Accepting the Challenging Word of Jesus

Jun 25, 2023

4th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 10:24-39
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     It is indeed good to greet you as I return from vacation and two Sundays off. As is usually the case, I needed a vacation after the vacation since I always try to do too much in too little time. But this time I particularly need a nap after adding two members to my household on my last day of vacation. Since I could not figure out a way to fit them into the sermon, I’ll tell you about them now.
     I have welcomed two 11-week-old kittens whose mother was a feral cat. The smaller one, who resembles a Siamese, was named Sasha by her foster mom, and I decided to keep that name. She’s always on the go but will allow me to cuddle her now and then. The other is a jumble of colors and designs but is mostly grey. She is filled with vim, vigor and curiosity; her name is now Salome, or Sally for short. In case you are wondering about that name, it does have theological significance.
     The kittens were born on Easter Sunday, April 9, and Salome was one of the women who went to the tomb that day and discovered that Jesus had been raised from death or life. Now, if I was being consistent, Sasha would be Mary Magdalene … but … she’s too little for such a moniker. So, there you have it, a whole new topic for sermon illustrations!
     Speaking of the sermon, I guess we should go there. Today’s Gospel lesson certainly presents some challenges. I once read that in this conversation with his disciples, “Jesus gave it to them straight”. In other words, he did not make the situation they are in sound better than it was. I, for one, appreciate that; one of my pet peeves is when people make a tornado seem like a gentle spring rainstorm. As Jesus prepared his closest followers for their first mission, he laid it on the line.
     He first empowered them to do the things he did: cast out demons, heal people with every kind of sickness and teach about God’s will and ways. Jesus had already told them that some people will welcome the Good News they offer; others will not do so and the disciples will be the target of their resistance. What has been true for Jesus, who is hated by some and discredited by others, will be true for them. While this may frustrate and outrage them, Jesus tells them that they should not be afraid.
     At this point, we can imagine them asking, “why not?” The answer was a bit complex: only God, who loves and created them, has the power to destroy them, in the ultimate sense. So, if they are going to fear anyone, they should fear God. BUT there’s no reason to do so since God is devoted to them. Quoting commentator Chelsey Harmon, “God keeps closer track of us, has more intimate knowledge of us, than we do of ourselves – that’s how God knows how many hairs are on our heads.” (1) (In my case, it would take awhile to count them, but for others … not so much!) The point is that God is present, and aware, and with us, no matter what. Then comes the most challenging part of Jesus’ truth-telling. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have come to bring a sword … one’s foes will be the members of one’s own household.”
     Most scholars believe that Jesus was using hyperbole in verses 34-37, that is, using exaggeration or strong language to make a point. We cringe at hearing, “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….” Yet, those strong words speak a challenging truth; Jesus was telling his followers that being his disciples will cause division and disruption in their lives and in others’ lives.
     It was a difficult message for them to hear and to follow: being Jesus’ followers should take precedence over all loyalties and devotions, including family relationships. Imagine the shock of his words in a culture where one’s family/ancestry identified who a person was; the concept of being an individual who stands alone was unknown. Yet, Jesus was saying that no human relationship must be allowed to come between the follower and Jesus. He was warning them that the claims of the Gospel can split families, divide communities and must transform one’s priorities.
     That is, of course, what happened in the early days of Christianity, especially, but also through the ages to now. For example, commentator Greg Carey writes about Clarence Jordan who in 1942 founded the racially integrated Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia. People who knew him appreciate how he allowed his sense of humor to interpret difficult situations. For example, when the Koinonia Community tried selling peanuts for a roadside stand, the Ku Klux Kan dynamited the stand. Stubborn like most saints for justice, Jordan put up another stand. It got blown up too. Finally, the Farm resorted to mail-order ads which read: “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”
     Commentator Carey also gives less humorous examples of the cost of discipleship. He also writes about the lay person who was in the summer academy Carey taught who lost a lucrative job when he protested the company’s fraudulent practices, and another who lost the chance to purchase a desirable home by rejecting opportunities to undercut minority buyers. (2)
     Many of us know the story of Millard Fuller who was a corporate executive making a million dollars a year, an amazing amount decades ago. But then he heard God calling him, telling him his priorities were out of whack. So, he re-committed his life to being a follower of Jesus, quit his job, moved to a more modest home and began building affordable houses for low-income families who could purchase them interest-free – a ministry that became known as Habitat for Humanity. (3)
     Or, as commentator Cleophus J. LaRue noted, focusing on divisions in families, “Some divisions come as a result of family members who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Lord in any sense of the word.” Some come because family members hear Jesus’ words – concerning kindness to strangers, duty and responsibility to others, the fair and just treatment of all God’s people, a healthy concern for the environment or issues of sexuality - differently and thus march to the beat of a much different drummer.  “Trying to heed the commands of Christ and live faithfully around these issues causes tensions and uncertainties among loved ones.” (4)
     These are all examples of the cost of discipleship, of taking up the cross, of losing one’s life in order to find it. Following Jesus involves accepting risk, including the reality that the claims of the Gospel can split families, divide communities and transform one’s priorities. That happens in many ways, some are considered extreme, others mild, but all involve choosing to follow Jesus, making doing so a priority in our lives and not turning away when Jesus speaks a challenging word. AMEN
  1. “Sermon Commentary for Matthew 10:24-39” by Chelsey Harmon, June 25, 2023,
  2. “Commentary on Matthew 10:24-39” by Greg Carey,
  3. “Sermon Commentary for Matthew 10:24-39” by Scott Hoezee, June 25, 2017,
  4. “Commentary on Matthew 10:24-39 by Cleophus J. LaRue,