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Truth in human flesh

                                                                                Truth in human flesh.

                                                                                     Matthew 10:34-42


For the past couple of months, we have been looking at the reasons why people chose to attend church and why they don't, what makes them decide to come back and why they decide to stay away. We have read all sorts of studies, looked at various graphs and charts, statistics and responses to questionnaires. There is one common theme that seems to run through all of the literature on this subject and it is this: many people feel worn out, frustrated, frightened, overwhelmed, just plain beaten up 6 days of the week and they do not want to come to church on the 7th day and be beaten up yet again.

This was good news for us - we celebrate life and have a lot of fun together on Sunday morning here at Trinity. And then I read the lessons for today. The reading from Isaiah begins, "Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from the terror of the Lord….." (Is. 2:10) This could be problematic, I am beginning to think, when I turn my attention to the gospel and read, "Jesus said, 'Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." Just in case we didn't really get it, he goes on to be perfectly clear, "For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household."(Matt. 10:34 ff)

These are harsh sounding words spoken by the one we have come to know as Rabbi, teacher, healer and friend. Were we to make a list of the words we usually use to describe Jesus we would call him loving, forgiving, and the bearer of God's good news, our Savior. And yet, had we been alive and witness to his life; had we walked with him, listened to him, had we eaten with him, if we had been there we might well have thought he was a trouble maker. If he walked into our church to let us know God really didn't need us to worship the way we did, didn't want our sacrifices, didn't need all our ritual, we would probably have wanted him to leave and as he went out the back door we might have told each other "good riddance to that dangerous man!" Jesus was a man who upset the order of things. All kinds of unusual and disconcerting events happened when he came around and this makes people feel uneasy.

The fact is, Jesus caused a great deal of trouble wherever he went because - there is no way a new truth can be born into the world and not cause a great deal of trouble. This is the way of life, the way of human history. At some point someone said, "You think slavery is alright because you have lived this way for hundreds of years. But I am here to tell you that slavery is wrong." This new truth caused a great deal of trouble. People were set one against the other. There was no peace, in fact, there was war. At some point someone said, "People of color and women have the right to vote." However true this was and is, it caused a great deal of trouble. A man was set against his father and a daughter against her mother.

As a nation we struggle with environmental issues. How do we care for the creation we have been given? Even though each and every one of us depends on the quality of our environment, we cannot agree that even taking care of it is important. This truth has caused a great deal of trouble; people set one against the other. Right here in our own Episcopal church we were divided over the language in our Book of Common Prayer. Prayer. We argued over how to pray! We had limited God and our understanding of God and it was time to let God out of the box, to expand our language and therefore our understanding. And yet, this new truth caused a great deal of trouble and set us one against the other.

We face difficult and painful truths in our families and our closest relationships. Confronting an addiction is hard to do; often causing what seemed like a fragile peace to come apart at the seams. Allowing a personal passion to be revealed can be frightening when it goes against family expectations. The movie "Billy Elliot" is about a young Irish boy, born to be a dancer, revealing this truth to his father who wanted him to be a boxer. The family was, for a time, divided and set one against the other. When the truth of God is lived out, when it takes on human flesh, people are often divided. It isn't that Jesus wants people to be divided; it is simply that Jesus is asking for a more honest, bold truth to be lived out in all our relationships. We are called to this as a nation, as a community, as a family and as children of God within ourselves.

How we do this will be a moment-to-moment choice. We are challenged to either reflect the love of God that is within us or not. Our choices either reflect the truth of God or they do not. We are shaped by these moments of choice - they become who we are. Really living the Christian life may mean a kind of forgiving and letting go that we do not feel like doing. Forgiving when we don't want to forgive, letting go when we just want to hold on. It may mean a kind of loving and honesty that we would rather not do. To love when we don't feel like loving, to be honest when we are afraid to reveal ourselves. Living a truly authentic Christian life may makes others around you uncomfortable, for you may be called to accept that which others reject, to not judge that which others want you to judge. It may upset the peace and it might feel like a sharp sword. It is supposed to. For it is not possible for the truth of God to come into our lives gently and peacefully and be the same truth that Jesus taught and preached. It caused him a great deal of trouble and it will cause us a great deal of trouble, too.

But wait! Don't lose heart, for just as Jesus tells us what sounds like a harsh truth he also gives us a gentle promise. He goes on to say, "I know it will feel like you are losing what is most important to you - it feels like you are losing your very life. But I promise you - you will not lose your life you will gain it! Your life will be abundant and good. Trust me. It will be hard at times and it will hurt at other times. But the reward is great and it is yours!"