Third Sunday after Pentecost
21 June 2020
Rev Kate McDonald
Genesis 21.8-21, Psalm 86.1-10,16-17, Romans 6.1b-11, Matthew 10.24-39
O God our defender, storms rage about us and cause us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us all from unbelief; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
When I was a child growing up in Southwestern Virginia, I remember one particular winter when we had a bad snow storm. School was cancelled, and my brother and I lounged in front of the fireplace while our dad read CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to us.
There’s a wonderful scene in that story where Mr Beaver first tells the children about Aslan, the King of the wood.
Susan asks, ‘Is he a man?’
‘Most certainly not,’ Mr Beaver replies. ‘Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion’. ‘Ooh!’ says Susan. ‘Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’
‘Safe?’ Mr Beaver exclaims. ‘Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.’
We often focus on the goodness of God … The Lord is GOOD, his love endures forever, the psalmist declares in Psalm 100. With all the mess of the world around us, we need the assurance that the Creator loves this earth and at the start of time called creation ‘good’. Now as much as ever, we are longing for the reign of the Messiah who is called Prince of Peace. If we are to do the holy work of healing and liberating that Jesus is calling us to, we need alongside us a Holy Spirit who comforts, sustains, gives us life.
The Lord is indeed GOOD.
But in today’s gospel reading from Matthew 10.24-39, Jesus tells his disciples: ’Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’.
These are hard words to hear. They remind us that while God may be good, God is not safe.
This morning, we continue on from last week’s reading from Matthew 10. Jesus has gathered the disciples around him and is preparing them for the work that lies before them. He is bestowing upon them the authority to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has come near and the power to bring wholeness and freedom to those they meet.
Remember up until now, they have been walking with Jesus, listening and learning. They have seen Jesus with the crowds who have gathered — the ones who felt overlooked and down- trodden, those hovering on the edges of society, poor in spirit, meek, or mourning, those who were persecuted because of their thirst for righteousness. The disciples have watched how Jesus looks at them, they have seen his compassion for them, they have heard him blessing them.
Jesus is bringing the people news of a God who is GOOD. The love and justice of God lifts up the lowly and feeds the hungry and this is GOOD news for all who are desperate for healing and longing for liberation.
But the thing about the kingdom of heaven is that in order to be GOOD, it does not allow this world to stay as it is; it unsettles the status quo; it disrupts control; it overturns power. It scatters those who walk in pride, brings down the powerful, and sends the rich away empty-handed. This is NOT good news for those who profit from exploitation, use chokeholds to maintain control, and gain power through violence. Jesus knows that they will respond with force and threaten death.
So at the same time that Jesus is commissioning his disciples, he is warning them. If they proclaim a kingdom of love and justice, they will meet conflict. If they do the work of healing and liberating, they will encounter resistance. If they walk with him, the path he is taking will lead to the cross.
The gospel may be good news. But it is not safe news.
Like a sword, it will divide. Because there will always be division when the world’s thirst for power meets God’s thirst for justice. So powerful is the gospel that it can divide countries, communities, churches, even families.
We know the pain of division, so how often we would prefer peace. But it’s not really a true peace we want. We’d much rather settle for quiet, for lack of conflict, for ‘live and let live’.
Jesus does not come to bring a false peace, as our prophets of this time remind us.
‘True peace is not the absence of tension; it’s the presence of justice,’ Martin Luther King preached.
‘Peace is not a thing that can be tamed,’ Osheta Moore writes. ‘Peace is fierce. It has to be, because violence and discord won’t go down without a fight. Those who wield peace in the face of the world’s violence do it fiercely’.
‘Dear Church, we have to wage peace in the name of Jesus Christ for this generation,’ Pastor Lenny Duncan urges. ‘We have to break the chains of sin and death holding all of us captive.’
Kingdom peace may be good. But kingdom peace is not safe.
The word Jesus brings today is not an easy one to hear. In many ways, today’s passage is more Jesus-as-prophet than Jesus-as-pastor. But in the midst of his warnings to his disciples, Jesus assures them: ‘Do not be afraid.’ God is bringing the truth into the light. ‘Do not be afraid.’ God is above all. ‘Do not be afraid.’ You are treasured by God.
God is not safe. But God is good. Let us walk in the way of Jesus proclaiming that good news. Because God calls us to be good. And in doing so, God also calls us not to be safe.
God of the impossible,
We pray for justice, peace and reconciliation; When the challenges seem too many, Remind us of your resurrection power;
When the task seems overwhelming, Remind us of the miracle of love; And when apathy threatens us,
Remind us of your vision of a world made whole. Help us to hope that the impossible can happen And live as if it might do so today. Amen.*
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always.
* from Creation Sings Your Praise, edited by Annabel Shilson-Thomas, Canterbury Press, 2010. Posted on the Monthly Prayers page of the Christian Aid