Monday, June 27, 2011

The Peace of Christ for Feuding Families

In Nomine Iesu
St. Matthew 10:34-42
June 26, 2011
Pentecost 2 - Proper 8A

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

I love my wife. I love my son. I love my daughter. I love my mom and my step-dad. I love my father-in-law. I love my sisters and my sisters-in-law and my brothers-in-law. I love them all—my family. And if someday I’m blessed with a son-in-law . . . well, I’ll try to love him, even though there’s no way he’ll be good enough for my daughter. (And I think there’s some Biblical precedent for requiring seven years of hard labor before the boy gets the girl.)

But I’m not expressing anything unusual here. I mean, you love your family too, don’t you? Love for family is like apple pie and fireworks on the fourth of July. It’s God who gives us our family. Family is God’s gift to you; and you are God’s gift to your family. And even Jesus—despite His miraculous conception and birth—even Jesus was born into a family. “Honor your father and your mother” is the first of the commandments to have a promise attached to it, underscoring the importance of family.

Perhaps, then, this is why it sounds so utterly outrageous to hear Jesus describe the members of our families as enemies! “Don’t suppose I have come to bring peace on earth,” Jesus said. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword—to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” There’s a radical statement for you. The Christian church teaches the importance of family values—that family matters. Focus on the Family is a well-known Christian organization. But the Christ of the Christian church says, “The members of your own family—well, they just might be your enemies.”

This might just be hyperbole. Jesus did that sometimes—exaggerated to make an important point, made an extreme statement so that He could highlight an important truth. It’s like the time when Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” That’s hyperbole. Jesus isn’t advocating self-mutilation; but He is saying that it’s better to go through life one-handed than to spend eternity in hell.

I think there’s at least a little hyperbole here. After all, Jesus certainly did not come with the express purpose of turning family members against one another. Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Jesus came to give us life that lasts forever. But sometimes the result of Jesus’ work in our lives—the effect can be—conflict in the family. Sometimes the new life that Jesus gives is in direct conflict with the family life we’ve all come to know. And division sometimes results. This is why Jesus went on to clarify: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Peace among family members is a good thing. In fact, Jesus desires that there be peace and harmony in every family. But that peace can never be achieved by turning away from Jesus and His Word. But too often that’s the kind of peace we aim for. We aim merely to “keep the peace” among family members. And we do it by setting aside Jesus and His will for our family members. But this kind of peace is really no peace at all. It’s a declaration of war against God. It’s a sham peace that puts a shiny veneer over the sins of the family. Let me give you some examples . . . .

Peace in the family is just a sham when we see family members headed for divorce, but we don’t do a thing to bring help and healing to that marriage because (they say) that’s none of our business (and we have to keep the peace). Peace in the family is just a sham when parents don’t help their teenagers make God-pleasing choices when it comes to friends and clothing and movies and music—when parents refuse to say “no” because they want to avoid conflict and “keep the peace” and be a friend instead of a parent. Peace in the family is just a sham when grandpa (a widower) decides to move in together with his new lady friend without getting married—and no one says a thing in order to keep “peace” in the family. Peace in the family is a sham we the use of porn is tolerated in the family—because confronting the sin might lead to conflict (and we have to keep the peace at all costs).

Beloved in the Lord, this kind of peace isn’t just a sham; it’s a shame. And it can be a damning shame. When we fear confronting a family member more than we fear Almighty God—when our desire to avoid conflict is greater than our desire to speak up for the spiritual well-being of a family member—when we settle for being peace-keepers instead of being blessed peace-makers—we are sinning. Peace-makers also have to be risk-takers. Making the kind of peace that pleases God necessarily involves risk—risking conflict, risking hard feelings, and risking rejection. But by refusing the risk—by refusing to speak the truth in love we are sinning against our family. We are sinning against God who is the Giver of families. It’s a sham. It’s a shame. It’s a refusal to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Nowhere do we need Jesus more than when it comes to our own flesh and blood. And this is precisely why Jesus Himself took our human flesh and blood and joined our human family as the Son of Mary. When you keep quiet to avoid conflict and confrontation, remember Jesus who spoke up and walked headlong right into conflict and confrontation and crucifixion. When you don’t want to take the risk to rescue a family member, remember how Jesus risked everything to rescue you. He took up His cross so that He might bring forgiveness of sins to every member of your family—so that He might give your family a peace that is real and genuine and honest. You simply need to repent of loving family more than Jesus—of being a peace-keeper instead of a peace-maker.

We all fail our families everyday. There’s probably not a day that goes by that we don’t sin against the members of our families. And no one sees our sins in a more up-close-and-personal way than the members of our families. Jesus wants your family to enjoy the genuine peace that He earned by the shedding of His blood. For all the times we have failed our family members, there stands Jesus who was forsaken by His heavenly Father as He hung from the cross. For all the times we have feared or loved our family more than we have feared and loved God, there stands Jesus who was unafraid to demonstrate His love for you by carrying His cross and enduring the shame, the scorn, the nails.

Jesus endured it all because He loves you and He wants you in His family forever and ever. Your baptism was the moment of your adoption into the Savior’s family. There you received His forgiveness for your sins, all His good for all your bad, His life instead of the death you deserve.

The Savior who made you a member of His family, has also given you your earthly family. He gives your parents, spouse and children not to love more than you love Him. He gives you your family to love because of Him. Love your family because of Jesus—not more than Jesus. And (miracle of miracles) in loving your family, you will be loving Jesus too.

Our calling as family members is not to keep the peace, but to live in the peace that Jesus died and rose to secure for every family. Living in that peace begins here in the Divine Service. It’s only as we ourselves each receive the forgiveness of Christ that we can then take that forgiveness home and share it with our families throughout the week.

Families that enjoy the genuine peace of Jesus will still have conflicts. Families that enjoy the genuine peace of Jesus will still have the occasional family feud. But those family feuds are followed by repentance and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake. Jesus teaches us not to ignore sin, but to confess it and receive His sure and certain forgiveness. The peace of Christ is not cheap. Don’t settle for fake imitations. Your family matters too much to settle for anything less.

I love my wife and my kids. I love my parents, my siblings and my in-laws and outlaws. I love them all. But by the grace of God, I love Jesus even more. I think you love Him more too. Why? Because He first loved us—because He gave Himself for us—because He took up His cross for us. Amen.

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