Division or Unity?
Matthew 10:24-39, Romans 6:1-11
The scripture read for us in the gospel of Matthew in particular is a little hard for us to read. We don’t want to hear a message of divisions, or persecutions, or trials. We would rather hear stories of victory over our enemies, or those finally getting their just rewards. We want to be like the tax collector whom Jesus restores with a promise of eternal life. We want to be like King David, dancing before the Arc of the Covenant as it is returned to its rightful place. We want to be like Mary and the disciples on that first Easter Sunday when it finally dawns on them that Jesus is alive and in their midst.
But here we are reading about divisions within families. Here we are reading about trials and difficult times for those who proclaim Jesus as their Lord and savior. This is not a pleasant message to hear. But we also hear a message of caring. We also hear a message of hope and encouragement. We are instructed that when hard times come (not if but when) we are to stand firm in the midst of God’s love for us, knowing we have the promise of eternal life.
As Christians in the 21st century, we are faced with a reality that a majority of folks in this country no longer see Christianity as their guiding light. A majority of folks in this country, according to a recent survey [site source], fall into the rising category known as ‘nones.’ Nones are those who declare they have no religious background, guidance or standing. Nones are those who have no need for religion in their lives. It is not an absolute distain for Jesus as the Christ or of our beliefs, it is merely a stance that these things simply do not matter. Nones are happy to pursue life on their own terms with no guidance from God or any other higher being. They may not have a particular issue with Christianity, they are just indifferent to anything beyond the here and now. Faith is simply not needed.
Perhaps this is the greatest enemy to Christians that we may ever face. How are we supposed to share the good news of Christ’s love for us to a group of people who have no use for this kind of hope? How can we drum up the courage to talk with our coworkers about why we spend time in church on Sunday mornings to someone who only sees the benefit of sleeping in on the weekends? How can we take up the cross and follow Christ when those around us could care less about our message of eternal life?
First of all we stand strong. I’d like to share this video clip with you from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. This speech is made by Lord Aragon as his small band of followers is about to face insurmountable odds. [Play video] The message in the gospels is to not be afraid, but to live out our faith everyday in spite of the views of those around us. We can still befriend our coworkers without participating in harmful gossip or slanderous remarks. We can still show kindness to others who refuse to show kindness to anyone. We can still encourage others to join us as we support our community through feeding the hungry and healing the sick, even before they become aware that God is already at work in their lives.
People seem to be a bit leery of the church these days because they may feel we always want something from them. Isn’t the church always asking for money? Aren’t they always in need of someone to step in and rescue them? Aren’t they always in conflict with one another? Being leery of the church is often healthy because it makes each of us closely examine our faith. Are we doing this for the church or for God? Are we on fire for our latest program or are we on fire for God? Are we interested in coming to church to be fed, or are we interested in getting rejuvenated to go and serve others as we serve God outside this sanctuary?
Division or unity – that is the question. It seems odd that the Prince of Peace came bearing a sword. The word of God is not supposed to make us complacent but uncomfortable. As I have noted before, our question should always be, ‘What’s next?’ Standing on our laurels is not enough. We need to be constantly moving forward, standing strong in our faith and claiming victory over our struggles in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Launching into new ministries is hard, but I would argue that standing still and doing nothing is even harder and more dangerous to our spiritual health. How is it with your soul?
We have some exciting things coming down the pike here at Mayo. Godly Play kicks off today as a great summer program for our kids. Movie nights are coming as we use the outdoor chapel to show some popular movies with great messages of hope, love and overcoming life’s trials. We begin a sermon series in July on those ‘Why’ questions that often shake our faith to the core. We’re starting a walking program twice a week to help our spiritual, mental, and physical health. The fall brings a new and reenergized Sunday School program for our children, fellowship/fundraiser dinners, the Daniel Plan, and a new confirmation class. But what are we doing all these things for? Are we celebrating the programs, or are we worshipping God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Are we Sunday Christians or week-long Christians? Are we willing to stand among those who have no need or interest in the church and state without a doubt, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus?”
While we are to stand strong, we are also to know that we do not travel alone. God is the one who knows when a sparrow falls to the ground. God is the one who brings color and life to the lilies of the field. God is the one who knows the number of hairs on your head – although for some of us that is getting easier to count! God is leading us into the world to be change agents. We are to live counter-culturally by not putting the love and pursuit of wealth as a priority but making God the focus our lives and our households. When the world tells us to look out for number one we are to look out for one another as Jesus taught us to do.
At times we may feel alone. At times our family members will not be interested journeying with us. Jesus was sending a message of warning that there is a cost to our faith. We may be criticized by the ones we love. We may feel isolated from our coworkers for not participating in hurtful conversations. That is when we look to God and to each other as we strengthen one another to continue to do the work God has called us to do.
When we truly love God, we will willingly set aside time to spend reading and studying God’s word. When we truly love God, we will naturally find ourselves in prayer for our church, our neighborhood, our community and our world. When we truly love God, loving our neighbor seems to be a natural progression. Feeding the hungry becomes a blessing not a burden. Visiting the sick becomes a time of personal renewal. Taking care packages to those new to the neighborhood seems as natural as a smile and a greeting which are often lacking in our society.
We know that following Jesus can be challenging but most definitely rewarding. Athletes will tell you that training for events and games is hard work but the reward comes to those who give their best at all times. The rewards of being a disciple of Christ far exceed our expectations. God’s love is so encompassing that even while we were sinners, Christ died for us. God deemed us worthy to receive the gift of eternal life. Follow God’s will for you. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
Do not be afraid. Stand strong. Know you are not alone. I would like to close with having us join together in singing #2129 in TFWS – “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” Amen.