As we go looking for the eternal meaning that rises to the surface of today’s gospel lesson – a gospel full of strong language that includes violence with swords and turning against one’s family; as we go looking for the eternal meaning that rises to the surface of this gospel lesson, we discover Jesus’ call to be clear in our priorities.

Specifically, to be clear in our priority that following and serving Jesus comes first.

An article I read several years ago warned against the little “g” gods that many of our families are becoming. The family plans, be they family gatherings or sports and arts events that have become more urgent than church worship and developing the precious gift of relationship with God personally and as communities. The parents or spouses whom we placate and try to please and keep happy even when we know that their words and practices might not completely align or might even fly in the face of what we learn and understand about God in Christ’s call to live with mercy, truth, love, forgiveness, and justice emblazoned across our lives. Can we become courageous enough, with God’s help, to speak up, to stand up to those we love but whose priorities have gotten off track? Can we become courageous enough to stand up to ourselves when our priorities get off track?

The apostle Paul reminds the early Christian community in Rome and all of us who hear and read his letter to the Romans that we have not been baptized into Christ’s resurrected life so that we might fall back into sin, but so that we might walk in newness of life. Paul meant these admonishing, but also encouraging words for the individuals who would hear them, and also for the Christian community that would hear them.

For our Christian communities can and do get off track as well. The radical, willing to give everything for Jesus even to the point of martyrdom – to losing one’s life - early church gave way to the church adopted and endorsed by the Roman empire and the many empires that would follow it. In many places and ways, the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, with Christ alive and well in in her center, has continued her prophetic work throughout human history. The work carried out by Jesus here on earth, proclaiming the kingdom of heaven come near with God’s love, the work of healing and teaching and reaching those marginalized and vilified, providing a meal and an opportunity to change their lives, change their priorities.
But too often our churches have become places where, experiencing the sweet bliss of comfort in our Savior’s arms and the communities that meet us and love us as who we are, participating in faith that is the dominant faith tradition of the countries in which we live, we accidentally get sleepy. We accidentally get comfortable. We accidentally get attached to things staying the way they have “always” been. Which is ironic, because in addition to Jesus being our constant, our rock, our shield, and our salvation, the only other constant in life and the history of humanity is change.

I was visiting with one of our homebound Redeemer community members this week and as we talked about church, we talked about how important it is to allow God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to build church in ways that attach us to our purpose as disciples. We talked about the success story of the ecumenical Sunday School begun in partnership with the Methodist and Episcopal churches a year ago, and about how all three of our churches could have simply shaken our heads and said “woe is me” as we saw that we did not currently have many younger children. If we had gotten caught up in our worries, we might have missed the discipleship opportunity the Holy Spirit was trying to help us see, whereby a few kids from each of the three churches could be gathered into one Sunday School in a way that would build excitement, opportunities for children and families to encounter and learn about God in Christ, and a Sunday School that would be growing by year’s end.

Redeemer led the charge in getting this all to happen, for which we can humbly pat ourselves on the back and declare “thanks be to God!”

This is the prophetic work of the church! Prophetic and continuing to change the church for the sake of being Christ’s disciples of the world work, and thankfully we are not alone in this work. There are so many, many places where people are trying new things for the sake of the gospel. There’s a Sunday School out west where continuing to pursue their prophetic call got them organizing a summer bible school in partnership with minority communities, bringing together people of different racial backgrounds who in many cases had never spent any time at all with people of other races. There’s a church in CA where the “regular” church had dwindled but rather than go quietly into the night and dying away slowly, they partnered with a new Arabic-speaking ministry that specifically reaches out not only through Sunday worship, but through a new Arabic-speaking radio station and mobile app being developed in order to help Jesus’ message of love and mercy reach people where they are.

Amazing stories! And we are a part of this new life story of God in Christ.

But if we are not careful, we might get settled into the “this is the way it has always been and always should be” thinking and make that our little “g” God. Even our “new” way of doing Sunday School or any other part of ministry, can become the new “way we’ve always done it.” If we are not careful we might slip away from remembering that our priority as a church community is to serve Jesus first with prophetic vision, and to continue to discover how God in Christ is seeking to form and reform us as a faith community so that Christ’s gospel of love, mercy, justice, and peace might be made know through this community for the world.
Too often our churches trade being prophetic and willing to do anything to serve and follow Christ in serving the world for being comfortable with how we like things being. Our favorite hymns. Our favorite seats. Seeing the people that we like and doing things the way they’ve always been done. Good people, we must pray for Christ’s help and work assiduously to ensure that this does not happen!

Now, as we are wrapping up our meditation on today’s scriptures together today, I want to circle back and be clear that I do not believe that Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel lesson to actually raise sword against neighbor or start fights within our families – or churches. But there is a bold expectation that we place God, that we place following Christ first in all things. And I fully believe that when Christ is placed first in all things, we will still find ourselves with our families and at our sports and arts events and in our workplaces and in our churches. But we will not be the same people. And we will not see things the same way.

Our priorities will be changed. And that, good people, will be a good thing.