Comfortable Christianity

We find ourselves today in the tenth chapter of Matthew, verses thirty-four through thirty-nine. In this chapter, Jesus is not speaking to the masses. He is speaking to the disciples. To be more exact, the Master is commissioning the disciples. In the first verse of this chapter, we are told Jesus gave them authority to drive out demons and to heal the sick. However, before they leave, Jesus gives them a few parting words. There is no other way to say it. Jesus was completely honest with the disciples. He tells them clearly that their journey will not be an endless party. Their journey will not be a vacation. Their journey is a business trip, and everyone will not welcome them with open arms. Some will reject their message and resist their presence. In the heart of this hard message, Jesus says, “I did not come to bring you peace, but a sword.”  Those words sound harsh, but they are true words. It has been true of every generation. The gospel message has met resistance from the very beginning. Jesus’ words are prophetic.

Have you ever stopped to consider the violent ways the disciples died in service to our Lord? Tradition tells us, of the twelve, only John died of natural causes. The rest had a violent end. Andrew took the Gospel to present-day Russia, Turkey, and Greece. He was crucified. Thomas went as far as India and died when speared by four soldiers. Philip went to North Africa and died in a prison. Matthew, the writer of this gospel, went to Ethiopia and was stabbed. James went to Syria and was clubbed to death. Simon the Zealot went to Persia and was killed because he wouldn’t make a sacrifice to the god of the sun. Matthias, the disciple who replaced Judas Iscariot, went to Syria, and was burned to death. Paul and Peter went to Rome. They both died in the year 66. Paul, the greatest evangelist the church has ever known, was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down at his own request because he felt he wasn’t worthy to die like Jesus. Our scripture reading for today is prophetic. Jesus didn’t come into this world to bring peace. It is not that Jesus is promoting violence. It is that Jesus knew the world would resist the gospel. Every generation has resisted the gospel message.

Have you ever stopped to consider how many saints have been martyred in the history of the church? There is no exact number because some are unknown, and not all are accepted by every denomination or sect. Only God knows the answer to that question, but the incomplete list is filled with impressive names. Polycarp of Smyrna (81-167) and Justin Martyr (100-165) died in the age of martyrs, between the second to the fourth century. In the Middle Ages, from the fifth to the fifteenth century, John Huss (1369-1415) and Joan of Arc (1412-1431) were martyred. During the Reformation Era, the sixteenth century, William Tyndale (1494-1535) and Anne Askew (1521-1546) were martyred. Even in the twentieth century believers were martyred for taking a stand for the gospel. Dietrich Bonnhoeffer (1906-1945) and Oscar Romero were martyred (1917-1980). Jesus’s words were prophetic. He knew, every generation would resist the gospel message, and our world is not an exception.

Have you ever stopped to consider the countries in our world today who persecute believers? According to Christianity Today, these are the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian:

  1. North Korea
  2. Somalia
  3. Afghanistan
  4. Pakistan
  5. Sudan
  6. Syria
  7. Iraq
  8. Iran
  9. Yemen

Jesus’s words in our scripture lesson for today are prophetic. Jesus knew, every generation would resist the gospel message, yet Jesus’s words in our scripture lesson seem far removed from us. In America, we have religious freedom. In one way that is blessing. Maybe in another way, it is a curse.

Years ago, I visited a friend and his wife who had just taken a cruise. It was an Atlantic coast cruise, starting in New York City and ending in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I have never taken a cruise, so I wanted to hear about their experience. When I arrived, I blurted out the question, “How was the cruise?” She gave me a few highlights, but it was nothing over the top. We soon moved on to other topics. When his wife got up and went to bed. I returned to the topic. I asked my friend, “So you liked the cruise?” He responded, “Russ, I have never been so bored in my life.” He is the perfect product of the Youngstown, Ohio, which means you are wasting time if you are not working. (He also believes if you are not sweating, then you are not working. That means he believes that I have never worked.) He continued, “We didn’t do anything but sit and eat. After two days, I thought I was going to die from boredom. All I wanted to do was go home and go back to work. The ship’s crew was very nice, but they didn’t ask us to do anything.” This is the connection between my neighbor’s cruise and us: Maybe that is the problem with the American church? We aren’t asking people to do anything; we aren’t asking people to make a difference. Let’s look at the text one more time.

Jesus is commissioning the disciples. They are about to leave Jesus and spread the Good News. Jesus is honest with them. He tells them there is going to be some danger and risk. However, it is worth the danger and the risk because they could change the world. The scripture does not say any of the disciples reconsidered and went home, because home was safe. The scripture says they went into the world and told people about Jesus. Ponder the next line.

Maybe, just maybe, one of the fatal flaws in the American church today is that we just aren’t asking people to do anything of worth. We ask people to do simple things, not world changing things. We ask people to make brownies for the next dinner. We ask people to be a greeter. We ask people to lock the doors and turn the lights off when we leave. We apologize for asking for the smallest amount of money. We ask people for small things, but we never ask them to do big things because we don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to lose anyone. We ask for next to nothing and that is exactly what we are getting, next to nothing. Our comfortable Christianity is killing us. That is why our churches have become so self-centered. That is why we are preoccupied with our own opinions and comfort. That is why we worry about upsetting other church members. That is why we do next to nothing to solve a single world problem. That is why our churches are only curious about Jesus, not passionate. We are our own worst enemy. I am not the first to recognize this problem. There have been others.

Do you remember the words of the great Danish philosopher, poet, and theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)? He said:

“I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained-glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, ‘If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.’ And I looked around and nobody was laughing.”

This is the point: Our comfortable Christianity is our demise. We are our own worst enemy. The great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) said it another way. He said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

So, there is Jesus! He is talking to the disciples, yet he is talking to us. His words are not comforting. They are challenging. He did not come to bring peace. He came with a sword. The words were harsh, but the disciples stood united, because they wanted to make a difference in this world. I believe you want to make a difference in this world too.

Do you remember the story of Earnest Shackleton (1874-1922)? He gained fame for his polar exploration. History tells us, he led three expeditions to the Antarctic. In 1914, he attempted to cross the South Pole on foot, going sea to sea. Folklore tells us, he ran this advertisement in a newspaper to recruit his crew. This is the advertisement:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success – Earnest Shackleton

Can I ask you a question? Would you apply for that job? Folklore tells us so many men responded positively to that advertisement, men had to be turned away. The question is, why? I believe many people responded to that ad because they longed for an adventure. They didn’t just want to live and die. They wanted to make a difference in this world. That spirit didn’t die with that generation. That spirit lives on in our generation. That spirit for adventure lives in you. It is time to reject our comfortable Christianity and take a risk for Jesus. Senior pastor of The Bridge in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, David McGee? He said, “We should be more concerned with reaching the lost than pampering the saved.” How comfortable is your Christianity?

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