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Jun 25, 2017

Young Tom

Passage: Matthew 10:24-39

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Kurt Gerhard

Series: Summer 2017

Category: Discipleship


Each generation will transform the world and that means that there will be division with those happy with the way it is. This is a sermon about that transformation.


This sermon was preached without a manuscript, so what follows are notes. 

Back on the 29th of January, in this very space, we heard the following words of Jesus…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

I looked this up because those words of Jesus, from his famous Sermon on the Mount, are the ones that I believe. The words we heard from Jesus’ mouth today are ones that I want to ignore. Really, they are words that Christians don’t want to hear as the Gospel. Yet, here they are at the beginning Jesus’ speech about what it takes to engage in mission.

“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

And then he continues with how God’s mission will pit family members against one another. Even daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. Unheard of!

But we want that easy going, loving, peace inspiring Jesus of the beatitudes over the sword wielding one. We believe in a peaceful God, not a divisive one.  

But here’s the thing, the Beatitudes are the quick mission statement for God’s Kingdom, but to accomplish those things, Christians are required to stand up for things, challenge the status quo, and do things that will not be popular with some of the people closest to us.  The thing is that Christianity of tomorrow will be different from today or yesterday because we will continue to discover new things.

You may know that I am a fan of golf. I sometimes admit that I have a problem. The Golf Channel is why I have cable television. In a few weeks, I will embark on an adventure to England and Scotland culminating at that Open Championship Golf Tournament. Before that, I will step on the grounds of the Old Course at St. Andrews. In preparation, I have been reading this book about Tom Morris and his son Tom Morris who were once champion golfers and are often credited with the popularizing the game of golf. Old Tom (as he is known) was not only a great golfer, but an architect and greenkeeper and golf ball maker. He is the oldest winner of the Open Championship. Young Tom who was thirty years his junior, is still the youngest winner of the Open Championship. He was Tiger Woods 100 years before Tiger was born. He won the championship 4 times before he died at age 24.

A story in the book stuck out to me as I was reflecting on this scripture. The Morrises lived in Victorian England. They were not the aristocracy. Old Tom made golf balls, cut grass, and caddied for the wealthy members. He didn’t hang with the upper-class members of the club; he was their servant, not even allowed inside the clubhouse. Even as the best golfer in the world, he would tee up the balls of some of the worst. Old Tom worked hard and earned enough money to provide his son with a top rate education, but in the Victorian era, Young Tom was still at the bottom of the social hierarchy. There was an occasion on the streets of St. Andrews that the captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club passed Young Tom. Young Tom didn’t pay him any heed even though the captain was his dad’s boss. The captain stopped him and said, “You’ll tip your cap to a gentleman.”

Young Tom’s response, “I would if I saw one.”

Young Tom would eventually marry someone below his class, a maid who was much older than him, because she was the love of his life. In the 1870s, he challenged the social norms of the day. He treated people with equal respect. We look at it now as proper behavior, but back then it gained him a reputation, it challenged his father’s way of life. Now there is no doubt that he could have been more diplomatic, but you can’t say that he didn’t stand up for a new understanding. Something that drove a wedge between him and many people important in his life. It put his father in an awkward position.

Today, we continue to evolve and the next generation is often one step ahead, challenging old ways, just as we did in a previous generation. Whether it is marriage equality, shifts in our views of race, and how we care for people on the margins, or how we care for the planet. In order to be Christian, we will need to understand how God is calling us to live, to transform the way of God in this time.

So, I hope that you will consider ways that you can continue to see God’s Kingdom coming to fruition in the world right now, listen carefully to God’s call, and then step up in a way that pushes the status quo to strain under a new way of thinking. One that divides us so that God can permeate our very being.

It would be great if everything was as grace filled as the beatitudes, but the reality is that getting to that ideal takes a divisive spirit, one that stands up to the way things are and works to make them right.  And that is what Jesus meant when he said, Do not suppose that I bring peace but instead a sword.

The Rev. Dr. Kurt Gerhard

St. Patrick's Episcopal in Washington, DC

June 25, 2017