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Matthew 10. 24 - 39
Difficult Words to Hear!

 As we continue in Matthew’s gospel, for this time after Pentecost, today we’re continuing what some scholars call the ‘missionary discourse’ in chapter 10.  And some of Jesus’ teachings are difficult to read, and what I’m saying, may be difficult to hear as well. So, to catch us up, Jesus has given his 12 apostles full authority to go out into the community and proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead & cast out demons.  So what we heard today is actually a number of teachings and sayings of Jesus that the writer of Matthew’s gospel has conflated, or put together into one story, as it were.  Jesus has sent the apostles out, they are to take nothing with them, and not take any payment either.  Jesus tells them that they are being sent out like sheep into the wolves, and if they are taken in by the authorities, which was a real risk, as their message of Jesus’ teachings was one that we know did cause controversy, they were not to worry because the spirit of God will speak through them, should they need to testify.  Now, what’s important to keep in mind when we read Matthew’s gospel, is that it was written to provide his community with instructions about the life and teaching of Jesus.[1] Written in the latter part of the first century or beginning of the second century, this was a time of incredible difficulty and challenge for early Christians.  They were a community desperately trying to live according to Jesus’ teachings of radical transformation of the social order, which of course threatened those in power.  Matthew’s giving the members of his church some encouragement by offering them Jesus’ own words of support as they faced opposition—the same oppositions that Jesus himself faced.   We started today’s reading with Jesus saying: ‘A disciple is not above the teacher’ and if the master is called Beelzebul, meaning the devil, then the master’s disciples can expect the same treatment.  This, I suspect, may have at the very least raised some concerns for Matthew’s community of believers, because they knew how the life of their master ended.  Jesus goes on, the message of the Good News must be brought into the light; let it be proclaimed from the housetops.   And, he also reassures them not to be afraid for “while their opponents maybe able to hurt them physically, they can do them no spiritual harm.”[2]    Jesus wasn’t sugar coating the mission he was sending them out on.  The disciples are being prepared for the worst.  But even in the midst of any challenges and problems they may encounter, they do need not be afraid, but instead, they are to have courage because they’re not in this alone.  It is God’s mission they’re on and God is with them.   He tells them just how deeply they are valued by God, explaining with a story:  if God knows and watches over what happens to sparrows, the lowliest of birds, how much more so will God watch over them, those who do God’s work, who carry out God’s message!  In fact, God knows them so intimately, God is so close to them that God knows the numbers of hairs on their heads, that’s how intimately God knows them and cares for them!  And he, Jesus will in fact, even be their intermediary before God.  And  just when they might be feeling reassured; maybe thinking to themselves, ok this won’t be easy, but I think I can do this, God’s with me, Jesus is with me, the Spirit is with me, Jesus throws them another curve ball:  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 I came to turn sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. 36 Your worst enemies will be in your own family. 37 If you love your father or mother or even your sons and daughters more than me, you are not fit to be my disciples.  Well, that might just shake them up again—it would do it for me anyway!  This kind of hyperbole, these exaggerated statements sound distressing to our ears.  Jesus uses this kind of talk in his parables too.   You might wonder “Why does he have to say that kind of stuff anyway?”  Well, it does provide a certain impact, to be sure.  It does make you stop in your tracks and listen and think:  “What IS he really telling us?”  I don’t think Jesus is really saying he came to kill people with a sword.  But a sword is an instrument that cuts things up, it’s an instrument of division, and is used in conflicts. And the message Jesus brings is not one everyone wants to hear.  He knows his message was radical, that his teachings go counter to the prevailing way of thinking, how society tells us to function.  So yes, his message will bring conflict and division.  Might even cause rifts so bad that will cause splits in families.  And if the fear of conflict, even within the family stops you from bringing forth Jesus’ teachings, then well, you might need to question and consider your priorities.  I think this is an interesting message for Christian communities.  It clearly says that the priority is to bring forth the message of Christ into God’s world, to heal, to care, to love all people as you yourself would want to be cared for, in Jesus’ name—even if it causes dissension.   It was a message of inclusion and transformation of the social order for its day, with a directive of priority and expected obedience for all who proclaimed to follow Jesus, with a special emphasis for helping those on the margins of society.   It was, and still is a message of radical discipleship that is difficult for some people to hear, let alone live by.  