Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 25 June 2017
Matthew 10: 24 - 39
Jeremiah 20: 7-13
Romans 6: 1-11
When I graduated from High School my Uncle sent me a very valuable piece of literature. It was titled, “Life’s Little Instruction Book”. On the pages of this prize worthy literary masterpiece were very detailed instructions on how to live a successful life. I wish I had the book to show you today, but it is probably stashed away in a storage locker or one of the boxes we have yet to unpack, but I can certainly share some of these secrets of success with you this morning from my memory. There are many instructions that I could possibly recall from the book, but the three that ring loudest are:
Everyone you meet knows something you don’t. So, try to learn from them. (That is pretty solid instruction, right?)
(This one is applicable in a major way to us Alaskans) Never own a boat.
Have a friend who owns a boat. (That makes up for #2!)
The list of instructions, were life lessons encountered by the author. Some were made to be humorous, many were thought provoking, but all of them had real life application.
In our reading today from Matthew, Jesus is providing a “Little Instruction Book” for His disciples. Helping them to understand what they will encounter in His name and how to respond to those encounters. We can be certain that these instructions also provide real life application for you and for me.
Sometimes it is interesting to me where the lectionary readings stop and start. In today’s case we skipped over Matthew 10: 16-24, which is really part of this instruction book Jesus is providing to His disciples. I want to take a moment and read this passage to you, because it really sets the tone for the conditions in which Jesus’ instructions are set.
<<Read Matthew 10: 16-24>>
The descriptions of the people to be taught are “wolves” and the disciples are described as “lambs”. Jesus knows the message being spread by the disciples will be an uphill battle and that the world, it seems, will be in opposition to them. This opposition will continue as the Gospel spreads and families begin to divide over their belief in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and faith in salvation. The opposition will cause fathers to turn in their sons, and children to defy their parents. Not just for punishment, but for execution! Death!
But, there is something hidden in this Scripture that is very important to me, and I have experienced it time after time after time. In the instance that Jesus commands it He says, “don’t worry about what you will say because it will be provided for you. You are not doing the talking, but the Spirit of my Father is doing the talking through you.” Perhaps this is the first bullet. The first line item in the disciple’s instruction book...stop allowing your own thoughts and words, to block what the Spirit is trying to say through you.
We have all been in those situations where we play scenario after scenario through our heads so that we can anticipate responses and provide insight. Maybe it is during an interview for a job. Maybe you are meeting your main squeeze’s parents for the first time. But, you want it to go well, so you play out the exact words you are going to use to encourage a desired response. Jesus is telling the disciples, in a much dire situation (life and death to be specific), to not do that. They are to let God act through them. That must be so difficult. That must be so hard.
For me, it has happened on occasions when I simply had no idea what to say. My life experience on a topic was lacking and my professional education was possibly inadequate. I knew I was in over my head. Have you ever felt that? But, I found myself quickly asking God to deliver the words that the person or people needed to hear and to make a connection with them. In every case it happened. Afterward, I would think to myself, “Wow, where did that come from!?” Scratch my head, look up, and say, “Thanks”.
God’s Love Overcomes Fear
The disciples, however, are doing something very new, however. They are venturing into this world of wolves revealing a truth that has been discussed somewhat quietly up to this point. What the disciples and Jesus have talked about behind closed doors will now be proclaimed in the public forums and will no longer be an undercurrent in society but breaking through to become a proclaimed and accepted way of life. This will get them in trouble with many different sets of authorities, but Jesus comforts them by allowing them to know they are answerable to only one authority in God. They should not fear those authorities on earth that can only kill the body, for their authority in heaven has authority over their soul.
Jesus does not stop there. He wants them to see their value to this authority in heaven. He wants them to know just how precious they are to the Kingdom of God. For, if God cares about the sparrows who are only worth a single small coin in the marketplace, imagine how much God must cherish them. God cherishes them so much that every hair on their head is counted. So, do not be afraid to proclaim the word of God, because you are loved infinitely more by God than you can imagine.
Therefore in this love, in this suit of protection provided by God, we should proclaim God’s word. We should acknowledge who the person of Christ is and share His holy name with all those we meet. We should not deny the presence or the actions or the love of Christ in our lives, for this give Christ reason to deny us before our Father in the time of final judgment.
I shared with you a few minutes ago, my accounts of being given words when needed. It is just one way that Christ shows himself in my life many times each day. They thing is that each of you could stand up here and share with each of us the many ways that Christ is present in your life each day. But, because we don’t want to ruffle feathers with our friends or come across as one of “those people”, we don’t share our Christ experiences with those around us. Our society is seemingly not open to it, so we silence ourselves rather than proclaiming the continuous glory and grace of Christ in our lives. This is the same as denying Christ. Jesus is telling the disciples, “Look you have to share the presence of Christ in your life, so others know!” You cannot omit Christ from conversations that, when they are said and done, are really about Christ in the first place.
Decisions will be Difficult
Based upon the backdrop of the social circumstances we talked about earlier, the idea that Christianity was going to be an opposing force to Judaism and the pagan lives of the Gentiles. This certainly meant that families would be divided when members of the family chose to practice the belief and hold firm in their faith of Christ.
Families, for many, hold the strongest bonds of love in this world. To set afoot on a mission that had the ability to break those bonds would be difficult. To choose a way of life and a system of belief that would be different enough from a family member’s view and cause the breaking of that bond, would likely even be harder. Jesus makes no allusion that the decision to follow Him is simple and easy. In fact, he tells them to take up their cross and follow him. This is a foreshadowing of a life that the Christian will lead. No different than the one Christ experienced while on the earth. In order to experience the eternal love of Christ, the decision must be made to give up the reliance and the living for self. When this decision is made, we can start living our true life in Christ.
In the trees off of my deck, you can watch and listen to many sparrows at any given time of the day. They are not very big birds, but they do have a pretty song. However, without focusing on them they are likely forgettable amongst the setting of trees and wilderness they live. I may watch them fly around for a few minutes, then go back to my day allowing the memory to slowly fade. I have no idea of whether or not the bird I see from day to day, or week to week, is the same bird. Truthfully, it makes no difference to me whether it is or if it isn’t. But, it matters to God.
Jesus lets us know through his brief list of instructions that God cares about us even more than God values the sparrow. But unlike me, God is interested to know every movement, every breath, every wingbeat of that sparrow as it moves around all of the other things God has created and God cares about.
At the top of the list, is you and is me. We should proclaim this truth loudly, without reservation, for it is the acknowledgment of our salvation and the acceptance of grace. So what, if others don’t like it. So what, if it gets us in trouble. God values us, even more than God values the sparrows.