Fanatic, Fan, Fantastic
Our text is the very last words Jesus speaks to the 12 before sending them out on their first missionary journey. Heard wrongly they are fanatical; heard rightly you can become a fan and go on to thinking they're fantastic.
Jesus' last words sound fanatical, and fanatical is a bad word, usually. It's bad to be fanatical about Pro-Life issues. It's okay to be fanatical about any hobby or sport. You can be fanatical about the environment, feeding the hungry, ending poverty, or world peace. The fanatical nature of the Native American vision quest, the fasting of strict Buddhists, and even the absolute celibacy of Roman Catholic priests is respected. Actually any religious devotion is respected even if it is fanatical except if it's connected to Jesus and swims against the incoming tide of popular culture.
Hobby Lobby's owners were fanatical because they didn't want to pay for medicine that violated their Christian beliefs. The Christian cake maker in New Mexico was fanatical because he wouldn't bake a cake for two homosexuals. The Christian owner of Chick-Filet was a fanatic because he spoke out in Jesus' name against gay marriage.
Those folks weren't fanatics to us. But don't these parting words of Jesus to the 12 strike you that way? Jesus says, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Some commentators say if you don't take this as a purpose statement but as a result it's not so fanatical. Don't hear Jesus says, "I have come for the purpose of bringing division," but hear Him saying, "I have come and the result will be division." I don't care how you hear it. A man's enemies being that of his own household is tough to hear. What of birthdays, holidays, family reunions?
Be honest. Doesn't Jesus sound a bit fanatical when He says if He doesn't have first place in your life, He is no place in your life? You love father, mother, son, or daughter more than Jesus, and you don't make the grade; you're not worthy of being a disciple. What about all the people who use the excuse of family being in town to stay home from church? What about the person who won't confess the Lutheran faith he or she is converted to by the Holy Spirit until his Catholic mother or Baptist father dies? What about you who with Tom T. Hall love just about everything else - little baby ducks, old pickup trucks, slow-movin' trains, and rain without Jesus even making your top ten?
If Jesus wasn't a fanatic, then Tom T. Hall wasn't worthy of Him, but maybe Lynn Anderson was. She could've understood that Jesus never promised us a rose garden without thorns. And there are some big thorns in our text. Jesus says anyone who follows Him will have a cross particular to them that they must pick up and follow Him with. A cross isn't just something hard to bear but whatever kills the sinful nature. Being on disability for life might not be a cross, but living with a cross spouse for life probably will be.
Jesus opening words sound fanatical even to Christians, but you can be a fan of them. You probably know the word fan comes from fanatical. In our society being a fan is always acceptable and even admirable. For the last month how many people said they were a fan of soccer? At the All Star game how many times did the announcer say, "Fans love this or like that." You can be a fan of Jesus' words if you listen as the 12 would have. They're going on their first missionary journey. They've already been told they will be treated no better than Jesus. They aren't expecting Jesus to be telling them things to scare them anymore than when you left home for the first time did you expect your parent to try to frighten you.
Jesus tells them all things are found in Him. Their true selves; their real lives our found in Him. I can be a fan of that. Outside of Jesus as we sing, "I am all unrighteousness; false and full of sin am I." Outside of Jesus I am a blind, dead, enemy of God. Jesus is Light, Life, and not just Friend but Savior. In my father and mother I found physical life, but it was a dying life. In Jesus, it's life everlasting. In my physical children, I find that I have passed on the sin, death, and enmity of God that's in me. Being a son of God in Jesus My Brother I find I am brought into the family of God.
Jesus tells these scared, first time missionaries that in Him they receive the true God. In Jesus the invisible God who is hidden behind sickness, sadness, death, and disaster is clearly seen. He who receives Jesus receives the One who sent Him. I can be a fan of that, can't you? We all build an idol in our hearts based on our fears, our sinfulness, our speculations. Oh to be free of this false god! In Jesus I see the true God is pleased with me because He sees none of the Laws I've broken. In Jesus I see the true God inviting me to see my sins on Him. I see the Father's smiling face in the Water of Jesus' Baptism; in Jesus' forgiving Words, in His Body and Blood on that altar.
