Follow the Leader – June 21, 2020

Follow the Leader

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Matt 10:24-39

June 21, 2020

Main Idea:   We are called to discipleship.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

In the past 4 months we have learned a lot of stuff.  We have learned about Covid 19.  We have learned to Zoom.  We have learned how to make and wear masks.  We have learned to follow the arrows in the grocery store.  We have learned about systemic racism and white privilege.  We have learned so much that, honestly, we wish we didn’t need to know.  And we have learned so much that could help our world be more just and more peaceful. The word disciple means student or learner.  When we think of the word disciple, we often think of just the 12 Disciples whose names and experiences are shared within the gospels.  But we are disciples, students, as well.  This means that we are called to be learning what it means to follow Jesus.

Our text for today is part of larger set of instructions about discipleship. At the beginning of chapter 10 Jesus gives the 12 disciples the power and authority to cast out unclean spirits and to cure “every disease and sickness”.  He then gives them specific instructions of how they are to travel through the countryside, with no money nor supplies.  They are to rely entirely on the kindness of those they meet (10:5-15).  So, although they have been given power and authority, they remain vulnerable and open.   At v. 16 Jesus begins his warnings to them about how they will be met with criticism, aggression and even violence. The instructions in the text for today is hard to hear and hard to follow.  They recognize the obstacles and conflicts that arose in Matthew’s community.  These instructions acknowledge that Jesus’ message of God’s love will upset some people.  In today’s text, Jesus calls us to discipleship that is expansive and challenging. Jesus tells his disciples, including us, to follow him and to be unafraid.

To follow Jesus is to be like him.  Jesus says, “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!” (v.25)  I imagine Jesus saying this with grim humor.  Beelzebul was not Satan but the “Lord of the flies, master of nuisances, lord of all that plagues human beings” (Richard Swanson, Provoking the Gospel of Matthew, p. 154,155). To the religious and political authorities Jesus must have seemed like “the master of nuisances”, but the “lord of all that plagues human beings”?  Sounds like social media hyperbole.  Those who called Jesus Beelzebul would call the disciples this and much worse but Jesus knows that the truth will be known eventually.  He says, “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”(v. 26).  Jesus is our model for discipleship.

To follow Jesus is to proclaim his truth boldly.  Jesus says “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” (v. 27) Jesus’ purpose and mission is not simply for the disciples’, or our, personal salvation and edification, our ticket to heaven.  We are to be out in public, sharing the Good News of God’s love with everyone and working to bring about justice and healing for those in need.  This will put us at odds with those who want power and control over others. This will push the buttons of those who don’t want to upset the status quo. This will put us in the sights of those who would rather tear down than buildup.  But Jesus tells us not to worry about those who oppose us now.  Far better to follow the guidance of God who holds us and loves us for eternity.  Proclaiming God’s love is a mark of discipleship.

To follow Jesus is to trust God’s love.  Jesus says, “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.”(v. 29-31) The power of these verses comes from the fact that God places great value on the sparrows!  God knows them all and watches them all and mourns when one falls.  Sparrows are as numerous as the hairs on our heads but God know that number.  So, to say that each one of us is of more value than many sparrows is humbling to contemplate.  Trusting God’s love for us is a mark of discipleship.

To follow Jesus is to value truth over the absence of conflict.  Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (v. 34) This verse is one of the most challenging in the Gospels because on the face of it, it seems so out of character, especially if we think of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. But keeping the peace is not Jesus’ way.   Throughout the Gospels, Jesus brought comfort to the needy, yes, but also challenge to the comfortable.  Jesus was not interested in polite or socially acceptable behavior. He always spoke truth to power. Jesus was a radical whose message of God’s love and welcome insisted on great changes to his society and ours.  Let’s think about this in light of what we are learning about the systemic racism that is interwoven into almost every part of our society.  Jesus literally turned society upside down: “the last shall be first, and the first last, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (v. 39). When we are afraid of conflict, or even the chance of conflict, we mute and slow down any meaningful change.  This gives power to bullies and makes us complicit with the power of the dominant society.  To speak the truth is a mark of discipleship.

To follow Jesus is to recognize that our conflicts are not between us and “those people” but among us, all valued children of God.   “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. (v. 35-36). In the disciples’ lives and the lives of the early church, families were divided because of faith in Christ.  There is evidence, in the Gospel of Mark, that even Jesus’ own family thought he was possessed and tried to silence him (Mark 3:21). These words from Jesus point out that the issues that plagues us: racism, sexism, militarism, climate change, this pandemic, these are our issues, not the problem of somebody else.  These issues are ours to solve even as we recognize that some of our families are deeply divided on the solutions.  To recognize our common responsibility is a mark of discipleship.

To follow Jesus is to give God our allegiance over all other commitments. Jesus says “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.” (v.37-38)

Jesus’ difficult words urge us to widen our understanding of love from just those close to us to encompass the world, and all of creation. Jesus calls us to understand that all love originates in God, that to take up our cross means to let go of our old life in order to be reborn in Christ.  Sometimes, our allegiance to God will require hard choices that put us in conflict with those we love.  Sometimes we will face a choice between our personal gain and the greater good.  To hold allegiance to God over all other commitments is a mark of discipleship.

Now, three times in this text, Jesus says “Do not be afraid.” Three times in 5 verses!  This frequency could cause some unease.   Discipleship is hard.  The disciples were understandably afraid of upset family, persecutors, angry mobs, and hostile judges. Our world today is overwhelmed with fear; fear of Corona virus, fear of riots, fear of the government, fear of strangers, fear of police, fear of scarcity.  Ironically and tragically, all of these fears make us less safe as they isolate us, paralyze us, and keep us from making good decisions.  Jesus reassures us that we are not alone.  To let go of fear is a mark of discipleship.

This summer we are called to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is to work together to bring about the kingdom of heaven, meaning true peace and justice for all. To follow Jesus is to be like him. To follow Jesus is to proclaim his truth boldly. To follow Jesus is to trust God’s love. To follow Jesus is to value truth over the absence of conflict. To follow Jesus is to acknowledge our privilege and our common responsibilities.  To follow Jesus is to give God our allegiance over all other commitments. To follow Jesus is to let go of fear.  This is hard work.  This can be scary work as we step into the future unsure of what is in store.  This summer will be like none other as we continue to worship online and discern how best to “be church” in this current reality. This summer all of us can pray, ponder, and act on how we, as a church, and we, as individuals, are called to serve God’s love in this world.

We know that the Spirit has called us to this hard and courageous work.  We can be certain that we are supported and encouraged by the love of God which will never leave us.   Jesus calls us to be disciples and guides us with joy and power.

Let us pray,

God of the sparrows, we thank you for your infinite kindness and love.  We pray for your Spirit to guide us in the way of Jesus.  Help us to let go of fear so that we might boldly and joyously proclaim your justice and mercy from the rooftops.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.