A Time To Grow
We're in the long season of the Church Year called Pentecost. The paraments are bright green to indicate the new growth of spring. Pentecost, the second half of the Church Year, is a time to grow in the faith; a time to apply what Christ has done for you, the events covered in the first half of the Church Year, to your life. Pentecost is a time to grow from being a rock in the stream of life to being a leaf. Picture a fast moving, clear stream. See a rock tumbling downstream hitting every submerged log and boulder. Now see a leaf floating on the surface of that same rushing stream. It goes up and down, twists and turns in the current, but it's above the rocks and logs.
Pentecost is a time to grow above this world. Jesus wants us to grow beyond what the world considers peace. He would have us grow beyond expecting an end to war or to the acrimony of partisan politics. Jesus would have us grow beyond expecting even a little peace and quiet. Don't you live that way? I do. I tell myself when this or that gets resolved then I'll be at peace. Once I go through this or that event, then I'll have peace. And I pray and read my Bible with that in mind too. I'll pray wishing, hoping, longing for some feeling of peace in this chaotic world. I'll read the comforting Bible passages chasing that elusive butterfly called "peace." I still sing that song I sang growing up, "All we are saying is give peace a chance."
Jesus wants me to grow above this. He says, literally, "Don't even begin to think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." So I'm chasing what Jesus says doesn't exist for the Christian: peace on this earth. I'm like the demented miner searching for the mother lode that doesn't exist. I'm chasing Sasquatch, a leprechaun, an extraterrestrial. No wonder I am a rock being thrown up against every log and boulder. That's reality slapping me in the face.
Jesus wants me to grow above this world's understanding of peace and family. But who doesn't want a close family? Who doesn't want the good feelings of home and people and roots? My father use to refer to Robert Frost's definition of home: Home is where they have to take you in. Isn't that the truth? Isn't blood thicker than water? Blood may be thicker than water, but it's not thicker than baptismal water. Baptism unites me more throughly to those in Christ than to those outside of Christ. Christ divides sons and fathers, mothers and daughters, brides and mothers-in-law, a house against itself. Christ came between Cain and Able, Abraham and his family, Moses and his congregation, David and Absalom, Job and his friends.
The Waters, the Words, the Body and Blood of Christ have a higher claim on us then even family. Mark Twain has Adam's tombstone inscribed with this: "He would rather live outside of paradise with her [Eve] then inside without her." That's the choice Adam made, and it's the one the devil, the world and our self call us to make. Choose family over Christ. Choose words that the family can agree on rather than Christ's Words. Choose the fellowship of your own flesh and blood rather than that of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Would that all our families be in this fellowship. But that only happens the way it did for Christ's family. His brothers did not believe on Him during His ministry. Even His own mother thought Him "beside Himself." But He confessed before them that His real family was those hearing and holding to His Words. Jesus calls us to make this confession too. Our family is those hearing and holding to the Words of Christ. That means even if no one was left on earth that we could call family, our brothers and sisters would still number more than the stars of heaven, more than the sand on the seashore because our family is as large as the one, holy Christian Church.
Jesus invites us to grow above what the world calls peace and family, but above all else Jesus would have us grow beyond our endless fixation with self. I have noticed this: whether I am craving that peaceful, easy feeling of the world or its "we are fam-i-ly" spirit, I am fixated on me, myself, and I. The word the insert translates as "life" can also be translated as "self." "Whoever find his "self" will loose it," says Jesus. So much for "to thine own self be true," "finding yourself," and "self-esteem." I have met the enemy and it is me. I can try my best to scorn the peace that this world seeks and to value my spiritual family above my physical one, but as long as there is one gasp of breath in my self I will fail.
