Text: Matthew 10:34-42
Date: Pentecost II + Proper 8 + 6/26/11
Our Lord Jesus Christ chose twelve men whom He appointed to follow Him, learn from Him, and tell others what they had learned. They were to be the eye- and ear-witnesses of “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning, from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22), witnesses of the resurrection. All of them would be missionaries and preachers. Some would write parts of the inspired New Testament scriptures. However, in addition to them, all believers also serve in a missionary activity of witness, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Such is the burden of Jesus’ great Missionary Discourse of Matthew chapter ten. The first part concerns especially the outreach of the Twelve to the Israelites alone. The second part has in mind the outreach also to the Gentiles, all nations, and as such the task that is before us to this day through the twenty-first century to our Lord’s return on the Last Day.
As we begin the long, green season of Sundays after Pentecost, today’s Gospel seems the perfect transition from hearing the final words of last, Trinity Sunday. For there our Lord spoke of His activity through His Church of making disciples of all nations by His abiding presence in Word and Sacrament, “I am with you always to the end of the age.” Today He says to His ministers, “whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives Him who sent me.”
When Jesus first appeared on the scene the Christmas angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14). He came as the promised prince of peace (Is 9:6). That peace is the ultimate, everlasting peace of reconciliation with God through the forgiveness of our sins. The peace of God visited each person healed of various diseases through the Savior’s touch. Peace and wholeness came to all to whom He said, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” And it was the mighty but strange Peace of God that was on display that day in the otherwise horrific scene of Jesus’ crucifixion. For there, behind the gruesome violence was the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world, your sin and mine; His blood the price, His sacrifice complete. Then the risen Lord came and greeted His disciples saying, “Peace be with you,” and, showing them His hands and His side, displayed the rich wounds that purchased the peace of the whole world.
It is in and to this peace that we are called to live and to share, as He said in the first part of this missionary discourse, “if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it,” (Mt 10:13) that is, the Word of the grace of God’s favor and forgiveness in Christ. At the same time we are to remember His warning in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample underfoot and turn to attack you” (Mt 7:6), for the attacks will come. We are bearers of the peace of God while yet in a world of conflict, darkness, unbelief, and rejection of anything to do with God; a fact that seems more true today than of all the days of at least my lifetime. Sin still does its thing in the world and in us. He said He is sending us out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Mt 10:16). The mission of Christ’s peace is pursued precisely in a world that is not at peace, with God, with each other, or even with itself.
It strikes us as odd, therefore, to hear Jesus seem to contradict Himself today, saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” But of course He is not denying His mission of giving the true peace of the forgiveness of our sins. He is describing the effect of His offer to a world divided by His invitation into believers and unbelief. The “sword” is the response of repentance and faith in Christ on the one hand verses the refusal to repent and believe on the other. The difference is solely dependant upon whether the Holy Spirit is allowed behind veil of the fallen nature to call, gather and enlighten through the power of the Word of God. For people, including you, have the awesome ability to say “no” to God.
What is most sad, of course, is when that sword of division between faith and unbelief slices through even our most intimate family relationships, dividing sons and fathers, daughters and mothers and even the in-laws. How wonderful and what a blessing when our spiritual teaching, upbringing and influence on our children flowers into their own Christian vocation, marriage and future. What a burden, on the other hand, to see anyone, much less your own children, choosing to turn their back on their training and faith of their baptism. Yet even in these circumstances the Christian is called to give priority to your love for Christ even over-against love for family.
Jesus chooses to use not the highest word for love here in the Greek, “agape,” but the second-highest word, “phileo” in this text. We are completely incapable of the highest love of God apart from receiving it from God. But of this love—love for father, mother, son, daughter or for Christ—of this love we are able to give priority according to the ultimate values of faith we have been given. Jesus calls for priority: “Whoever loves father or mother…son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Faithfulness to God in Christ is always of first importance because it is our only connection with that which puts everything else in life into its proper perspective and blessing.
And so, Peace. Peace be to you. The peace of God that passes understanding. The peace that is illusive but real. The peace that seems so tentative but is our solid rock. Savior,
Grant us Thy peace throughout our earthly life,
Our balm in sorrow and our stay in strife,
Then, when Thy voice shall bid our conflict cease,
Call us, O Lord, to Thine eternal peace. [LSB 917:4]