There is a scene in the movie “The Avengers” where things are beginning to fall apart. All of the heroes of the story have been drawn together because of a threat to earth, but they are unable to work together. Huge egos find it difficult to cooperate, and this is illustrated almost perfectly during a particular scene when everyone starts throwing accusations and blame around at each other. At one point, Captain America blames Tony Stark, otherwise known as Iron Man. Tony abruptly turns to Capatin America and says, “Since when did this become about me?”
Captain America retorts, “Isn’t it always?”
Isn’t it always? In some ways, it is, or at least we like it to be. We tend to want to know how things impact me. How is a new law going to impact me? How is construction on a road going to impact me? Why do I care what is going on in other parts of the world if they don’t impact me? How is a new business coming into the community going to impact me? I could go on and on with this train of thought. All too often, when it comes to discussing things, we place ourselves right in the middle of it as if we were the main consideration.
We like to do that with faith and belief as well. I remember vividly going through seminary and hearing over and over and over again, “We need to make the Christian faith relevant to what is going on in the world today.” As we discussed this statement, it became more and more clear that what was really being said was, “We need to show how the Christian faith affects people in the midst of their daily lives or they won’t see any use for it.” Do you hear one of the underlying things in this statement? There is an assumption that the Christian faith must be found useful to a person or to a group in order for it to be relevant. I remember a colleague once quipping to me, “So what are you going to offer folks to get them interested in Christianity?” The assumption here is that we need to show that Christianity works–that it is necessary for someone’s life or that it will improve someone’s life. The assumption is that people are the object of the Christian faith and that the Christian faith is all about people. Taken to its smallest component, Christianity becomes all about me and how it affects me and how it works for me.
It’s the wrong assumption. Why would I say that?
Well, let’s start by looking at our Gospel lesson this morning. Let’s look at this text as if this text were all about us–the focus was our lives. Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace but a sword.” If we just stopped there, you might have a few folks whose eyebrows are raised. Those who want peace will turn Jesus off right here. Those who like to fight will be saying, “Preach on brother!” Immediately, we get division. Immediately we have some folks thinking, “Christianity is not for me!” while others say, “Tell me more.” That’s just the first line.
Jesus goes on, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever 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.” Now, for those who do not have great relationships with their family members, Jesus sort of gives them justification for keeping their distance from their families. They might rejoice and say, “This Jesus is great!” However, if there are those of us who have great relationships with our families, Jesus’ words aren’t exactly comforting. We might say, “Jesus, I love my wife and my kids tremendously. I cannot choose between them and you. I cannot follow you.” If Christianity is all about me, then if something in Christianity affects me poorly, I walk away from Christianity.
But let’s keep going and head to the last few verses. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” If Christianity is all about me, well, then if I seek to follow it, I have to get pretty worked up about this particular teaching as well. I have to ask myself, “How do I welcome Jesus? How do I welcome a prophet? How do I welcome a righteous person? How can I make sure to give a cup of cold water to the least of these so that I obtain my rewards and do not lose them?”
For you see, if Christianity is all about me, then I am using it to receive rewards. I am using Christianity as a means to an end. I am trying to make my life better, do the things that bring about my happiness, my joy, my peace. I am using Christianity to get the rewards and avoid the punishments. I am embracing Christianity because it works for me, and if Christianity stops working, then I can disregard it and stop adhering to it. After all, it’s all about me.
In my estimation, and in the estimation of many others, this is not why Christianity is to be followed. Christianity is not to be followed because it works, it is to be followed because it is true. And Christianity is not followed because it is about me; rather Christianity is to be followed because it is about Jesus. And it is through Jesus, and through Jesus alone that I finally find peace, joy, happiness and meaning. I cannot get those things as long as I am the focus. They only come when Jesus is at the center–when Jesus is the focus.
This is an important thing to remember because all of Scripture is colored by what Jesus has done. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.” Remember, this was done not because we were exceptionally good people–not because we were righteous people–but while we were still sinners. While we were still unlovable, Christ came and died for us, and this shifts the focus from what we have to do to what Christ has done. Knowing this, let’s now take another look at what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson today.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever 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.” Looking at this from the perspective of what Christ has done for us, it makes more sense for oftentimes, our family members become the center of our lives. We seek to make our family members happy. We seek their approval. We want them to love us, and we will oftentimes do anything and everything we can to stay in their good graces. When Jesus becomes the center of our lives, we don’t stop loving our families–not in the least. We continue to love them, but we no longer seek their approval. We no longer try to make them happy as if that is our sole responsibility in life. When this happens, someone gets upset. Not us, but those who once were the only focus of our attention. Division takes place, but not because we want it–it’s because we are no longer giving the attention we once were. Yet, we don’t stop loving our family. In fact, we grow to love them even more because we know that Christ died for us when we were unlovable, and because of what He did, we know we can love our parents, spouses, our in-laws, and our children when they are unlovable. When Jesus is the center of our lives, there is division, but we are moved with love despite this.
Moving on further down. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me. Whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” Remember, this isn’t about you and what you have to do. Remember, it’s about Jesus. Whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the one who sent Him–God the Father. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet receives a prophet’s reward. Let me ask you: who is the ultimate prophet? Who do we name as prophet, priest, and king? Jesus. Whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous. Who is the only person who has ever been totally righteous? Is it you or me or any purely human being who has ever lived? No. None is completely righteous before God except Jesus. The reward of the prophet is the reward Jesus came to bestow freely. The reward of the righteous is the reward Jesus came to bestow freely. And that reward can never be taken away from you. God loves you too much to take it from you.
How do I know this? He sent Jesus to be the prophet, the righteous person that we were supposed to be. Jesus lived the life we were supposed to live and has given us that merit. Furthermore, Jesus received the punishment we should have been given. He died the death we deserved so that we no longer have to live in fear of punishment. We now know that because of Jesus we have life forever. We have satisfaction. We have peace. We have joy. All because of Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. Amen.