The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Rector, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Cathedral Road, Philadelphia
Sermon 25 June 2017
“Write down everything he says.” was the advice given to me by students older than me who had spent time with the intimidating Dr. George Motolanez, as I prepared to enter 10th grade World History Class. Ok, I thought, I will just take notes like crazy, and then read and memorize them and spit them back to him on tests. However, you can probably guess that this was terrible advice. George, as I later was allowed to call him, spoke in metaphorical and poetical language, and his thinking and speaking is what today we would call “non-linear” in an extreme way. George taught us much about history, and still more about being an upstanding and compassionate person. However, you had to sort through the language to find the wisdom among the many stories, tangents, and (sometimes) tirades!
[Jesus continues to prepare his disciples for their work and mission in the world, and in today’s reading, he picks up right where he left off last week ad he continues to paint the picture that there will surely be challenges along this pathway.]
Today’s Gospel is full of both advice and caution, and Jesus uses poetical and metaphorical language to illustrate his points.
To my ears, this reading gets me distracted because of Jesus’ own colorful language about how to deal with those who will challenge and ridicule the disciples. Secondly, I become distracted by Jesus’ even more striking language about “bringing a sword” that will cause argument and conflict within beloved members of families.
In considering Jesus’ advice and admonitions to his disciples in the first part of this reading, we would do well to try to enter into the world of Jesus, and the world of his disciples. Living within the occupied land of Palestine, these Jews were under pressure and abuse by the Romans just for living out their faith. Honoring the Jewish traditions would be a challenge, and contending with the militaristic Romans would be disheartening. Jesus arrives on the scene and gives them a new hope and a new understanding of God’s outpouring of love for them.
“Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows”, and also that ““Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
Like any good mentor, Jesus paints a picture with both dark and light, he shows them both sides of the coin, and prepares them for both the ease of the downhills, as well as the struggles of the uphills.
The love of God knows no bounds, and is radically rooted in ultimate hospitality and welcome. Welcoming all can be a challenge to our expectations and experiences. Jesus’ notion of love is at the heart of his message. In John’s gospel he proclaims “God is love.” And the love of God brings liberation, hope, radical welcome, and amazing grace. However, in abiding and living in the love of God, we enter into a new kind of association. No longer are we merely associated with our most obvious identity.
Jesus is empowering us to move into an entire new identity, based in a radical love for all. Just think: “love thy enemies,” “pray for those who persecute you,” “turning the other cheek,” and “taking up your cross.” These are not the mottos of one who wants to keep things “they way they have always been.” These are not the sayings of one who wants us to cling to our comfortable notions of our world, our communities, and our world. For these disciples, following Jesus would cause tension in even their family relations.
“For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
I have to say that this message of Jesus has long distracted me from the deeper truth. The reality is that Jesus is laying out a new reality, a reality in which God’s love is primary, and the Family of God is our most important association. The old patriarchy and matriarchy of First Century Palestine are thrown on their head by this Gospel of Love.
“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” A divine hope, a divine paradox, divine love outpouring for us through sacrificial love for one another. As we share the love, we receive it tenfold. As we turn over all we are to God’s blessing and care, we receive even more. We are welcomed into a new community, a new family of love and welcome. This is good news indeed!
Almighty God. You have opened the doors to your household. Allow us to feel the love and amazing grace that is given to us, so that we might also welcome others into this divine blessing. Amen.