospel, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” We are to see Jesus in each other. Some of what Jesus is saying here, then, is, “If you love your father or mother more than you love the other people around you, then you are not showing love to me. You are to love all people as much as you love those in your family, or your tribe, or your friends.”
That is a challenging message to a culture in which one’s first duty was to the family. Take care of your family first, then maybe your tribe, and then work up and out from there, eventually getting to neighbors. The commitment was to biological family first. So it was a challenging message that your non-biological neighbors are just as important.
Think of how God, in the Genesis story we read about Hagar and Ishmael being cast out out of the community. They were cast out by Abraham and Sarah, and yet God still includes them in the circle of of God’s promise and God’s family. They are still part of God’s world, even though others cast them out. Where is God? With the cast out and cast off just as much as anyone else.
We have as much responsibility to our neighbors as we do to our biological families. So love your mom and dad, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters. But also love Jesus just as much, and show your love for Jesus by loving your neighbors: the outsiders and all people. That’s how we show our love for Jesus, by how we love others. Include ALL in this Realm of God, that we’ve talked about a lot this year, especially during Lent. What is the Realm of God? What is God’s vision? One vision is a world in which all people are loved and respected.
I just spent a week at camp, and when I think of “What does God’s realm look like?” To me it looks a lot like a week of camp. The way that our camp is set up, the culture and community we create. A community in which we are respectful of one another. For the camp we had last week, we have had a couple girls with Downs Syndrome who have been part of the camp for a number of years as participants. And whenever we have group time, they are included. And when they speak, even though sometimes they are difficult to understand or might say something not related to what is going on (and they are not the only ones who often say things not related to what is happening), I am really impressed at how the other kids and adults listen to what they have to say. No one talks over them or tells them to be quiet, but they are listened to just as much as anyone else. That’s a God’s Realm kind of way of living. Or the way the older kids, in this camp with third through twelfth grade, invite the younger kids to sit at table with them at meals, or invite them to play games, take them on a canoe ride, be their buddy for swimming... the older and younger mixing together so well. That, I think, is what God envisions for us.
The camp is also a Music, Arts, Dance, and Drama camp, so lots of performances and art happening. And whenever someone performed, no matter how shaky or imperfect, or how well done, whenever someone performed they received a full round of applause and support and encouraged. A wonderful experience of inclusion. There is no reason that life could not be like that outside of camp or outside of church!
That is part of what Jesus is talking about here.
Loving one another. Love your family, and love everyone else just as much. Love your neighbor as you love yourself, or as you love those who are your friends or your family. Take the love for family and friends and expand that out beyond the confines of biology or similarity or geography or whatever we invent to separate. Expand it to include all of God’s creation.
Love Jesus by following in his way. Follow in his way by loving his people.
I think it really is as simple as that.
Now that you have read the sermon, I offer you a chance to respond: how do you hear Jesus' words about not loving mother or father more than him? Or his other words from that passage? And what do you think of the final phrase, "it really is as simple as that."? Please comment!