‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother,and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.'
--Matthew 10: 34-39
I don't know what you're thinking, but when I read the above passage I thought, "Ouch! You're kicking my butt!"
Here I was, happy to know that God had given me redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus...and then I read this, and I'm left gulping at the thought that I might have to give up my life to be truly in step with God?!
For Jesus and the disciples, of course, that ended up meaning a literal "giving up their life" through death as they went about preaching in the style of Jesus in a world that still wasn't ready for that message. For me, living in the 21st century United States of America with people wearing WWJD bracelets, I don't think I'll be killed for believing in Christ.
But I read that instruction as something possibly more scary than actually losing my physical presence in the world: it means I have to give up those things I associate with "having a life": money, a job, relationships...in short security. We're being asked to step outside of ourselves, and take a chance in the name of doing the will of God. And what stops us from risking losing all that makes up "our life"? I think it's fear of what it would be like to be without them.
Fear was the topic of Bishop Gene Robinson's sermon at St. Mary's, Putney Sunday night in England. The fear that something might change in the Anglican Communion, that LGBT people might, like the Gentiles, be worthy of the message of God's incredible and unending love for all of us, likely sends a chill up and down the spines of Anglican leaders such as Orombi and Akinola. Fear certainly was demonstrated for all present at St. Mary's, Putney, when a heckler shook his motorcycle helmet in fury at Robinson, screaming at him that he was a heretic and he should "Repent, repent, repent!" Thank God, the choir director knew what to do and the church erupted in song to drown out the man as he was led from the sanctuary. Robinson, his voice wavering, asked the audience to "pray for that man." Instead, I cried. My tears were at the sorrow that a man, who appeared younger than me, could be filled with so much hatred. And I cried as I observed Robinson simply step back, wait, and call for prayers before resuming his sermon. That's courage!
Back to the butt-kicking from Jesus: it seems to me that the passage from Matthew is letting us know that to follow in Christ's footsteps, it's not going to be an easy walk. You will have to do and say some things that may jeopardize "your life as you know it". You might be put on the outs with your family, your friends, even those people who you thought were so central to "your life". Such words might make somebody decide to step off the path and hide out in the hole in the sun.
"See ya, Jesus! Don't forget to write!" We know what happens to Jesus for all his efforts to love and teach us how to live into the light: he gets killed. No, thank you.
But even at those times in the past nine months when I have wanted to slip away, and hide out from the tour guide...I remember the important lesson that comes to us each year in the form of Holy Week...Good Friday into Easter: you can go through Hell and back....and there is resurrection on the other side. And when you feel that exhilaration as I felt it this past Easter, you know the promise of resurrection is not a joke.
How many times have you gone through a rough patch and thought your world was crumbling...only to come out of it bigger, better, brighter than you were before? I see it as the same concept here. We are being called on to take some risks in our lives that could cause us (or others) to be uncomfortable. As +Gene Robinson notes, the members of the LGBT community who are returning to their places of worship are making some people uncomfortable right now. And it may even be unsettling for the LGBT person of faith to be back in a place they'd considered dangerous territory. But that's a risk that is worth taking because the discovery that can occur on both sides can...should...and I think must...lead to resurrection. In this way, those with enough courage to stay in the conversation can listen and learn from one another and can become stronger members together in the body of Christ.
In Matthew, Jesus smoothes out the rough edges of his tough talk with words that I hold close to me daily:
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."--Matthew 11: 28-30
Comfort language after getting such a difficult message only a chapter before!
Now, let's all take a deep breath, and go forth in peace to do justice in the world.