War and Peace
Sermon for Third Sunday after Pentecost published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading: Matthew 10:24-39
I have always struggled with these words of Jesus, because at first glance, they seem to say exactly the opposite of what we expect from him. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, says “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
That seems a little out of character, doesn’t it? But then, looking at it again, I realise that I have been reading it incorrectly this whole time. You see, it is a matter of emphasis, and I have been putting it in the wrong place.
Let’s try it this way: “Do not suppose that I came to bring peace to the EARTH. I missed that bit. I thought it was a contrast between war and the sword, but I do not think that was the point. The contrast is not between war and peace on earth. it is about not looking at what happens on the earth as the most important thing at all, but taking an eternal viewpoint.
What is he telling us? It is not about this earthly life.
You see, the people of Jesus’ day put all their hope in him coming and getting rid of the Romans. They wanted him to return them to the Davidic Kingship where Israel had thrived and lived in peace. In other words, they had a narrow focus, and wanted a quick-fix, immediate-result-producing earthly king.
And Jesus was not interested in that at all. His view was wider, it was eternal, he was trying to tell them that what happens on this earth does not really matter at all in comparison to what happens on judgement day, and that our eternal destination is so much greater than our earthly one. So it is okay if our earthly life is not easy, if it is hard, because it is not the big picture. It is not our eternal destination.
A thought, to illustrate this.
My Parish here shows that they take seriously their service to the local community in many ways, but one of them is this: they allow me to serve as an auxiliary firefighter. Day or night that pager can go off and I may have to drop everything and go.
It has a nasty tendency to go off at around 2am, and when it does I come awake in an instant, and am up and getting changed and running out the door in seconds. Anne will roll over and say two words to me as I leave, always. It is a bit of a tradition for us: those two words: Be safe.
Now one of these times I had those words echoing in my head when I was driving to the station and it struck me: If I really was going to listen to her words, and do what she said, I would not have got out of bed. I would be snuggled up, safe and warm, in my bed. But that wasn’t really what she means when she says: “Be safe”.
I hear it now as less of a command, and more of a statement of her love and concern for me. It seems a bit strange to say, if you have to go into a burning building, be safe, if you have to be at a chemical spill or a car accident or around downed power lines: Be safe. It is like a contradiction in terms.
In fact, after the most dangerous job I have ever seen in my short time as a firefighter, I thought to myself: “Wow, that was probably pretty dangerous”. But I did not worry about that at the time. Why? I would like to think it was not foolhardiness, but something else.
We have some of the best gear and best training in the world. I trust the gear I wear to protect me. I trusted my friend who was there with me, and I had trained for this. When standing in front of, and really in the fire, I did not need to ask myself or anyone else what I should do now. I did what I was trained to do, and this one seems strange to me to even say, I felt comfortable in front of the fire. I was not paralysed by fear, because I have trained and done it before and knew what the fire could do, and knew what I could do.
Jesus words today about bringing a sword and division on earth are there to make us realise that we had better be comfortable in the fire, because if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing as Christians, working for the eternal life of other people and ourselves by sharing his message of salvation, then it is not going to be easy. We don’t buy into this theology of glory that says that if you have enough faith and believe in Jesus then life will be all rosy and you will have health and wealth.
No, it will be a fight. And it will be dangerous if we stand up for Jesus. Do not buy the lie that the Christian life is no different than any other life, it is. It looks different, it attracts ridicule sometimes, but Jesus tells us, don’t be afraid of what might happen in this life. In other words, know what I t can do, know what we can do, and know what he has done.
Trust in him, and what he has done for us, so that you are not paralysed by fear if the opportunity comes up to talk to someone about the hope that you have.
What is the worst that can happen? They aren’t interested, they don’t want you as a friend any more? They ridicule you? So what?
If someone doesn’t want to be my friend, they are not missing out on much I guess. But if they never find out about Jesus, and his love for them, and the sure hope of salvation and their heavenly home, what a tragedy.