“Divine Disruption” Matthew 10:24-39
Belmont UMC—June 22, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
When I was a teenager, growing up in Springfield, Tennessee, our church was pastored by Vanderbilt Divinity School students for the most part. One Sunday, in my 17th year of life, when I was wrestling with my faith and wondering if I should run away from the church or try to help bring transformation to the church, we had a guest speaker, a young man from Malaysia, who was a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School and a friend of our pastor. That Sunday my parents had invited the pastor, his wife and this young man, named Boon Chin, to be our lunch guests.
Over lunch I asked him a lot of questions about his faith and I never forgot what he told me. He said, “I was converted to Christianity after reading the Gospels at about the same age as you, Ken, and I came home to tell my family. I knew they would not approve but I was not prepared for their reactions. My father beat me with a stick and kicked me out of the house and out of my family. I haven’t seen them since that day.”
I looked around the table at my family. My mother’s eyes filled with tears and she reached out and put her hand on Boon Chin’s shoulder. I couldn’t imagine what it might be like to lose my family for my faith.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus is preparing the 12 disciples to be sent out in the world. He’s painting a very stark and somewhat frightening picture of what might happen to them out in the world. This is a difficult and troubling passage, especially if we take it out of the context of the disciples’ commissioning.
My friend, who says he reads the Bible with the book in one hand and a bottle of White Out in the other, will need to get his bottle out before reading Matthew 10.
In some ways the text seems a bit foreign to us. In our culture we are not apt to have to make the hard decisions of discipleship, between family and faith, or between friends and faith. We are taught to be fairly tolerant and we do not have a state religion. We live in a culture in which politicians use their faith stories to campaign for office. No one is going to kick us out of our family or put us in prison for practicing our faith.
But even still, we may experience the presence of Jesus as a disruption, if we take Jesus seriously, if we take the call to discipleship seriously.
If we take discipleship seriously then we experience Jesus as the disrupter of complacency. The Hebrew prophet declared, “Woe to those sit at ease in Zion.” Or the Edwards’ paraphrase, “Woe to those who have become too comfortable and complacent.”
There are those to whom church is not a place of discipleship but a place to show up once in awhile, to have a place to call their “church home” even if their relationship with the church is superficial at best.
There is a wonderful scene if one of Garrison Keilor’s stories about the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Wayward Catholics have returned to their home town for the Christmas Eve mass at the only Catholic Church in town, Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. Father Emil roused himself from bed where he had been down with cancer since Columbus Day.
He wanted to offer the Christmas Eve homily, inspired by the sight of all those lapsed Catholics with their unbaptized children, and he gave them good tongue lashing. When you’re sick and vulnerable, you can become a little more passionate about things. He left the pulpit and walked right down to the first row and put his hand on the back of the pew to brace his self. It scared the people all around and they moved away from him.
He said, “Shame. Shame on us for leaving what we were given that was true and good. To receive a great treasure in our younger days and to abandon it so that we can lie down in the mud with swine.”
“They came for Christmas, to hear music, to see the candles, and smell incense, and feel hopeful, and here was their old priest with hair in his ears whacking them around.” The people were afraid of him.
Keilor wrote, “He stopped. It was so quiet you could hear them not breathing. Then he said that this is why Our Lord had came, to rescue us from dullness of spirit, and so the shepherds had found and so shall we, and then it was Christmas again.” (Garrison Keilor, “Exiles” in Listening for God, pp. 199-220)
I would never preach like that on Christmas Eve, but it does seem surprising that so many people come to hear of such a great truth, a great disruption to the whole world and to our lives, and go away glowing as if it didn’t matter that much.
Jesus came into the world and he disrupts our complacency. But when I was awake at 3 AM the other morning and imagined looking out at you on Sunday morning and I thought, “Belmont is not a complacent church or an apathetic church.” When I was in college someone had written on the restroom wall in the library, “Apathy abounds at this institution.” Someone came along later and wrote under those words, “Who cares?”
But you care and you’re not complacent.
But we may need Jesus to disrupt our inertia borne out of feeling overwhelmed. I arrived home in time for the nightly news one night last week. It was terrifying: more violence in Iraq and Syria, unrest all over the world, twin tornadoes destroying a town in the Midwest, and gun violence on campuses. I went out into the backyard and pulled weeds in the perennial garden, reflecting that at least I could have some control over this small part of my world.
I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of need and sometimes it paralyses me. Do you feel that way? And then I remember those words of Mother Theresa, words I’ve quoted to you a dozen times. When asked, “How do you feed all the hungry people of India?” She replied, “One at a time.”
We cannot solve all the world’s problems. But we can do something. We cannot stop malaria on our own, but we can buy nets and save some lives. What we do will a difference. I cannot stop gun violence, but I’m sure our governor and our two senators wish I would stop sending emails about sensible gun control legislation. I cannot solve the homeless problem in our city but I can buy the Contributor and I help provide services for the homeless neighbors. The needs are so great and we are called away from our inertia to respond in ways that make a difference.
I met a young father who said he didn’t have much time on his hands, but he wanted to do some good. When he gets his paycheck, he gets $50 in one dollar bills and he buys contributors on every corner he passes until the money is gone. He said, “It doesn’t take extra time and I don’t miss the money. Maybe it makes a difference.”
Following Jesus can mean a disruption of our plans. I didn’t plan to be here. When I was sitting at lunch, listening to Boon Chin, I was planning on getting a degree in English and signing up for the Peace Corp. God had other plans.
Jesus can change your life plans. He changed the plans of those first disciples and in Matthew 10 he’s helping them understand the consequences of following him.
And at 18 years of age, when I became reacquainted with Jesus and decided to follow his plan for my life, there were some friends who were uncomfortable with that and didn’t come around me anymore. And there was a girlfriend who decided that I was not the one for her.
When Bishop Willimon was the dean of the chapel at Duke he would get calls from troubled parents. They weren’t troubled about their children’s promiscuity or alcohol abuse, but they were alarmed that their sweet daughters and sons had decided to go on a mission trip over spring break to Haiti to help with the earthquake relief effort. They worried that their children were becoming religious fanatics.
I have the privilege of mentoring, officially and unofficially, a number of young adults who are entering the ministry of the United Methodist Church—some of the finest young women and men I’ve ever met. They are bright and gifted and they could do anything. They could have careers that pay better. (we promise them a salary of $38,000) They could be ambitious. But they made the decision to get on the Jesus’ journey, and Jesus has other plans for them. And they want to make a difference in the lives of others. They inspire me and I’m a better pastor and a better person because of them.
Following Jesus can disrupt your plans. Following Jesus can create tension around your life or in the life of a church. Following Jesus comes with some risks, but they are the kinds of risks that can make difference in our world, the kind of risks that lead to transformation, the kind of risks that usher in the kingdom of God.
Today we hear Jesus asks, “Will you come and follow me?”
Let us live with these words this summer and see where they take us: Put things in order, respond to my encouragement, be in harmony with each other, and live in peace.
Then Paul says, “Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”