The Sunday Sermon: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 10, 2016
Scripture: Matthew 10:16-18
On June 5th when the summer was young … we began a(nother) journey. These are the words of scripture that launched our travels:
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. Matthew 10:16-18
Let’s pray …
As Christians we confess God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus. We do so most profoundly and most successfully not simply by saying it, but by living that life ourselves, by understanding that God’s act in Jesus’ life is God’s act in our lives. How might “confessing God’s act in the person and ministry of ourselves” get us into trouble with the world today? How might this confession “bring out the wolves?”
That’s an easy one to begin with: While we’re supposed to emulate, imitate, and impersonate Jesus in our lives, we aren’t supposed to understand him as “like us.” To live as if we do, to suggest that Jesus is not different from us in “kind,” only in degree, is to invite the scorn and derision of the dominant expression of Christianity. It is exactly the kind of scorn and derision that Jesus, himself, received when he dared to suggest that he spoke for God and that the religious practices of his day were legalistic and dependent upon right “belief” rather than right “practice.”
First century Temple theology had a sacrifice for everything in order to make one “right with God.” Twenty-first century Christianity demands orthodoxy of belief in its adherents in order to be a “right with God.” In the first century, Jesus said, “No. It’s not about requirements and rewards. It’s not about rituals and sacrifices. Mine is the sacrifice. Life itself, lived as God intended – for the poor and the hungry and the thirsty and the oppressed and the captive, is the sacrifice.”
In the 21st century, we must say, “Christian faith is not about requirements and rewards. It is not first and foremost about ‘right belief’. It is about trust and fidelity and it is about living a life suitable for God. The only sacrifice we need to make is in the letting go of our own need to decide “what is right and what is wrong” and “who is in and who is out.” Live your life justly, love this world righteously, and walk in it humbly. That’s all we need to do … and if we actually do, then we should expect to be handed over to “councils” and “flogged.”
Naïve … unrealistic … simple and silly. (That’s not so bad.) Self-centered … self-absorbed … narcissistic and egotistical. (Ouch …) Heretical … blasphemous … misguided and dangerous. (Watch out …) Dismissed … Debunked … Barred and banished. (“It is finished …”).
We are called to confess God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus by acting and ministering as he did, just the same. When will we actually do it?
As Christians we must live toward God’s Kingdom on earth through a concern for mission in this world. That sounds harmless enough. How does “living towards God’s Kingdom on earth” put us at odds with those around us? It doesn’t … as long as we understand God’s Kingdom on earth to include simply a little bit of benevolence, a scoop of compassion and a dash of charity. But, you and I both know that this is not what the Kingdom of God is truly about. Unfortunately, we don’t challenge this understanding much because we don’t want to be persecuted. But here we go (again) …
The Kingdom of God is the best shorthand summary of the message and the passion of Jesus, himself, in the first century. The Kingdom of God is not about heaven; it is for earth. It is what life would be like here on earth if God were king and the rulers of this world were not. It speaks most positively to the poor, the oppressed, and the captives – economical and spiritual. It speaks most despairingly to the rich, the liberated, the free. Economic justice might be the single most important domestic and international issue today, and the Kingdom of God is suspicious of the ways of the wealthy and powerful who use their power and wealth to structure systems largely in their own interest” (Borg, Heart of Christianity, 142). The Kingdom of God is concerned not with privilege, but with compassion for the “least of these.” But …
We are the rich, the liberated, the free, the powerful, the privileged. (Never rich, free, or powerful enough, there’s the “out.” There’s always someone else to blame more fully.) But “we” are “they,” so why would we seek to persecute ourselves? We wouldn’t. We don’t. “Mission in this world” becomes sending a youth group to clean-up after a tornado, a small group of adults to Guatemala to install a water purification system, or a quarterly check to Habitat for Humanity – all significant and important undertakings in their ways, but ones carefully calculated to create minimal alterations in our own status quo.
In the first century, Jesus said the Kingdom of God is among you. If we are to proclaim the same with integrity today, then we have to live Kingdom values – equitable financial distribution, sustainable environmental consumption, universal opportunities for health and well-being, profound racial solidarity, and diminished – if not eradicated – imperial dominance. That’s all we need to do … and if we actually do, then we should expect to be handed over to “councils” and “flogged.”
Naïve … unrealistic … simple and innocent. (That’s not so bad.) Self-righteous … sanctimonious … supercilious and smug. (Ouch …) Pompous … holier-than-thou … misguided and dangerous. (Watch out …) Unworldly … unpatriotic … unconcerned and indifferent. (“It is finished …”).
We are called to live toward God’s Kingdom on earth through a concern for mission and justice in this world. When will we actually do it?
As Christians in the 21st century, we are supposed to let go of our material possessions and our fear of what others think of us. That, we are told, is the way to “eternal life.” Not life after death, but “full life” right now, a life that “befits God.” Do you remember that? The Rich Young Man in Matthew’s gospel couldn’t do that. For “eternal life” required too much of him and too much of all of his “stuff.” He walked away grieving. What about us?
We must fulfill our obligation to humanity first and then … then we are to be perfect – “undivided (perfect) in our devotion” to God. And the only way we can do that is to rid ourselves of the impediments of our riches and our fears. Is it impossible to be rich, in any way, and be devoted “perfectly” to God? No where in the Gospel does it say it is impossible. Matthew’s Jesus does suggest that is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but concludes that warning by saying that nothing is impossible with God.
In the first century, Jesus said that eternal life, life as truly belongs to God, includes care for all and devotion to Justice and Love alone. Today, if we are to proclaim the same with any integrity at all, we must let go … of our trust in our money and of our fears of others. That’s all we need to do … and if we actually do, then we should expect to be handed over to “councils” and “flogged.”
Irresponsible … negligent … reckless and immature. (That’s not so bad.) Rash … careless … undependable and unreliable. (Ouch …) Unpredictable … capricious … erratic and defective. (Watch out …) Disloyal … devious … treacherous and not-to-be-trusted. (“It is finished …”).
We are called to let go of our material possessions and our fear of what others think of us. When will we actually do it?
As Christians, we are supposed to place loyalty to the God revealed through Jesus above all other loyalties, even the deepest ones of home and family. That’s all we need to do … and if we actually do, then we should expect to be handed over to “councils” and “flogged.”
Callous … unconcerned … aloof and unkind. (That’s not so bad.) Uncaring … unfeeling … indifferent and unemotional. (Ouch …) Hard-hearted … emotionless … stony and hard. (Watch out …) Demanding … problematic … self-centered and impassive. (“It is finished …”).
We are called to place loyalty to the God revealed in Jesus above all other loyalties that divide us. When will we actually do it?
We’ll do none of these things, and so much less, as long we don’t embrace the final component, the last essential, for an authentic life according to Matthew: A radical trust in God and God’s future. In the end that’s where our Christian faith begins, not with belief and not even with action, but with trust. Soren Kierkegaard, one of the nineteenth century’s philosophical giants, said “faith is like floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water. If you struggle, if you tense up and thrash about, you will eventually sink. But if you relax and trust, you will float.”
Faith as trust casts out anxiety and fear – fear of requirements, of the kingdoms of this world, of the possessions that own us, of the loyalties to others that will never give us true peace. And if we were free of anxiety and fear, can you imagine how unbound we would be? How immediately present we would be in every moment? How well we would be able to live and to love? The same mind would be in us that was in Christ Jesus:
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death
As Christians we so carefully calculate the cost of our discipleship. But all we are called to do is to put our trust in God and God’s future. When will we actually do it?
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / July 10, 2016