I’m back! after a brief hiatus, I’ll be attempting to update this blog more often, as well as offer some new content. In other words, I’ll actually be blogging, and not just dumping sermons here. Yay!
24 “Disciples aren’t greater than their teacher, and slaves aren’t greater than their master. 25 It’s enough for disciples to be like their teacher and slaves like their master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, it’s certain that they will call the members of his household by even worse names.
26 “Therefore, don’t be afraid of those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open. 27 What I say to you in the darkness, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, announce from the rooftops. 28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. 29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. 30 Even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me before people, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
34 “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. 35 I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 People’s enemies are members of their own households.[a]
37 “Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. 38 Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. 39 Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.
The darkest darkness I’ve ever known was when I had one spring break in West Texas and New Mexico.
One might think that I’m talking about Carlsbad caverns, which I did go to and experience, but because it was so well lit, I can’t say that it was super dark. They’ve removed the darkness from that cave, and so in some ways its lost some of the fear it might have commanded. No, the darkest I’ve experienced was on top of Mount Locke at the McDonald Observatory.
When you go to experience it, you have to go later in the evening, say around 10 pm. That’s not nearly as dark as it gets though. On top of that mountain, you simply lie down on the ground and stare up at the stars. It’s best to do this on a moonless night, as well. When you do that, all around you are other people, but you can only make out their dark shapes (it is a tourist attraction, after all). You can’t hardly see anything around you at all. But you look up at the sky, you are overwhelmed by both darkness…and light. The light of the stars is just as overwhelming as the dark, but in a different way. It’s a light that lights up not you, but the rest of the universe. You, and all the people around you, are small, dim shapes. But creation? Creation is a dazzling, swirling ocean of light, life, color and beauty. It brings you into the realization that John the Baptizer came to long ago: I must decrease, and He, God, must increase. In the darkest of darkness, true light shines brightest.
Jesus’s teachings are often like the lights of stars in a dark and overwhelming universe, shining despite that which threatens to consume it. Nonetheless, he calls us to shine: “What I say to you in the darkness, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, announce from the rooftops.” With these words, Jesus sets us up to be a megaphone for his teachings, his miracles, and the salvation he offers…if we would simply bear his light. Which, of course, is easier said than done.
The whole of this passage is essentially that: living as followers of Christ is easier said than done. There will be trouble. We must not fear it though. Through everything, we must bring the light of Christ into a dark world, because those who dwell in darkness need the light more than they will ever know. See, in darkness, our eyes adjust, and soon we begin to believe we don’t need the light. But when the light shines, we truly see what we missed out on. That is the challenge before us today.
Trouble Will Come
Perhaps the biggest hurdle of this passage comes at the end, with one of Jesus’s most quoted and least understood passages, Verse 34: “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword.”
This proclamation has vexed many a Christian before, and will continue to vex us, because quite frankly, this seems to go against everything Jesus stands for. I don’t come to bring peace? I thought you were supposed to be the Prince of Peace! Not a few chapters before, you told us “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “turn the other cheek.” Jesus’s teachings overwhelmingly follow an ethics of nonviolence. So what’s the story here? Why does he say that he will bring not peace, but a sword?
What he’s hinting at is a truth that I think we don’t want to admit. His teachings of non-violence? They will make other people be violent. His message of peace will make others not following him take up a sword against his followers. Those who bring his light into the dark will face persecution. So because his followers choose to live peaceably in a violent world, we will suffer violence. We aren’t the ones who are going to be bearing the sword, but rather the sword will be brought to us, because of the nature of light and darkness. The darkness cannot understand the light, and will respond the only way it knows how to: by trying to extinguish it. But we must bear the light anyways, fearlessly.
But what about the other half of the quote?
35 I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 People’s enemies are members of their own households.[a] 37 “Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me.
That is a really hard teaching to take… if you take what he’s saying at face value. And let’s be honest: there may be families that may not take to true discipleship. Truly following Jesus is countercultural, even here in the bible belt. There is much we take for granted as the majority cultural religion down here, but the truth is following Christ has a lot of ramifications that may be difficult for some family members to take. Truly loving and lifting up the poor, the oppressed and downtrodden is far from popular or easy. Going the extra mile takes sacrifice, as does carrying your cross. Rejecting what we value culturally and embracing what we should value faithfully can be very costly.
Theologian Michael Danner said it well:
“The best interpretation of this passage, in my view, comes from an atheist philosopher and cultural critic, Slavoj Zizek … Jesus isn’t saying that I have to love him more than my mom and my dad and my kids. Rather, mom, dad and child stand for the social structure of Jesus’ day, which is rooted in hierarchy, power-dominance relationship and patriarchy. The conclusion being that Jesus isn’t coming to wreck your family, he’s coming to wreck your society. He’s not coming to wreck your society for the sake of wrecking it, but for the sake of opening up new space for a new future, more in line with what God intended from the beginning.”
God intended for us to love each other fully, and to love God with our whole selves. God intended for us to bear light into a dark world, but darkness will trick us into thinking it’s normal, even good. So fight it. Fight that impulse with everything you have. Jesus is going to wreck your whole world, and make it so much better, flood it with dazzling light.
Don’t Be Afraid
Sounds pretty daunting, doesn’t it? Jesus is laying down the gauntlet for us. But before we go through that, he gives us of all things assurance: Don’t be afraid.
Whatever we face, God’s got us. God knows when a sparrow flies. God knows how many hairs are on our heads. God will care for us even in the darkest of nights, the deepest of caves, and the most violent of battles. In bearing our crosses, God knows us, loves us, and therefore we need not worry.
Admittedly, that’s kind of like slapping a band-aid on a broken arm. Doesn’t seem to really relieve us, when we’re surrounded by evil. And yet, refusing to fear is part of that light we are asked to bear to the world. Refusal to fear? That’s what must do in this world.
We live in a world in which the terrorists won. Why do I say that? Because our lives are defined by fear, and a craving for security. We are afraid, so we invest in weaponry and swords, because we misunderstand what Jesus meant. We fortify ourselves more and more, to protect what we have, when Jesus asks us to risk it all for his light and glory. We follow leaders who yell loudly so as to intimidate and cow our perceived enemies, when Christ asked us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We feed our fear more and more, and our fear instead consumes us. It takes far more courage to let go than it does to cling tightly. The way of Jesus is not a clenched fist, but an open palm.
We do this because, as I said before, we’ve gotten used to the dark, and we mistake the dark for light.
Our eyes have adjusted, and the light is too bright for us to comprehend. But we are asked to comprehend it anyways. So don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to lose everything, because that’s exactly what Jesus asks us to do. You must decrease, while he must increase.
Creation is so much bigger than us. We are but dim, dark shapes in a universe of light, and once we understand that, we can live for that light all the easier. Though we might be afraid of it, God will be with us through it all. There is no need to fear, because when we let go of our fear, we become free. Free to love. Free to live. Free to bring our light into the dark.
Let the Light Shine
So let the light shine. Let the light of Jesus envelop you. Let the hope of God’s glory consume you. Let go of your fear, and take up your cross. Let go of your shame. Let go of your hate, your pride, you greed. Let go of all of your darkness. Embrace the light. And let it shine. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.