“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34
How seriously do we take our faith? How much does what we believe matter to us? What things are there that would make us say, “This is where I stand and I am not moving?”
I remember first year lectures in London in political philosophy. The lectures were from 5.00-6.30 on a Monday evening and the professor was a man not given to humour or light-heartedness. His purpose was to understand the thought processes that underlay the unfolding of the history of Europe and the world, he would not have been impressed by anyone who approached his subject with anything other than discipline and seriousness. He would not have been impressed by someone who said they believed something but did nothing to stand by their beliefs.
Sometimes, we are too casual, sometimes we are put to shame by those of other faiths, sometimes we simply do not bother with thoughtfulness, rigour and self-discipline. Jesus would be unimpressed with us; his teaching this morning makes this point very forcibly, if we are to live life in his way then it’s not meant to be easy, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” he says in Saint Matthew Chapter 10 Verse 34.
Jesus is setting forth in very plain terms that there can be no place for fuzzy thinking or laziness or half-heartedness amongst his people. He knows that when people set out to follow him it means making decisions that will divide them from others; it means making choices about your own life that other people will not like and that may arouse resentment. These are not things that are sought, these are things that come as a result of the decisions that are made as a result of being a Christian.
The church has gone a long way from the principles that Jesus sets out, we have drifted to the extent that few people take the church seriously. The expectation now is that the church should tolerate whatever happens and that there is no need for discipline. The church is regarded by some people as a sort of club or community to which they belong; Jesus simply does not come into their thinking and his words in this morning’s Gospel are just ignored.
Anglicans are possibly the worst of all at disciplined behaviour and rigorous thinking. We have tried so hard to be tolerant and inclusive that people assume that we don’t really stand for anything and that they can do and say more or less what they like.
I wonder how the faith and life of a typical member of the Church of Ireland contrasts with the life and faith of a typical Moslem living here in Ireland? I think a Moslem neighbour would have considerably greater understanding of what Jesus is saying than we have; discipline and serious thinking are built into their daily lives. They would understand that faith means commitment and sacrifice.
When we lived in the North, there was a Pakistani professional cricketer who played for the local cricket club. In our rural Community, he was in a minority of one as a Moslem, yet he still stuck to the discipline and prayers he would have followed at home. His faith was something that separated him from the local community; he followed a different diet, he did not drink, he prayed at different times and in a way that seemed odd to the local people. His religion was something that divided him from the people around him, but his faith was such that what he believed was more important to him than what the people amongst whom he lived might think of him.
It is that sort of life and discipline that Jesus looks for in us, a willingness to put faith first; a willingness to be different from the world around us; a willingness to accept that people might not like us for being different, that they might resent feeling challenged. Jesus is not presenting this as an option, he is saying that either we do these things or we can count ourselves out of the Church, “but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven”, he declares in Chapter 10 Verse 33.
Jesus’ words this morning run directly against the thinking of the world we live in. The thinking now is that all religions are equal; that all views are equal; that people should be free to do as they wish; and Jesus is saying that this just is not so, “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell”, he warns in Chapter 10 Verse 28. Be afraid of those who say it’s OK to do and to live as you please, because you are going to be called to account.
Jesus asks for serious thinking. If our faith is the most important thing in our lives, then it cannot be approached in a casual or half-hearted or fuzzy way, it is all or nothing.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”