Surrender to God
Surrender to God
Our passage today is a difficult one. We don’t encounter a Jesus we recognize, perhaps this is a Jesus we don’t want to follow. When we brush up against hard truths we need to examine what about them makes us uncomfortable.
Scripture: Psalm 69: 7-10, 16-18 and Matthew 10: 24-39
ur gospel lesson from Matthew is one of the passages in scripture that no one really likes to talk about or deal with. Having heard the scriptures read you all know what I’m referring to. The part when Jesus starts talking about division, that he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword, of families turning against one another. It’s a message that tunes us out, we aren’t interested in hearing because we also read that “Jesus is the Prince of Peace.” We don’t like this contradiction; we prefer a prince of peace rather than one who brings division and as a result we block out this passage from Matthew.
Scott Hoezee puts it this way, “The chapter begins by sounding these notes of non-violent, loving gospel proclamation. But what startles in the balance of the chapter is how the rhetoric of Jesus steadily spirals down, down, down. The outlook here gets pretty grim pretty quickly. Despite all their loving rhetoric and gentle demeanor, the disciples are going to get slammed, beat up, arrested, falsely accused. Despite a message of love, they themselves will be hated. Despite their transparent witness to God, they will be called devils.
“Worse, their words will bring about the dissolution of families on account of the disagreements that will swirl around Jesus and his gospel. And if all of that is not surprising enough, Jesus himself then declares that he did not come to this earth to bring peace but strife! So if you don’t love him more than mom and dad, if you don’t love Jesus more than your own sons and daughters, then you’re a gospel fake, a holy wannabe” (Scott Hoezee).
We shouldn’t be surprised when people oppose the gospel, Jesus told us they would. However, I think it’s fair to say that Jesus puts us in a predicament here. We want to follow Jesus, but we are unsure how to do that. We don’t want division in our lives, we want peace and harmony. After all, aren’t those part of the values that the kingdom of God expresses? Why division, why families split amongst themselves. We see it in our own families, we see it play out in society, in politics and in the church.
Karoline Lewis writes, “I watched how members of my own denomination [ELCA – Evangelical Lutheran Church of America] — in response to a sermon preached by the presiding bishop on Holy Trinity Sunday that linked the murder of George Floyd with the crucifixion of Jesus—debated whether or not the sermon aligned with Lutheran orthodoxy.
“And therein exposes the church’s embedded license—the unchecked assumption that preaching about racism as a sin is a choice, not a mandate. That the meaning of the cross can only be about forgiveness of sins—and usually our own personal depravities, not corporate or systemic sins—conveniently forgetting that the cross first was an indictment of empire. We have reduced the cross to the means of salvation instead of how it rebukes tyrannical power.” (Karoline Lewis)
When you look at everything that Jesus exposed during his ministry through his teaching and healing and then you consider how he was killed. On a cross, like a common criminal in a mock trial put on by religious and secular powers. So the cross becomes our symbol, not because we receive salvation through it. We don’t, we receive salvation through Christ who died on the cross. The cross becomes our symbol because it reminds us, not of Christ’s death, but of his life and everything he did to help people in need which ultimately got him killed.
But they couldn’t kill him! He wouldn’t stay dead and somehow the things he taught; the things he did have made their way down to us. The cross becomes a symbol of the kingdom and what it should look like. Not that we will live forever in eternity, but the powers and systems which oppress, and crush people should not be tolerated. That’s what Jesus died trying to reform, trying to point out how God’s word had be maligned. The cross is God’s rebuke of a world that rejected God, a world that still rejects God. So we must speak up against systems of oppression. We can’t simply happily sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and think that everything will be all right. We must do more, Jesus knew it, taught it and told of the consequences.
But you might be thinking we run a soup kitchen, that’s good work that helps people. Yes it is, but we must discuss and advocate for the change required so that a soup kitchen is no longer necessary. We must dismantle the inherent inequalities in our socio-economic model that force some into economic servitude and poverty. Some of the lowest paid workers have been declared essential during the Covid-19 pandemic. We celebrate them with signs on our lawns, clapping from our porches and so on. But we haven’t demanded that they be paid more money. Grocery workers, garbage collectors, frontline medical workers.
We haven’t advocated for them to be paid better because we know there is a cost. And the cost is a financial one, on our pocket book. We don’t advocate for it because we know it will anger people and they will disagree with us. The result, we say nothing and nothing changes. Yet Jesus said, “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.” (Matt 10:34-36).
Jesus uses the language of family here because he wants the disciples to know how deep the cost of following him might run. He wants them to know that bringing about the ideals of the kingdom of God, will cost some people and they will resist it.
You start talking about a higher minimum wage or reform to welfare or ideas like Universal Basic Income and you’ll start hearing the stereotypical arguments: their lazy, don’t want to work, addicts, and worse. But we are taught those things and they are perpetuated by our self-interest.
In talking about race, Ibram Kendi Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in Washington DC writes, “We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there” (The Undefeated).
Our self-interest is the fear that prevents us from fully committing to the gospel. What will people think of me? How might this cost me? Financially? Socially?
As Christians, when we don’t commit to the gospel, when we allow our self-interest to win we are prevented from living a life of fullness in Christ. Jesus tells us in our passage, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 10:39).
We need to surrender to the gospel. To acknowledge that we are wonderfully made by God, in God’s image. To let go of our own self-interest and allow the will of God to work in our lives. Recently, I’ve been using the devotionals from the Center for Action and Contemplation and one of the messages this week struck me. It reads,
“Our deepest freedom rests not in our freedom to do what we want to do but rather in our freedom to become who God wills us to be. This person, this ultimate self God wills us to be, is not a predetermined, static mold to which we must conform. Rather, it is an infinite possibility of growth. It is our true self; that is, a secret self hidden in and one with the divine freedom. In obeying God, in turning to do [God’s] will, we find God willing us to be free. God created us for freedom; that is to say, God created us for [God’s] self” (James Finley – Center for Action and Contemplation Email Devotional).
I know what following God may cost me, I still choose to follow. Because I also know what I will gain. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.