Jesus is giving a warning to be aware of what could happen as we follow him, and that to do so may very well be contentious, even cause a rift within families.  It clearly tells us where the priority is, and it isn’t keeping peace in the camp at all costs.  There is a cost to following Jesus, and it can be difficult and challenging, especially when it puts us at odds with the rest of society.  Jesus’ message of radical inclusion was offensive to some people in his time—and still is today, even in Christian circles.  Because there will be times, as we look to find ways to go forth into the world proclaiming Jesus’ message of radical inclusion, that some within our own church family will disagree.  We are not unique in this, if you subscribe to the Anglican Journal, you most definitely are aware that there is a disparity of opinions on what faithful Anglicans believe.  How we handle the challenges is the key.  I think this is one of the strengths—and challenges of being Anglican.   There is room for discussion and disagreement, and a searching for the leading of the Spirit as we try to discern for true understanding of Jesus’ teachings in our world of today.  This is most definitely the more difficult way to try and do Church, it takes so much time and energy, and it’s constantly evolving as new issues come forward and the church tries to find the true ways of Jesus’ teachings in today’s world.  It would, in some ways, be so much easier to belong to a church that has really clear and explicit guidelines on what’s right and wrong, how to believe, how to behave, so who’s in and who’s out, and that’s that.  In a society that feels increasingly insecure, there is a definite sense of comfort to living in a black and white world.  And Anglicanism is not black and white, we definitely live in the grey, and there are many shades of grey to boot!  The Anglican Church of Canada is one of the more liberal and inclusive churches within the various Western denominations and there are even differences from Diocese to Diocese.  It’s what attracted me back to church, and eventually to ordination in the Huron Diocese; an openness to seeing the scriptures and teachings of Jesus in a modern context, to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit for today’s realities.   There are people I think we can reach out to, to let them know that the Anglican view is a moderate view, and let them know that will find themselves most welcome in the Anglican Church, that there is room for them.  I really think that this is an opportunity Anglicans.  Jesus’ message of inclusion for all people; regardless of class, vocation, race, education or gender was and still is a message of radical transformation of the social order, a message which Anglicans in our Diocese share. Is it a popular viewpoint?  It wasn’t in Jesus time, and it still isn’t with everyone now! Jesus’ statements on social inequity and exclusion challenged the social structure and power brokers of his time.    Bishop Todd in his address to Synod likened the times we’re in now to the times of the early Christians.  The earliest Christians, starting in the days after the resurrection of Jesus, were stepping foot into a strange new land—the world of Resurrection Life. Things were not the same after the resurrection of Jesus. Whole new worlds had been created and now, especially with the sending of God’s Holy Spirit, whole new worlds were possible, indeed promised, for them! We cannot underestimate the significance of the change that we are undergoing in our own time. … It is more like the experience of the first Christians. It is the same resurrection life we live. It’s just that twenty centuries have passed and resurrection life takes on new forms now. Resurrection life is always found in a “strange, new” land. We can embrace this. [3] “Resurrection Life takes on new forms.”  And new ways.  It’s scary and exciting all at the same time, maybe a little bit like it may have been for the disciples whom Jesus sent out on their mission, with the exception of course that we don’t put our lives on the line, like they did.  Context, a word you’ve heard me use many times before when we’re trying to understand the scriptures we read.  To understand the scriptures we need to understand the context of the society and people of biblical times.  Jesus message doesn’t change; we’re still called to follow his way, to mission in his name,.  The mission for today is still the same, yet it is different, because our context is different.  We need to reach out to those beyond our doors and share Jesus’ radical message of love and inclusion for all people. We truly all are neighbours, in a new context, one for our times.  I’ll end with another quote from Bishop Todd’s charge to Synod.  Here is one way to think about the reshaping of our imagination and desire. In some places, our collective imagination is stubbornly clinging to a kind of Anglican church that existed in the 1950’s. Not just the 1950’s, but you know what I mean. I try not to say “we must” very often. But we must, must, pray that God will shift our imagination from the 1950’s to the 2050’s. Can we turn our gaze to the future? It’s not that far away. 1950 was 73 years ago. 2050 is 27 years from now. Let’s anchor our vision in the 2050’s and commit to putting building blocks in place that will serve the Anglican church in 2050, here in Huron. [4]  

[1] The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Introduction to Matthew.  (2001, Page 8 New Testament)

[2] David E. Lose’s blog “Living beyond Fear” June 17. 14

[3] The Bishop’s Charge to Synod 2023.

[4] Ibid