Jesus the Confuser
Genesis 21:8-21 Matthew 10: 24-39
Grace and peace are already ours for we belong to the family of Jesus the Christ. With deep awareness of my unworthiness I stand before you to preach my last sermon here today. However in every weak moment of life I have also experienced the power of the transforming grace of God. A well-known poet Leonard Cohen said that “all of us are cracked people, yet it is through these cracks that light shines. I find comfort in St. Paul’s words that the foolishness of God is wiser than our wisdom. And the weakness of God is stronger than our strength. A word of thanks to Pastor Margaret Scott for the trust she placed on me this past year. Her sense of collegiality and her warmth and friendliness will always be treasured. My wife Malar joined me every Sunday here at worship and I never begged or bribed her to come. She is a member of the Greece United Methodist church and she could walk to that church from our home. She said the music in this church inspired her deeply. And this speaks volumes of your various music programs and the performances of the different choirs. And so to our great music maker of Fairport, Nicole Camilleri, I say well done and keep up your good work.
Our closing hymn for today was translated by a person named D.T Niles of Sri Lanka. He was my mentor and a great theologian of the previous century. In 1968 at the assassination of the Late Martin Luther King Jr, who was the featured speaker at the 4th general assembly of the world council of churches in Uppsala Sweden, Niles was invited to fill in for the preacher. My dissertation for the Master’s degree was on Niles and it is available in the library of Colgate Rochester Divinity School. The overarching theme of our closing song today is SARANAM. It is a Tamil word which means “taking refuge in God”.
The Hebrew scripture today deals with stories of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac. For Sarah, her greed and jealousy and bitterness overturns the joy of enjoying the gift of children. ”Whose son will inherit all our properties?” Will it be Hagar’s or mine? Friends the innocent little children are forced to lose their innocence today by the shrewdness and the wickedness and the scheming of some grown up adults. Perhaps the fear of the future, the fear of someone else going to get our share of wealth disturbs the harmony and the unity of a loving home. ”Send this slave woman away along with her son Ishmael. That painful ordeal ends with various twists and turns and Ishmael becomes an architect of the Islamic faith. And Isaac turns out to be a great figure in the Jewish religion. Abraham becomes the patriarch of three religions such as Judaism Islam and Christianity. This story is our story and just as the senseless demand Sarah made to Abraham to drive away Hagar and the baby, we create barriers in families and communities with our inhuman demands. There is a lack of kindness, generosity and faithfulness in the tone of our demands. “Send that woman away with the child”. I have heard people saying to me “Pastor Can you send those children to the children worship for they make noises in our worship? “They distract us. We want the illegal immigrants to come and work in our farms with no benefits and with little pay. Then they must go back to Mexico once the summer is over. Jesus often questions our double standard. A few months ago in a British national daily newspaper a question was asked at the readers: What does it mean to be British? This was one of the responses. Being a British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, and then traveling home, grabbing an Indian curry and a Turkish kebab and to sit in the Swedish furniture and with American shows on a Japanese TV and the most British thing of all is suspicion of anything foreign.
If you have not been confused by Jesus still you are yet to learn the Christian faith. I have not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword. Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother wife and children brothers and sisters yes even life itself cannot be my disciple. He comes to us as a bearer of discord and dissension. How can one develop a sermon expounding this passage? Do you really think it is glamorous to follow this troublemaker ruble rouser and confuser called Jesus? Sometimes it is dangerous to follow him. Sometimes it is costly. Sometimes it is adventurous to walk with him. Following Jesus those days, 2000 thousand years ago was a life and death choice. The Jesus people were watched under the Roman surveillance camera. He called people for a new way of living. He called people to fight against exploitation and corruption and bigotry even if you became unpopular in your community. Jesus called people to take a stand for the rights of children. This new way of practicing faith often opposed the view of the parents. It clashed with the values of their fathers and mothers. Whenever you upset a complacent society which thrives in falsehood and enjoys pretense you become a heretic. In the name of justice and in the name of truth when you challenge a system of deceit and foul play you bring division in a community and set fire on earth.
Matthew 10 actually begins with the call of disciples. I am pretty sure those twelve felt honored and humbled at the same time that Jesus had a plan for them. In fact he gave them a detailed job description: Cure the sick raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. Then he gave them some words of admonition: I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Let me close this message with two questions. No 1. Who is this Jesus? In the words of the hymn writer Brien Wren “we believe in God, maker of rainbows, spinner of chaos, weaver of stories, and dare devil gambler. We believe in Jesus Christ: Rabi of the poor, carpenter of new creation and we believe in the Holy Spirit, nudging discomforter, midwife of changes. And we believe in the church, as that group of people who have chosen to believe these outrageous and offensive and wonderful truths.
No 2.where is Jesus today? Some time back there was a bumper sticker in some of the cars around here which read WWJD. When I wanted to create something like that I came up with these words: WIJT, which means where, is Jesus today? Where is he? Is he among the Christians or people of other religions or among people without any religion? Is he in the west or in the east? Is he among the straight ones or among the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons? Is he among the rich or the poor persons? Have I excluded Jesus from our closer net working groups and gatherings? Where is he?