By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber
May only God’s word be spoken, and only God’s word be heard.
This morning’s Gospel reading from the 10th chapter of Matthew is a rough, combative passage.
It is a call to resistance and perseverance. It is a passage for a time such as this, June of 2020, as we are deep in a global pandemic and a national awakening about systemic racism. This passage is for now.
Jesus tells his disciples, “So have no fear of [those who will speak against you]; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”…“Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”…“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…” “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
Oof. I want my mild-mannered Jesus back. I want that Good Shepherd, the Holy Comforter, the Prince of Peace. And yet, those are only a subset of the names for Jesus. They do not portray the totality of who Jesus is and what he came to do. Today we hear from Jesus: Strong Tower, the Deliverer, Lion of Judah. Jesus is railing against the Empire here. He has come to remind God’s people of how God envisioned the world: That we were created to live in right relationship with God and with each other; that God created enough for all — if only we could not be selfish; that God’s world is one of equity and justice, not of division and malice. Today’s reading is part of the rally cry of Jesus for his faithful followers to get worked up about all that is wrong in this world, and to stand up against the status quo.
I have had a very comfortable life. I have been blissfully ignorant of so much of the inequity and brokenness in our world. I have been able to ignore most of the injustice in our world because it didn’t seem to have a direct impact on my own life. Or more accurately: I have had the privilege to dip in and then dip back out of any movements or actions or working for change as I had the time or inclination. Over the years, I have made signs and joined protests and gotten energy from doing some good thing, and then I’ve gone right back to my studies or my family or my work when they needed my attention or when the movement got too intense.
This part of Matthew’s gospel is asking something else of me, of all of us. Here, Jesus is telling his followers that committing ourselves to following God’s ways is a commitment with consequences. Jesus is telling us that when we commit our lives to God, we will sometimes live
and act in ways that will offend other people. We will sometimes be compelled to take principled stances that invite vilification from others. We will sometimes be put in a position where keeping the peace with family means rejecting God’s call for the redemption of the world –and Jesus encourages us to stand with God in those situations even when it means a rift in the family system.
We need to hear this message from Jesus today. Because we are all in the mess and the muck right now. Most every one of us has at least one family member who thinks somewhat differently than we do about Black Lives Matter, or about the rights of LGBTQ people, or about climate change. And we all have friends and family members who think differently about wearing masks and the need for social distancing. These days, there are so many wedges between relationships. There are so many external forces working on those wedges to divide us.
As followers of Jesus, our first reaction to these wedges is to be repairers of the breach. It is God’s deepest desire for us to be in right relationship to God and to one another. And so often, the work that we have to do as Christians is to get back into right relationship where it has been broken. But sometimes the work we have to do as Christians is to drive that wedge more deeply between us and someone else. If that other person is doing harm because of their behaviors or their beliefs, and we have done all that we can do to reason with them and to walk alongside them encouraging them to turn towards the loving, liberating, lifegiving ways of Jesus…well, then that is where the sword of Jesus comes in. That is where, like in last week’s reading, we shake the dust from our shoes and turn our back on that relationship.
We, as followers of Jesus, must invest our energy and our will into relationships with the power to transform and heal. We must expend our life in ways that further God’s desire of equity and justice in the world. And so, when an unhealthy relationship is sucking all of our energy away from this good work, it is time to set that relationship down and move on. To turn once again to investing ourselves and our lives in the hard, transformative work that is in front of us right now.
At the end of today’s passage, Jesus tells us to pick up the cross. Now remember, in Jesus’ day, the cross was an instrument of the state, used to keep people in line. The rich or elite
were never crucified — only those with little power and no wealth. So those with power or wealth in that society? They could easily ignore the cross. They had privilege which allowed them to walk right on by, any time they wanted. Today, in 2020, I have that same privilege.
And lots of you do, too. I’m a white, straight, cis-gender, fairly mild-mannered woman. I have a steady income and a safe household and a good support system. I can choose to walk on by cross after cross after cross. And, in fact, I have walked by so many crosses in my life that were invisible to me because of who I am and how I move in this world. I simply did not see the injustice going on all around me. But this hurting and broken world needs me, and needs you, to start looking more closely to see those instruments of oppression in our own world. Jesus needs us to not look away, but to set down some of our privilege in order to pick up that cross. Jesus
needs us to invest ourselves in this work of transforming brokenness and bitterness into healing and hope. Sometimes this work is putting our bodies on the line and standing with those who demand justice. Sometimes this work is telling your family you will not be bringing your children to visit anymore because of the hate speech your family uses. Sometimes this work is packing boxed lunches for people who don’t have enough to eat. Sometimes this work is spending an hour on the phone with your proudly redneck brother-in-law as he shares a story about putting away his confederate flag and getting to know his new black coworker.
Do not look away from the crosses around you. Do not turn your back on Jesus the Strong Tower, the Deliverer, the Lion of Judah. Do not believe that God does not need you as a healer in this broken world. Invest in the hard work of striving for justice and strengthening life-giving relationships.
I speak in the name of the One, Holy Triune God. Amen.