Worship at Home for Sunday 21st June

Welcome to our Worship at Home for today. Today we also have a video for the Junior Church / Sunday School with Debbie, one of our Junior Church leaders. In the main service the message today is given by Russell Buley, one of our Local Preachers in the Gloucestershire Circuit. Click the button to download the words if you wish

Worship at Home Video for Sunday 21st June
Junior Church Video for Sunday 21st June

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Chapter 10 of St Matthew’s Gospel from which our reading has come comprises instructions that Jesus is giving to his band of disciples.  Earlier in the chapter they have been told to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near; to heal the sick; and they’ve been told what to say and what to do in various situations.  They’ve been warned that they will face persecution and hostility. 

Now in our Gospel reading for today Jesus is recorded first of all at verse 24 speaking about certain kinds of relationships. That’s certainly topical for us isn’t it as our relationships with so many people have been affected in dramatic ways during the weeks of this lockdown. Whoever would have thought we would have missed a hug so much? And more specifically here the two relationships which Jesus chooses to describe are again topical for us: the relationship between pupil and teacher with both now so much missing face- to- face communication and, of course, the relationship between slave and master with the Black Lives Matter campaign. A point to reflect upon from our reading is how Jesus as a first century historical figure lives and speaks within the cultural norms of his time, apparently here accepting slavery as a given.

But I want to move on.  Our reading continues at verse 26 by encouraging the disciples not to be fearful.  Three times Jesus says, “Do not be afraid”. Again that’s a word for us living daily with the fear of coronavirus, a fear made even more intense for many now as the lockdown is eased and more and more people are moving around out-of-doors and queuing to enter shops.  “Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells his disciples because the kingdom of God they are urged to proclaim from the housetops is a reality.  “Do not be afraid” because their heavenly father knows and cares for each one of them.  If the sparrows get close divine attention, he says, remember you are worth much more than those many sparrows.  The message for us again through that word of assurance to his disciples is that our God knows and loves each one of us.  Personally I’m not so reassured by being told even the hairs of my head have all been counted – there aren’t many here to count! – but I get the message – the same assurance given by the prophet Isaiah, “ The Lord answers:  How can I forget you?  I have written your name on the palm of my hand.” The God we worship is the God whose love sustains each one of us at all times and no more so than in an age of anxiety. 

But in the third part of our reading we find some difficult and controversial words of Jesus about the absolute commitment he expects of his disciples.  No half measures here; this is uncompromising, challenging.  We’re now faced with Jesus recorded as saying, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”(verse 34).  One of the so-called hard sayings of Jesus.  Uncomfortable words because they seem to be at odds with the gospels’ presentation of Jesus’s mission in a more general sense.  We are told he is the one who will guide our feet into the way of peace, the Prince of Peace. “ Blessed are the peacemakers,” he’s recorded as saying earlier in this same gospel.

So how can we reconcile this stark, bold, uncompromising statement “I did not come   to bring peace, but a sword” with a ministry that we know offered and brought healing and wholeness to so many?

When Jesus uses the image of a sword he is obviously saying there will be conflict, violent conflict as a consequence of what he is saying and what he will do. We know only too well that the history of Christianity over 2000 years has shown this time and time again. He had already warned his band of disciples of the persecution they are to expect but here in verse 35 he illustrates a consequence of his coming by going right to the heart of Jewish culture.  He speaks of division in families:  father/son, mother/daughter.  To be the cause of division in a family was to offend against a deep- seated conviction of what was of vital importance in human relationships with the family at the heart of every community.

Commentaries tell us Jesus may well be quoting verses from Micah chapter 7 but that doesn’t soften the effect, does it?  Jesus is saying that a consequence of his ministry, his teaching, his call to discipleship, of commitment to him is to tear families apart and, of course, very sadly the truth of his prediction has been seen   when a member of a family has turned to Jesus as Lord and Saviour, has adopted the Christian faith in defiance of the rest of the family’s beliefs – and has suffered the consequences. Verse 36: “ a man’s worst enemies will be the members of his own family.” That’s hard isn’t it? But this becomes even more difficult and controversial when Jesus is recorded as going on to claim for himself a higher place in his disciple’s affection – their love for him – than that they give to their nearest and dearest. Verse 37: “Whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not fit to be my disciple.” Not a good text for Father’s day!  “Whoever loves his son or daughter more than me is not fit to be my disciple.”

That certainly puts the demand for commitment into perspective, doesn’t it?  And at the end of our reading Jesus speaks of the need to take up a cross, to lose your life in order to find it.  This is uncomfortable because it is so challenging for all who regard themselves now as disciples of Jesus.   We don’t literally have to pick up a cross but it’s a powerful metaphor for the idea of sacrifice, of commitment.  So for us who are Christians now what is the cost of discipleship for us?  Someone has put it pretty powerfully, “Following Jesus must never just be our Sunday hobby.”

 I suggest the challenge for all of us is to consider to what extent life, daily living, what we regard as important has changed, been transformed as a consequence of Christian discipleship.  Henry Fosdick – an American Baptist preacher – has said “The history of the Christian church could be written in terms of the ingenious ways in which Christians have tried to make their faith and practice easy for themselves.”

What Jesus is saying here to his first disciples and to us today I believe is that the challenge of discipleship is personal commitment to Jesus as the Lord of our lives where what he is recorded as saying and doing influences every part of our daily living so that the sword divides, cuts away the stuff that distracts us from what is of real, eternal value; cuts away the stuff that dulls our awareness of our relationship with God made possible through what Jesus has done for us.  Our discipleship is seen in our priorities, our view of what happens to us, our perspective on life, the universe and everything – what is really important and of lasting value – our relationship with God and with his creation in all its wonderful variety – sentient and inanimate.

And the paradox is that when the sword has cut away so much that is unworthy, so much stuff, our commitment to following Jesus does bring peace.  And the really good news is that whenever we feel the expectation which Jesus has set us in discipleship is too high we have been promised, assured that we are not alone.   Matthew ends his gospel with the words of Jesus,  “And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”  The living Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is with us now, enabling us to know God’s grace in our lives and to show God’s grace to the world.  The peace that is given is a peace that the world cannot give, a peace of mind and heart, a quiet confidence in God’s love for us, knowing that nothing, nothing at all in all creation, including the trauma of a pandemic, can separate us from that love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Russell Buley 21st June 2020

Published by andrewpbiggs

Methodist minister currently serving the Gloucestershire Circuit. Married to Julie. Enjoy reading and playing the guitar badly.

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