This is where all Christian living breaks down. I can't grow above this world; I am joined to the world because I came from its dust. Jesus tells me not to look to the world for peace or family, but I am unable to look anywhere but here. I can't grow beyond this world by my efforts, will, or feelings. Only the power of God can make that happen. And Jesus promises that we get all of God in Him and we get all of Him in the ministry. Matthew 10:5-42, 11:1 is addressed to the 12 apostles. What Jesus here says to the 12, in Luke 10:16 He says to the first pastors. The path to grow above the world's idea of peace and family, the path to being free of the self is God's promises in Christ, which are yours in the ministry of Word and Sacraments.
You're feeling agitated in this life. Sickness threatens, family troubles mount, the world is in upheaval because of terrorism, politics, the economy. The ministry of the Word assures you that in your Baptism you died to all this. What do dead men care about sickness, family troubles, or world upheavals? Your Baptism joined you to Christ and He took that world-loving self that will never ever stop it's endless fretting and joined it to His crucified Body so that when He was buried your self was buried too.
But that's not the end. When Christ was raised by the Father's glory, you too were raised to 'walk about' in a new life just as Jesus did. Before Jesus died, He said His soul was troubled even unto death. Because Jesus bore your sins, because Jesus bore your miserable stinking sinful self He knew the lack of peace, the agitation, the irritation you know. Having borne that sinful self and it's due penalty all the way till death and the grave, He slew it, buried it and left it for dead in the grave. And He arose to a new life where God is at peace with Him. His life is now your life. You are to walkabout as Jesus did on Easter morning. Did He worry about sin? Was He troubled because of death? Did Jesus know any agitation? No. On Easter morning Jesus was free of sin, of death and of your sinful self, and in your Baptism into Jesus, so are you!
The self that you are powerless to kill; Jesus killed, and gave you a life that floats above the world's idea of peace and family. The new life Jesus gives you is in the family of prophets and righteous people. Family recognizes family. The Word of Christ that dwells in you recognizes His Word in His prophets, and so you receive a prophet as a prophet because you too are a prophet in the sense that you too have the Word of Christ. Likewise the holiness you have in Christ by the Baptism that washes you, by the Absolution that forgives you, or by His holy Body and Blood that you eat and drink, recognizes Christ's holiness in other people.
It is painfully true that confessing Christ and His Word can cost you family ties here on earth, but that confession ties you, binds you, unites you to all the prophets and holy people who have ever lived. When you get to heaven, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sara, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Peter and Paul will embrace you as family. They will recognize that the same Word that dwells in them dwells in you; the same holiness of Christ that covers their sins covers your's too.
Are you starting to float a little yet? Starting to see yourself more as a leaf and less as a rock in the stream of life? The more you focus on self the more you will sink. But you don't need to focus on self because not only is your sinful self dead and buried in Baptism, but Christ is focused on the new you. Last week we heard how God takes better care of us than He does sparrows and how He numbers all our hairs. Here we find out that as we go through life as His disciples, Jesus records the littlest things we do in His name, even something as small as giving someone a drink of cold water.
The sinful self that clings to us till we're called to glory needles us constantly with the fact we give more than we get. The sinful flesh runs a balance sheet and is upset when it looks like it puts out more than it takes in. Here Jesus assures us we can ignore the sinful self's calculating because He's keeping track, but wonder of wonders, He's taking note only of the good we do in His name. He doesn't run a balance sheet with 2 columns one sins and one good deeds. Where would we be if He did? Well, we'd be feeling like we constantly had to defend ourselves, justify ourselves, make ourselves look good. But Jesus says He sees only the good done in His name. He forgives and forgets all the rest..
By God's promises in Christ, preached into your ears by His pastors, placed on your body in Baptism and put into your mouth in Communion you've been called to go through life as a leaf not a rock. Sure you're in the same swirling stream; sure it twists and turns and goes up and down. But you don't crash when peace can't be found in this world, when family ties are broken, when the sinful self suffers. You float above these because Christ has brought you to a whole new world, a whole new family, and a whole new self. And now this twisting, turning, churning stream of life filled with sunken logs and rocks, can only bear you to that deep pool of eternal, living waters. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VI (6-26-05); Matthew 10:34-42