13–19 January 2019.
When new Christians come to the faith and join the church, they are so excited to be part of a new family of sisters and brothers, to be part of a loving and supportive community that follows Jesus’s command of love. While it’s truely great and wonderful to have those feelings, those of us who have been Christians for a long time know that the church can also be a very hurtful place. At home we love our families – but we know that family members still sometimes hurt us. It’s the same in the church. Sometimes our sisters and brothers in the faith also hurt us.
Sadly, it’s always been this way. When we read the New Testament, read the letters of Paul, or read about the experiences of the disciples, we find that conflict and hurt in the church family have always been problems.
In Matthew 10, Jesus sends his disciples out on a beautiful mission: to help and serve others, to care for the sick and weak, and to share happy news with them. But Jesus sends them with a warning. Even though they will be doing something positive and helpful, they will feel like vulnerable sheep among vicious wolves. Jesus warns them that it will be hard for them to find a worthy friend, they will be often rejected, they will be abused, excluded, arrested, criticized, even physically beaten. And Jesus makes it clear to them in vv. 5–6: it’s not unbelievers who will treat them this way, but believers, people in their very own faith community and family. We think of families and the family of the faith community as loving places. But in vv. 21 and 22, Jesus says that brothers and sisters will betray and even hate one another.
Jesus tells us this not because he thinks this behaviour is acceptable. The lesson here is not that aggression and hatred have always been part of the faith community so we should just shrug our shoulders and accept this. No! Jesus tells us these things to warn us: to warn us about the hurts that may come, but also to warn us from ever participating in that kind of behaviour ourselves.
The world outside is so full of hate and aggression and pain. Our uniqueness in the church is that we can show the world that it’s possible to live together in a different way, a better way. In this new year, I hope we can all try hard to reject hostility, meanness, and aggression, and instead treat each other with kindness, patience, and love. Then the whole world really will know that we truly belong to Christ and really do follow him.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis