6/21/2020 Third Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 10:24-39.
[Jesus said to the twelve:] 24“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!
26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32“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.
34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let’s hear a portion of this morning’s Gospel from another translation, ‘The Message’. This is more of a paraphrasing than a literal translation, but I think it speaks in rather more gritty and earthy terms than the NRSV does. And it may help us reach the common denominator of the text more easily:
“A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. “Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now. “Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.
“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries. “Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you? “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me. “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.
While I generally like the direction of The Message, I fear that not specifically referencing “take up your cross” lessens the impact of Jesus’ statement. Yet in this morning’s gospel, like much of Jesus’ preaching, there’s a lot going on in these verses. Jesus has shared a great deal with the twelve and has done his best to equip them prior to sending them out. In fact, in the 23 verses preceding today’s reading, Jesus has been giving his disciples quite the pre-game pep talk. He completes his charge to the apostles with the verses we’ve just read. Let’s recap; servants will be maligned even more than the master; do not fear the world; shout the Gospel from the rooftops; fear God, who has the power to take your soul; you are worth more than the sparrows which don’t escape God’s notice; acknowledge Jesus and he will speak up for you to the Father, but deny him and you’re in a world of trouble; faith in Jesus will result in division between family members; pick up your cross; and last but definitely not least, give up your life for Jesus and you will find life, or cling to the ways of the world and your life is meaningless.
Well, Jesus could certainly turn a phrase, couldn’t he? But then again, the Son of God had a lot to teach his disciples, and us, and not much time in which to do it. If the church of Christ were to come to fruition, those first followers would need to be fully prepared for the task. And Christ’s words still ring true for us today.
In his discourse Jesus is exhorting, challenging, warning, and reassuring the disciples, and ultimately, us. As he prepares the apostles for their mission, he wants them to be sure of several things; that they acknowledge and accept that they will be vilified even more than Jesus himself was. That they shouldn’t feel threatened or be silenced by the people they encounter. They should fear only God, the ultimate power over their lives (and their very souls!). And next he reassures them, that this same God whom they should fear knows every little aspect of their lives, right down to the hairs on their heads. Oh, and by the way, he warns them, ‘acknowledge me in the world and I will put in a good word for you with God, but deny me and I’ll turn my back on you’. ‘Put me first, above everything and everyone in your lives and, in the end, you will come to know ourselves for who you really are, because you will come to truly, personally know me’.
All this dialog, all this instruction ultimately points to a single concept…’discipleship’. Those first followers of Christ, the Apostles, mindful of all that Jesus expects of them will need to be aware of the cost of their discipleship. All the negative things Jesus refers to will surely happen to these disciples, but ultimately, they will prevail in their mission; because God will see to it that things will work out in the end. One caveat here though; the final outcome will be according to the will of God, and there’s a strong probability that his will may not synch up completely with that of the disciples. Picking up one’s cross and following Christ, putting Jesus first in one’s life, forsaking family and being willing to endure the condemnation of the world is a tough pill to swallow, and a difficult road to tread. Add to that the knowledge that in the end things will be according to God’s will and not necessarily the way the apostles would prefer. But that’s just what Jesus is telling the twelve to do; to go forth committed to full discipleship; no matter the cost, the anguish, the pain, the sorrow.
And, here it comes…it’s also what Jesus is commanding us to do.
We are encouraged to pick up OUR cross, to endure the scorn of others, deal with family divisions, and put Christ first in our lives. And all the while we are to remember that we’re not facing our trials alone, but that God is acutely aware of all we are going through. After all, he knows when a sparrow falls and he keeps a count of each and every one of our hair follicles.
Kind of reminds me of the Nike slogan; ‘Just Do It’. Sounds easy doesn’t it? No excuses. Just let all the negative stuff we encounter roll off our backs. Don’t let the derision of the world stand in the way of our mission. Keep pressing on even if your parent, spouse, or child thinks you’re a fool for doing so. No problem, ‘Just Do It’. Well, life isn’t a 5K run and discipleship isn’t a sneaker commercial. No, true discipleship is a difficult struggle at best; and in the worst case, we may find ourselves simply unable to adequately follow through .
I think the hardest part of striving for true discipleship would be if it had to be undertaken alone. I can’t imagine trying to accomplish all that Jesus commands us to do if we had to fly solo.
