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Pentecost 3A Sermon
Matthew 10: 24-39
June 25, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

If I was to abbreviate Jesus’ message to the twelve from today’s Gospel reading it would be this: being a disciple is not for sissies!” This is a continuation from our Gospel reading from last week, earlier in the chapter. Jesus has already warned the 12 that he is sending them out like sheep amongst the wolves, and that this means they had better be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. In the passage that we heard this morning, Jesus continues to be a bit of an alarmist. When someone tells you over and over again not to be afraid, well … that usually raises flags to me that I probably should be afraid of something! Especially when he says not to fear the ones who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. I don’t know about you, but I do fear those who can kill my body. It is a healthy fear, I believe, that keeps me out of certain areas at certain times of day, and which makes me lock my doors and stay vigilant about those around me. I may not obsess over these things, but I do have a healthy fear of something happening to kill my body.

This is a funny and interesting passage because interspersed with of the dire warnings is this wonderful little saying of encouragement. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father; even the hairs on your head are counted, and you are more valuable than the sparrows.” Our value and worth to God is not because we would snatch more money if we were sold in the same markets as the sparrows are. I occasionally see stories where people calculate the value of the elements in the human body if they were to be sold. The latest figure is $4.50, and $3.50 of that is your skin! It’s not quite two for a penny, but the basic elements that these bodies are made up of are pretty cheap. Now I also saw a story that taking into consideration the organs, tissues, and other things that make up our bodies and their value for transplant, etc. that the human body could be worth as much as $45 Million! I guess that is the difference between buying raw materials and a finished product!

But our worth to God is infinitely higher than either of those figures. That is why Jesus states over and over again that we should not be afraid. God’s love for us is so immense that even if we were to suffer the loss of our earthly bodies or lives, we still know that God is with us to heal and love us as only God can. This is what Jesus means when he promises us that everyone who loses their lives for Jesus’ sake will find it.

Jesus is not being an alarmist – he is being a realist. The reality of it is, there is going to be division. That is what Jesus means when he says that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. He didn’t come to start wars with fighting and bloodshed; the sword that Jesus came to bring is division, cutting apart communities, nations and yes, even families. I really wish that we all were of one accord when it comes to our priorities in life – whether it be faith, politics, economics or lifestyle. That’s just not going to happen! So, our hope lies in the fact that whenever discord rears its ugly head anywhere, Jesus is still present there – God still loves us more than two sparrows which are sold for a penny. Discord does not mean abandonment. Discord provides an opportunity for the faithful to remain strong in their faith regardless of what others may think. No matter who those others might be.

Sometimes we find ourselves at odds with those who once encouraged us in our faith, who might have been the ones that we credit for helping us grow in our relationships with God. This might mean we grow into a newer or deeper understanding of faith than that which parents or teachers or others helped nurture in us, to the point where we hardly agree with those others on religious matters anymore, even though we both may be Christian. But I also know people for whom parents or siblings or others are openly no longer thinking of themselves as Christians. People who may have found other religions which caught their eye, or who see more value in trusting the efforts of science or of humanity. People who have been disappointed by God or wonder why there is such discord in the world if God is so powerful and loving. We all know of people who, for one reason or another, just don’t believe in God or Jesus anymore.

It is especially disheartening in those situations where they once were so influential in someone else’s own faith development. It is like when the youngest of my two brothers in sixth grade got my father to stop smoking by bringing home those pictures of the smokers’ lungs next to healthy lungs – then, as an adult, that same brother took up smoking, evidently forgetting the passion with which he encouraged our father!

But he didn’t smoke forever. That brother did learn through his own experiences that smoking was not good, and he eventually quit. We all learn through experiences when it comes to faith. When a person never has a crisis and always cruises along with few cares in the world, it is easy to believe in God. But when we experience suffering, conflict, sin, death and illness in our lives, doubt and fear can creep in to challenge or even dispel the gift of faith. That is what happens when we believe that the presence of discord means the absence of God.
But Jesus puts it right out there for us today – there will be opposition; there will be discord; people will say terrible things to you and about you – if you ever want evidence if the ability of people to do this, read a newspaper story online (even the most uplifting, innocent story) and then scroll down to the comments at the very bottom of the page. They can be so cruel and nasty! But Jesus promises us that our hairs are counted and our value is great, so that God will never let us go. Even if those in the world say or do their worst to us, we are God’s forever.

And more than that, those who oppose us are God’s as well. God never gives up on anyone, I truly trust and believe that. Jesus is not speaking only to us in this. Jesus is also speaking to those who may disagree with us, even to the point of arguing or fighting with us. Last week there was an ELCA presence in the pride parade downtown. These are Christians who believe that all people are loved and valued by God regardless of their sexual orientation. There were also Christians along the route who were yelling opposite messages to people in the parade, condemning the lifestyles of LGBT folks and condemning all who are their allies. The hairs on all of our heads are counted – no matter where Christians were Saturday, marching, yelling or not in the area but still praying about the whole issue; God values us all. Even though Jesus brought the sword it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t mourn the division that is present between those who he created and loves.

On the front of our bulletin is a mosaic created by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, who died in 1996. It hangs in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Aberdeen, Scotland. It is a wonderfully beautiful if not subdued mosaic of Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross of Jesus. Simon was an innocent bystander who was grabbed by the Romans when Jesus could not bear the weight of his cross anymore. It was Jesus’ cross, and Simon bore it. Carrying forth Jesus’ message of love, grace and peace is how we bear Jesus’ cross today, in our own lives. This is how we take up Jesus’ cross and follow him, as he commanded toward the end of this Gospel reading. This is how we lose our own lives in order to gain life that is eternal. Rejection should be expected, but that is rejection of our own priorities and beings. More important than that which the world can destroy is the presence of the living Christ in our discipleship and witness.

Do not be afraid of those with whom you disagree, who may hurl insults and even threaten you physically. You have the promise of God’s love that is beyond measure. You have the peace of Christ in the midst of the sword of division. You have the promise that, loving God above all others, you will find your lives. Thanks be to God; Amen.