PENTECOST 4, A – July 2, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Ps. 89; Jer. 28:5-9; Rom. 7:1-13; Matt. 10:34-42

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. Matt. 10

 

Tuesday is the anniversary of our nation’s independence. Our great country was born out of conflict due to a government that was unresponsive to its people’s needs and concerns; and that conflict did not end in 1782 with the American victory in the Revolutionary War. Bad self-government followed, as the U.S. was a loose confederation of states that were each seeking their own good and ignoring the needs of the nation. It was like a family in which each family member was living for himself. The nation was on the verge of collapse, and so in 1787 a convention of the states was called for the purpose of writing a new Constitution to unite the country.

 One of the delegates was Ben Franklin, now 81 years old and in poor health. He said nothing during weeks of debate. Finally, when the delegates were locked in disagreement and things looked grim, he rose to speak. He wanted to know why the delegates had not appealed to God. He said:

“In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered… And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need his assistance?

     I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

Franklin then proposed that a chaplain be appointed to conduct daily prayer at the start of each session of the convention. (Founding Rivals, pp. 144-145)

 If prayer to God can unite, then how much more, you would think, can God’s very words unite! Jesus even promises that whoever receives one who brings His word receives Him and the Father. They are bound to His Word.

 And yet, Jesus also says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Why? He was a man of peace who never tried to overthrow any government or agitate people. And, He brought a message of love! He demands an exclusive love, however. “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.” Jesus demands to be loved above everyone else in your life. And if this causes trouble with others, well, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” You must be willing to suffer for your love for Him and your following of His teaching. This is what Jesus demands.

 This means that even if the laws of our country allow you to do something – to divorce your spouse, for instance, because you’re just not in love anymore – or if others say it is ok to dishonor and not pray for an elected official, because “he doesn’t deserve it!” – this doesn’t mean that God is ok with this. He expects more, for “You belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead, in order that [you] may bear fruit for God.” (Rom. 7) You are not independent, but dependent upon, and answerable to, your God! For us followers of Jesus, God and His Law, and His will for you in Christ, comes before every other law. Jesus has no tolerance here. He who loved and honored His Father above everything else expects the same of us.

 Some may say that such a demand is intolerant and is actually the source of problems and division. Jesus says that it is life, with Him and with His Father. “Whoever receives me receives Him who sent me.” In His Scriptures you have Jesus, and you have God as your Father! If you believe them and follow them you may lose much in this life and be opposed and rejected by people, but how much more do you gain! Consider what President Lincoln wrote to the loyal colored people of Baltimore, after they had presented him with a Bible:

“This Great Book is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.”

Jesus agrees, for He binds Himself to its message. “Whoever receives you [who preach it] receives me.”  Receiving Jesus’ words because you love Him, you receive Him! There is nothing of greater importance. This is why He commands us to love Him above everyone and everything else!

 But, who can do this? Who can truly love Jesus, whom we have not seen, more than their own parents and family? We cannot. And we certainly have a hard time loving His Word when it brings division. Who among us can be worthy of Him? None.

 But He will not leave us divided from Him. The people of the American colonies became free when they declared their independence, and fought for six years, and struggled among themselves for seven more before adopting a Constitution which united them. Your eternal freedom came when Jesus left the freedom of His Father’s rule in heaven to enter into this world of bondage and fight against our sins, death, and the powers of hell for us.

 Jesus fulfilled the hard words we heard from Him today. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He endured anger and hatred because of His words, and a sword literally pierced His side when He died for us on the cross. “I have come to set a man against his father… a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” When Jesus made our sins His own on the cross He was set against God the Father and became His enemy. His Father then turned away from Him and poured out His judgment upon Him. “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” He embraced the cross and on it became the unworthiest of all, that we might be forgiven and made worthy of God. The point is, Jesus became you and did all that is expected of you. And in His death, “you died to the law through the body of Christ.” (Rom. 7) No matter how strong God’s Law is, no matter how much today’s words of Jesus condemn you, He gave His body for you on the cross. He endured the Law’s condemnation in your place. When He died, you died to the Law. Its condemnation is over. Our lives have been found, because He lost his life for us!

 This is what you have in Christ and in His words: freedom from the law and its condemnation, yet also its good direction for a new and fruitful life in Him. No judgment of death, but eternal life with God, and freedom to live under His loving direction!

 George Washington, who is known as the Father of our nation, understood the blessing of following God for this life. Near the end of his presidency, he said in his farewell address to the nation on Sept. 19, 1796:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports… let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

 

True morality and goodness comes from God, and are given to us in Word. As you seek it and live it you will prove to be a blessing to your community and nation, even if you must endure division because of it. But, above all, a true and holy life with your Father in heaven comes through God’s Word, for it brings us Jesus, the focus of and fulfiller of God’s good Word. Love Him and His Gospel, and you will have Him and His life and live in God’s love forever! Amen.