Third Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 21:8-21; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
Wow! Look at you😊. I am so thankful for the work that my family has done, Blake and Rachel have done to keep services streaming live over the last three months. We will keep doing that indefinitely and, as much as we are blessed to see all of you here, we are blessed, too, by the folks watching from home. But it is very nice to see folks in the pews.
There are so many things that I want to say to you today but want to keep it from ballooning into a 20- minute sermon (not long in some places, by the way), so here goes. Jesus has a tremendously powerful message for us in Matthew 10 today. Matthew 10 is one of Jesus’ five teachings (Discourses, they are often called), the Sermon on the Mount being another one. And Jesus is preparing His named disciples to go out, two by two, to “uncover what has been covered, to say in the light what has been said in the dark, to shout from the rooftops what has been whispered.” Jesus, in short, intends for them to share what they have learned from him with a small part of their known world. And I realized, as I read Matthew 10 again over the past two weeks, that the Body of Christ that is the Church has an enormous responsibility: to teach, support, spiritually grow, bless and reveal Christ to its people. How do we do that and why do we do that?
Jesus shows us three ways of preparing ourselves to be sent people, apostles, in the world. Now we are disciples only, learning the ways of Jesus, we hope, so we can go out into the world to fulfill the mission of Christ: to preach, teach, make disciples and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
First, Jesus let’s us in on a poorly kept secret: we will meet a hostile world when we enter that world. We will be met with challenges when we leave the safety of our church environment and follow Jesus out where He already is. Jesus told His disciples last week: “I am sending you out like sheep amongst wolves!” Thanks a lot, Jesus! There isn’t much grey area in that statement, is there? We are being sent out amongst the predatory forces of the world and we know very well what those forces are, for each of us it may be different with common threads for some. Jesus says that He has met with hostility in His own ministry – another understatement - and those who would follow Him should expect no less.
Then, as He so often does, Jesus says to them, “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus speaks His encouragement, love, and hope into our hearts, always, because He knows that God is forever with us. When we are marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism we belong to God, promise ourselves to God, and Jesus reminds those who would follow Him that God’s promise of presence is as unyielding and eternal as the negative forces of the world seemingly are. We will face the storms of life, the derision of those who think us weak and silly for following the slain Savior that came from a small race of marginalized people. Yet Christ, even as He prepares to leave His disciples forever, in Matthew 28, commissions them to go out into all the world and preach, teach, make disciples, and Baptize. And his final words before he departs from them (physically) forever, are “And remember, I am with you, even to the end of the world.” You will encounter challenge in life but, remember, I am here, always, poured into your hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Finally, Jesus says that being sent, following Him, means we must “pick up our cross and follow Him” out into a world He already occupies. We hear this a lot from Jesus - take up your cross – and from other people, repeating Jesus. What does it mean? Does it mean suffering for the Gospel? Maybe. Does it mean dying, in some way to self? Certainly, in some way. Jesus says this consistently through all four Gospels – if you would be my disciples, follow me. We want to follow Jesus but he predicates it with picking up our cross. What is that cross for you or me? Usually it involves letting go of something and following Jesus more clearly, consistently. Letting go and picking up something else is not easy, though, is it?
I came across a really wonderful letter this week, written by a tiny English woman named Evelyn Underhill to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Gordon Lang, some 90 years ago (c. 1930). The letter sounds to me like it could have been written yesterday. Underhill was particularly concerned about the clergy. You see, Evelyn had flirted, much of her adult life, with Roman Catholicism though she remained steadfastly Anglican. There was something about the mystery and magisterium of the RC Church that intrigued and stimulated her. She was concerned, in the period between the two World Wars that the clergy were becoming disconnected, dialing it in, more concerned about who they knew, what parties they were invited to, and their social standing than the Cross of Christ. She wrote,
“In public worship they [clergy] often fail to evoke the spirit of adoration because they do not possess it themselves … God is the interesting thing about religion and people are hungry for it … I know that recovering the ordered interior life of prayer and meditation will be very difficult for clergy immersed increasingly in routine work. It will mean for many a complete rearrangement of values and a reduction in social activities.”
She isn’t pulling many punches but she gives us what Jesus gave His disciples: a window into what taking up one’s cross might mean: fostering a closer relationship with the very one we desire to follow and growing that relationship in as many ways as possible. That is what being Jesus’ disciples means: getting to know thee Risen One in as intimate a way as we can and being vulnerable to the changes in us that relationship will inevitably suggest (not the cooker cutter same thing for each of us but change is one of the things that being in relationship with Jesus – true, growth-centered relationship – always does). Jesus would teach us His ways, His love, His no-fear approach to engaging the world and its challenges. We must be willing to go there to truly grow and to know that expansive relationship with Jesus takes learning, patience, time, and having a community, the Body of Christ, to support us doesn’t hurt at all.
[Maybe an example will help. We may ask ourselves, “Why are black folks and their allies protesting? Why are so many black Americans so angry and frustrated?” And if we struggle to answer these questions or if we tend to focus more on how some protests have turned riotous or how anger has been focused at the police in their towns or cities than on the feelings behind them, then, it may be, could be, that we are struggling with bias, fear, or truth in ourselves. Perhaps that has been true for me? Changing the way or manner in how we approach a problem as complex and deep as racial injustice is hard and fearful. Change of anything, in fact, that is endemic to our way of being or knowing the world is very difficult. And, lest we paint people with a broad brush, racial challenge like anything else can be as different as communities and individuals are; it doesn’t manifest itself the same way in every place or situation. So, we may need to explore the cross of bias, or apathy, hopelessness, tone-deafness, anger, fear, or a dozen other things.]
But, when we come back to the Body of Christ, the church, we should be reminded that the Church’s mission is to prepare us to follow Jesus and we have established that in order to follow Jesus we must become more familiar, more intimate with Him. We cannot follow someone we don’t know as well as we possibly can and even if we and Jesus are intimates, there is still much to learn. Learning about the author of our salvation should not make us fearful; we can be joyful learners, discovering the cross of sacrifice, just our size, and picking it up and carrying it out into a world that needs the Cross of Jesus to guide our conversations, for justice, and to be a sign of the love relationship we have with the One we follow.
And that is the good news for this day