Live from Mountain Top: Sunday Worship (June 21)

Conflict and Risk  
       Father’s Day
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 86.1-10
Kids, Genesis 21.8-21 (Ishmael and Hagar kicked out and cared for)
Message, Matthew 10.16-39 (continued instruction on mission)

This week’s theme: Conflict and Risk
Hi Dad! And a big Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. For those of you who carry grief with you on Father’s Day, for those of you who have been scarred by fathers, our prayers are with you. This week, I’ll be with my family as we remember my dad.

I just want to be a good dad and good husband. A simpler life, what is actually necessary. Another friend gave me the skull of a coyote pup found in the woods.

Last week, we looked at the theme of “harvest.” Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest fields.” Three areas of focus:
·       Spiritual formation: Become the answer to your own prayers.
·       Abundance: Opportunity comes to those who go knocking.
·       Ownership: Get your skin in the game.
This week, we continue looking at the extended text of Matthew’s gospel, as Jesus goes on to describe an important aspect of the disciple’s harvest work, their work of sharing Jesus with the wider world. This aspect? Conflict and risk.
       So, we’ll set the stage for this theme, since it falls on Father’s Day, with a conflicted family history – just one part of the story.

Multiple Marion Bohanans
Think there was any risk, any conflict?
George Foreman was not the first guy to think this was a good idea!

My parents got engaged after a six-week high-fever courtship. She knew she was marrying a man who would take her all over the world. He knew he was marrying a woman who didn’t want to leave home. Think there was any risk, any conflict?

We ended the message last week with the stirring words: Be the twelve that reach a nation. Be the ten that save a city. Today, we come to the difficult words, the painful part of joining Jesus in his mission – conflict and risk in the work of harvest:
·       Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.
·       Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child.
·       You will be hated by everyone because of my name.
·       Do not think I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.
·       The one who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. The one who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Despite this terrible cost, Jesus gives hope, such as it is:
·       Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot touch the soul.
·       Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
·       The one who loses his life because of me will find it.

This passage is paired in the lectionary, the traditional worship reading cycle, with this Abraham story of family conflict and risk. It is strange and terrible. Abraham expels his own son from the household, abandoning him and his mother to the dangers of the wilderness, a handing “over to death” of a child by a father.
       If you ever get the sense that nothing could be worse than your family of origin, read the book of Genesis. Yes, Abraham is the “father of the faithful,” but he is also the patriarch of the “first dysfunctional family.” As terrible as the stories can be, I love them. Yes, Isaac was the chosen one, the one through whom God would pass the promise to Abraham on to the world. Nevertheless, God had a plan for Ishmael. Nevertheless, God was watching out for Ishmael. Nevertheless, God has a promise for the son of the slave woman. God chooses BOTH Isaac and Ishmael, God just chooses them differently.
       Our struggle as human beings is so often around our chosen ones, the ones we choose to love, and those we define as different. In third grade, a classmate named Patrick decided that his friends couldn’t be my friends. They had to abandon me to a wilderness without friends if they wanted to be Patrick’s friends. Jealousy and difference continue to draw boundary lines today: If you are not with me you are against me.
       On June 28, 1914, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Serbia. It ignited a conflict we know as World War I. Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. So, Serbia’s ally Russia goes to war as well. And Austria-Hungary’s ally Germany goes to war. And Serbia’s allies France and the United Kingdom go to war. So, a system of alliances that was thought to deter war actually functioned to fuel a global conflict. All because your friends can’t be my friends, all because of the ones we choose to love, the ones who are defined as different.
       We do this over and over, discovering that our loves – when gotten out of order – actually lead to destruction. “You hurt my wife, I’ll break your face.” “You touch my child, you’ll never touch another.” Whether it is Cinderella’s step-mom or Ishmael’s slave mom, the complicated network of our disordered loves gets us in trouble. So, Jesus says, “The one who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. The one who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” All our loves are to be under the lordship of Jesus. All our loves are to be under the cross.
       And that is why Robin and I have been able to choose, over and over, to embrace risk. And that is why I have learned – despite my nature to avoid conflict – that is why I learned to enter conflict not for the conflict’s sake and not for my own sake, but for the gospel.  

Keith Green’s “I Pledge My Head to Heaven”
A song on the cost of the gospel and our disordered loves, which I sang in worship years ago before Robin and the boys.

Stanley Hauerwas reflects on the ways our disordered loves become destructive, on Jesus’ call to take up the cross and to put our loves under the cross, and offers what he considers a modest proposal for world peace: Christians should stop killing Christians. Of course, that seems pretty narrow, doesn’t it? You can kill anyone, just not Christians. That is not his point. Like Jesus telling his disciples to be on mission to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” a narrow focus that does not describe the limit of God’s love, so Hauerwas is inviting us to consider the implications of such a narrow focus on the prohibition against murder. “Thou shalt not kill …” other Christians.
       What we often fail to realize is that many Iraqis are Christian, that many Palestinians are Christian. We forget that we have many sisters and brothers in Christ in Russia and Venezuela and China. And in our current national and cultural moment, we overlook the fact that our brown and black neighbors are often brothers and sisters in Jesus and that even racist cops could be as well. We may not be faithful in every way, we may not be obedient to the love of God in Christ, but we are still part of the family. And anytime someone is banished from the family, God is there, just like God was there for Ishmael and Hannah. God is there to choose, to love, to care. And that is where I am called to be as well.

So, instead of reacting defensively out of my disordered loves, instead of hating those who are different, instead of protecting myself at the expense of others, I am called by Jesus to love. Jesus loved the people he wasn’t supposed to love. He touched lepers, even though they were unclean and untouchable. He ate with sinners. He went to parties with alcoholics and prostitutes. And the good people said he was Beelzebul – an evil spirit. Jesus expects us to be painted with the same brush. “How much more the members of my household?”
       Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God, a kingdom that does not end, a kingdom that stands above all the kingdoms of the earth, a kingdom that does not bend the knee to Herod or Caesar. And they killed him for it. “I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.”
       Regularly, when we read these passages in the gospels, we read them in terms of what are called “the culture wars” in the US. We read it and reflect on how there is no more prayer in schools, or how other things have changed in our culture. Those things have certainly changed, and some good things are lost. However, Jesus was not killed over our culture wars. Jesus was killed for associating with the wrong people, for understanding that holiness was inclusive rather than exclusive, for proclaiming and embodying a kingdom that the world could not dominate and control, no matter how hard it tried. As Jesus says in the very next chapter, “The kingdom of heaven is treated violently, and the violent claim it” (Matthew 11.12).
       Instead of advancing through violence, the kingdom Jesus proclaims advances through love. It seeks out the outsider and protects the rejected. It steps into conflict confident in the power of love. It takes risks trusting in the love of God that never fails. The kingdom advances through love, love that is ordered under the cross and under the lordship of Jesus.

Prayer of Ignatius of Loyola (#570 UMH)
Teach us, good Lord,
       To serve you as you deserve;
       To give and not to count the cost;
       To fight and not to heed the wounds;
       To toil and not to seek for rest;
       To labor and not to ask for any reward,
             Except that of knowing that we do your will;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

       Conversation starters
  • ·       Share a conflict story from your family tree.
  • ·       Tell a story of being rejected. Did you experience God finding you there?
  • ·       What do you think of Stanley Hauerwas’ proposal that Christians should stop killing Christians? Do any of the implications trouble you?
  • ·       What does it mean to you that God seeks out and cares for those who are rejected?
  • ·       Share a risk story.


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