Monday, June 19, 2017

Next Sunday's Sermon

Take Up the Cross and Follow Me
June 25th 2017
Matthew 10: 24-39 is sometimes thought of as a hard saying. Let us share it. 

Matthew 10:24-39New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 “A student is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the student to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, 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.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from 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.”

The author of Matthew tells us the disciples had been on a journey with Jesus and he had just shared with them some of the mission to which they were being called. Then he began to tell them what might happen next. It was Jesus’ way of preparing them to expect the unexpected. Jesus warned his followers they needed to be prepared to be rejected and face persecution simply because they would be labeled as his followers.

The passage opens with clear warnings and guidelines for the disciples. They are to share the values of God’s kingdom that Jesus had  shared with them and what they have learned is that there won’t always be a great reception. They must also be prepared to share in the rejection.

As the disciples proclaimed God’s kingdom coming near, they were also told they must remain focused on the mission and do what they must to attend to the Holy Spirit’s leading. 

This begins the transition into an even more commonly difficult portion of the passage. 

Beginning in Matthew 10:34–36, Jesus recites a familiar passage from Micah 7:6 where God and the prophet are engaged in an exchange about being faithful in their relationship amid unfaithfulness in the community. 

It reads like this. “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.”

When people challenge the status quo, they are often labeled as being unfaithful to what has become a way of life. Jesus seems to be telling them he didn’t come to keep the peace or harmony with what’s been happening in their lives of faith. His coming and his message will shake things up and invite new followers to a new way of life…a different way of life. They are challenged to put aside class differences and live the Kingdom of God in the here and now!

So let’s explore the Scripture:

There is some doubt among scholars of the New Testament that Jesus really said all these words because the words say that Jesus deliberately creates conflict… and this contradicts other of Jesus’ sayings where he recommends unqualified love. In this passage Jesus also refers to himself in the first person, something they doubt that he did except as found in the gospel of John…a very late gospel. 

For that reason, and because the saying is based on something the prophet Micah said, they conclude that these words are probably something formulated by the early Christian community as they encountered objection and difficulty to the message of living out the Kingdom of God in this life…a message that instructed disciples to take care of one another as well as those they encountered who were also in need. …something that was clearly counter cultural in that day.   

We should keep in mind that the sayings in this segment reflect a knowledge of events that took place long after Jesus’ death. Matthew is clearly depicting the situation as he knew it in his own time and Matthew is believed to have been written between the years 70 to 90.   

Then the author of Matthew says that Jesus clearly defines what the expectation is for life as a disciple. Taking up our cross may not always mean an actual cross…it may mean doing something that we ordinarily would not do…responding in a way that may be counter cultural in our society. 

We are not to stop loving others because we confess to love Jesus. We are simply to put his message and instructions first. 

According to Matthew, Jesus says that following him means we shouldn’t set aside the good news of the gospel because of another relationship. We instead should find hope in the reality that God will never betray us or abandon us. Our value is immeasurable to God and God’s fidelity to us is always promised. It is in that relationship that we can “lose” our life…perhaps not literally… but certainly as we decide to do the servant ministry that he instructs his disciples to do….meeting real need wherever they and we find it, we can in this way figuratively “lose our lives”.  

We know there are times when, if we choose to follow these instructions of Jesus, some people will challenge us. When Jesus said disciples should “take up their cross” and follow him, he meant disciples should have a wholehearted response and willingness to give up the way of life they might otherwise have chosen to live, and follow his “way” instead.  Perhaps that is why the earliest Christian community was first called “The Way”. 

So what does this mean for us as modern day Christians? Does it mean we should literally “take up a cross”? That’s not likely in today’s world. But it might mean that for us, we should be willing to lay down our lives to protect another. It means we should always be willing to help others we know who need our help. It means we should be ready to accept those that our society won’t always accept. That’s what Jesus would do. 

We all encounter opportunities in our everyday lives to assist others who need help. And it doesn’t always have to be something dramatic. But sometimes it’s just a matter of helping someone change a tire….or taking a meal to a shut in. Occasions happen throughout our lives to be helpful to others in need.  It’s just a matter of whether we notice and decide to assist that someone or simply walk away. 
In every situation we encounter, we should just ask ourselves. “What would Jesus do?” and then act….that’s basically what it means to follow Jesus. It won’t always be easy. 

While I was at camp this week something very different happened that challenged me and  many others in our witness of Jesus’ way. 

I was in the dining hall and a woman came in who was dressed very nicely for church. I had been busy so I just glanced up…and then I did a double take. It was not a woman…it was a man dressed as a woman. He went outside where there was a group visiting on the benches outside the dining hall and walked down toward the worship center. I went out to see how others reacted to him. They were as surprised as I was and after he walked down to the worship center, several of them laughed loudly. 

So I walked up and said, “you know he is just a cross dresser, He is who he is, just as we are who we are.”  They immediately stopped laughing. As I walked away it occurred to me that I had not laughed but I had not made any effort to speak to him either. 

I suddenly remembered that this same man had come to the last camp I had attended two years ago and after several visited with him, he had been well accepted. In fact he and his girlfriend attended the nearby Neosho, Missouri, congregation regularly. I was ashamed of myself. 

Later that afternoon, I saw our Mission Center President, Vivian, sitting next to him at those same benches and she was visiting with him. I realized again what a quality person she was. 

The next day at our morning group meeting, our leader,  Karan had three questions for us to consider. They were 1) What challenged you to grow yesterday? 2)   How could you have been more like Jesus? 3) What do you wish you had done differently? There was a long silence and then I finally spoke up and said,” I was ashamed of myself when the young man who cross-dresses came up here and I didn’t try to visit with him and put him at ease. 

I realized that Jesus accepted everyone in his culture. He accepted women who were the very lowest part in their society. He held children who were considered property by the men of that day. In fact, as objects, if they disobeyed their father, they could be stoned to death. He touched and healed lepers who were forced to live outside the city gates and shout out “unclean, unclean” if anyone approached them. 

Jesus was definitely counter culture. 

The next day the young man came back after he had worked all day and was dressed in his work clothes. 

Later the following day, I was serving dinner when he came in again very well dressed in his woman clothing…a bright red dress, hat and heels. He was carefully made up and well dressed…as a woman. This time I had the opportunity to talk to him as I asked him which foods he wanted on his plate.  

 “Matthew pretty much had it right in a later chapter in Matthew 25, when he said Jesus in a teaching parable had said: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a foreigner and you showed me hospitality; I was naked and you clothed me; I was ill and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to see me.

 Whatever you did for the most inconspicuous members of my family, you did it for me as well.” 

It’s really not that hard to see opportunities. The hard part is to be able to act on those opportunities. 

So let us ask ourselves “what are we willing to do to follow Jesus?” and “What would Jesus do…in every circumstance we encounter?”

1 comment:

Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow said...

Margie I do so love your sermons because they come from a scholarly standpoint :)