Fr. John Allison
Christ Church, Hudson
June 25, 2023
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Jesus’ words in our Gospel this morning are challenging to say the least. They are part of what is often referred to as the “missionary discourse,” or what Mother Kathleen and I have all week been referring to as the misery discourse, for all its stark imagery.
“I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother . . . 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.” Perplexing lessons, indeed. Impossible, maybe. Or, at least the kind of thing we might be tempted to explain away or rationalize. Nevertheless, I find here something necessary, essential really, to our lives as disciples, as learners of the Way, as the early Christians sometimes referred to themselves.
Many of us often look to the Gospel for comfort; after all it is about the good news of Christ. God loves us and suffers with us and nothing can separate us from that love. But there is also another aspect of the Gospel that can be too easily overlooked. The Gospel is disruptive; The birth of Christ changed everything. Jesus ministry pointed to a new way of being that wasn’t what anyone was expecting from the Messiah. For those first disciples, as well as for us, following Jesus was like an earthquake, shaking their foundations and causing them to question what they held most dear. Discipleship is hard and it’s perhaps no where better illustrated than in our text this week. And it seems a very appropriate lesson today as we baptize Gabriela La Rosa.
Continuing from the Gospel last week, Jesus gives instructions for his disciples as he sends them out for mission. What’s interesting about this from a scholarly point of view is that Jesus’ words to his disciples are perhaps more reflective of the struggles of the community to which Matthew would have been writing. Written some fifty to sixty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Gospel of Matthew was written for the members of the early Jesus Movement, so early, in fact, they did not yet even call themselves Christian. As members of the Jesus movement, and many themselves Jews, Matthew’s readers would have lived on the margins of Jewish orthodoxy and often found themselves at odds with Jewish authorities. They would have found themselves in struggle and conflict with the religious authorities, especially in their sharp criticism of the scribes and Pharisees. At the same time, with the growing influx of Gentile followers of Jesus there was a strong desire to hold onto their Jewish identity. Being a disciple was not for the faint of heart. It was divisive. It divided families and communities. Being a disciple was disruptive.
Fast forward two thousand years and Christ still disrupts us. The Gospel still shakes our foundations and demands action—it still calls us to radical love. Love of the stranger, of the alien. Love of our enemy, even.
What gets in our way? What gets in my way? I ask that question of myself often, though probably not often enough.
What are the ties that bind us? What needs to be cut? Where do I settle into the false peace of complacency?
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.”
The psychologist Carl Jung identified two primary forces at the core of human experience: Union and Separation. Sometimes these forces are personified in the archetypes of mother and father, but they are also very much present in our Christian tradition as the practices of contemplation and the call to action. Turning inward and turning outward. Both are necessary as we grow in discipleship. Indeed, through our practices of prayer and meditation we recognize our oneness, our union with the Holy, and it’s through this recognition that we are called to act, empowered to act. To turn outward.
In the early church the wagon wheel was sometimes used as a symbol to represent our oneness in God. The center, the hub of the wheel, represented God; radiating from that common center were the spokes, each representing an individual person. The power of the symbol is that we all radiate from God and the farther we get from that point of origin the more distant we are from one another. Yet, in remembering our center, remembering the point from which we originate, in which we are all one, we are made strong so that we may be sent out.
In my own imagining I’ve extended the metaphor of the wheel just a bit to envision the rim of the wheel, that outer ring to which the spokes connect, to be the traditions and practices that sustain us—most specifically in our making Eucharist together, but also today, most especially, in our other great sacrament, Baptism. In both of these sacraments we find comfort and sustenance but we are also pointed to the obligations incumbent on us as followers of Jesus.
In just a bit we will come forward to Communion, to be united in Christ’s Body and Blood. Afterward, we will pray to be sent forth in the power of the Spirit to proclaim God’s love to the world. We are Christ’s disciples being sent out—and it’s not easy. Living in a largely secular culture, we face a different set of challenges and difficulties than Matthew’s early readers. In a culture where religion has become largely irrelevant and church membership continues to dwindle, our greatest challenge may not be a sword but a yawn.
Still, we are called. We are all here today for different reasons, and we all bring with us different gifts, yet we are all united in a singular call to witness to God’s love in the world.
Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that, “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so that we too might walk in newness of life.” Notice that he he says, “walk,” not think. Ours is an embodied faith, and we enact that faith in our love for one another. And not just our love for one another inside these walls, not just for the person sitting next to you right now but for our love of the stranger, of the lonely and oppressed. What Jesus last week called the harassed and helpless.
In a world of violence and oppression, that love is the disruptive power of the Gospel. That love is the sword of Christ that has the power to unbind us, to liberate. Ultimately, to heal and make whole. That is the love we take to the world. Amen.