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Third Sunday After Pentecost
Following our Christian calendar, this is the third Sunday after Pentecost. This is the season to highlight our discipleship and each Sunday, our lectionary provides us with Scriptures to deepen our discipleship. On the first Sunday, we had a lesson about how to build friendly relationships with people living around us. On the second Sunday, we learned that to follow Jesus, a friend of sinners, we must focus on how to stand with and for the socially marginalized in our communities.
However, I need to confess that today’s scripture is really hard to accept just for my own devotions. Not only I, but many other pastors will be reluctant to preach on this passage. Let me read some of them: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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” (vv. 34-36).
We don’t like these passages for several reasons. First, this doesn’t sound like the word of our lovey-dovey, warm and fuzzy Jesus we used to know. Second, how can Jesus, who is known as the prince of peace, instruct us to go out and cause trouble and make people enemies of each other? (we don’t get it). Third, if some visitors, who are not familiar with our Christian faith, join in our service and listen to this passage, they might not want to come back to church any more.
However, I didn’t give up on this passage because I always believe that when Jesus speaks, there must be something to it, so we should find out what he really wants to say to us. So, I kept meditating on this again and again until I got some inspiration, and you know what? In this same passage, I can see our old friend Jesus who is full of mercy and compassion: “Do not be afraid.” He said this word three times to his people (vv. 26, 28, 31). I am not going to read them all because of our time limit, but just mention to you that here in this tough passage, you can hear one of his best caring words, [“God counts every hair on your head and you are more valuable than any sparrows”] (vv. 30-31).
Through these conflicting words, then, what on earth did Jesus want to teach his disciples? We need to see the background in this passage. Today’s reading is an extension of the reading of last week in which we saw Jesus send out his disciples on their mission to proclaim the Gospel through the world. Yes, Jesus was always compassionate and loving to his people when he was with them. But now he was about to send them out into the world, so he needed to give them a heads-up. Perhaps he was trying to warn them that as his disciples, they would be experiencing rejection, persecution, and even death on their mission.
Well, as far as I know, Jesus’s mission is all about good. He forgave all human sins, he healed the sick, he looked after the lost, he brought God’s love to the world. Following him, our ministry is also all about love, peace, reconciliation, charity, service and care. In biblical terms, we are a grace-giver, and we even give grace for free. Well then, I think we deserve to be welcomed, not persecuted.
So, what’s the problem with our ministry? Perhaps, we the givers are not the problem, but the recipients are the problem. Let me give you my own experience to help you understand:
In my previous ministry, I met a young man who had to go to a jail because he did something stupid. Almost one year later, he was released on probation, but when he came out, he found himself totally alone. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a happy family to welcome him back. He lost his job and nobody wanted to hire him. Of course, this young man didn’t have enough money. It seemed like he didn’t have many friends to buy him lunch. In terms of the Gospel, yes, he was the lost sheep Jesus calls us to look after and care for. So, I brought that issue to the church and tried to discuss how we as the church could
support him. Guess what? The church was divided; I got several pros and lots of cons. The opposers, simply put, didn’t want to welcome an ex-convict to their community. Some of them even said that they don’t want him to hang around their kids. Well, if I spoke about God’s love and Jesus’ salvation only from the pulpit, everything would be OK, but when I tried to practice it in terms of church ministry, some people felt it was a challenge to their lives and separated themselves.
Let me give you one more example using a current issue. Friends, as you see, our country has been struggling with racial conflict and divided like a sword because of what has been shouted on the streets. We shout “All Lives Matter.” Are there any people who object to this truth – “All Lives Matter?” If we believe that all lives matter, why is our country divided by the words? I believe we not only say this, but bring it to the center of our society and even try to change our social and institutional systems with these words. That is why our country is divided. Sharers of the Gospel don’t intend to cause division but some recipients are not ready to receive it. Therefore, we are divided.
Here is a dilemma. On the one hand, we want truth, we want justice, we want to follow Jesus and live by his teachings. On the other hand, however, we don’t want to cause conflict and division and we don’t want to experience trouble because of what we shout and act. But if we really want to follow Jesus, we know we sometimes have to take risks. But the problem is, do we have that courage to cause trouble and face persecution even from our own families?
As the church, we sometimes experience conflict and division because each of us is different from the other. You know what happened over the past year. As a new pastor, I was so broken-hearted to see the church in conflict. Why didn’t I just talk about lovey-dovey, warm-fuzzy Jesus in my sermons? Why did I speak something that I can’t take back. I once regretted and even hoped to put everything down and run away. At that time, I got this meaningful gift from one of our brothers. (showing the cross that has the bible verse from 1 Cor. 16:13-14: “Be strong and courageous! For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you”).
Friends, we are called to go into the world, witness about the Gospel, and shake the world and wake up people to the truth. This is not an easy but risky ministry, and Jesus our Lord already warned us that we may confront persecution. But we also remember Jesus says “Don’t be afraid.”
Don’t be afraid
How do you want to raise your children? No doubt you want your children to live a life of light and salt in our society. Then you should not only be lovey-dovey, warm and fuzzy parents, but you know you sometimes have to be tough with your children in terms of discipline. “Don’t rock the boat” If that is your motto for your children, it’s a shame. You may want to try a new motto like “Be bold enough to stand for truth.” Yes, it is a risky word for your children, but you say this out of care and love, and you will do all you can to protect your children because you love them.
Likewise, Jesus sends his disciples out to the world, and yes, following Jesus and witnessing about his gospel will be risky, and we may face some persecution. But let us not be afraid, for we belong to the lovey-dovey, warm and fuzzy God who knows what we are doing, what we are speaking, what we are fighting for, and what we need for our life and ministry. Remember Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. God knows every hair on your head and you are more valuable than you will ever know.” Thanks be to God. Amen.