Sermon; 3 Pentecost/Proper 7A; Matthew 10:24-39
The gospel passages for last Sunday, today, and next Sunday are all taken from C10 of Matthew, the missionary chapter of the gospel. It is in this chapter that he tells the disciples where to go, what to do, and what to expect. Last week it was to heal the sick, cleanse the leper, and cast out demons. We took a look at how Jesus was calling us to do these things in the here and now, and how we are called to speak up and shine the light of Christ on a world covered in darkness. In the here and now we are called to recognize the imbalances of the COVID infection rates. We are called to recognize that people of color are treated as lepers and to end the divisions this leads to in society. We are called to cast out demons such as racism that destroy our soul and tear us away from God.
These are things we are called to do because these are things Jesus himself did. In doing these things, Jesus found himself at odds with the law and authorities of his day. In following his lead, the disciples would also eventually find themselves in trouble with the law and authorities. And so it goes on down the line to us.
We are living in times when the message of the Church must be proclaimed. We are living in times when we must shine a light on systemic racism, on our abusive relationship with God's creation, and on other practices that strive to prop up systems that privilege one group of people over another. Doing this won't be easy because we will be asked to challenge the status quo. It won't be easy because we will have to confront our own privilege and how we benefit from the waters of systemic racism. And it won't be easy because there will be friends and family who will see us as turning against them.
The good news of God in Christ and the message of the cross threatens those things. It threatens how the world does business. This is why Jesus said he didn't come to bring peace but a sword. This is why he said he has come to set father against son, mother against daughter, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. When confronted with the message of Christ, the world will rise up against it. The message of Christ and of the cross is that no one can be held in bondage. The message of the world is that bondage is the proper place for certain people.
Proclaiming the message of Christ and the cross can be dangerous. It got followers of Martin Luther King, Jr. beaten and attacked by police dogs. It got Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero, and others killed. It got peaceful protesters swept off the steps of St. John's Church, Lafayette Square with tear gas and clubs. But Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body; but fear him who can destroy the soul.”
I don't know about you, but sometimes it feels like our very souls are in danger. How much does it harm us to remove statues honoring slave traders, slave owners, and those who fought to keep the institution of slavery intact? How much harm does it do us to change the names of buildings and military bases to people who weren't pro-slavery and anti-union? How much does it harm us to change names of products that have made use of racial stereotypes? I would argue that not changing these things and allowing them to remain and continue because “it's always been that way” damages our soul more than we can imagine.
As we stare into the face of dramatic changes taking place, as we come to grips with our nation's inequalities, racism, and genocidal past, this is the time we very much need to pick up the cross and follow Christ. This is the time we may lose the lives we know, only to find that we have found a new life in Christ.
Nobody said this was going to be easy; least of all Jesus. But we should have expected it when we chose to follow someone who got himself executed. Right now things are as hard as we've had them in a long time – COVID, job losses, and a national reckoning with racism.
But that is the world into which we are being sent. That is our missionary field and Chapter 10 is our missionary instruction kit. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. It's one thing to talk about this as the acts of Jesus some 2000 years ago. It's quite another when we realize Jesus is speaking directly to us today.
So do not be afraid, for you are more valuable to God than any number of sparrows – even to the point that he knows the number of hairs on your head. We are called to proclaim the good news of God in Christ, and to confess the power of the cross. This doesn't necessarily mean shouting the name of Jesus loudly to get attention or look for photo ops. But it could certainly mean following the words of the prophet Micah: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly.
Where we see injustice, we need to work to eliminate it. Where we see cruelty, we need to offer kindness. Where we see violence, we need to walk humbly.
May we have the courage to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in the face of fear and retaliation. May we have the courage to carry the cross that frees us from the bondage of hatreds and prejudices. And may we be willing to stand up for the kingdom of God which turns the world upside down.