The Sunday Sermon: Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 5, 2016
Scripture: Matthew 10:1, 16-23
Summoned Into Summer
Another summer together in the valley. That sounds pleasant enough! Another period in the church year, the longest interval, of Ordinary Time that will take us all the way up to Advent in late November. That sounds leisurely enough. So, we begin another exploration into our lives as disciples this summer. I hope that sounds exciting, too!
Our life of faith has a rhythm to it, a progression to it. So far this church year, which began late last November with Advent, we anticipated and then celebrated the birth of Emmanuel – God with us during Advent and on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We then watched and worshipped as Jesus grew up very quickly: Leaving for Egypt with his mother and father as a baby, returning to Nazareth, getting lost in Jerusalem and found in the Synagogue at age twelve, baptized in the Jordan at age 30, tempted in the wilderness, and (found to be pure in heart), beginning his formal teaching. In this church rhythm, we don’t spend much, if any time with Jesus as an adult before we enter the Season of Lent, moving quickly over the life in between his birth and death. As Lent drew to a close, we once again followed Jesus to the cross and crucifixion.
After two of the darkest days in our lives of faith, days we call “Good” and “Holy,” we experienced the Risen Christ on Easter morning, and expressed this experience through the Season of Eastertide that led us right up to Day of Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit that empowers us, once again, not just to read about Jesus and to marvel at his life lived so fully and a courageously, but to live such a life ourselves!
In this long period of “Ordinary Time,” it falls to us, once again, to explore the life between the cradle and the cross, to ask what living as Jesus lived – fully and courageously, and loving like Jesus loved – abundantly, even wastefully – might look like. Such a life will not conform to this world. Rather, it will be transformed by God’s constant renewal; such a life will not return evil for evil, but will seek always to build up; such a life will bless the poor, the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers, and will do all it can to provide for them. We’ll explore such a life and the way in which it must intersect our daily lives this summer; the ways in which what we say, do, hear, and learn in this room for one hour a week must inform the other one hundred and sixty seven hours of our week and the lives we touch. That’s what our summer is for again this year.
For we are summoned … just like the disciples that Jesus brought together in the first verse of the tenth chapter of Matthew. (Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to cure every disease and every sickness). We, too, are summoned by Christ and given authority. As we get ready to live life as Jesus did this summer, we ought to prepare for the world’s response. An outsider looking on to the new mission would surely imagine that we’re going to be welcomed with open arms by the world. A world that is in so much need of the Good News we have and are called to share will surely offer us good wishes, happy faces, and robust support. We know better by now. Listen for the world’s response. Listen for the Word of God …
Read Matthew 10:16-23 … Let us pray …
I know those verses are familiar to all of you for one reason or another. But as familiar as we may be with Matthew’s description of how the world will respond to Jesus and his followers, I’ll make a pretty sure bet with you that this speech, this list of persecutions, seems strange and foreign, even fanatical, to all of you. To us mainline Presbyterian Christians, this whole chapter of Matthew seems to represent another world with its talk of witness, persecution, poverty, and martyrdom. By and large, if not altogether, this hasn’t been our experience of the Christian faith. We’ve been quite comfortable in our lives following our Christ.
Of course, to the extent that this chapter is alien to us, that the mission, persecutions, calls, and rewards it outlines are not a part of our own experience, that our Christian lives are so comfortable, we need to reexamine our lives of faith and ask ourselves whether we’ve remade the Christianity to our own tastes. And if we have (and, yes, we have), we need to ask whether it’s really possible to so change it and have it remain Christian faith.
The answer is, of course, “No, it is not possible to remake our faith to our own tastes and have it remain Christian faith.” The whole of chapter ten in the Gospel of Matthew makes that clear. We can’t have it both ways. The Christian life is one of persecutions and betrayals, of wolves and serpents, of deaths and dying.
- Matthew reveals to us, in concentrated form, what the essential Christian life must be:
- Confession of God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus
- Living toward God’s kingdom on earth through a concern for mission in this world
- Letting go of both material possessions and fear of what others might think about us or do to us
- Placing loyalty to the God revealed through Jesus above all other loyalties, even the deepest ones of home and family
- Living a life of non-resistance to violence, in any form.
- And, trusting in God and God’s future.
We know all this already. As we’ve already reminded ourselves, so far this church year we have heard all of this since last Christmas, from angels, shepherds, wise men, prophets and priests; and most powerfully from Jesus, himself. Why, then, do these verses from Matthew ten seem so strange to us?
It’s because, of course, we’re not really following directions! We’re not curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, or casting out the demons. We’re not engaging poverty and inequality, injustice, or politics in any way other than just enough to satisfy our own morality, but stay out of trouble with the world.
I don’t’ think this is the case primarily because we don’t know how to engage. I don’t even think that our main reason for not really getting serious about “the way in which Jesus lived” and living likewise is that we want to “keep the peace” with one another and make sure everyone feels good as much as possible. No, I think the main reason we don’t “get involved” and take our call seriously is that we think – somewhere from our past, from some teaching or another – that it’s enough that Jesus did it and that God is, or will, make things right eventually, whenever God is ready to. In other words, when it’s all said and done, I think most of still “believe” that it’s not really up to us. That’s not only bad theology, it’s dangerous theology.
This tenth chapter of Matthew couldn’t make the point more clearly. Jesus himself doesn’t think like that! He knows that he can’t sit around waiting for God to do something because he knows that God is waiting for him to do something. And whatever else you may believe about Jesus’ understanding of himself, he knows he isn’t the first to discern God at work, and he knows his mission must continue in the work of those that would follow him. His disciples in Matthew ten, yes, but also in you … and me. God is waiting for us to act.
So let’s do that this summer. I laid out six things that Matthew reveals to us about the “essential Christian life.” We’ll look at those in the weeks ahead this summer, and by August, if we’re truly faithful, the “coming persecutions” we read in our scripture this morning – from the world and those who live in it, perhaps even from one another – may not be so alien to us when we’re through. If we are engaging the world in order to transform it, we must expect some hostility. If we challenge others and one another, even with humility and gentleness, we must expect to ruffle some feathers. But as we take the cost of our discipleship seriously, and as we engage the world and one another as we are called to do, our faith in God and in one another will increase and the world may just finally hear something from us worth listening to.
There is no better way to start any new conversation, any new understanding, any new mission than to first gather around our table. We are fed that we may feed, we remember so that we may remind, we gather so that we may go. So let’s do that. Let us sing and prepare ourselves for the feast of life in Christ.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / June 5, 2016