The text for this scripture is Matthew 10:24-39.
Jesus wants his disciples to do hard things, but knows that fear will keep them from doing those hard things. The hard things are telling people that the Kingdom of God that is drawing near in Jesus doesn’t look like the kingdom they are used to living in. Read Matthew 5 or Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1. The Kingdom of God is an upside down place. The people at the head of the line in our world are sent to the back and the last are made first. Brothers and sisters in Christ are more important to us than blood brothers and blood sisters, even their own fathers and mothers. Those who serve are to be given more honor than the ones who can afford servants. I don’t have any problem preaching this, but it can be frightening to point out to people practical ways in our world we should be living this.
I am inspired by Christians in history who sacrifice everything so that God’s reign of love may be made known. I read on a post this week about Clarence Jordan a Baptist preacher and scholar who in 1942 started an interracial farming community in Georgia. The powerful in his county tried to stop this mixing of races. When the local newspaper declared he was a communist because he had been talking to a known communist, he told that reporter, “Talking to her don’t make me a communist anymore than talking to you makes me a jackass.” Love it. He set up roadside stands to sell the peanuts from the farm. The local KKK, full of the movers and shakers in his county, blew those stands up twice. So he started selling them by mail order and the advertisement read, “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”
I want to be fearless with a sense humor like Clarence Jordan. I do have a sense of humor, but I am anything but fearless. When we take stands in our world in the name of Jesus, we are going to be divisive. We are telling people that the Kingdom of God has no room for an action or way of thinking that they have grown accustomed. We might be telling them that their allegiance to an idea or belief, group or even person is wrong. People aren’t going to like that. If they don’t outright fight you like they did Clarence Jordan, they will at least exclude you, make you a pariah or an outsider. Honestly, both frighten me.
I meet monthly with our local Reynoldsburg pastors. I love this group, trust them and respect their ministry. I also disagree with all of them on how they understand some parts of scripture or what exactly God has in mind for His Kingdom. About a year ago when we met, a local pastor shared that his sister is gay. She told him that when she attends churches that accept her lifestyle she doesn’t hear the gospel preached but when she goes to churches like his that are clear they love her but not her homosexuality, she hears the gospel preached. It was hard for this loving man to bring the truth to his sister of her damnation for acting on her sexuality, but he took seriously Matthew 10 and to be divisive, even to his family.
They all nodded in agreement, but my ears were burning and my face got red. I would welcome his gay sister as she. I believe scripture makes clear that Jesus doesn’t bar us from the Kingdom of God because of our sexual orientation . Fear gripped me as I was trying to figure out what to say. In order to do what Jesus is asking of me in Matthew 10, I needed to speak out. If I did I may lose the respect of my colleagues. I may be made an outsider in a group where I am a respected insider.
Jesus wants his disciples to be divisive if need be in their announcement of the Kingdom of God, but I am paralyzed by fear a lot. Fear of angering my congregation, my friends who aren’t Christian, or my colleagues whom I disagree. Sometimes, I am paralyzed and sit on the sideline because I have trouble figuring out what exactly is the right thing. There are two pastors that I love, gentle men but brave in their commitment to reflect Jesus’ love for the world. Both of them once a month go to an abortion clinic in Columbus. One of them goes hoping to pray with the women who have appointments that day to abort their babies. In that prayer he hopes they hear God urging them not to keep their appointment. He loves passionately the fragile baby in their wombs as he believe God does. He is standing by the weak and vulnerable as Jesus makes clear we should in the Kingdom.
The other pastor I know and love, volunteers once a month to help that same woman get from her car to the front door without being harassed, humiliated or frightened by the Christian protesters who gather. He loves passionately that woman, respects her difficult decision made for reasons that are known truly only to her, and believes that God loves her and worries about her well being on that day. He escorts her because she is vulnerable and weak and that is the priority in the Kingdom of God.
Both pastors are doing divisive things in the name of Jesus. Both pastors are doing the exact opposite thing. I can see the point of both. I can’t quite figure out the right thing, but my hesitancy might be a way forward in my fear. Maybe, I can declare boldly what I believe about the Kingdom of God, while at the same time respecting those who believe differently.
To my local pastor group a year ago, I overcame my fear. I said not only would his sister be welcome for who she is at Messiah, but I hope she heard the gospel preached when she came. They responded with horror. Not at my position, but that they had implied a disrespect of my ministry. Everyone of them sent me a private email later apologizing for any possible offense. In their apologies, all of them suggested that in the future we only discuss things we can agree on. This might be a good way to keep our pastor’s group from being divisive, but pastors aren’t supposed to worry about being divisive?
We are called to overcome our fear that keeps us from declaring the Kingdom of God. We are to be willing to enter into battle to share to the world what we believe are the borders of that Kingdom. This might put us on opposite sides of our community, friends or family. If the men in that meeting thought homosexuality was outside those borders, they should have been eager to debate it with me who believes it is inside those borders. Our fear shouldn’t keep us from debate or action.
What is also true is that our willingness to ruin the peace at abortion clinics or interdenominational pastoral meetings, doesn’t stop us from listening to those who do not agree or believing that they are working from a place of deep conviction, too. Both pastors at that abortion clinic are working from that place of conviction. The pastor who shared about his sister is working from a place of conviction, too. All of us need to be courageous in our declarations and humble when we do it because we could be wrong. We have nothing to fear and no one to hate, especially those who disagree.