Going it alone would make it even more difficult to bear the contempt, conflict, and derision that Jesus warns us we’ll encounter if we are to follow him in true discipleship. That’s why he established his church; so we don’t have to struggle in our individual response to engage in Jesus’ mission. True, each of us must answer the call of the Holy Spirit to rise up and follow Christ’s teaching and commandments. Each one must discern just what it is that we are called to do; what discipleship means to us as individuals. But the truth is, we don’t have to do it alone. In fact, the church as a whole is so much more than the sum of its individual parts, its separate disciples. Many hands make light work!
It’s no wonder that Jesus called a dozen disciples to start his ministry with. He knew that they would have to band together to overcome all the hardship that they would encounter. I don’t know how far the Gospel would have reached if just one single apostle had to spread the Good News by himself. But the twelve, and later, Paul ranged far and wide, making disciples of those to whom they preached, of those with whom they shared the truth of Jesus as the Savior of the world. And these new disciples shared the Gospel with others, and then the next generation of believers preached the Gospel of Christ to even more people. And, finally, two thousand years later, someone, at some point brought the Truth, the Way, and the Life to each of us. Kind of weird in a way, isn’t it, that while the proliferation of the church depends so very much on its strength as a group, each of us is called to discipleship individually.
While we thankfully have our brothers and sisters in Christ supporting us and sharing our burdens, it remains that we must still, each day take up our own cross and reaffirm our commitment to our discipleship. If we heed what Jesus told the apostles then and what he is telling us now, he doesn’t really want, or need our half-hearted devotion. He’s not going to be satisfied with a watered-down version of piety or weak-kneed loyalty. Pseudo-discipleship just won’t cut it. He wants us to put him first; in all things, and at all times.
‘Pick up your cross and follow me no matter the cost’, he said. ‘Be a true disciple and you will discover what the real meaning of your life is’.
If we are unwilling to at least strive for genuine discipleship, if we hold back when we should go ‘all in’, we’ll never truly come to know what a life rooted in Christ can be like.
The really good news is that Jesus knows that no matter how hard we try to be fully engaged disciples that we just can’t be. Our broken, sinful nature won’t allow us to always put him before our own selfish desires. Jesus, as God-in flesh came to earth to walk among us and to experience first-hand the nature of our humanity. He suffered all the slings and arrows he warned the disciples about. He experienced disloyalty, denial, derision, and doubt. He saw first-hand the failures and frailties of humankind. He felt overwhelming compassion for us in our brokenness. So much so that he was willing to suffer and die for our sin, to atone for our human failure.
So, even though he tells us to fully surrender our lives to him, to strive for unwavering discipleship, he knows we’ll ultimately fall short. And here’s the best news of all; we have already been forgiven for our weakness, our failure. All we can do is to try our best to attain a discipleship that Jesus wants us to strive for, knowing that, even if we fail, even if we are unable to overcome the derision, the separation, the scorn of the world, we will have at least tried.
Each day we must endeavor to act as the baptized children of God that we are. Pick up our cross and do the best we can to show the world that we can overcome all that may be placed in our way. We can strive to accomplish the great and mighty tasks; as we stand up for the oppressed, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. But we can make a difference in small ways, too. Lend an ear, and maybe a shoulder to the grief-stricken, spend time in conversation with the lonely, acknowledge and encourage the good deeds of a youth, mentor a child. We can look beyond ourselves, expand our horizon beyond our walls. Accomplish things great and small, all in the name of the One who claims us for himself; who commands us to full discipleship, in spite of the unbelief or disapproval of others. If our Father knows the hairs on our heads, we can rest assured he knows all that we strive to do in his Son’s name!
We can live lives of obedience to our Lord, not letting the negative things deter us from our desire to be Christ’s totally committed disciples. Just get up each day and press on, spreading the Good News of God in Jesus! Individually, and as the church of Christ. Like Nike says; ‘Just do it!’.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, give us the will to strive to be true disciples of your Son, undeterred by the strife we may encounter. Help us to remember that nothing we do is unseen by you, and that you value your children, and their Gospel deeds above all else.
And we pray these things the name of Christ, who took up his cross for us…Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.