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Pentecost 3A Sermon
Matthew 10:24-39
June
21, 2020

 

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Matthew 10:24-39

‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

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

It is Father’s Day today. I normally do not begin my sermons or focus too much on these secular, albeit important family holidays, but I felt that if there was any time that it would be appropriate, this would be the year. In our gospel reading Jesus says much about not being afraid of what people can do to you physically because they cannot kill that spiritual part of us that is rooted in the grace of God. He also tells us not to be afraid because God loves sparrows … a lot … and if God loves sparrows that much, how much more do you think he loves us?

I am not sure I ever saw my dad afraid. I witnessed a confidence about him that seemed to overcome all obstacles and conflicts. I have spoken often with folks from my congregation about my own “non-anxious presence”, and how I feel it is a strength to be able to bring a cool head into a situation of grief or conflict. I have always credited my dad for passing that on to me, whether it be genetically or by observing him in life. When I finished my Clinical Pastoral Education as a summer chaplain at OSU Hospital in 1988, my supervisor wrote this about me in relationship to my father in his final evaluation: “His father is described as being very laid back, a hard worker, kind of humble and very fair. He rarely got angry. Ralph likes his dad very much and feels he is like him.” Indeed, one of our favorite family stories is when my usually laid-back father got so fed up with my nephew as he screamed incessantly from his high-chair that he dumped a whole cup of red Kool-aide over his head. It is so funny because it was so out of character for him.

My father was not perfect, and he had to discipline us kids on occasion, and he did express some values or beliefs that I don’t quite agree with myself. But he was also open minded and willing to listen to folks with whom he disagreed. Dad had a hard time understanding the whole LGBTQ culture and lumped all “the gays” together as one massive person who just seemed to be looking for special treatment. When that same nephew that received the Kool-aide shower came out as gay and eventually fell in love and he and his partner shared so much of themselves with dad and mom, he never for a minute judged the two of them harshly. He may not have always understood their love, but he accepted and supported them as family.

That is why I think of my dad when I hear Jesus’ words in this passage today. He didn’t fear what the physical threats of life could do to him. He had a quiet confidence in God through Jesus, and he never backed down from facing everything with that confidence, from owning his own business to accepting and loving gay family members, or divorced children, or other various quirky kids and grandkids making choices that sometimes turned out wonderful and sometimes have had difficult consequences. Dad was not a preacher or a singer, but his life was a beautiful song of faith and trust in the one who perfectly gave up his life so that all of us might find ours.

Jesus knew that his followers would have plenty to fear. He encourages them to take up their crosses and follow him. The cross was, in Jesus’ day, an object of fear. The Romans used the cross quite liberally, crucifying without a fair trial or even a valid reason. Their Roman Peace was upheld by the threat of you going to an excruciatingly painful death in front of the whole community – a death which might also include your whole family, thrown in so that anyone else who witnesses it might think twice about saying or doing anything that runs contrary to the empire. It was an object of shame and humiliation, and it proved to the Jewish people that they were expendable to Rome. People who were crucified were those living on the margins, mostly slaves and rebels who were just trying to survive.

Why was there so much to fear by being a disciple of Jesus? Well, the Romans believed that Caesar was “Theon Epiphane,” or, “God Manifest.” He also considered himself the universal “sotera” or savior of human life. Believing that Jesus is both of these things puts one at odds automatically with the occupying force and in danger of being killed, and your whole family with you. Carry that cross means to live in such a way that your ruler is Jesus, not Caesar. That will not be popular, and Jesus is completely honest about this – it will even break apart families as sons are set against their fathers and daughters against their mothers. Indeed, whoever loves these family members more than Jesus puts their own interests before the Kingdom of God.
My dad never told me, “Son, I love you but not as much as I love Jesus!” But I could tell that he loved Jesus, and I could tell that his love for his whole family and all of his neighbors grew out of his love for Jesus. I saw him cry when he heard people talk about their love for Jesus because I think he wishes he could have shown that love for Jesus more than he thought he did. But that was his humility. I learned a lot about loving Jesus because of what I experienced in my father. A quiet confidence, never backing away from difficult challenges, always being willing to lend a hand, always wanting to hear and understand where people were coming from, and even though he knew that there was much to fear, exhibiting ultimate trust in the one that has promised us life and peace and joy eternally.

Now, I fear I am doing two things which should be avoided when preaching about dads and Father’s Day. I don’t want this to be a sermon lifting up John Wolfe instead of Jesus Christ – and dad would be embarrassed by it if he were alive today as well. I also know that not all of you experienced a father who was like my dad. Some fathers don’t live out a faith in Jesus. Some fathers focus more on their own wants and desires. Some are even abusive to their spouses and children. I grieve with those folks and pray that God puts someone in their lives as a father figure, to provide this foundational love that we all need. It is also a challenge to us to be that father figure and provide that foundational love when we see young men and women for whom a father is absent. God is our heavenly father, and God calls us into these roles for all of who feel expendable today. That is part of the call to take up the cross and follow Jesus. That is what we are to do without fear, knowing that by giving of ourselves we are given the blessing of peace and love and joy with God eternally.
In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, he spells out just what is so important about Holy Baptism. It is the basis for a life without fear of death because in the waters of baptism, we have already died to this life. Because we are inexorably bound to Jesus and his death in our baptism, we are now with him in resurrection, pulled through the grave and gate of death into the peace of the heavenly kingdom. I was baptized on June 17, 1973. If you do the math you will realize that it was Father’s Day. I remember that day vaguely – my Aunt Selma was my godmother – she entered the Church Triumphant this past year. My brother, Russ, and I were baptized at the tiny wooden font in Linden Lutheran Church by Pastor Louis Mielke. We always went to the 8:30 service, so the family went from there onward to Cincinnati to watch a double-header against the chief rivals of the Big Red Machine, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Don’t ask me who won either of those games. I do remember that it was a glorious day for many reasons because it began with my brother and I entering into a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Carrying the cross means loving our neighbors and serving them in a way that makes us expendable to the powers that rule this world. Instead of fearing what that means, remember how much we are loved by God – like many sparrows … or, like our own fathers did or should have loved us!! And like we fathers have been called to love those whom God entrusted into our care in this earthly life. Baptized into the death of Christ, we live and die with the promise of being raised to new life, and no earthly power can take that away from us!! Thanks be to God for this baptismal gift, and thanks be to God for those father figures, called to nurture us in all aspects of our lives, including and especially in our faith. Amen.