Divide and Conquer!
A sermon based on Matthew 10:34-39
Sunday, July 24, 2011 – Pentecost 6A
The enemy was fierce. This battle would be a bloody one—not like last battle where the city walls crumbled before them. Ai would be tough. But as he was preparing to attack that city, young Joshua had a vision—a vision from God. Don't attack head on. Instead, send most of the troops around to the other side of the city. Send only a few troops to the gates and fake a retreat. Draw the enemy out. Then pounce! Attack from both sides! Divide and conquer!
This summer we've been taking a look at the different roles our Savior plays in his love for us: the Master Builder who is the foundation, the perfect Doctor who makes us whole, the Farmer who harvests us an others into his kingdom, and the Zoo Keeper who keeps us safe and perfectly provides.
This morning we hear Jesus, the Commander, the Soldier, give us his tactical advice. He tells us to divide and conquer. But Jesus means something different. "Divide" he says, "from those who oppose the truth. And those enemies of the gospel," he warns, "will even be found within your own family. It's not an easy task, but by dividing and separating from them and taking a stand for the truth, you will cling to your faith, you will side with me and in the end, you will conquer." Divide and conquer.
Since Jesus separated you from sin by being separated from God on the cross, you have eternal life. Now separate yourselves from any who would separate you from him, that you might conquer and find eternal life. Listen now to Jesus battle plan to divide and conquer recorded for us in Matthew 10:34-39…
34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' 37 "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; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
I. Separated from Sin by Jesus, who was Separated from God
Jesus sent out the Twelve to gather in the plentiful harvest. And as he did he gave them promises of power and warnings of persecution from those who would try to silence them. This morning, as we continue to examine his instructions to the "vicar" apostles he takes it a step further. It's one thing to expect the world around you to persecute you and make life difficult, but it's quite another to expect your own family—your parents, your spouse, your kids—to declare themselves your enemy and an enemy of the gospel.
Isn't it a bit shocking to hear the same Jesus who said, "Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you…" say here, "I have come to turn a man against his father...." That doesn't sound like a good way to honor dear ol' dad. But what exactly is Jesus saying? Well, he's not asking the disciples to join a cult-like organization that demands forsaking family, as much as he is explaining to them the consequences of following him. Jesus warns that the toughest opponents will not be outsiders, but members of the disciples' own families.
Of course this is nothing new. God promised it in Genesis 3:15 when he said to satan, "And I will put enmity…" that is, hostility or hatred, "…between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers." He warned the disciples that this enmity that Micah had prophesied would rise up within families would be fierce. And they were called to take a stand against it.
And so are we. As ambassadors for Christ, we will face persecution, not just from without, but also from within our own families. When your house stands against you, this is very much a part of the cross you're called to carry. So, it's time for a little self-evaluation. Do you have this much dedication to your Jesus? Do you "Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind"? (Matthew 22:7) Do you "Fear, love and trust in God above all things"? (Luther's explanation to the 1st Commandment) Even above your family?
Or do you sometimes keep quiet when your kids are sinning because you know you might alienate them a bit if you expose their sinful lifestyle and call them to account? Do you sometimes love your spouse more than God and stay away from worship because they won't come with you? Do you overlook sinful behaviors for the sake of keeping unity in the family?
For the times that we've loved father or mother, son or daughter more than Jesus we are not worthy of him. For the times that we've dropped the cross and reached for the pillow, seeking the path of least resistance, we are not worthy of him. For the times we found our lives here on earth at the expense of Jesus and the truth we deserve to lose our lives forever in hell.
But thank God for our hero, Jesus! We deserve hell, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us… when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…" (Romans 5:8,10)
Jesus came to earth to bring a sword—to oppose sin and death, satan and hell. His own family, his mother and brothers, opposed his work. And at times Jesus disassociated himself from them. He did love God the Father with all his heart, soul, and mind. And he credited that perfect love to us. And in order to conquer sin he had to be divided, separated, cut off from God the Father on the cross, crying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)
Being killed doesn't seem like a very good battle strategy. Jesus' dying doesn't make him look like a victorious hero or a very good soldier, but in that act of being separated from the Father he did conquer—sin, death, satan, and hell. In a certain sense, he divided and conquered. And thank God! Now, made perfect by the cross, we are worthy of him. Now we have eternal life. Now we're eager to lose our lives in Jesus, to take up our cross and follow him, and to separate from anything or anyone—even family—who would separate us from him…
II. Separate from Any Who Would Separate You from Him
Imagine what the disciples of Jesus went through in that first century. Imagine when young Yeshi would go home to visit his parents and announce, "Mom, dad, I've been eating pork. I didn't celebrate the Passover this year, and I'm not getting your grandson circumcised. I'm not going to worship at the temple anymore, I'm not going to sacrifice any more animals, I'm not even going to observe the Sabbath anymore. These were all a shadow of things to come. I'm not a Jew anymore. I'm a Christian."
Can you imagine the reaction? "What?! You're forsaking the way of our fathers—the way we've done things for thousands of years?! You're forsaking the way of Moses—the law given by God himself directly?!" And more often than not, Christianity divided homes. It caused parents to disown their kids. Jesus didn't demand that people break with their families in order to follow him. But he warned that if they did follow him it would probably mean such a break when he quoted Micah 5:
"Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man's enemies are the members of his own household." (Micah 7:5-7)
And though we're living in a different culture at a different time, we can expect that following Jesus will be an increasingly difficult, counter-cultural thing to do. Peace with Jesus means war with the world and sometimes with our own families. We don't need to go looking for fights. The fights will come to us. But we are called to be willing to make a break with those who oppose the truth. We cannot back down. If we do give up the truth in order to keep the peace with family or friends, we'll lose our peace with Jesus and we'll lose eternal life.
What does that mean for us today? Well, you might find that access to dance lessons for little Jane or hockey for little Jim might be limited because we are committed to going to church during Sunday practices and performances. And little Jim and Jane might not be so happy with mom and dad. You might find that your friends stop inviting you out Saturday night when you continue to turn them down so you're not so tired Sunday morning. You may have fewer calls home from your grown son or daughter when you remind them of what God says about sex before marriage. You may lose some opportunities to climb the ladder of success at work because you keep talking about your church and your Savior.
But we gladly do it anyway! I'm not suggesting you be rude or abrasive in your approach, but Jesus does call us to speak the truth in love come what may. And we do it gladly because we would rather be separated from family than from Jesus. You've heard it said that "Blood is thicker than water." But in reality, the opposite is true. The water of baptism that washes away every sin, makes us perfect, and gives us eternal life, connects us to Jesus in a far more powerful way than any blood relations.
And in thanks for what he's done for us, we're eager to dedicate our lives and our very selves to him. We're glad to serve him—even if we lose our lives for it—because nothing else matters as much as our relationship to Jesus the Soldier, our conquering hero through whom we will find eternal life. And with his help we will separate from anyone or anything that separates us from him. We will divide and conquer. We will remain "faithful, even to the point of death, and [he] will give [us] the crown of life." For Jesus' sake, may God grant it to each of us! Amen.