Remember who Jesus is talking to: the 12 as they go out with a message the Devil, the World, and all sinful flesh, including their own, hate. He assures them that those who receive His ministry from their hands, lips, person will be rewarded as if they were a prophet, as if they were a righteous man. That encouraged the 12 that their ministry would not be in vain. It should encourage you to be a fan of the apostolic ministry.
Be a fan of the apostolic word preached into your ears. Gladly hear and learn it; hold it sacred, holy, divine. Be a fan of the Word wedded to Water, Bread and Wine, and be rewarded as the prophet Elijah was who was taken to heaven alive; be rewarded as Jesus Himself was who surely is the only truly Righteous Man who ever lived.
Be a fan of the apostolic ministry and know that there is no way you will come up short. I am surprised at the very last words Jesus before they left. "If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because He is my disciple, I tell you the truth, His reward will in no way perish." You know how credit card reward points expire? You know how you can lose the store card where you've a collected reward points? Not with Jesus. Fans of the apostolic ministry will not fail to be rewarded. This encouraged the 12 to do the ministry; this encourages you to receive it.
We've moved to hearing Jesus' words as fanatical to being a fan of them, but how do we get to fantastic? Texas is the only place I've heard the person I asked directions from say, "You can't get there from here." "What? Aren't all roads connected? There has to be a way." And there is a way in our text to get from fan to fantastic; it's by way of Micah.
You noticed how your insert indented the opening words of Jesus which sound so fanatical. That's because Jesus is referencing an Old Testament Bible passage. Jesus says to them what Micah first said to faithless Samaria and unfaithful Jerusalem, and Jesus is depending on them, and you, to finish the quote. Don't think that's reasonable? If I say, "Government of the people, by the people." some of you would automatically finish the sentence. If say, "God so loved the world that He gave" most of you would finish the thought.
The disciples have been in seminary a year. They've been back and forth through their Old Testament Bible with Jesus. Remember it was based on the Old Testament that Peter, Paul, Stephen, and Philip preached the Gospel. When Jesus stops with "A man's enemies will be the members of his own household," they go on with the next 2 verses. "But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I 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."
Like Micah before, Jesus is telling them what His ministry will bring. It brings nothing good to unbelief: Only division, separation, bad feelings between blood. Jesus says earlier in this last speech to the 12 that the world will hate them for His sake. Some of you experience this now because you hold to the apostolic faith and practice. You're holier than thou because you won't commune at altars that invite every Christian or Lutheran. You're unloving because you refuse to let gay activists redefine God's gift of marriage. You're hateful because you say there is no salvation outside of Christianity.
Finish the quote from Micah and you will move from being a fan of apostolic truth to hearing it as fantastic. The division, the strife, the hatred is not where you live. As for you, you watch in hope for the Lord; you wait for God your Savior. The Devil, the World, and your own Flesh preach despair to you, but you watch in hope. You don't wait for God to come and judge you, berate you, reject you but to save you.
You have the confidence amidst all the chaos and strife between families and opposition against the apostolic truth that your God for Jesus' sake will hear you. So in the face of things you can't understand, control, or even like, you confidently pray, "Thy will be done; Lead us not into temptation; Deliver us from evil."
The Devil, the World, and your own Flesh gloat over you. They say you are a fool to take God's Word so seriously; you are only making yourself miserable by receiving the apostolic ministry; the majority of visible Christianity and even Lutheranism is willing to go along to get along; you're being stupid, hardheaded, or hardhearted for not.
And with Micah we have to admit that sometimes we do fall, we do give in to the despair preached into our souls, but with Micah we say, "Though I have fallen, I will rise." And sometimes being faithful does lead to the very dark places of loneliness and doubt, but with Micah we say with confidence, "Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light."
Whether on your first missionary journey or your journey through day to day life, Jesus doesn't want to send you out as a fanatic but as a fan of His grace certain that you are in a fantastic position. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (20140720); Matthew 10: 34-42