The Sunday Sermon: January 17, 2021 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Scripture: Matthew 10:16-18
Re-Placing Our Trust
So, as we begin again after last Sunday’s baptism renewal, we turn to the Gospel of Matthew and we read these words that “begin” the disciples work this gospel. Jesus has been teaching and healing for nine and a half chapters, and as chapter ten begins Jesus “summons” his twelve disciples and sends them out into the world. After some initial advice and empowerment, we hear these words:
Read Matthew 10:16-18
16 See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.
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. We’re supposed to emulate, imitate, and impersonate Jesus in our lives.
And … when we truly do that, when we truly experience Jesus as Christ not different from us in “kind,” only in degree, he tells us we should expect to be scorned and derided and divided, from one another and from the world. It is exactly the kind of scorn and derision that Jesus, himself, received when he dared to suggest that he spoke for God against the empire of his world and against the way his religion was being taught and practiced.
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 “right with God.” In the first century, Jesus said, “No. It’s not about requirements and rewards. It’s about justice and love.” In the 21st century, we must say, “Our faith is about trust and fidelity and living a life suitable for God.” Live your life justly, love this world righteously, and walk in it, and with it, humbly. That’s all we need to do … But when we do, when we actually do, 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’s over).
Still … 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 … if we consider that all we need to do is offer 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, to be handed over to councils and flogged.
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. We have to call out egregious behavior when we see it, speak truth to power, and foster healthy political discipleship.
In the first century, Jesus said that eternal life, life that 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 commitment to money or power; of our fears of the future or of others, and of our insatiable need to be right and to prove others wrong. That’s … all we need to do.
We are called to let go of our material possessions, our fear of what others think of us, and our need to come out on top. When will we actually do it?
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 as 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, and full of trust, 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? Why, we’d be like … what was his name again? Jesus …
I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.
These words from the tenth chapter of Matthew are spoken to “the twelve” as Jesus sends them out. Read through the end of chapter ten, if you have the energy and courage today or tomorrow. These are some of the most challenging directions and images in all of scripture for us. (Matthew 10:34) And yet, these words are the ones Jesus “sends us out with,” they are where we are supposed to begin as followers of a Way that calls us not to align ourselves with “worldly” values but not to separate ourselves from the world and each other, either. And certainly not to try to destroy it or ourselves. God, in Jesus the Christ, calls us to live in it and with one another in order to transform it all.
As Christians we so carefully calculate the cost of our discipleship when all we are really called to do is to put our trust in God and God’s future. When will we actually do it? We’re going to try again. Let’s begin with today.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / January 17, 2021