6/25/2017 Third Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 10:24-39.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, my friends, summer has begun and that means that the pews are pretty empty around here. It happens every year. After Sunday School ends, a mass exodus takes place. It’s as if many people think that God puts out the “gone fishing” sign on the pearly gates. When the weather is too good or too bad; when vacations and holidays overlap Sundays; when the children are not in Sunday school or when the children have a game or another activity; when sleeping or shopping or house cleaning chores pile up – then the pews are empty too. But the pews would never be empty if we took today’s gospel to heart. For, if we take Jesus’ words seriously, then nothing would be as important as picking up the cross and following our Lord – NOTHING would be more important – not watching or playing a game, sleeping in, going out to breakfast, or anything else, including making money, struggling with family pressures, handling the work load, bearing ridicule, or even dealing with fear and death. All these things would be nothing more than opportunities to show, share and affirm faith in Jesus Christ – the one who calls, empowers, sends and provides for us through his death and resurrection.
Yes, this is a tall order – but being a follower of Christ has never been easy. The dangers and hardships the first disciples had to face and put up with were a lot scarier than missing out on a good time, enduring a few sideways glances, and bearing the criticism and ridicule that comes from keeping Christ central in a society of empty pews that pushes God onto the back shelf. There have never been armchair disciples among Jesus’ followers. Disciples get involved in Jesus’ ministry. A disciple is never one who falls in line with the world’s expectations. A disciple marches to the beat of a different drummer, following the standards of the Word made flesh.
I dare say that none of us want to be that “involved” in churchy things. We feel so ill equipped to be heroes of the faith. It’s all we can do to get to church on Sundays – even though we’re supposed to be shouting the word of God from the housetops. The truth is simply this – we worry way too much about what other people might say or think of us and far too little about what God thinks of us. And as long as we continue to live like this, we will never get out there and get involved. We will be too afraid of other people, of our family members, or circumstances (real or imagined), to do the work that Jesus is calling us to do. Instead of acknowledging Jesus before others, we will continue to fall in line with what “others” think or expect of us in spite of the fact that people can hurt us only temporarily because life comes from God.
God is the author of life and God knows everything that we go through. Nothing that happens to us escapes his watchful eyes. So, we don’t need an insurance policy or a bullet proof vest or a method to diffuse conflict to go out and spread the word. We go out with a promise, a promise that the God who watches over even the commonest of birds will take care of us. Even if we die, it will not happen apart from God. Even if we seem totally abandoned, even if our prayers don’t seem to be answered, even if everything seems hopeless, God knows and God cares. And with that being the case, we can stop being afraid and we can pick up the cross and march to beat of God’s word
Of course, staying in tune to that beat is another story. Larry Goodpaster remembered what it was like when he played in a high school band before the days of flag corps, rifle drill teams and dance routines. Everything depended on the band and its abilities and talents in playing and marching. He recalled that every week they had to learn an entire new set of songs, to go with new marching formations to be performed at half time of the football games. “We all received our instructions early in the week,” he said, “and then practiced them until we got them right. They were not always easy: count time, play the music, step out on the appropriate measure and move exactly eight steps every five yards. As long as everyone followed their set of instructions, the maneuvers on the field were correct and the trombones did not run into the clarinets. Of course, if you missed a beat, or turned the wrong way, you could, as I did on one occasion, end up at one end of the field while the rest of the bad was at the other. It’s not easy trying to convince everyone that you were right and the other 64 were wrong.”
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to march to the beat of God’s word. For us it may seem a bit like “Mission: Impossible!” to share God’s word (to invite family and friends and neighbors over and over again to be part of the church with us, to fill the pews, to pray publicly, to read God’s word openly) and to touch the lives of real people with God’s grace. With the Spirit’s guidance and help, and with faith in Jesus Christ, we can acknowledge our fears and just do it – even if there is a cost to discipleship as great as that which was borne by a young man from India.
This young man was brought up in a Hindu household – a very strict one, in fact. Due to a set of circumstances, this man came in contact with Christians. And, when he did, he was, of course, repelled by these people. But, gradually things changed as in these people he saw Jesus revealed. In time, the young man came to see the truth: that he was a sinner who needed a Savior and that Jesus had died on the cross to save him. And he began to realize that he must become part of the church, God’s family on earth.
When he told his parents that he was to be baptized as a Christian, they were appalled and horrified, and told him in no uncertain terms that if he went ahead and became a Christian that he would never see them again. On the day of his baptism, his parents, brothers and sisters and all his extended family held a funeral for him and they never saw him again.
When asked if he would do it all again, he said, of course, he would. He would hate to go through the pain again. Yes, he missed his family. But go back? Never! Any cost, any pain was worth it. And to this story I add an amen!
My friends, may the relationship you have with Christ Jesus through your baptism outweigh any hardship or pain you may experience by marching to the beat of God’s word. For, “your mission, should you decide to accept it…” is to be faithfully, sacrificially, loyally, a beacon of light in a world of empty pews.
So, let the light of Christ shine through you as you march to the beat of God’s word. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.