Receivin' not Supposin'
What do you make of that bulletin cover? I'm trying to convey what Dusty Springfield sang in 1964. "Wishin', hopin', thinkin' are among the things that are no way to get a man. Well supposin' is no way to receive your Savior.
Like last week we find the Greek construction which says "don't even start." Don't even start supposing that Jesus came to bring peace upon the earth. The arrival of the Prince of Peace on earth was like the United States entry into World War I and II. The Big Battle, the Final Battle had begun and every one knew that. Well don't even start supposin' that Jesus who preached love thy neighbor, pray for thy enemies, and pray for those who persecute you was saying, "Give peace a chance." Nope, it was really the beginning of the trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath have been stored up since Adam's Original Sin.
Not only does Jesus say don't even start supposin' He came to bring peace, but He repeats Himself, "I did not come to bring peace but a sword." On the absolute contrary to Him bringing peace, He brought a sword that cuts through every relationship. Quoting from Micah the blunt statement that "a man's enemies will be the members of his own household" and on top of this calling for love of Him more than family is either the statement of a Messiah or a Madman (Gibbs, 539). An anonymous Church Father said all people lived in a single house of unbelief (ACC, IA, 211), and Jesus came to divide that house into believer and unbeliever.
And don't go supposin' that this sword Jesus brings doesn't cut though you, yourself, and I. St. Chrysostom said that if you're serious don't stop with parents, children, siblings. Compare your love of Jesus with your very life (Ibid., 212). The word cross' is used for the first time in Matthew here. It's a real dun, dun, dun moment when Jesus says, "anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me." The apostles know exactly what the cross was and what it did. It was such a horrible death that "No image at all of the crucified Christ appeared before the fifth century. The image of the dead Christ on the Cross emerged for the first time in the seventh century" (Ox. Hit of Wor., 820). And the first time the word cross' is used in Matthew it's not of Jesus but of us. The Anonymous Church Father says that if the God-Man Jesus who was incapable of dying unless He willed to, did so for us and our salvation, "How much more ought we to die for Him, who are mortal even if we do not wish to be" (ACC, IA, 212)?
As Dusty sang that the way to a man's heart wasn't wishin' and hopin' so the way to Jesus is not in your supposin'. Don't suppose Jesus came to bring peace; don't suppose you have within you what it takes to love Him over family, take up your cross and follow Him, and lose your life for His sake. That's why the bulletin art is fitting. The emoji smiling face with fingers crossed on both hands is the secular kind of wishing and hoping nothing more than your desiring that Dusty sings of. And it depicts the supposing we do when we read this text as directions for how to be a worthy disciple and think: "I suppose I can do all this????"
After these sharp, uncompromising words to the 12 that it's family or Him; it's carrying a cross or not being worthy of Him; it's losing, literally it's the Greek word for destroying, your soul, life, self, or not being worthy of Him, Jesus says emphatically: He who receives Him, receives the Father, and the only way to receive Jesus is through the 12. Behind every changing face of the preacher whether they be called prophet, righteous man, disciple, or little ones, there stands Jesus and behind Him the Father who no one can see without being burned to a crisp. Remember how the Father gave all things to His Son, born of the Virgin Mary in time, and how that Son lived the holy life worthy of keeping all those things, and was damned and died to pay for sinful mankind to have them too? All those things the God-Man Jesus puts into the Office of the Ministry for distribution to the world. And everything hangs on people receiving them or not. Isn't that what Jesus says?
You receive Him who Jesus sends and you receive whatever the emissary of Jesus gets. He promises these first apostles latter on in Matthew (19:28) that they will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel and in Luke He adds that on those 12 thrones they will eat and drink at His table in His kingdom (22:30). Jesus is describing the indescribable glories of heaven in Old Testament and earthly terms that we can to some extent picture. The real point to be emphasized is what Jesus says in Luke 10 that the one who receives His apostles, ministers, pastors receives Him and that the reward His faithful pastors gets, those who receive them also get. But of course, you're bothered by the term reward.' This particular Greek word for reward' is always used of rewards of grace' never of merit' (Buls, Notes, Series A, After Pentecost, 20).
