An elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening of church services when she was startled by an intruder. She caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables and yelled, “Stop! Acts 2:38 (Repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven)”
The burglar stopped in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done.
As the office cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a scripture to you.”
“Scripture?” replied the burglar. “She said she had an axe and two 38’s!”
A few years ago, a riot too place in the House of Representatives in the state of Kansas. The elected representatives started their session with prayer, but one day the prayer caused an uproar. The prayer went like this:
“Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that's exactly what we've done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and we have inverted our values.
We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it moral pluralism, and worshiped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery, and neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice, and shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem, and abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition, and polluted the airwaves with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us. Cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas and have been ordained by You to govern this great state. Grant them Your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your will. I ask it in the name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
The passage from Matthew 10:24-39 is part of Jesus’ larger missionary discourse to his disciples. In this section, he talks about committed discipleship in the face of conflict. Jesus said that he came “not to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus’ sword is the word of God. Jesus came to divide his people into two groups-those who are saved by grace and those who reject him and are condemned to spend eternity in hell.
When people follow Jesus, they can expect to have conflicts, even with their own families. Choosing loyalty to anyone other than Christ disqualifies a person from being a disciple of Christ. Peace is the practice of refining everything that is not part of God’s righteous realm. Once they are refined, righteousness and justice will reign. Peace will realign our priorities and relationships. It’s like a fruit grower who prunes dead branches from his fruit trees. The surviving branches will bear even greater fruit.
Being Jesus’ disciple is not an invitation for glory. It is an invitation for sacrifice and suffering in the presence of powerful opposition. Jesus never promised us an easy life if we become his disciples. In fact, being Jesus’ disciple is one of the hardest things we can do. In the words of Loretta Lynn’s famous song:
I beg your pardon
I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine
There’s gotta be a little rain sometime
Israel was famous for persecuting both the prophets and Jesus. If they were persecuted for their faith, we will also face persecution. This is hard for us in the developed world to understand and accept because until now we have not been ridiculed or put to death because of our faith. Our Christian brothers and sisters in the developing world have not been as fortunate. For example, listen to these recent headlines:
“Pastor Beaten in Iranian Prison and Taken to Unknown Location”
“The ugly reality of present-day Iraq, where the nation, and the Christian church, is now being destroyed and taken over by extremist Sunni militants”
“Christian Refugees Flood Out of Iraqi City; Trapped Residents Describe “Apocalyptic” Murder, Terror”
The situation is beginning to change for the worse here in the developed world. Teachers are hesitant to say anything positive about Christianity. The entertainment industry portrays Christianity in a negative light. Stories about the church’s good works rarely make news, but the misdeeds of the church are reported. We are getting closer to the day when Christians here in the developed world will find out firsthand about the dangers and hard choices Jesus is talking about.
This does not mean that we are to provoke persecution or seek martyrdom. They will come naturally when we expose evil, challenge power, demand change or undermine the status quo. Persecution will come naturally when we do what Christ asks us to do. Telling the world that they've given sin respectable names and are in need of a Savior doesn't go over very well, as the story I told you at the beginning of my homily explains. That means they are sinners! Even though we are not to seek persecution and suffering, we must still take up our cross. If we are persecuted, we are to accept it because God will give us the strength we need to cope. If we lose our lives for God’s plans, then our lives will have meaning.
We are not to fear the power of our opponents. They can kill our physical bodies (which will die anyway), but they can’t kill our souls. Only God can kill our souls. We must fear God. God will have eternity to right the wrongs people inflict. Evildoers will be punished for all eternity.
Those of us who fear God do not have to fear anyone else or anything else. In fact, we are told not to be afraid to be persecuted for our faith. We must be afraid of what will happen when we do not obey Jesus’ instructions. For example, we must not be afraid to proclaim Jesus’ teachings. We must preach the truth boldly and in love. We are free to preach the good news because nothing is secret or hidden about the kingdom. We are free from fear because of the goodness of God. It governs even the smallest or most mundane matters of our lives. God cares about everything he created-even a tiny sparrow. In this passage, a tiny sparrow has become a symbol of something of little value. If God cares for something that has little value, he will care much more for his children, especially if they are Jesus’ disciples.
Because God cares for us, he is loyal to us, and in return he expects us to be loyal to him. If we are loyal to him, Jesus will acknowledge us in heaven. If we are not loyal to him, Jesus will deny us in heaven. It’s like asking Jesus to be our lawyer. If he takes our case, we will win. If he does not take our case, we will lose. We acknowledge Jesus and God by our deeds and our words. If we worship Jesus with our words but not our deeds, our witness is compromised. For example, we can acknowledge Jesus with words by regularly attending worship services, but if our behaviour the rest of the week is sinful, we are being hypocritical. Our words and deeds have to be consistent if our witness is to be effective. (Pause)
The focus of our discipleship is on our relationship to Jesus. To be worthy of Christ we are to put him first in all family relations. To be worthy of Christ we are to take up our cross and identify with him, to accept the scandal of identification with him. To be worthy of Christ we are to choose him and his life instead of foolishly preserving our own way of life. Finding the selfish satisfaction of life means losing life and missing its larger fulfillment, but to lose our own interests for the sake of Christ is to find life.
The anchor has long been a symbol in Christian art for the hope we have in Jesus. When the storms of life come, including persecution and suffering for Christ’s sake, we have hope. We can hold fast to the faith that is in us. In the words from the hymn “Will Your Anchor Hold:”
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.