Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Pentecost 5.23 Matt. 10:34-42

To echo Pastor Smith in his very fine homily last week on the verses just preceding these in Matthew 10 (the real Great Commission!) when he said he always wondered why anyone would think being a Christian will make your life easier, more cheerful, I’ve also wondered why Christianity (in modern America) is often so closely linked to “family values”—indeed, even touted mainly for its usefulness in bonding parents and children together, like a TV sitcom family, in friendly, frictionless ease?

Because, uh… look at the plain words of Jesus! “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, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law (though that seems to happen often enough, even without Jesus’ help? 😉 and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

So much for the old line about “hate not being a family value”! In the Xn family, as Jesus describes it, enmity seems central! Oh, I hear you… “But, Pastor! God is luuuv!” Yes, he is; but not the kind of love the world has in mind when it throws the word around, willy-nilly. It’s not the luuuv Hollywood is selling in its romcoms. Love for God is enmity with the world (because the devil is the prince of this world and friendship with him, as Adam and Eve and every sinner since has discovered, is enmity with God). And you really don’t want God for an enemy!!!

And to quote Pr. Smith again—I really appreciated his sermon last week, needed to hear that: “the good news, the gospel, is not that being a Xn means you’ll have no enemies, but rather that you won’t have God for your enemy.” And yes!—bullseye.

I would only add that earthly life is basically the sorting hat from Harry Potter. You put it on, you go through it, just to find out whether you’re in Slytherin or Gryffindor—that is, to find out whose side you’re really on—God’s or the devil’s (and there are only two sides! As Jesus says, “whoever is not with me is against me”; there is no third side, no other option, no “free-agency”, here.

And, as Luther says so bluntly, yet truly, in “Bondage of the Will” quoting Ps. 73: it’s not a matter of your making good choices, here—just like in Harry Potter it doesn’t matter what house you think you should be in—the sorting hat tells you how it is. It’s not a matter of your ‘free-will’ or choice at all, “not of man who wills or runs, but only of God who shows mercy”, who fights it out with the devil to see who will have and hold us.

This is a hard saying, as the disciples themselves observed of this, and well… most of our Lord’s teaching. And you can look at that all doomy and gloomy, and get sad and depressive, or, as the popular saying goes, you could say, hey!: “every silver lining has a cloud”.

It’s like C.S. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity”: that we are like secret agents in wartime, caught behind the enemy’s lines. We’re born on the devil’s side in this war he started with God. And the people who are happy with the world’s current tyrannical regime, who see nothing amiss, are not only idiots, but they are actually enemy combatants fighting for the devil by calling the totalitarian regime of lies the prince of darkness promulgates “peace”, “light”, and “truth” (or, in today’s parlance: “following the science” and fighting “conspiracy theories”).

Well, the truth is the devil’s been leading a conspiracy against the Kingdom of God, time out of mind. Going along with that is fighting against God. But Lewis, writing these words at the outset of WWII (when it looked like Britain was waging a hopeless battle against a far superior foe) sees the glass half-full, more like “the only thing about the Zombie Apocalypse, when it comes, that will be difficult for me is pretending I’m not excited.” 😉

Lewis writes: “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going…”

And like the 13 year boy he never really stops being, Lewis finds the prospect of secret, risky (but exciting!) business behind enemy lines thrilling. He knew the Nazis were demonic, hated those guys. Who wouldn’t gleefully sabotage those guys? I wasn’t much older than 13 myself when I first read those sentences, but just that one word “sabotage” made me happy for weeks (it still makes me happy ;-). I knew immediately that’s how it is, and what side I’m on. Gryffindor! I mean “Christianity”! Yeah!

But when everyone claims to be “the good guys” how do you tell who’s bluffing? Here’s a truly high stakes poker game! Well, the biggest tell, Jesus says, is the pursuit of health, wealth, and safety. Whoever would save his life will lose it; whoever loses his life, for Christ’s sake, finds it.

Jesus’ disciples are, typically, kinda… reckless. We aren’t playing it safe. Health, wealth, safety are not our gods. Jesus is our LORD, God, and, frankly: the world can go to hell as long as we get to be with him. It’s one of those paradoxes that always marks Christ’s Church—the losers (as the world counts loss) are the winners, and vice versa…

Do I really have to belabor the example of the last 3 years and the “pandemic”? Who was saving their own skin, and who had eyes only for Christ’s Kingdom? A sorting hat…

The point is: if you don’t have enemies—in enemy-occupied territory, which this world is—if you’re at ease with how things are, how they’ve been going (especially lately) are you sure it’s the King’s side you’re on? Maybe the ones droning on about “saving our democracy” should be reminded Christ doesn’t campaign for anyone’s vote. His is a Kingdom, not a democracy. Letting the masses decide everything is not Jesus’ Way—nor America’s either, BTW. Our founding fathers hated the idea of majoritarian (mob) rule. They sought a republic built on higher things…

Remember also what Jesus said last week? His disciples will be hated by all for his name’s sake? You’ll recall the institutional church, state, and media all conspired to kill Jesus, right? And Jeremiah. And most of the prophets and apostles, too. Just sayin’… 😉

Doesn’t the prospect of being… a commando, caught behind enemy lines, on a sabotage campaign in the great war, with the world and all the odds against you, but the King himself with you—like Strider, Sam, and Frodo (that whole ring thing 😉 does it not thrill you, just a little? Get in touch with your inner 13-year old!

David always was. A King rejected by the world, he turned commando, his band of 600 against 600,000+. When the priest Ahimelech gave David holy bread and Goliath’s sword, when David was on the run from Saul, Saul had Ahimelech and all his family killed—except Abiathar who came to David who said: “that slaughter was my fault, but stay with me; with me, you’re safe!?!”

Is he joking? No. Jesus says whoever receives his apostles receives him. The ring, er… Word and Sacraments we bear, the world seeks to destroy. We don’t preach peace and safety, the world’s way, but Christ and his cross, heaven’s way. If you hang with us, you’ll have enemies, for sure. But you’ll have Jesus for a friend; and the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in him. For Christ’s sake. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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