Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 25, 2017

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
June 25, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10,16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Wow, Jesus, that seems pretty harsh.  When we preach a Gospel of grace and forgiveness that is available to all, it is difficult to hear words like these.

Last week, as he sent the disciples out to heal the sick and raise the dead, he warned them that they would be dragged before governors and kings, they would be hated, they would be betrayed…

And then, he goes on with what we heard read today – if you deny Jesus, Jesus will deny you, but if you stay true, there is no call to be afraid of those who attack you.  For no one and nothing are not valued by God.

How can we reconcile this message?

Well, for one thing, this warning is not for those who have not heard the gospel, but for those who have.  It’s a continuation of his counsel that they not be afraid or that they not worry about what they will say, because the Holy Spirit will put the words in their mouths.

This warning is an expansion of the “do not fear” message: he is warning them not to be tempted to deny their faith in order to escape the hardship or punishment that the kings and governors threaten to inflict upon them.

It’s not intended to be cruel; it’s intended to encourage – to fill them with courage to speak their trust in God and God’s messiah.  If there is any denial by Jesus, it will be a sorrowful one, not a penalty or punishment.

You could think of it in this way:  If your neighbor comes and says your child threw a rock at their car, you, if satisfied as to the truth of the accusation, would say, Yes, my child did throw a rock at your car.  And she will pay for the damage.  It doesn’t mean you don’t love your child.  But the truth and acting honorably are more important than defending a child who has done wrong.

Jesus’ standards are high, and our faith lives are important enough to put some effort into them, and to bear the consequences of our choices, no matter what the world around us says.

There are risks involved.  When Matthew was writing this book, Christians were coming up against them. 

But for the most part, we’re not, although Christians in other parts of the world are suffering for their faith.  I know that some Christian leaders here say that Christianity is under attack, because there is no prayer in schools, or because towns aren’t permitted to put up crèches at Christmas time, or because the wish to deny someone a wedding cake or a marriage license is frowned upon. 

Yet this is not at all the same as what the early church faced in terms of persecution.  In Bible study this week, we will hear what happened after Stephen was stoned to death – most of the believers were expelled from Jerusalem, although the apostles remained. 

But even this setback became an opportunity to spread the good news of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven farther and farther afield.

So I would say that even when things look dark, we should keep seeking the light – what is said in darkness, when things look bleak, should be proclaimed in the light, when all looks well.

There is an end-times flavor to this passage; and we are invited to consider carefully where our primary allegiance lies.  You and I are not usually forced to choose between family and God, as Jesus outlines here.

That said, there are families that cast off their children because those children are gay, or lesbian, or trans.  They interpret the Scripture in such a way as to deny the essential goodness of their children, and as a result, the children lose not only family, but, all too frequently, God as well.

We know this, and that’s why this section of Matthew’s Gospel is so hard to understand – we tend to read it as condemning those who don’t measure up.  But I think that is a mis-reading of the text.  Jesus doesn’t speak here about how the disciples are to behave, but only how they are to trust

They are to remember that whatever ills befall them, whether they are attacked, arrested, betrayed, persecuted, of killed, they can still proclaim the good news, they can still put God first, they can still expect that God will be with them and that God will see them through whatever besets them.

Be bold.  Do not fear.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure the lepers, and proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven is near.  Expect to run into trouble, but don’t give up, and don’t give in.  Just do what you are called to do and trust that whatever comes, God has your back.

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