From emphasizing what receiving them, the apostles, means for others, Jesus goes on to emphasize the smallest of things done for them by others. The reward for even the smallest act of support will in no way perish, be destroyed, using that same Greek word from earlier about losing your life. From the Law about perishing their life for Jesus' sake now or perishing it forever trembling them in their boots, He goes on to emphatically say that anyone doing the least little thing from them will in no way see their reward perish. Don't you see how their heads had to be swimming? First they are presented with an investment no one in their own strength is capable of making; then they are shown a return on investment that is over the top.
In the Dusty Springfield song lovin' your man turns the wishin' and hopin' around. In our text, the receivin' turns the supposin' around. Look up Micah 7. That's the source of the words about houses being divided against each other so that: "A man's enemies will be the members of his own household." Those terrifying words are immediately followed by these words of faith, of comfort in Micah 7:7-8, "But as for me, I will watch in hope for the Lord, I will wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light." The apostles are no different than you. I can start with, "For God so loved the world" and you will finish in your mind "that He gave His only begotten Son." I can say to confirmed Lutherans, "who purchased and won menot with gold or sliver" and finish with, "but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death." The apostles knew that the Law of Micah 7 ended in a Gospel confession of faith and hope.
The receiving of Jesus, of all Jesus, not just the easy words but the hard words, changes everything. Jesus is the least of the little ones who cries out from the cross meant for our death and damnation, "I thirst" (Jn. 19:28) Yet, Jesus is also the One who cries out to all, "I am the Water of life. He who drinks of Me will have a spring of water within welling up to everlasting life" (Jn. 7: 37,38). He changes a cup of cold water given to one of His little ones into an eternal blessing for them even as He changed water into wine and better yet water into a washing of regeneration and a renewal by the Holy Spirit. The 4th century church father, Hilary, says that it's no crime for believers to have hope that goes beyond the unbelief of others(ACC, IA, 214). The believin' and hopin' you're doing in God in Christ in the face of COVID-19 is not silly, stupid, or wishful thinking. You being certain of God's deliverance in the face of the nauseatingly repeated theme "these uncertain times" is not the power of positive thinking. It's Biblical hoping and believing.
These words of Christ in our text are the last in a longer sermon He gives to the apostles before they go out on their first missionary journey. They are going out into a world that is every bit as fallen as our own; where being open-minded towards all things religious was as popular as today; where the truth about sin and judgment was as hated it is today. But Jesus doesn't wind down the talk with "Rah, rah, go get em boys; you can do it." No, He winds down with all the blessings and promises that comes from receiving Him which are so powerful they pass on to the ones receiving them. And Jesus depicts the disciples in the end as passive not active. They are the ones received and served.
Have you seen that show "Uncover Boss"? I don't know how much of this "reality" show is real, but the story arc is always the same. The CEO of a fairly good-sized company goes out to work among his people in a disguise. He is received in various ways and meets diverse kinds of employees from the good, to the bad, to the downright ugly. At the end, he calls in typically the good employees who usually are that despite challenging life-circumstances. Then he reveals who he is, and gives rewards far beyond what these run of the mill mostly hourly employees could ever expect. One boss put a young man through culinary school all expenses paid and gave him I believe $10,000 to help with his home life.
As I said, I don't know how much, if any of it, is staged. I don't know if the show compensates the boss' company so much that what he doles out still leaves him a profit in the end. I do know this: If the Boss of all heaven and earth promises that the one who receives the least of His disciples in the smallest of ways will in no way lose his reward, how much more the disciple himself? But when's the big reveal for us? This is the story of the missionary coming home after 30 years in the field. He on the same passenger liner as a famous movie star. On the dock throngs of people are there enthusiastically welcoming the star home. The missionary in self-piety complains to his wife, "And where's my big welcome?" And she correctly, faithfully says, "Dear, you're not yet home." And neither are we, so don't go supposin' you are. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (20200712); Matthew 10: 34-42