Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Father Riley's sermon from June 25, 2017

PENTECOST 3 - PROPER VII - A - 17     MATTHEW 10. 24-39

This portion of Matthew’s tenth chapter contains a string of teachings Jesus presented to his disciples as they were preparing to set out on their first missionary journey. We heard the details of how they were to carry out the journey in last week’s gospel: about what to take and what not to take.

Today’s passage picks up where that one left off. Here Jesus warns his friends that they are to imitate him in preaching the gospel and healing the sick, but to do so will bring down the wrath of the unbelievers upon them. He follows the warning by telling his disciples not to fear them. The responsibility to communicate the gospel is what is important. They are not to be intimidated by the threat of persecution.
Be prepared, he tells them, to shout from the rooftops what he has told them in private concerning God and his kingdom. Again, he tells them not to fear those who can physically harm them, but fear the one who can take their soul as well as their body; indicating that there is something eternal within each of us that only God can take possession of.
Matthew seems to have strung together a strange combination here. Perhaps these sayings occurred at different times and then again, perhaps not.
Our being of more worth than a bevy of sparrows does not seem to fit our being afraid of losing our soul unless the consolation lies in the fact that we are of much worth in the eyes of God who sees and knows all.
Again, Jesus comes back with “so do not be afraid” followed by a promise that if we remain loyal to him in this life, he will stand up for us before God the father in the life to come.
His “do not fear” three times in this passage was obviously meant to embolden the disciples’ witness of the gospel in the face of adversity, as it is meant to embolden us in ours. If there is one phrase mentioned more often than any other in scripture it is “do not fear.”
We find it in the Old Testament as well as the New. Human beings are naturally afraid of something. We are afraid of the supernatural for one, and afraid of facing the unknown for another. None of us likes to face the unknown and neither did the disciples.
Therefore, Jesus is trying his best in his instructions to his friends to prepare them for what they will face. It helps to know exactly what we are walking into does it not. We may be afraid of taking that first step towards the unknown, but if we know what to expect it goes a long way in our accepting the challenge.
To follow Jesus is to accept the challenge of the gospel to walk the way of the cross. The gospel challenges the way we live. It challenges us in the way that we think and act in terms of our relationships with others. It challenges us in terms of our loyalties. In addition, as St. Peter wrote, the enemy is always out there ready to derail our every effort in living and witnessing to it, as well as seeking to devour us in the process.
Yet Jesus tells us that we are not to fear the challenge but rather embrace it. The challenge comes with being a Christian. We were asked at our baptisms if we would “… proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?” At the font of life, we said “yes,” and accepted God’s invitation to join in the work of the Church, by becoming a member of His family.
However, the challenge does not come without a cost. Jesus’ words are very sharp. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace…but a sword.” The gospel is divisive causing divisions even among families Jesus warns.  However, he was not the first to predict this. The prophet Micah declared that such divisions always take place when God is doing a new thing.
The purpose of the Lord’s coming was to establish the reign of peace. The sword of division was but the necessary consequence of the condition of the world. Divisions among families can be the cross we bear in our living out the gospel. One’s devotion to Jesus must take precedence over one’s family obligations and affection. For Judaism, where the family with its mutual loyalties is the center of existence (honor thy father and they mother), this was an especially radical view.
For others the cross they bear may be different altogether. We all have one, sometimes I admit, it seems that there is more than one and with the passage of time they do not get any easier to carry. Regardless of the cross, we bear in Jesus’ name the reward is the same as Christ proclaimed in last week’s passage: “Those who endure to the end will be saved.”
The challenge of Jesus’ sayings in today’s passage is matched again by the promises he makes. He will “own” us before the father in heaven. Those who lose their lives will find them.
All of this is true but it cannot be ours unless we accept the challenge of the gospel to live and speak the truth of the Christian message, even in the face of opposition and rejection. That means taking up our cross and following him. Self-denial and self-sacrifice are the only ways to self-discovery.
We must reflect the values and faith that we profess. Anonymity is not an option. The challenge to be faithful to our identity as followers of Jesus is a daily one. Regardless of our weaknesses and infidelities, God continues to use us to advance his kingdom in the name of Him who died and rose again.

As we continue the journey, maturing in our faith the realization of the challenge increases and confronts us on a daily basis with the commitments we made at baptism. Implicit in the vows we made is the injunction to remain fearless in the face of humiliation, loss, and in some cases persecution. None of which, Jesus says, should cause us to fear.
God knows and cares about the details of our lives. His desire is that we come to know Him and live the life He intended for us to live. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks of us, but what God thinks of us.
We may fail from time to time in living up to our commitments to proclaim the good news. However, God will not judge us on our failures as our failure to accept the challenge that comes with being a Christian: to walk the way of the cross.
It is our love of Christ manifested in the things that we say and do that shows the world that our allegiance is to Him above all else, and it is our allegiance to Christ in this world that makes us worthy in the eyes of God and assures our place in the world to come. AMEN+

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