I don’t know about you, but when I see that something has been omitted or taken away, that is the first thing I want to look at. In Sunday’s Daily Gospel Reading is Matthew 10: 24-33, 40-42, the left out part (Mt 10: 34-39) is the part about “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And it goes on to detail all the relationships which will be torn apart. This is also the section that gives the Peace and Justice ministers hives! No peace? Tearing apart families, that cornerstone of the tribe, of the Body? Jesus, our model of nonviolence? But then I noticed that all of Matthew 10 is a rollercoaster, propping up, then tearing down, comforting and then shocking. Jesus summons the Twelve, and he tells them to go forth and teach, heal, cast out demons, and proclaim that the Kingdom is near. But don’t go near those foreign Gentiles, especially the Samaritans. And if a town doesn’t accept these apostles, woe be unto them. Like sheep amongst wolves, be as wise as a serpent, innocent like a dove. And then he tells them all the terrible things that he will go through, and tells his own that they will face those same terrors.
But Jesus then uplifts his apostles with the great panegyric of hope. Trust in his Father who knows and cherishes every sparrow, knows and delights in every hair on your head. How can that one not protect you in ways beyond death, a death meted out by the unjust? Trust in Jesus and trust in his Father, for even your own family may be against you. I would imagine hearing all that was cold comfort to those who walked away from their fishing boats, tax booths, warm and cozy homes, to follow him.
Well, folks, I think we are in the same boat (or tax booth). Despite the cries of the Christian right that we live in a Christian country, we don’t. That is not because of an historical decision by the eighteenth century founders. They were, for the most part, some sort of Christian, or at least deeply influenced by the faith. Today the world is divided into the secular skeptics and unbelievers, and the Biblical literalists. Yes, perhaps an exaggeration, but those of us who care deeply for Jesus, and who feel the movement of the Spirit within us, are again a minority. And that puts a very different spin on how we live our Christian lives, not only on Sunday in church, and regular attendance has become something of an option even for the faithful, but how we live and entertain ourselves, and the choices we make in what we buy and wear and eat. And how we do or do not shake the dust from our sandals and move on, or quit and run away.
When did we forget that walking with Jesus isn’t a walk in the park? Yes, there is a peace which passes understanding, really there is, when we are filled with the Spirit and we know it. And that isn’t just at revivals, or a particularly lively Pentecost service. Just knowing that God is with us is enough. And that we can trust that when we need to make a decision we are guided by our Teacher. And when we mess up, we will be forgiven and picked up and given some other chance. That isn’t Pollyanna cheerfulness. That is the way our God, our Father (or Mother) made us and cares for us. And how we are expected to care for each other.
Our world has become the world of those about whom Jesus warned his disciples. We are being called in a world as dysfunctional as the first century Roman Empire to pick up our cross, or at least our small backpack with only one spare tunic, and head out into the messy and often cruel world. It is a world of the 24/7 news cycle. It is a world of cultural, racial, and religious wars. Genocide, which is now the new norm. And destruction of all that Creation that we praise in psalm and canticle. And how are we going to go before the throne of God and say, “Gee, sorry” when we are the disciples charged with spreading the gospel? But before we grab our cardboard sign with the clever saying, I think the place to start is with us. We need to see our own sins, and repent, turn back to God, turn back to Jesus, who in this reading and the ones to follow now speaks in the hard tone of a dead man walking. Because our salvation, and the salvation of the world is at stake.
Let’s start with the sparrows, and remembering that God may delight in every hair on our heads, but we didn’t put them there. Like the sparrow, we are the little children. Watched. Protected. And pretty vulnerable. Even within our own Body we have managed to create splits which in our own inflexibility, in our own self-approbation, seem pretty impenetrable. We have gender issues, both male vs. female and LGBTQ, and issues of race, political alliance, and a Legion more. And some of the most vicious fights have been in our own communities. Of course, this isn’t’ the first time we have turned on each other, and we survived. Ask St. Paul about the church in Corinth.
We are all in need of each other in one Body, no exceptions. Because we are the living bearers of the Light in a world rapidly forgetting that Christ came to save us. Because “spirituality” and secular humanism will only go so far toward repentance and turning to God. We can’t afford the luxury of our own sins against any of our sisters and our brothers. When the rubber hits the road it is the mind of Christ that sets us right. We need to love and forgive as best we can. Anything else is demon fodder. And that is hard. That is us, being the disciples, going on the road with almost nothing, facing spitting, insults, stoning, and death, to heal, banish demons, spread the Gospel.
Jesus said, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” We are invited to be what God wanted his people to be like. I wouldn’t trade one moment of the difficult path, out of abiding love. Or as Peter said when Jesus asked if he, too, was leaving, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn 6: 68).” And that means our life now, as well as eternal. And so Jesus is arming his own, we who carry his Word, the Way.
Well, my brother and sister sparrows, let’s hear these hard words said on the road to the cross. Let us plod on in faith and humility, and labor in the Spirit. And let us love one another, in all our differences, sinner to sinner. We have work to do.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.