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Focusing on Christ

6/22/2014 Trinity Sunday   The text for today’s sermon is Matthew 10:34-48.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today’s gospel is not one of the most pleasant passages from Matthew.  It speaks of battles which can tear a family apart and choices which must be made.  There is no fence sitting in this gospel.  To be a disciple, a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, means making such a strong commitment that all other matters and concerns, all other priorities and relationships take a back seat.  These things are to be blocked out as the mind is to be cleared and focused on one thing, and one thing only, and that is the will of God.

As impossible as this my sound in an age where multi-tasking is expected, the human mind is really pretty good at focusing on one thing.  This ability to focus the mind on areas of interest to the extent that all other distractions are virtually eliminated from awareness is called reticular articulation syndrome or RAS.  RAS gives a teenager the ability to study for a test with the music blasting and all sorts of other noise in a room and still pass the exam the next day.  RAS is also the reason a mother can hear her child crying in a room with 20 screaming children.  She has tuned her mind into the frequency of that one voice so it can be distinguished above all other voices.

We all do this in one way or another on a daily basis.  Just ask Shirley what it was like when we took trips together before I went to seminary.  At times we seemed like strange traveling companions as interests, as well as bodily needs, differed greatly.  I often forgot this and as I was always the driver, we would end up traveling for hours without making a pit stop.  Well, one day, as we were on an excursion in the Red Wood forest, I spotted a place which sold chain saw sculptures – an being a closet art collector of sorts, at least during that phase of life, I asked Shirley if she minded if we stopped.  She said, “I think it’s a great idea.”  So, I turned around and pulled into the parking lot.  When I did, she asked, “Why are we stopping here?”

I replied, somewhat irritated, “Because this is where the art is, and you said you didn’t mind if we stopped!”

“But I thought you wanted to go there,” she said, pointing to the gas station on the other side of the road.  She hadn’t even noticed the chain saw art, and I certainly hadn’t seen the gas station.  Why?  It all had to do with our different RAS.

Wouldn’t it be nice if RAS worked that easily when it came to discipleship?  Then our lives would be focused on Jesus Christ and his will alone to the exclusion of all other things.  But as reality would have it, most of us have tuned in the world around us and have missed the road signs God puts in our path.

Discipleship isn’t easy.  It means making hard choices.  And, choosing the way of the Lord over the priorities of the world can have us butting heads with parents and friends, children and co-workers, in a battle that begins at baptism and ends in eternity.  This war between worldly concerns and heavenly will is waged within and around us every day of our lives.  There can be fence-sitting.  Choices are consciously or consciously made that can divide families and pit brothers against one another.

I have felt some of this pain and some of you may have today by making a choice to be here at this hour instead of doing something with family or friends or staying in bed a little longer.  I know the pain of disapproval as a parent tried to pull me away from the church and talk me out of answering the call to ministry.  Why?  Because becoming a pastor would mean that I wouldn’t earn as much money as I would if I stayed in public accounting.  I know the distress of having friends cut off relationships because of the choices I have made.  And yet, I have not suffered anything in comparison to what the Lord suffered on my behalf and on yours.  So great a gift has he given to me and to you, that I, for one, am willing to give thanks to him by doing those things which are puzzling to the world.  And I pray that he will give me the strength to keep my life focused in his direction.  Also, I pray that he will give you the same strength and focus, so that together with Christ we may serve others and share the good news to those who find themselves running around in circles, going nowhere, as they strive to meet the expectations and demands placed upon them by the world.

My friends, together, we are challenged to take a different road in life as we are called into discipleship.  Discipleship, following the teachings of Jesus and living them out in our everyday life, sounds like the right thing to do, yet it has never been easy.  But, then God never promised us that it would be.  He only promised that it would be worth it in the end.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in commenting on this passage in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, wrote, “The bearers of Jesus’ word receive a final word of promise for their work.  They are now Christ’s fellow workers and will be like him in all things.”  But, this does not come without cost.

We live in a world that says. “I’m number one!”  Jesus tells us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  We live in a world that measures success by what we have.  Jesus tells us to sell everything, follow him and find our true treasure in heaven.  We live in a world that ranks people by what and who they know, how much they earn, where they live, and variety of other things.  Jesus tells us that we are all equal in the eyes of God since all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and all are saved through the shedding of his blood.  We live in a toss-away world where those people and things that do not measure up to standards or are of no value to us are easily discarded.  Jesus tells us that everyone and everything is created by a God who proclaims it good – for God doesn’t make junk, even if we junk that which God proclaims good.  We live in a world where we focus on getting ahead.  Jesus would have us focus on the cross, instead.  We live in a world where people live behind locked doors.  Jesus calls us out into the world, binds us together as church, and empowers us to serve with compassion and grace.

My friends, in answering Jesus’ call to discipleship we become a counter-cultural people.  We look at the world and the people in it, differently – through the eyes of God.  We related to people differently, as brothers and sisters.  We treat people differently, as we see everyone as a person of value who is worthy of our care and compassion.  Yet, as all counter-cultural people have found in the past, we will not be understood by many and our choices will be ridiculed by those who live by the worldly values.

My friends, this is a radical choice that Jesus asks us to make as he calls us and empowers us to follow him above all other things in this world.  This is tough stuff to hear on a beautiful summer Sunday.  Yet, in these challenging words is a word of hope and a blessing – not just for those who will be disciples, but for the world.

So, let us put aside the things of this world.  Let us put aside the priorities that have become commonplace and re-evaluate what is really important.  For, the Lord is calling you to pick up your cross and follow him in faithful service.  The Lord wants to become focal point, the RAS, of your life.  May it be so, and as you struggle to share God’s word in your every life, may the peace of the Lord, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.



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