Coffee with Jesus

Matthew 10:34-39

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; 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; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.   Whoever 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; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Mark Twain was an American writer in the late 19th century.  He is best known for “Tom Sawyer” and for “Huck Finn”—books that examine living and growing up along the Mississippi River in the period just before the American Civil War.  Most of his writings were ‘travel writings’—and he travelled very extensively around the world, including a trip to Australia in the 1890s. 

Mark Twain remains a wonderful story teller.  He is well known for something that he calls “elaborating the truth”, so you never quite know where some of his stories step past the boundaries of absolute fact and enter into the area of almost fiction.  He is a humorist.  He has an incredible ability to observe human beings, and see what’s really going on.  His analysis is always sharp and witty, usually gentle and loving, often challenging.  His novels are often very funny, and yet leave you with a sharp aftertaste of some significant critique of human prejudice or affectation.

Mark Twain is probably my favourite writer.  And yet I have often thought that I wouldn’t want him to spend a weekend with me at my house.  I’d love to sit in an audience and hear him lecture talking about people and places elsewhere; but I don’t think I’d want him in my lounge analysing me.

I’m not always sure that I would want Jesus in my lounge drinking coffee either.  When you read the Gospels—long before you go into an overly theological view of Jesus as the Messiah, as the Son of God, as true man and true God—when you read the Gospels you can first observe that Jesus “saw” people in a particular way—with sharpness, with accuracy, with depth of perception—Jesus saw people and said things that often exposed those people:  disciples, Pharisees, sick people looking for help, powerful rulers, even his own mother—he could say the thing at the time that ‘stopped the conversation’. 

He spoke the truth.

I don’t know that I would always feel comfortable having Jesus in my lounge listening to me prattle on, and then reply with a deep, accurate, perceptive observation of the truth—of the truth about me.

Once Jesus, being proper in a socially sensitive situation, told a woman to go get her husband.  She, being evasive, said “I don’t have one.”  “You’re right,” Jesus replied.  “You have had five and the man you’re currently living with isn’t your husband.”

A young man—perhaps one of ‘the youth’—active, ambitious, starting out in life, on the up, faithful, wants to do the right thing.  He asks Jesus, “What should I do for eternal life?”  Jesus replies to the young man, “Get rid of all your possessions.”

Peter suggests to Jesus a change in is itinerary that will mean avoiding some conflict, some trouble, some danger.  “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus shouts at Peter.

I’m not sure that I want Jesus sitting down next to me and asking, “Well, Mark, how are things?”  If I spin him a tale he’ll tell me as much.  And I don’t know if I really want his insightfully truthful analysis of the current state of my relationships, my frustrations, my plans, my inhibitions, my efforts, my excuses—my life!

Read the Gospels and, invariably, if you read without too much pre-conditioned piety—and listen!—what Jesus says will make you feel repeatedly uncomfortable.

You and I need to be aware of this.  For all that we get together to pray and praise, we need also to recognize and appreciate that Jesus makes people uncomfortable.  He does so intentionally, deliberately.

Think about it!  Right from the story of Jesus as a boy in the Temple—“Don’t you realize I should be about my Father’s business?”—right from that point it is one situation after another when Jesus’ presence makes someone feel uncomfortable. 
Sometimes it’s because he performs the obvious act of love when others don’t.  Sometimes it’s because he shows clearly that the social niceties don’t necessarily    
meet the real need. 
Sometimes it’s because he shows an opportunity for moving forward, and for taking
risks that challenge personally constructed profiles of “what I’m good at”.  Sometimes he points out prejudice. 
Sometimes he names sin. 
Avoid discussing sex and politics?  It’s almost as if Jesus talks of nothing else!

Thinks about this “uncomfortable factor” in relation to our own sense of ourselves, as Church, as a mission community who are called to go out and bring Jesus’ presence into the lives of others, and to draw others into fellowship with us and with Jesus.  Let’s be honest and aware that we are asking people to come and be “uncomfortable”.  For those who have no significant current or past relationship with the Church we are not only asking them to come into a strange social context, and strange culture, and strange rituals, and strange symbols, but we are also asking them to come and be part of a world-view, of a perspective on life that is by its very nature discomforting!  We can have shiny signs that speak of “welcome” and “friendly” and “fun” and “exciting” and whatever else it takes to promote or sell our Church and schools in the best possible way and yet…we are, at the same time, inviting people into the presence of Jesus who constantly strips away all pretence…and states the truth…in all its beauty when it’s beautiful, and all it’s ugliness when it’s ugly.

But here is the crucial point:  then Jesus stays.  He speaks the truth to you, about you…and then he stays with you; commits to you.  He doesn’t back away.  He states the truth about you and me, about the world we live in, about what we get right and what we get wrong.  And he stays with us.

This particular passage—this rather uncomfortable ‘not peace but a sword’—‘a man against his father’…and ‘a daughter against her mother’…and ‘whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’…and ‘whoever does not take up the cross’—this particular passage comes just after the bit where he calls the disciples to himself and sends them out to heal people and proclaim God’s presence, God’s kingdom.  And the real truth of that ministry is a clash between the world order and God’s order; it is a clash between human self-centredness and God’s love; it is a clash between humanity’s justice and God’s compassion and grace; it is a clash between “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and “I lay down my life for the sheep; [and] I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen, I must bring them also!”

Jesus tells the story of two men who go to the Temple to pray.  One prays in celebration of everything that he does right!  The other drops his head in shame because he is highly conscious of all his shortcomings.  It is the latter, Jesus says, who knows what it means to be in God’s presence.  Even uncomfortable.  Truth.

And, by the way, it was the latter at whose home Jesus spent most of his time sitting in the lounge and ‘drinking coffee’.

Jesus stays.

It is not uncommon in the Church, particularly in this day and age—and I am as sensitized to it as anyone else—it is not uncommon to focus all the time on wanting Church to be a place that is comfortable.  Every once in a while—maybe one Sunday every year?!—maybe today is that Sunday—we have to remember how uncomfortable it is to have the truth that Jesus brings sitting right before us.  “We have not loved you with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbour as ourselves”—there’s a start.

But Jesus stays with us.  Jesus stays with us with the truth having been stated.

When you keep reading the Gospel from this point in Matthew’s version; or when you keep coming week in and week out to worship in this not-always-entirely-comfortable place, and even with this not-always-entirely-comfortable group of people(!)—when you keep following the story of Jesus, each piece of the worship service, each season of the Church year—when you keep going, even with some degree of discomfort—you find that the constant, even more constant than the discomfort, even more constant than the challenge, the accusation, the astute observation about reality—is the constant presence of Jesus who stays, who comforts, who lifts up, who forgives, who heals, who keeps sending those who have failed out to do his work, to serve him!  He stays, with the truth of the real world and the truth of our real lives, all the way to dying, even death on a cross—he stays, and speaks the other truth, the whole truth:  “You are mine.  Before the creation of the world I chose you.  I have redeemed you.   You are heirs of the kingdom.  You are my friends.  You are God’s children.  I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

To the criminal on the cross—naked, condemned, exposed, the truth nailed to a placard above his head—to him Jesus says, “I am with you always…to the end….  Today you will be with me in paradise!”; for him Jesus shares the truth, the discomfort; with him Jesus stays, and shares the absolute truth of God’s love.

Jesus stays.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Sometimes I don’t know that I would always feel comfortable having Jesus in my lounge listening to me prattle on, and then reply with a deep, accurate, perceptive observation of the truth—of the truth about me. 

But he comes anyway.  And he stays.  Thanks be to God.