Pardon the Interruption
Last week I talked about the fact that sometimes the Bible doesn’t seem too relevant in our modern lives. There are some passages that we would love to rip out of the Bible and throw away because they don’t make sense. Those opponents of Christianity love to claim the Bible’s irrelevance but also that the Bible contradicts itself. In this passage here it seems to. Jesus says, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the world. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” That seems to go against and contradict a lot of what Jesus tells us. Isn’t this the guy who told us that “blessed are the peacemakers,” who told us to “turn the other cheek,” and who when arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane says to Peter, “Put away your sword, those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
The sword that Jesus brings here is not literal. This passage, although disturbing, is not a Christian call to arms. This is imagery. This is analogy. Christ brings a sword to cut our lives with his radical love and calling to follow him. He brings a sword of truth. A sword used to cut away our old lives in order for us to move into a better way of living, a way he is calling us to live. Christ’s sword cuts our lives open, it completely interrupts what we hold near and dear to our hearts and destroys our present reality.
When you are cut by Jesus’ sword the result is life altering moments. My high school Sunday School teacher went up to Gary, WV one winter (I cannot remember why). While he was up there he started to visit some of the people. He came upon a small house held up by cinder blocks, with now insulation and only plywood walls. Upon entering the house he saw the three daughters of the single mother sleeping on a double mattress on the floor. It was so cold that as they slept he could see their breath. That cut him. It cut him real deep. He left that house that day determined not to let those girls be cold any longer. He started a ministry called Operation Warm Up out of Charlotte, NC. The first trip he took back up there, he took five youth and a van. He passed out winter clothes to those people in the hollers. 12 years ago I went on my last trip with him as a youth, there were about a hundred youth who went up, countless minivans and two tracker trailers full of clothes. Being cut by Christ lead to deep opportunities to minister and change your life. During my senior year my Sunday School teacher gave up his six figure salary, his house on Lake Norman and his Mazda Miata and moved up there to work for the people of Gary, WV for free. Christ can cut deep.
When Christ cuts us, things change and Jesus echoes the prophet Micah here when he says, “I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” He is coming to turn your whole world upside down.
It took me a while but I started to think about what my calling into the ministry did for my parents? When I was in high school I started to feel God pulling me towards ministry. I had long conversations with my associate pastor as he explained what a calling is and how he discovered his own. I explored God’s call on my life and I soon dove into that idea head first. What I failed to do was to bring my parents along with me on the journey. Soon their 17 year old son looked at them and said, “I think God is calling me into some sort of ministry. I think I’m going to go to college and major in religion.” I learned later that my parents then called up my associate pastor and had a conversation with him about the ideas he was putting into my head.
I laughed when I learned that but it must have been hard for my parents. I am sure they had dreams for my life. They had hopes and aspirations for what I would do when I grew up and who I would become. I have this sneaking suspicion that they did not dream that I would be a United Methodist minister. They are proud of me and understand that I am doing something I love but when I told them was going into the ministry a piece of their dream died.
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…” Those words of Christ are hard to swallow but if I followed the dreams of my parents I don’t think I would have ended up here. Many children are forced to live out the dreams of their parents. Some feel they have to take over the family business because that is what their father did and their father’s father did. Kids are forced through parental persuasion to go to certain schools or to take a certain path in life.
Some people love their children so much that they wouldn’t dare allow them to get sucked into the ploys and lifestyle of a religion. A college chaplain reported that hne rarely received a phone call from parents that said, “Help! My child who is a sophomore is sexually promiscuous” or “Help! My child is addicted to alcohol.” Instead the most consistent call he received was “Help! I sent my child to the university to be a success and she has become a religious fanatic. She is going to go to Haiti with the Catholics to teach reading.”
Jesus tells us that when he cuts your life people will be hurt, dreams will be crushed and it will happen in the hardest places. It will happen with the people who love us most and who can’t believe you are throwing your life away. The people who will put up the biggest fight against you following your calling are those closest to you, your father, mother, your siblings, and your children. To disappoint them, to crush their dreams and aspirations, to go against their ideas for your life…it’s going to hurt.
The ancient Greeks had two words for the English word ‘time,’ kairos and chronos. Chronos is easy, it is the base word for our word chronological or chronology. It is our time. It is the way humans measure the days, hours, and years. It is our concept of time. Chronos is our time. Kairos’ means the right or opportune moments. Kairos also has some theological implications. In the New Testament kairos is used to describe opportunities or moments that fit into God’s purpose or will. Kairos is God’s time.
There are places in chronos or our time that God interacts and we see kairos or God’s time. The resurrection is the perfect example. The resurrection happened at a certain time in a certain place but it also gave us a picture of God’s plan. It was a kairos moment for us humans. God cut our chronos with his kairos. It is moments like this that Jesus is tells us about when he says he “I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”
When we have a kairos moment our lives are changed forever. My senior high Sunday School teacher had a kairos moment when he saw those girls laying on the mattress sleeping in that bitter cold house. People who go on mission trips or who are apart of disaster relief teams come back changed because they are a witness to God’s kairos. I am sure I can go around this church and we can share moments in our lives when we felt God’s presence so deeply in our lives that we were changed forever. Jesus cuts into our lives and we are never the same because when Jesus cuts he cuts deep.
This passage comes during Jesus’ pep talk to his disciples. He is telling them flat out the type of people that he wants for his ministry in this world. He is drawing a very clear picture of what a true follower of Christ should look like. It is one who will put God first, even before his family. It is a person who is not afraid to take up the cross and follow Jesus. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus, in this 10th chapter of Matthew, paints a picture of costly discipleship. He is calling us to have a type of discipleship that we are all called to but that cuts our lifestyles to bits and shatters the dreams we have for our lives.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a minister in Germany in during the rise of Adolf Hitler. He was one of the few ministers in Germany that decided to stand up to the dictator and could see through his witty rhetoric. In 1937 he wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship. It is a powerful book that paints the picture of what it truly means to follow Jesus Christ. He says, “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” (p. 45)
Bonhoeffer lived his theology out. Six years later, after being apart of a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, he was arrested and imprisoned. As Hitler knew his reign of power was coming to an end, one of his last orders were to make sure that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was put to death. Just a month before Nazi Germany surrendered, on April 9th, 1945, Bonheoffer was executed by hanging. “It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”
Following Jesus Christ is not easy. The world will tell you that you are insane and you will be passed off as a religious fanatic. Yet we have moments in our personal lives that Jesus comes with a sword and cuts our life in two, calling us to take up our cross and follow him, even to the point of losing our own lives. That is true discipleship.
Yet we are given hope. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” We are precious and important to God. We will be taken care of. Yet when we do not follow the call, when we say no to our kairos moments, we cheapen the grace that is offered.
If you have had one of those moments I would love to hear about it. I would love to work with you on how you can live your call out. It may be a calling into ministry. It may be a calling into the mission field. It may be a calling to tutor in our local schools, or to collect food for CCM, or to teach Sunday School, or to go to Africa and find ways to have a relationship with a church over there. Whatever we are called to do we cannot cheapen it by not following. So may you now live as those cut deep by Christ, pulled out of our normal lives and transformed the likeness of our Savior. May you realize the kairos moments and live as those ready for costly discipleship.
And all of God’s people said…Amen.