There are some weeks when I look at our texts and I don’t want to preach on them.
This was one of those weeks.
The text is not warm and fuzzy.
The text is challenging and frustrating.
Often times, I try to connect our current texts with those we have recently heard or the larger Biblical story as a whole.
There were two main sources of frustration for me in our Gospel today.
First, the theme of division. We have our Prince of Peace saying “I didn’t come to bring peace, I came to bring division”. Yet, a common theme in my preaching is that the Holy Spirit has taken those differences that we let divide us and broken through those walls so that we can reach across the divides to be reconciled, to love, and to serve one another no matter where we might find them on their path and we find them on our own. That (theme) is a little bit of a challenge to preach with the text we have today.
Second frustration, last week was Father’s Day. I preached about the role of a (ideal) father or parent as one that helps is to have wings to go fly with and when we fall picks us up, dusts us off, and sends us further into who we are called to be and the journey that we are called to travel. Today’s text has father against son, mother against daughter, and it reads daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (which from my experience is not that difficult of a division). BUT, it is about divisions between relationships that last week we honored and we lifted up.
I think this text and the reality of our lives show why language of God as the Father, the Mother, or the Parent is challenged. In our own lives, we know that not all (earthly) fathers are good fathers and not all (earthly) mothers are good mothers. Some try and fall short, while others just don’t even try.
I think that the last line of the Gospel is our key to this frustrating and difficult Gospel. The last line reads: those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for the sake of Christ will find it.
We have the word “life”. We get the sense that it is more than just the blood pumping through our veins, our heart rate, and our breathing, but it is something deeper than that. Earlier in the passage, it reads: don’t fear the one who can kill your body and not your soul. The Greek word translated as “life” is ‘soma’. Soma is the very essence of who we are; it is our mind, our body, and our soul. It is the whole of who we are.
We have relationship that help support, help give us the quality of life that ‘soma’ is expressing. BUT, we also have ones that drain us, zap the energy out of us, tiring our minds, bodies, and souls.
So, I am going to get a little personal and share a little bit of a personal story.
As many of you know, I do not have a relationship with my biological father. I can count on my fingers the number of memories I have with him in addition to memories of being on the phone with him in forced conversation:
Mom: “Melinda, it is your father. You have to talk to him.”
Me: “I have nothing to talk to him about.”
Him: “How is the weather?”
Him: “What did you get for Christmas?”
Him: “Give the phone back to your mother. Bye.”
Those are my memories besides the phone conversation of him telling me “you don’t use my last name and therefore you are not my daughter”.
An aunt saying that I am “white trash” because I have a tattoo.
An aunt acting as though I am the “disgrace” of the family because I went to college instead of getting married and having children.
These sound like great, healthy relationships… Right?
In the midst of all this, opportunities would come up to see him. My initial response was “I have no need to see him’. Yet, my sister’s response was always “but he is our father” (“but he is our father”). So, being the supportive little sister that I am, I would always go along with her. It would always be the same…
Him: “There is daddy’s little girls” (I have a Scot-Irish temper that this challenged).
Him: “Oh, just because I don’t call you doesn’t mean I don’t love you”.
However, I think that our last encounter with him at my aunt’s funeral put the last nail in the coffin for my sister. He claimed not to recognize us when he was three feet from our faces.
Why do I share this? It is not for pity, but it is to show that sometimes our relationships are not healthy. They are toxic. Instead of improving us emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically, they do the opposite.
I think that is what Christ is speaking to here.
Jeremiah, the lamenting prophet, speaks about how his calling to be a prophet has caused him great pain. It has caused relationships to be unhealthy and toxic with him being rejected, and yet his calling is something that he cannot resist. He must give the prophesy. He must fulfill his calling.
I think we find ourselves in that same place when we find ourselves in a toxic relationship.
We know who God is calling us to be.
We know the path that we are called to be upon.
Sometimes, it requires us to make the hard choice to walk away from a relationship. This choice is even harder when said relationship is family. It is never easy. It is always hard and challenging. BUT, I think this is Christ’s reference to “division”. It is one not merely due to differences, but one that is due to unhealthy relationship for all parties involved.
There is a song that I recently came across that drove this point home for me. It is done by an artist named Matt Kennon, who does ‘Country Rock’ (rock sound but on country radio). I want to share a little of his background (as I recall), so you can understand where he is coming from with this song. His mother got pregnant with him and went to a clinic to have an abortion but was too far along. The doctor had another patient who recently lost their children in a house fire and were unable to conceive another. The doctor connected the two and he was adopted into a loving home, but always wished to know his biological parents. He found them in and out of homelessness and struggling with issues of substance abuse of legal and (I believe) illegal substances. This song, I think, speaks to his struggle of wanting that relationship and yet knowing it was toxic at best. The song is “You Won’t Hurt Me Anymore“. (I am sharing the first half.):
You could have put a gun to my head
You could have put a knife in my back
I don’t think the Devil, himself, would have talked to me like that
I guess I had to face the truth so I could slam the door
But for now you won’t hurt me anymore
Should have never gotten on that bus
Should have never answered that phone
I buried your memory in the past just about 12 years ago
I can’t believe I let my guard down
Let you knock me to the floor
But I swear to you, you won’t hurt me anymore
I always hoped that we could find some way to work things out
I always prayed that we could build some bridge to common ground
You don’t know the hell its been without you in my life
But, I have to tell myself I got to let you go this time.
Toxic relationships at best take our attention away from Christ and at worst prevent us from being who God has called us to be.
The problem is that we like to hold on to the bitterness. As Nelson Mandela said: holding onto bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
“I have to let you go this time”
Matt Kennon, I think, was speaking to the bitterness as well as the relationship.
Toxic relationships don’t exist just among people.
Anything that distracts us from God and who God has called us to be, can be toxic be it addiction, anger, or bitterness. Anything can be toxic.
My prayer is that we don’t see Christ’s words as one calling for division, but rather one acknowledging that sometimes we have to let things and people go in order to follow God and let God fully shape and form us into who we are called to be.
May we go through that agonizing process with the hope of future growth.
The Scriptures were Jeremiah 20: 7-13 and Matthew 10: 24-39.
Preached on 25 June 2017 at Gloria Dei (Kelso, WA).