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2023-07-02 Pentecost 5

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Do you ever notice how everyone loves Christmas? Little baby Jesus is born in the manger at Bethlehem with the shepherds and the angels and Mary and Joseph and the barnyard animals all gathered ’round to see the new bundle of joy and welcome Him into the world! There He is! Cute and cuddly, the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay. The prophet Isaiah spoke of Him a lot, hundreds of years before this moment: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6). Did you catch that last point? “Prince of Peace.” Oh yes, that’s lovely! We really like that. We can put that on Christmas cards and on Advent and Christmas banners in the church. It’s a calm and wonderful image of our God of love and hugs and snugs!

But then we rocket ahead around 6 months or so in the church year and we run smack dab into this: “34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (MT 10:34). Say what?! What happened to the Prince of Peace? What happened to cute baby Jesus?! “35 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. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (MT 10:35-36). Well, that’s not very nice, Jesus. We liked you better when you were the cute and cuddly Prince of Peace and not the slicing and dicing families apart like a swordy separator Saviour! We don’t like that at all! We want our Christmas Jesus back!

Baby Jesus or Preacher Jesus, it’s the same Jesus. He is the Word of God either way. So the next logical question is that ever-so-Lutheran question: “What does this mean?” What does this mean that the Prince of Peace hasn’t come to bring peace but rather a sword. Our Lord here is talking about the cost of being His disciple. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this the “Cost of Discipleship.” Salvation, we know from the scriptures, is the free gift of God by grace. Nobody earns it. Nobody can buy it but Christ alone with the price of His precious blood. So what is the cost? The cost is division. Following Christ means we are separated from the world. It means that because Jesus is our pearl of great price, we sacrifice everything else to hold on to that most precious gift. And this no doubt is where we begin to feel the Saviour’s sword.

Our Lord’s words here are actually a quote from the Old Testament prophet Micah in chapter 7. The prophet says “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. 3 Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. 4 The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. 5 Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms; 6 for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother,the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.” (Micah 7:2-6).

And what we see here is the picture of a cesspool of worldly iniquity! We see people who have allied themselves to the evil of the world, rather than to the goodness of God. We see a people who have embraced sin rather than God’s commandments. You cannot be allied to the ways of the world and the kingdom of darkness and still expect to have any portion in God’s Kingdom of light. The line is drawn firmly in the sand. The sword separates. The Prophet Micah ends his word with “7 But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation;” (7:7). He says this because it is in God alone that we have life and salvation. And this is the gift that lasts for eternity. It is above any earthly relationship and must come first above all things in the life of the Christian.

This is what Jesus is talking about. He tells us in black and white the cost of following Him. He says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus covers all the bases here. The people who are above us, our parents and those who are below us, our children. Without doubt, these are are the closest relationships on planet earth. From the first people who loved us and cared for us to the people we care the most about, Jesus says “I’m more important.” God takes the number one place. Most of the time we think its “Family First” but it’s not. Faith is first. And more specifically, faith in the One, True God comes first. That’s why the commandments are laid out the way they are. God, God’s Name, God’s Day, then family.

Our Lord is telling us straight up that He is to be loved and cherished more than anything or anyone else in the world. Our loyalty to Him needs to be greater than that which we show to the authorities, our parents or our kids. When you are put between a rock and hard place, between faith and family, Jesus is telling us to pick Him. He is telling us to stand strong on the rock that does not move. And this is not easy. The cost of following Jesus can be enormous. There can be fallout, fighting and friction in our human relationships when we stay true to Jesus.

The Lord continues: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Pick up your own cross and follow the crucified messiah. No doubt this would have been a weird saying to the disciples who first heard it. The cross was perhaps the most heinous death you endure in the ancient world. In fact, the Romans just kept inventing more excruciating ways to punish and kill people. We literally get our word “excruciating” from the Latin ex crucis, from the cross. It was considered the death of vile criminals, a definition of suffering and shame. So bearing your own cross for the sake of Christ may indeed involve all of this and more. Suffering, hardship, ridicule, mockery, maybe even your job for not bowing the knee to the ways of the world. Maybe even your life itself if the Lord calls you to martyrdom! It doesn’t sound very nice. But the Lord brings us great comfort with what He says next: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” As we lose in this life by either suffering, sword, and shame for the Savior, it is then that we gain everything. We gain the comfort of eternal life, forgiveness and salvation. Christ is King. And we bow the knee to nobody but Him. The cost of following Jesus can be enormous, but the cost of not following Him is even greater.

As we struggle with the cost of following our King, we remember the words of Micah. “7 But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (7:7). The Lord knows our struggles and strifes, just as He knew those of Micah. And just as Micah looked to the Lord for help, we can too. Our King invites us to gather around His throne of grace and get the strength we need to hold fast in the face of the world. Through His Word of promise in the Scriptures, to our Baptism that makes us His own, to His supper that feeds and fills us with good things, the Lord is abounding with help to bear our crosses. Our Lord promises us “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (JN 16:33). Through the cross our Lord has triumphed. And our King of Kings gives You his victory by faith. Thanks be to God now and forever more. Amen!

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