Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 29, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Texts: Matthew 10:34-42
Sermon Theme: “So Jesus Is Not the ‘Prince of Peace’ after All?”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Wikipedia Online; Nelson’s Three-in-One; Emphasis Online Commentary; Believer’s Commentary; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 24, Part 3, Series A)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1994, the city planners in San Luis Obispo, California, introduced a measure that would have required every new house to have a front porch. They were not trying to be frivolous by doing that, nor were they trying to promote a particular style of architecture. The idea was that if all the residents of that community had front porches, they would probably sit on those porches, and therefore, they would be more likely to visit with passersby and with people who lived around them.
In short, the city planners figured that good friends and good neighbors would yield a safer and more satisfying community. It turned out that a legal challenge to that porch requirement caused the proposal to be withdrawn.
But what that California town was attempting to do was to solve a problem that is widespread in our country. And that problem is that we have become a nation of strangers. We have become a nation of people who do not know each other and who, as a result, do not care about each other. In the last paragraph of our sermon text, Jesus points to the importance of greeting and welcoming the stranger. It’s important, because when we greet and welcome a stranger, we welcome Jesus; hospitality is one of the gifts of the Spirit.
Well, sure, this is what being a Christian is all about, right? But then, we look at the first paragraph of our sermon text, and the words of Jesus shock us: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Didn’t Isaiah call Jesus the Prince of Peace? Didn’t the Hebrew prophets foretell that the Messiah would usher in a reign of peace? When Jesus was born, didn’t a sky full of angels loudly proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests”? Didn’t Jesus greet His disciples again and again and again with, “Peace be unto you”? Actually Jesus did bring peace, as Ephesians 2:14 says, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”
So, does Jesus contradict Himself? By no means! At the beginning of our text, He wants His disciples to understand the cost of discipleship, as discipleship will bring strife and division among friends and family. By no means is it Jesus’ intention to bring division; no, no, no, — it is a by-product of loyalty to Christ and fidelity to the truth. Some will accept His claims, and some will reject them. The result is division.
For example, the Apostle Paul’s young friend Timothy had a mother and grandmother who were devout Jews, but his father was a pagan Greek; under Paul’s mentoring Timothy became a Jew first and then a Christian. This would have alienated him farther from his father.
This division still happens today. Several years ago I had a Primary Care Physician who was a Lutheran Christian; her husband was a Hindu. She asked me about our Vacation Bible School, because she said her children, up to this point, had had no religious training at all. This is the kind of division Jesus would cause, but not because His purpose in coming is to cause strife and division. He warned what would happen because of Him, yet without His coming there could never be any true peace on earth.
Jesus often used a rhetorical device known as “hyperbole,” which is deliberate exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis or making a strong point. For example, He used hyperbole when He told us not to point out the sawdust in someone else’s eye when there was a plank in our own. He overstated the animosity between a man and his father and those in a man’s household becoming his worst enemies. That we should love Jesus above all else, even mother or father, however, is not hyperbole, as the First Commandment commands that.
In Jesus’ day, there was a kind of peace on the surface, in that the Romans had subjugated all the nations they conquered, including Judah. The absence of civil war and violence was due to the superior clout of Roman soldiers and law enforcers who were everywhere. Underneath, there was seething anger and hatred of those subjugated, — like a pressure cooker about to blow up. I guess you could call that peace, but it’s not true peace, the kind Jesus represents.
Now that American military might is no longer in Iraq, that country is a boiling, churning caldron of hostilities and violence. With our military presence, there had been a Roman kind of peace. Now, the Sunni Muslims and the Shiite Muslims are about to tear each other to shreds. There is never any real hope of real peace outside of Jesus.
Just what is “peace” anyway? In the early 1900’s, about the time of World War I, the symbol of peace was a broken rifle. That’s a peace that means the absence of war. In 1958, a circle with a long-necked tripod within it became a symbol for the British nuclear disarmament movement. That’s a peace which means the absence of nuclear war. It was picked up by the Hippies and the anti-war movement in the 1960’s and has been a symbol of peace ever since, along with making a V with the fingers, thus changing the Victory sign to the Peace sign. But it too is not the peace Jesus stands for.
The oldest peace symbols are the dove and the olive branch, as well as the dove with the olive branch in its beak. This is the Biblical symbol of peace which grew out of the story of Noah and the great flood, and it’s the closest thing to the “peace which passes all understanding,” brought to us by the God of Peace, the Prince of Peace. The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom.” The Hebrew spelling of Shalom is its symbol which we indicate by writing a square O, followed by what looks like an I, followed by what looks like a 7 with a hickie on top, followed by a capital E lying on its back.
“So, where in the Bible is there a definition of God’s kind of peace?,” you may ask. Well, the entire Bible, Old and New Testament, is a definition of that kind of peace.
However, the shortest, most concise definition of “peace” that I know of was written by John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. Wesley said, “In its literal meaning [peace] implies those lovers of God and man who utterly detest and abhor all strife and debate, all variances and contentions; and accordingly labor with all their might, either to prevent this fire of hell from being kindled, or, when it is kindled, from breaking out, or when it is broke out, from spreading any further.”
In the closing paragraph of our text, Jesus talks about the rewards of those who accept the witnessing of His missionaries, saying to accept His missionaries is tantamount to accepting Jesus Himself. Here He also emphasizes the importance of hospitality, of helping others and reaching out to others.
People living in New Testament times would have understood the point Jesus was making about reaching out to human beings on the bottom rung of the pecking order, — children – although we may not. He said, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Today, most public places have a water fountain for adults, and another one, mounted lower, for children, — or, like our church does, they have a stepping stool for a child to step on.
In Jesus’ day, they did not build children’s wells and adult wells in Israel. Imagine how hard it must have been for a child in the time of Jesus to get a drink at the well by himself. Lowering the bucket itself might have been difficult for a child, but even if he did succeed in lowering the bucket into the well, he would have a big struggle to lift the heavy bucket after it was filled with water. Helping a child get a cold drink from the well was indeed an act of real kindness. Christian hospitality is reaching out and giving to all, even the lowliest, — and that includes children and the helpless.
To be sure, hospitality is one of the marks of a true Christian, one of the qualities of a follower of Jesus. Paul says in Romans 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” In his first letter to Timothy, he tells Timothy, that a pastor must be among other things, hospitable. He repeats this in his letter to Titus. Also, Peter insists in Chapter 4 of his first letter, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” And Jesus says in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it unto one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it unto me.”
Indeed, Jesus calls us to be hospitable, and He calls us to His peace. In spite of the strife and hostilities that were often a response to His entrance into our world, Jesus comes to us as the Prince of Peace, the peace that passes all understanding and is a taste of the peace in Heaven. As Christians, we must be ministers of His peace, and our ministry must start with our family and friends. That’s the message for this Third Sunday after Pentecost. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.