SERMON PREACHED BY JOSEPH WALLACE, SEWANEE ’12, AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
SUNDAY, JUNE 26, 2011, THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

"It will leave a mark"

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34)

Many of you may be asking the same question that I asked myself after hearing these harsh words of Jesus…

• Has Jesus lost his mind?
• This is not the Jesus that I have come to know and love!
• This is not the Jesus of my childhood.

These are definitely not verses that are usually used to try and attract people to Christianity.

Beloved people of God, I’m sorry to have to say it, but if you have become comfortable with a Jesus and a Christian faith that have become comfortable with our society and our own human frailty and brokenness, this is not the Jesus you thought you knew.

Contrary to popular opinion and bestselling books, not everything the follower of Jesus needs to know can be learned in kindergarten.

Kingdom work is more controversial and subversive than conventional kindness. We have been called to follow Christ… In our text this morning Jesus blows out of the water that old saying, “do as I say not as I do.”

We must do as Jesus has said and did and therefore….. If the teacher gives offense, how much more the student (v. 25)?

To be committed to Jesus Christ is to take up the cross. The Cross is a call to choose a way of life of marginalization; to identify with the nobodies like slaves, or the working poor or the children being traded on the coast of Boston as sex slaves… it is to identify with those who are by some understood to be cursed by God.

It is to identify with those who resist the empire's control, who contest its version of reality, and who are vulnerable to its reprisals. The empire will do its worst in crucifying Jesus. But God raises Jesus from death, thwarting the empire's efforts. We too will be crucified, as we stand countercultural to the world.

Because the demands of the prince of true peace are like a sword that cuts through the illusion of commonsense morality as we condone:

• A society committed to death over life.
• A society committed to dog eat dog.
• A society committed radically to the individual and not the greater good of the community.

Christ calls us to the cross… to die.

• Die to the illusion that we can make it on our own and that we don’t need God.
• Die to our selfishness.
• Die to our xenophobia.

To not respond positively to such a call is to not be a disciple.

The words of Jesus here in Matthew are for the mature disciple. To follow Jesus demands a radical kind of commitment. Jesus claims priority over the most important things in our lives -- including our parents and our children. If following Jesus meant we had to give up eating slugs or worms, discipleship would be very easy.

The apostle Paul's personal testimony (in Phil. 3:2-11) stresses the giving up of the very best things -- the most religious things -- in his life in order to follow Jesus.

And so then I invite us to ask ourselves. What good things in our lives have we given up -- or, perhaps better, made less important in our lives -- to follow Christ.

• Money?
• Prestige?
• Comfort?
• Power?

The mature disciple even in the MIDST of the storm can say, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

Many times we feel that we have served well. We have done what we should have done, and sometimes we feel we've done more than we should have done. The apostle Paul says, "I count not myself to have done what I should; I have not yet reached my goal."

• When Christ cuts away all that is foul within us,
• We can confess that we have not yet apprehended,
• We have not yet reached our goal,
• We have not yet put our hands upon that for which we have been baptized.

Jesus said that we have within us the capacity to order that a mountain be moved and it will commit suicide in the sea. But our prayer life is so weak that we are unable to influence our communities and to bring about changes in our nation, in our neighborhoods and in our own households.

We need for Christ to cut away at our hearts and not give us peace. So that we might be moved and be willing say to ourselves, "I am willing, God, to be whatever you want me to be; I am willing to climb whatever hill, whatever mountain; I am willing to travel whatever road you would have me; I am ready."

The Lord will do great things with us.  Yes, it is very possible that a truly praying person can change this entire town. A praying congregation might change all of America.

And for our full commitment to Christ WE MAY BE disowned by our families. Sometimes we will be criticized by the enemies of the church; sometimes, by the people in the church, because our problem is not only on the outside, but also on the inside.

I once worked with a young man in trouble who said, "I wish that I had never been made." When he said this, I could not help but think, "Young man, you are not made.  Not yet.  You are being made."

• It takes some sighing
• Some crying
• At times some hurting
• Some bruises
• Some pain
• Anxiety

It takes dark nights and high hills and lonely ways.

It is in these times our only prayer is "Have your own way, Lord! You are the potter, I am the clay! Mold me and make me."

• We are not yet made!
• We are being made!

In the midst of that pit of our pain when the blow falls, and knife cuts, remember the Lord is doing something. And so we "press toward the mark."

It is hard sometimes, but God’s mature disciple must hold on anyhow.

• Hold on anyhow.  When storm clouds rise, serve the Lord anyhow.
• When our pathway grows rocky and long, we the children of God are going on anyhow.
• When friends get few and praise turns to blame, we the children of God are going on anyhow.

Do you press? I say to you today that I know what it is to have great sorrow. I know what it is not to know which way you are going sometimes. I know what it is to dampen the pillow some nights with one's own tears. I even know what it is to hope almost against hope not to wake up the next morning.

This life can be very difficult, and the two-edged sword of Christ hurts. But press on! Because we know that the way of the Cross is the way to True Life !

Today the battle shout, tomorrow the victor's song.

Our eyes may be wet with tears sometimes, but the promise is that God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes.

We’re marching through Emmanuel's ground,
To fairer worlds on high,
In His Name!

Amen.