Christians are called to testify to what we know to be true, but we like to shrink from responsibilities that bring discomfort. The truth can confront lies that may be swirling around families, churches, and nations intended to keep the boat from rocking.
I knew a pastor once who said she welcomed conflict because it brought light and clarity. Amen to that! A sigh runs through the crowd when the elephant has been named or the divergent perspectives on an issue are aired. And we can welcome the consequences of truth revealed when we are standing on sure ground: the place God gives us as in baptism, the identity as children of God.
The sword cuts through nonsense as well as falsehood. Baptism mends the brokenness.
Jesus sends out the Twelve to announce and enact the good news that the kingdom of heaven is near. His instructions concerning the mission of the Twelve launch the “Mission Discourse.”
. . . Having just told the disciples that they will be persecuted “because of my name” (v 22), Jesus tells them that the student should not expect to receive better treatment than the teacher nor the slave better than the master did. Three times the disciples are urged not to “be afraid.” At worst, their treatment can mean death. But a worse fate awaits those who deny the message: the destruction of both body and soul in Gehenna (the New Testament image of hell as the burning garbage pit in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem).
In spite of being the prince of peace, Jesus has not come to bring peace but a sword of division. Even families will turn against one another because of him. This is not his intention, but it is the consequence of hostile resistance to the Gospel. Matthew's Gospel is written after persecution of Christians has begun. Following Jesus touches off conflict between people who were once as close as families. We see this happening in the world today when people convert to Christianity. – Frank C. Senn
Jeremiah's fifth personal lament. . . was chosen to correlate with the Gospel reading, which speaks of the persecution that the Twelve will experience on their mission. Because Jeremiah preached God's word of doom in Judah, which clung to God's promise in the Davidic covenant (though without a corresponding obedience), he was ridiculed and abused. Here he complains to God that God has “enticed” and “overpowered” him (literally “seduced” and “raped”), forcing him to deliver a message he personally did not like. He was made a “laughingstock” because he had to shout out, “Violence and destruction!” He prays that a violent God will pay back his violent enemies with violence. Like psalms of lament, this lament of Jeremiah ends with praise of God for delivering his prophet from his enemies.
To be a bearer of God's word means to suffer rejection. This is tricky. It has been said that the offense of God's word should not be confused with the possible offensiveness of the preacher. Yet, as the example of Jeremiah shows, the message cannot always be separated from the messenger. The offense of the message makes the messenger offensive. – Frank C. Senn
Writing to a church he did not found, Paul could not have assumed what the Roman church understood about baptism. The congregation was both gentile and Jewish. Gentile believers might have believed that baptism effected a mystical union with the deity along the lines of a mystery religion. Jewish believers might have regarded baptism as a turning point in one's life. Paul has deftly combined both views: baptism joins one to Christ and marks a turning point in one's life. – Frank C. Senn
Frank C. Senn, an ELCA pastor who served Immanuel Lutheran Church in Evanston, Illinois, from 1990-2013, has also taught liturgy courses at a number of seminaries and divinity schools and published thirteen books mostly on the history of the liturgy.
Homily Service 41, no. 3 (2008): 63-74.