In Matthew 10:24-39, we find the downside of discipleship, the hard stuff which would drive us away from it. If we didn’t know what’s at stake.
Proper 7A | Matthew 10:24-39
There are certain times preachers don’t want to take on the gospel. Often because it’s hard to talk about money or sex or divorce. The gospel is never really convenient or easy on our hearts and nerves when we’ve got a lot to lose.
For a lot of us, this week’s gospel reading is in the top 5 Least Loved Gospel Passages for Preaching. Because it’s hard to hear. And even harder to talk about.
It’s hard to talk about because it sounds like Jesus is talking about violence. That he’s endorsing it! Endorsing violence and division. And so many take it that way. And faithful people throughout history have read into these words the justification for violence and kicking out their LGBT children. They make Jesus into the divider, a champion for their “Us vs. Them” mentality.
And because that isn’t true, Jesus isn’t that crusader, we don’t hear this story either. We don’t hear it for what it is. Now I hope we can hear it. So let’s hear it together.
Remember we are in Matthew and Jesus is teaching his disciples like a rabbi. He has taught them about the kin-dom of God, the upside-down economy of Jesus, the dream of God fulfilled in the world and their part in it by preaching a sermon on the mount. He has shown them the kin-dom and shared with them what it would take to be the children of God: to be shalom-makers in a world at war.
Then Jesus healed the sick and proclaimed good news to the poor. And as we talked about last week, Jesus is unleashing the disciples to bring the kin-dom and turn the economy upside down with love, waging reconciliation, and proclaiming good news to the poor, just like Jesus.
But it’s not going to be easy. There’s a lot of junk ahead of them.
What lies ahead.
He tells them to go and rely on the hospitality of strangers. Don’t take a change of clothes or reserve a room at a Best Western. Go and do the work. What happens to you is not as important as what you are called to do. An idea scary enough. Then Jesus tells them that they’re going to face adversity and rejection and their lives will be threatened. And then this.
Family divisions. Broken relationships. And a Jesus bearing a sword. Suddenly the prince of peace is sounding like a misnomer. Prince of darkness more like it!
That’s how it sounds if we think Shalom-making, reconciling the world and bringing peace was the same as avoiding conflict and having nothing to fight for. That’s the danger of sitting in the middle: we are more likely to take a stand against taking a stand.
But if Shalom-making involves chasing a dream, embodying the kin-dom come, loving our neighbors as if they too were children of God, bridging our conflicts and bringing justice to those denied it, then the idea of division is not surprising at all. It is not only likely, it is assured. Because our mothers don’t want us in harm’s way. Our fathers don’t want us rocking the boat. Our brothers and sisters don’t want us changing the world because they don’t think it’s possible.
Is the dream possible?
In his essay, “Is America Possible?” the late civil rights elder, Vincent Harding chased this elusive question about pursuing dreams as people of faith. As a writer for Martin Luther King, Jr., he crafted words to describe how some of those images of God’s dream would be revealed to a people struggling with oppression and facing violent persecution.
And in the essay and his interview with Krista Tippett for On Being, Harding described that dream and those struggles and named how it all is drawn together into our words and songs and faith. That we are inheritors of a dream and will only see liberation from our mutual pain of sin and division if we hold onto our dream and move toward it through the adversity that lies ahead.
It only comes when we name our challenge and face it with a spirit of hope, witness, and togetherness.
Is America possible? he asks. Yes. Yes. Because that possibility grows with our work toward it. And shrinks with our fear from it. And one of the instruments of fear is cynicism. That impulse to destroy because we’d rather avoid the challenge than believe in our faith. In the dream of our creator.
He names this cynicism when he described reading a journalist decry a “Kum Bah Ya” moment:
A “Kum Bah Ya” Moment
Let me mention another of those songs that recently came up in a New York Times article. I don’t know if you saw this. Someone was writing about this terminology that we’ve taken about a “Kum Bah Ya” moment, where we have made fun, in a way, of this whole experience that came out of the black church of the singing of that song.
Whenever somebody jokes about “Kum Bah Ya,” my mind goes back to the Mississippi summer experience where the movement folks in Mississippi were inviting co-workers to come from all over the country, especially student types, to come and help in the process of voter registration, and Freedom School teaching, and taking great risks on behalf of the transformation of that state and of this nation. There were two weeks of orientation. The first week was the week in which Schwerner and Goodman and their beloved brother Jimmy were there. And it was during the time that they had left the campus that they were first arrested, then released, and then murdered.
The word came back to us at the orientation that the three of them had not been heard from. Bob Moses, the magnificent leader of so much of the work in Mississippi, got up and told these hundreds of predominantly white young people that, if any of them felt that at this point they needed to return home or to their schools, we would not think less of them at all, but would be grateful to them for how far they had come.
But he said let’s take a couple of hours just for people to spend time talking on the phone with parents or whoever to try to make this decision and make it now. What I found as I moved around among the small groups that began to gather together to help each other was that, in group after group, people were singing “Kum Bah Ya.” “Come by here, my Lord, somebody’s missing, Lord, come by here. We all need you, Lord, come by here.”
I could never laugh at “Kum Bah Ya” moments after that because I saw then that almost no one went home from there. They were going to continue on the path that they had committed themselves to. And a great part of the reason why they were able to do that was because of the strength and the power and the commitment that had been gained through that experience of just singing together “Kum Bah Ya.”
Our holiness is togetherness.
Harding was a teacher, a writer, and a leader of young men and women who struggled to see the dream amidst the violence and the hate. Struggled to see it through the fog of war we allow to grow and spread around us and between us.
He encouraged them to write their own protest songs and poetry. That they might face the challenge ahead like he and so many others did over 50 years ago.
But most of all, he was offering them the vision, the opportunity to see the dream amidst the fog, the Shalom which could be in the midst of conflict. That we may be torn from our families and our loved ones drawn into darkness. That the challenges of living lives in holiness is really that hard. Especially in the United States. Especially here.
Where we are so comfortable with conflict and those with vision are brought down and buried like common women and men. Our cemeteries contain the blood and bones of martyrs and killers.
The Land of the free and home of the brave.
Our vision, the one cast for us by our rabbi, our teacher and leader, that preacher of that kin-dom sermon 2000 years ago, that vision is not of a nation, but of a new creation. Of a kin-dom not of this world but entirely in this world. In our gatherings and songs and weavings and knittings, sewn into a quilt or a stole. It is in our songs of praise and thanksgiving and in prayers of mourning and longing. In our food and our fellowship. It all comes alive here. In this space together.
When we call for help, saying
“Come by here, my Lord, somebody’s missing, Lord, come by here. We all need you, Lord, come by here.”