Losing Our Life and Finding It

The Sunday Sermon:  Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 27, 2020

Scripture: Matthew 10:34-38


Losing Our Life and Finding It

This month, as we’ve remained apart due to the Coronavirus and as we’ve remained on pins and needles due to the racial and political division we can’t seem to understand, let alone overcome, (this month) we as a Christian community ourselves have been exploring what it must mean to live into Paul’s challenge to us in his letter to the community in Philippi to “let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus.”  We have resisted the temptation to hear this as an individual challenge,  engaging it as a challenge for our whole congregation, indeed for the whole church.

The mind of Christ commits itself to serve others, with no desire for personal gain.  The mind of Christ seeks not to build up self but to build up others.[1]  As we engage this not individually, but as a congregation, we understand the mind of Christ in any Christian congregation seeks not “the gain” or the “building up” of us, but our service and the building up of others.

In the Gospel of Luke last week we listened again as Jesus uttered the first words of his public ministry, words written on the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He lifted up those who were, in his time and place, systemically devalued.  We heard him say, “Poor lives matter.  Imprisoned lives matter.  Blind and oppressed lives matter.”  The mind of Christ Jesus, spoken out loud.

With Jesus as our model, with the understanding that we cannot just “say what we believe” without acting on it, and with a faithful desire to take on Paul’s challenge, last week we picked up the cross that was laying at our feet and lifted up those who are, in our time and place, systemically devalued.  We said, “Black lives matter.”  We committed to participating in a Day of Witness with the National Black Presbyterian Caucus and churches across our Presbytery that follows our 40 Days of Prayer next Sunday, October 4th.

This past week, as tensions mounted with the report on Wednesday afternoon of our State Attorney Daniel Cameron on his office’s findings in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, and as the inevitable unrest that followed Wednesday night included arrests and officers shot, we have been dealing with the anxiety and the fear we feel over taking any stand whatsoever, let alone one so divisive and polarizing.  We has been wondering if this is what Jesus really meant; if we shouldn’t be trying, rather, to “be of one mind with each other;” to, at least, remain neutral on such issues or, at most, to justify our non-involvement by lifting up the nonviolent peaceful approach of Jesus.  Into those desires this morning, we read these words …

Listen for the Word of God.  Read Matthew 10:32-38.  The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

“Man against father, daughter against mother …”  Parishioner against Pastor?

Of all of the passages in all of scripture about Jesus, this one is the most troubling for me.  It seems to go against every single teaching or sermon I’ve ever delivered about the Way of Christ in Jesus of Nazareth.  The Jesus I preach, the Jesus we desire, rarely if ever encourages division within families or among those who share a common faith.  How can he be saying he does?  There is a very real disconnect between the problems and threats of the real world and the “safe” world that most of us (white mainline Protestants) live in and work hard to maintain.  This passage insists that we consider, from time to time, what compromises we have made to secure such a “safe” world for ourselves.  Now is such a time.

The demands of true peace and justice, the kind that Jesus sought in the first century and that we must seek in the 21st, may very well feel like a sword cutting through the quiet lives we try so hard to maintain.  And as I’ve struggled with this passage and my own aching desire not to make anyone here, or anywhere else in my life, “un-comfortable,” I’ve been forced to face this reality.  The person, or the church, that manages to glide through life without ever rubbing anyone the wrong way may have reason to question whether he, or it, is truly honoring Jesus as Lord and Savior.[2]

“I have not come to bring (that kind of) peace …”

I have found some small comfort in a reminder this week of the difference between being a disciple and an apostle.  We are disciples of Christ, and discipleship is a journey that includes learning, distinct from being an apostle, who is sent to declare a message.  In this difficult and demanding scripture passage, our task is not to be the ones who deliver the teachings.  Rather we are to pause and learn from Jesus who we are to be, what we are to say, and how we are to communicate this with others.[3]  Jesus is speaking …

In this passage and in our lives at this moment in time, Jesus is speaking.  God is calling.  The Spirit is leading.  And we are following.  Next Sunday, October 4th, the first day after our “40 Days of Prayer” that began on August 25th, we will be a visible presence in our own neighborhood for the deep need to dismantle systemic racism.  For 8 minutes and 46 seconds at the end of our worship service – as part of the Benediction – we will “intentionally gather” around our church sign on Central Avenue in front of our church building with signs or banners as witnesses, through prayer and presence, to enact our commitment to dismantle structural racism.  By witnessing in this way – separately, but together with other congregations in our Presbytery and on behalf of those watching us and unable to join us – we will act as one church, one people, with one mind – that of Christ’s.  We, as Presbyterians will let our faith and belief in a just God and a just society be known publicly.  We do not stand alone.

At our denomination’s historic 224th General Assembly (2020), scheduled to be held in Baltimore this past June but conducted instead totally online with commissioners and advisory delegates participating via Zoom, a resolution was passed in the midst of our nation’s unrest called “Responding to the Sin of Racism and A Call to Action.”  The begins this way:

This 224th General Assembly (GA) of the PC(USA) declares that Black lives matter; that our country’s most important institutions have been built to sustain white privilege, to protect white lives and white property at the expense of our siblings of color; and that the church, through ignorance, denial, and in some cases deliberate action, has participated in this injustice … We pledge to join hands and hearts … to actively confront and dismantle systemic racism in our church and in society at large.

Declaring that “black lives matter” and even accepting a group’s call to us to “redress our nation’s racist past and present” that has marginalized people of color does not endorse a particular campaign or group, even BLM, itself.  Nor does it oppose the need to support and work diligently for our brothers and sisters in law enforcement agencies, for trustworthy police departments, and for the public security of all of us.  The Black Lives Matter movement, like any human endeavor, can be undermined.  But the declaration, the profession, that black lives matter, and our commitment to redress our past, must not be.  Neither must it be silenced for comfort or expediency sake.

We’ll see how long after next week we, as individuals and as a congregation, will be able to maintain our active opposition to racism and to the “white privilege” it creates – a privilege that has no grounding in reality other than the alternative reality it, itself, has created.  But the belief, shared by our congregation, our denomination and across our Christian faith that we are “taking up the cross of Christ” when we join hands and hearts for any group of people – poor, imprisoned, blind, oppressed, or black) who are being systemically devalued – must not fade away as long as such systems exist in our church, in our country and in our world.

I shared a poem in my weekly letter this past Wednesday.  The GA Resolution I just read from commended it to the entirety of the PC(USA).  I share it to close the message this week.

A knee on a neck
laying bare for all to see
the evil of
callous
soulless
entitled
power
choking the life from
God’s beloved
just because.

We know what must change.
Will we, church?

We have written many
true, significant,
sometimes even sincere
words.

We have confessed:
Belhar, C’67, Barmen…

Enough words?
Never enough witness.

We know we must change.
Will we, church?

Kairos.

As you wrestle this next week, as I will continue to do, with any concerns you have about your, our own beloved congregation, or the larger church “taking part,” or “getting involved,” or “being too political” consider, again, that through this poem and through the words of the scripture we have read today that …  Jesus is speaking:  Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

God is calling.  The Spirit is leading.  And we are following.  Amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor

Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / September 26, 2020

[1] Laura S. Mendenhall, Feasting on the Word, year C Vol 2.  172,174.

[2] Lance Pape, Feasting on the Word, year A, vol 3.  167.

[3] Emilie M. Townes, Feasting on the Word, year A, vol 3.  166.