For the Second Sunday after Trinity
Let's get down to this morning's gospel reading shall we? Tough stuff this, isn't it? Verse 34-36: Do not think 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! Jesus says that his followers may have to make some pretty tough decisions about where their allegiance lies. "Whosever does not take up his cross, and follow me is not worthy of me..." and so on.
To us Western Christians, this speech seems rather odd, even a bit fanatical doesn't it? We have the freedom to worship wherever and whenever we like – except during a virus lockdown, of course. To us, Jesus’ talk of persecution, poverty and martyrdom seems to represent another world altogether. But ask the Christians of Syria, or Iran, or Turkey, or Northern Nigeria, or Palestine whether persecution, poverty and martyrdom is a reality today.
Their often horrific stories force me to ask some pretty tough questions of myself. Could it be, for example, that we Western Christians have somehow tamed our faith? Have we re-fashioned it in our own image so that it no longer challenges our society at all? With our beautiful buildings, sublime music and art, our robes and our meticulous traditions, perhaps we have left behind us some of the more radical aspects of Jesus message.
Now, this is not something I've been hearing from my lovely parishioners here at St Faith's, but frankly, when church members start to worry more about when their church building can open than whether their church is doing enough to help the poor, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions.
Have we become so contaminated by the world around us, that the world no longer sees us as a threat to its selfish, violent, materialistic way of life? Could it be that we have become silent, when we should be upsetting the money-changers' tables?
The Christian faith, openly declared, is dangerous to the world. It is a way of life which stands in opposition to the way that many people chose to live. It is a way of peace, not war. It is a way of self-control, not pleasure-seeking. It is a way of poverty, simplicity and charity, not materialism and consumerism.
But what about these battles which Jesus predicts between family members? There is an old saying, that blood is thicker than water...which is sometimes used to justify all sorts of feuds between families. In some feuds, it doesn't matter who is right or wrong...it matters only that someone's family has been insulted. It's what the Mafia does. And, frankly, it’s what some families do too.
I don't know about you...but I think that that way lies madness. If we all jump to the defence of someone who is clearly in the wrong, just because they were a member of our family - or our club - then pretty soon the whole of society would crumble into an endless battle.
The church has suffered from this temptation too. As we all know, only too painfully, the church is suffering from such bad publicity about its handling of sexual abuse, racism and homophobia. That’s because churches, sometimes, have tended to put the church family above the need for justice and truth for victims of abuse, racism and homophobia. Sometimes, we’ve even hidden – or at least tolerated - abusers, or racists, or homophobes within our church family structures. We have failed to call them to a higher loyalty – the loyalty we all owe to God. The loyalty to truth and justice.
Now please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that families – or indeed churches - are a bad thing. God loves families! God invented families. Families, and church families, are one of the most important structures in our whole society. The best families give us companionship and love, a place to feel secure, a place to make mistakes, and still be accepted.
But Jesus says to us, through this reading, that we have an even higher loyalty...a loyalty that only a God could claim...a loyalty to Him. And that, Jesus warns, will bring division even between members of the same family, and even a kind of metaphorical sword. Because God has an even higher claim on our loyalty than our families.... even if our families don't acknowledge him.
So when those around us choose not to follow the path of the Spirit, how do we respond? Perhaps they are our neighbours? Perhaps its our Government, influenced by massive political donations to enact certain policies? Perhaps its companies founded on greed and materialism, and who use modern day slaves to produce their wonderfully cheap goods for Western consumers? Perhaps even members of our own family choose not to follow the path of the Spirit. How do we respond? Who is it who commands our loyalty?
May God give you the strength to stand up for Jesus, and for his radical call to a life of truth, justice, simplicity and charity. May you carry your cross, even when your family or neighbours tempt you to another path - an easier path, a path of least resistance. Be strong in the Lord. Carry your cross. And hold out for the reward of heaven. Amen.
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