2 Pentecost Proper A8
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 10:34-42 Sermon
June 26, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
34 "My Soul Now Bless Thy Maker" (now playing, alternate arrangement)
409 "Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus"
47 "Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise"
NOW THIS IS THE LIFE!
TEXT (vs. 39): “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Ah, now this is the life! Do you remember those times in your life when you've said that phrase? Perhaps you are taking a vacation in the mountains. You're sitting outside your cabin one morning, drinking your cup of coffee, and looking out over the peaceful scenery. The only noises you hear are the birds singing away, and the occasional animal sound. No phones are ringing. No kids are screaming. No sirens are blaring in the street. Nobody is there to pressure you or to give you grief. All you are now experiencing is peaceful tranquility. And so you sit back, take another sip out of your coffee cup, smile, and think to yourself, "now this is the life!"
That's just a hypothetical situation I dreamed up myself, one that I might enjoy. For you, it might be a different situation. It could be something as simple as sitting in your back yard, or making a quick stop at a park. It might be locking yourself in the bathroom and unwinding while soaking in the bathtub.
I'm sure that each one of us has had the opportunity to feel that way at one time or another in our lives. Those are the times that we look for, and we cherish them when we find them. That's basically what I want from a vacation, that is, when I can actually get one. I have had those moments in my life, and I hope to have many more.
Most situations in life aren't that easy however. You might be harassed or taunted by some of your peers for not joining them in some sort of sinful activity. You might get grief from people when you go to church on Sunday instead of playing golf or going fishing. Maybe a romance or marriage has broken up. Perhaps somebody close to you has died. Maybe the bills are piling up, and there seems to be no easy way out. Life has its dramas. And when that happens, are we just as quick to smile and say, "Ah; now this is the life?"
Today in our Gospel lesson, Jesus is speaking about life. And if we listen carefully, we'll see that Jesus is going to change our outlook on life. He'll change our life expectations, our worries, and our priorities. In the way Jesus explains things, we can't be always looking for those vacation moments or times of peaceful relaxation and say, "now this is the life." In fact, when we do look at our lives, Jesus takes us way past any of those pleasurable moments we like so well. For the Christian, having a life here upon the earth that will continue on into eternity is a sure and certain thing. The Christian can certainly say, "Now this is the life." God, who gives us life in the first place, is the one who knows exactly what life is all about.
Because we Christians love Jesus and believe in him and his words, we stand for something. And when you stand FOR something, it is a necessary result that you stand AGAINST something else. Remember the old saying that I've often quoted: "he who stands for nothing, will fall for anything." So simply because a Christian must, and I mean absolutely must stand for the truth of God and the Gospel of Christ, life just isn't going to be easy for the Christian.
Jesus clears up a misunderstanding that people who follow him will have a carefree, easy, peaceful, happy-go-lucky life, when he says in verse 34 of our Gospel for today, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
Don't those words sound a little strange coming from the Prince of Peace himself, perhaps a bit contradictory to the announcement of the angels at his birth about "peace on earth good will to men?"
Not at all, actually. You see, Jesus came to establish peace all right, but only a certain kind of peace. It's the peace that Jesus and the apostles and prophets proclaimed, as did Paul to the Romans in chapter 5 verse 1, "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Those who have peace with God seek to share that peace with others.
The peace of which Jesus is speaking is not peace between the cross-town rivals, it's not world peace, and it's not social peace, because those are based on different agendas than Jesus Christ.
Therefore, Christians are not at peace with any who oppose God or distort his Word because they oppose us, so God states through his prophet Isaiah in chapter 57 verse 21: "There is no peace for the wicked."
If we go back to the Old Testament reading for this morning, we find the prophet Jeremiah going up against Hananiah the priest. Hananiah was setting himself up in a position of divine authority. He thought that if he gave his people what they wanted to hear, then his life would be peaceful.
And so he begins to speak in the Lord's name. He was preaching a word of peace and tranquility amongst the people. He was pointing them toward something that just couldn't be achieved by human power or reason. He was promising love and prosperity, but he was throwing God's commands right out the window.
Jeremiah knew what he was up to. The idea of sin and repentance was something Hananiah just didn't want to deal with. Hananiah was indeed a false prophet who was trying to drag other people down with him. And now Jeremiah has to do something about it. So he stood up to Hananiah, and spoke the Lord's words of judgment upon him.
When you stand for something, you necessarily stand against its opposite. If you're on a diet you stand against strawberry shortcake and brownies. If you're promoting affirmative action you stand against discrimination. If you are a Christian you stand against non-Christian beliefs and behaviors.
And Jesus doesn't sugar coat this either. Our Christian life will put even the most intimate personal relationships to the test, because it stands for Jesus and his Word. He gives us some very common relationships to consider: Parents and children, husbands and wives, family members against family members.
And Jesus gets to the point quickly. What it comes to is this: whom do you love more? When these relationships are tested, when your relationship with Jesus causes division and conflict against your relationship with a loved one, who wins? Our Gospel lesson for this morning says, "Anyone who loves his father or mother ... son or daughter more then me is not worthy of me." Jesus says this without a moment's hesitation and without apology.
