Life's North Star
Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 22, 2014
Holy Communion, Allendale
Whenever I hear today’s Gospel reading, I remember a particular earlier time that I heard it. I was rector then at St. James, Wilmington, North Carolina, and both Annie’s parents and mine were visiting us. On Sunday morning during that visit, terrible thunderstorms moved into the area. In fact, most people stayed home from church that day. However, there was one very crowded pew in church that morning, with all our family in it. Most of the rest of that large church building was empty. Then, just after the liturgy began, lightning struck the church tower, and an alarm went off, just briefly. Therefore, just about the time of the sermon, firemen were running up and down the tower steps. Thankfully, no fire was discovered. In the midst of that strange and chaotic scene, the Gospel proclaimed these words of Jesus: “I have not 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” (Matt 10:34-35).
Those words from Jesus are not very comforting at any time. But at that moment, they were less so than usual, I must admit. In fact, these words do not even sound like the Jesus who preached and taught and lived love as the primary message from God to human beings. Thus, how do we reconcile words from today’s Gospel with what we know about Jesus elsewhere?
Jesus here is exaggerating his message in order to make a point – something we all do from time to time. And his point is this. Our relationship with God needs to hold the position of priority above all other relationships we have. Whatever relationship we value most dearly on earth – with spouse or parent or child or whoever – that relationship needs to take second place. Thus, Jesus figuratively brings a sword to separate all other relationships from that one with God. The relationship with God appropriately holds the place of priority in life. That is the point here.
Now, as we consider this further, I want to let you in on a little secret. Relationships with other people involve fallible human beings, and that presents certain problems. We and whoever that other person is are imperfect. We will tend to be self centered. We will look at the world through the eyes of self interest. We will disappoint each other. We will not live up to the expectations that others have for us or to the image that we present to the world. We will fall short of what we could do and of who we could be. Indeed, we are imperfect – and so are our relationships with each other.
Let me take this one step further. If we give our relationship with another person the top priority in life, then we set that relationship up to fail. Because of human fallibility and because of personal disappointment, our human relationships cannot hold up as the primary ones in our lives. If they become the center of our lives, they will fail.
Thus, you see, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel free up our human relationships to be human. They do not have to be perfect, which they cannot be anyway. If our relationship with God holds the place of priority, then human relationships can muddle along like human relationships do.
Here is an analogy to make this point. I have not done much sailing at night, but I know people who have. There are all kinds of instruments to assist in navigation these days. However, one trusted means to find one’s way at night involves keeping an eye on the North Star. Many things change in the course of a night. Other stars move across the sky. Depending on wind directions, the boat may need to tack in order to follow a particular course. But the North Star remains in the same position. And the sailor relies on that position, in order to follow one’s way.
You see, our relationship with God is like that fixed position on which we can rely. As we sail along through life, other relationships are all over the place, depending on time of night and wind direction and any number of other factors. However, in spite of everything else – everything – we can rely on the North Star.
So, Jesus makes his point about the priority of our relationship with God for our own sake … and, ironically, for the sake of those other relationships, too. When firemen are running up the tower steps, threatening my concentration, I find comfort in my relationship with God, which will not crumble around me. When the Bible quotes Jesus as saying that he brings a sword to relationships of a man with his father, and a daughter with her mother, and a daughter-in-law with her mother-in-law – and when I have to preach to all those people – then I want to be able to rely on some other relationship.
That relationship on which we can rely – that North Star for the course of our lives – that is none other than God Almighty. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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