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Live from Mountain Top: Sunday Worship (June 21)

. 7 min read

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?

Message

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.