“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?” What do we think about our thoughts and our discipline and our action?
Sometimes, we are too casual, sometimes we simply do not bother with thinking, or discipline or action. 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 for a lack of discipline, or for actions that do not match the words that people speak. Jesus does not accept 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. When does the church do any hard thinking about the world in which we live? When is the business of the parish a reflection of the serious concerns of the world outside? When do church members show a discipline that would mark them out as people who are different? When is the way we live our daily lives shaped by the thought that we must act according to what we say we believe?
Anglicans are possibly the worst of all at rigorous thinking, disciplined behaviour and actions that reflect our words. How does the faith I wonder how the faith and life of a typical Anglican contrasts with the life and faith of a typical Muslim?
Sitting beside an Islamic scholar at a seminar on 13th June and being aware that the fasting month of Ramadan had fallen at the worst possible time for Muslims in this part of the world, I expressed sympathy when the lunch was brought to the room.
“It is not the lack of food that is a problem at the moment, it is the lack of fluid. Last year I had to issue a fatwa to my students instructing them to take water during the day because they would otherwise not perform well in their examinations.” I had never known previously that Ramadan demanded abstention from water as well as food during the hours of daylight. I had never realised how demanding Ramadan was when it fell during the month of June.
It’s not just in academic life that there is such discipline. When I lived in Northern Ireland, 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 Muslim, 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.
Jesus is regarded as a great prophet by Muslims; they would never take his name in vain. I think most of them would have considerably greater understanding of what Jesus is saying than we have; serious thinking and discipline and action are built into their daily lives. They would understand that faith means commitment and sacrifice.
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 run directly against the thinking of the world in which we live. Jesus asks for serious thinking. If our faith is the most important thing in our lives, then it cannot be approached without careful thought, without rigorous discipline and without considered actions. The world will take Christians as seriously as they take themselves; the people whom we meet will take us as seriously as we take ourselves..
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”