What is your place in life? That’s a question that we all struggle with from time to time. “What is my place in this world? How do I fit in?”
We get a lot of help with answering that question of course, from competing sources. There are many who would like to tell us what our place in life should be.
I flip on my public radio station and am greeted as being a “listener”. Dear listener, this is what you should be doing, how you should be supporting KCUR, how much you depend upon us as your news station. I am to be a listener, that’s my “place.”
“This is MY place on the radio dial.”
I flip on my Television and there I am a “viewer”. I am reminded of the importance of the station and am invited to become a part of the “family.”
This is my “place.” “We are your place for news, sports and weather.” The announcer assures me.
I go to a sporting event, and am invited to be a part of the “home” team. I am a JayHawk, or a Wildcat, or a Tiger, or a Husker. My place is defined by which side of the field I sit on, and what colors I wear.
In my work place I may be identified as a “valued employee” or a “member of the team” or a “leader.” Each comes with its own set of understandings about place and position, about what I should do and should not do for the sake of the company, business or firm.
Even in the church, we engage in assigning a place. “You are a disciple.” We say. “You are to be a follower of Jesus,” “You are a child of God,” and depending upon what that label conjures in your imagination, you sense the weight are responsibility of that “place.”
The church asks you to give from your abundance to support the ministry. Stewardship, we call it, but it is a place. It is a place of considering what you have and what you can and should share with others, and what the God who has given all things to you asks of you in thankful return.
The church asks you to serve, on this committee or this task force, to teach in Sunday School or usher or to set up for communion or any number of other “places.” We want to put you in a place of service. We tell you it will be a blessing. We remind you that you will grow and find fulfillment in that place.
But, like all these “places” we are invited or assigned, there are questions that arise from time to time.
Is this really the place I want to be, or am supposed to be?
The Gospel today is a collection of Jesus’ thoughts on the matter of place and finding it. They are three loosely connected sayings, maybe even delivered at different times and places, but Matthew has brought them all together, seeing them as saying something important as a unit.
So it is that we should look at them as a whole, and try to figure out what they can tell us about our “place.”
A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
Point number one about finding your place appears to be “Know who you are in relationship to others.”
“If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!”
We may puzzle over what Jesus means by this, but it’s not that difficult to see if you think about it. Don’t be surprised if those who don’t have anything good to say about Jesus, won’t have anything good to say about those who follow him either!
In fact, we watch this observation play itself out in the political arena nearly every day. So many disparaging things get spoken by one party against the other for what they profess to stand for or believe.
People in authority are belittled or labeled, and name calling is engaged.
Snide comments are made about this candidate, or that person in authority. It is often done from an implied perspective of the speaker of the comments being “above” or superior to “those other folks.”
Your place is not above, and so be careful when you malign others or those in authority, for that has a way of reflecting back upon you and undermining the very qualities you most desire. Name calling and labeling to assign people a place has a way of opening things for the darker side of life to enter in and take control.
Point number one: Know who you are in relationship with others and choose to speak well of others. Place is something you discover, not something you are assigned by the other.
Then there is this matter of acknowledgement, of recognizing. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
If point number one was knowing your place, (who you are in relationship to others) then point number two is this: Know how the relationship works.
There is nothing hidden that won’t come out.
There is nothing that goes on that God doesn’t notice, including falling sparrows and thinning hair.
Here is how relationship works. It appears that God is intimately interested in your day to day life.
God wants to be there with you.
God gives words for you to speak into the circumstances of this world.
God guides and protects your life. There is nothing worth worrying about in all that physical stuff. What is worth worrying about is being attentive to the relationship.
God wants to be there with you, be seen with and in you!
That’s the gracious gift we have to share with a world full of falling sparrows and thinning hair. The gracious gift you have as a disciple is that you can share God’s love and care with a world that is often terrified and wondering if God is even around anymore.
This is how the relationship works, for you to speak that gracious word, you’ve got to be willing to be seen as one connected to and in relationship with God.
God wants to be seen through you and your actions, but the question back in response is, “Do you want to be seen with God?”
If one denies God’s presence or involvement in their life in a public fashion with their words or actions, it’s very difficult to even imagine someone like Jesus mounting a defense of them to his Father.
How is Jesus supposed to argue on your behalf to the Father that you won’t even recognize as real, or refuse to believe has any influence or power over you in this world?
When you want to be seen with God, God has a way of showing up for others through you!
If you don’t want to be seen with God……what can Jesus do? How can he point to you in pride to his Father?
It’s therefore not so much that Jesus will not speak up on your behalf, it’s more of a matter of not really having anything to say.
This is how the relationship works, it is mutual, give and take, connected in all things, not a “part” of your life, a “segment” of your time.
And what about all this “sword” stuff, this language of division even with families? What has that got to do with knowing your place? Well that would be point number three.
Jesus is simply pointing out that the sword of division in this life is real.
If you follow Jesus when you find your place in this world, there will likely be divisions that will spring up. None perhaps will be more difficult or more poignant than those that take place within families.
In Matthew’s time, this very scene was being played out in earnest as those who follow Jesus are now being put out of the Synagogue. Following Jesus was literally breaking up families in a culture where extended family was really everything, and it was incredibly painful to watch and to experience.
In our day, that doesn’t happen in exactly the same way, but the potential for following Jesus to impact families is there within each generation.
This relationship with God stuff is a source of division in families as children exert their independence, as parents try to control or impose their expectations.
It becomes a source of division as parents and grandparents try to influence the belief systems of children who may for a time go their own way, or may be trying to figure out how to forge a life with a beloved of a different faith or faith expression.
The sword is real. We do get cut down, and divided, and separated.
Choices will be made, to follow Jesus in our own path, or to leave long standing traditions, or to abandon old ways that no longer work, or to adhere to the past. In each choice made the relationships of extended family end up being tested and redefined.
Know who you are in relationship to others, know how the relationship works, (that it is mutual) and realize that the sword is real and divisions will happen. That’s the general sense of these sayings of Jesus. They all point to how it is that we come to understand our place in relationship to God, to one another, and to those closest to us.
The Good news in all of this is found in that assurance that God pays close attention to us.
Relationship work is indeed hard.
It causes us to question just where we are, what our place is, how we relate, and what we are called upon to do and to be.
Can we ever truly find out place, amongst all the competing pulls and tugs?
Yes, because God accompanies us into every place, and God tells us we are of incomparable value to God, or at least worth more than “many sparrows.”
Maybe that feels like small comfort.
Or maybe that’s all the comfort we really need.
In a world of falling sparrows and thinning hair, we are assured that nothing escapes God’s notice. That is a promise worth holding on to as we find ourselves searching for our place in all things.