How well we know this. Former Australian Prime minister Malcolm Frasier once said during a particularly tough time in the Australian economy, "well, life wasn't meant to be easy." And we could certainly say the same words today, and they would be just as fitting.
But we want an easy life. We want to be able to kick back, relax someplace, and say, "Now this is the life!" The temptation, of course, is to avoid conflict at all costs. Most of the time it's made to look good, and it is called "peace" or "tolerance." However, when it compromises God's Word, when it puts Jesus in second place to anyone or anything else, Jesus calls it sin.
So the logical conclusion to all this, is that if you want the easy life, you'll have to leave Jesus. The Bible is full of people who wanted the easy life. The prodigal son; Abraham's nephew Lot; King Solomon; and the disciple Judas, who after committing suicide, got way more than he bargained for.
Then there was the man in Jesus' parable, recorded in Luke chapter 12 verse 19, who built bigger barns, laid back in his La-Z-boy and said to himself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."
Avoiding conflict and living the easy life might seem like the logical thing to do. It could even bring temporary, worldly peace; but it's superficial. It doesn't take root, and it gives a false sense of security. And if a person is standing against Jesus, then the curse of hell awaits for all eternity. It's not an easy life; so we can't even try to find the easy way out.
I recently saw some data on TV viewing pointing out that in the first 20 years of an average American kid's life, he or she will see one million TV commercials. That makes TV commercials the greatest source of impact and information on such a child.
That's a scary thought when you consider that a TV commercial normally teaches three things: 1) that all problems are resolvable, 2) that all problems are resolvable quickly, and 3) that all problems are resolvable quickly through some man-made product or service, which is of course, the advertised product.
For example, if you have a problem getting good meals in front of your family so they can eat in five minutes and get back to their busy lives, the problem is quickly solved by going to the grocery store and buying a new microwave meal for five, or making a quick trip through the McDonald's drive through window.
Of course, the underlying message is that you feel that life should be easy. You deserve a break today! The world owes it to you! Your world should not include any problems or conflicts. But Jesus doesn't agree with that philosophy.
It's not that Jesus, whose cooking methods were basically limited to fire and boiling water, has a problem with microwave ovens or the McDonald's drive through. No, Jesus is troubled when a person looks to find the easy life because it means leaving him behind. In our Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus gives this warning: "Whoever finds his life (that's the easy, worldly life apart from Christ) will lose it (that is, the Christian life now and in heaven)."
To avoid hardships we have this tendency to give Jesus and his Word second or third or tenth place in lives. Our priorities show that we love other things and other people more than Jesus and his Word. And so to avoid conflict, we look for peace when it comes at the cost of compromising Jesus and his Word. Therefore, IF Jesus' words are true (and they are), when we follow our own philosophy and logic instead of what God plainly says, then we must also be ready to lose heaven, to lose forgiveness, and to lose peace with God. Once again, however, Jesus wouldn't agree.
Remember the story of the prodigal, or wasteful son. He looked for a better life, but didn't find it. He returned to his father to be hired as a servant, but was welcomed like a prince. There was no reason for the father to welcome his lost son, except gracious, forgiving love.
There is no reason for our Lord God to welcome you and me into his heaven either, except for his gracious, forgiving love. And his love for us is unmistakable. He put it in action by punishing his Son in our place, so that sin's curse has been paid. Jesus renews his covenant of forgiveness to you and me individually by letting us eat and drink his true body and blood the Lord's Supper.
God, our Father didn't do things the easy way. Jesus his Son didn't look for the easy life, even though he could. Our Saviour suffered violence and cruelty to give us peace. He tasted death's sting to give us life. It most certainly is not an easy life according to the world's standards, but we also know that it's not an empty life either.
I like those relaxing times in my life, those time when I can kick back, breathe a huge contented sigh, and say to myself, "now this is the life!" I think we need those moments to unwind, get rid of the stress, and clear our minds. That's a necessity of life; otherwise we'd burn ourselves out. As Christians, we can't get hung up by thinking a God-pleasing life is made up of enjoyable things we must refuse, and burdens we must bear. Remember, Jesus says to his children in John chapter 10 verse 10, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
As Christian people, we don't go moping around, regretting the things we must refuse, but instead we rejoice in the things we receive. We don't grumble about the added pressures and persecutions that come our way, but we thankfully enjoy our many freedoms that come through the Gospel.
And so, we gladly receive the commands and promises of Jesus in faith, the same commands and promises shared by the prophets and even by God's righteous people today. When we receive them, then we receive rewards along with them. These are not prizes we win for doing good things, but the benefits and blessings from our loving and gracious God in heaven. Just remember the prodigal son, who received a robe and a ring and a feast from his grateful and loving father. Our life becomes filled with good things from God, and we know that the greatest joy of all awaits us in heaven. It's certainly not an empty life when we start to count the blessings.
Ah, now this is the life! This is no temporary distraction from the real world. We're not sitting here creating a pretend environment for ourselves. We aren't waking up from a dream and eventually have to face the real world.
This is it! This is reality! The Nebraska motto is true. You and I are living the good life. We don't have to create our own plastic world. God is here, with us, right now. Except for heaven itself, there is nothing better.