Third Sunday after Pentecost June 21, 2020
Matthew 10:24-33,38-39 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) - 24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 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! 26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Many of you know I attended UW-Madison in the late 70’s. Madison was a crazy place then and still is. As a freshman, my first view of the campus was covered in plastic pink flamingoes bought and paid for by the student government. I could tell you about the world’s biggest toga party at the student union, about the 100,000 tipsy folks in costume on State Street for Halloween. UW-Mad City had as much reputation for partying as it did for academics. It was a place to lose your way. More than that, Madison was a place to lose your sanity.
At Madison, one of the ways I tried to stay sane was by fellowship with other Christians. We’d get together on Friday nights for Bible study, singing or discussions. One Friday night I remember in particular. I was on my way to my usual Christian group when I saw a guy I knew from the dorms. He asked me where I was going. I lied. Oh, I didn’t really lie. But there are ways of telling the truth that are still lying. I didn’t tell the whole truth. I told the guy I was meeting a group of friends. I was afraid of being teased by him and around campus. I was afraid of the cost of being known as a Christian. On that campus, I was afraid of the cost of discipleship.
What is the cost of discipleship in America? In some ways not much. After all, our churches are tax-free and last time I checked they were still legal, if we can get in them. We Christians, along with others enjoy great wealth when compared to most of the world. We in America live in an age of technological wonders: The internet can tell us in a minute what’s the biggest frog in Africa or the best investment in America, or the name of that candy you loved as a kid, and where to buy it wholesale. The cost of American discipleship seems low. Life seems easy for American Christians compared to Turkish or Syrian or Chinese Christians.
But in other ways the cost of discipleship in America is high, because There’s a second America out there. That second America is a country where church membership has been dropping for decades, a country where you don’t dare watch cable TV shows with your mother; It’s a country where civility and respect have all but vanished. In this second America we Christians pay a price for simply being Christian.
Since many Christians help people, you’d think that Christians would have pretty good reputation among people, but that’s far from the case. To many people in this second America, the word Christian = fundamentalist. To these people, Christians try to impose their values on others and look down on them: in other words, Christians are totally judgmental. Much of society looks down on us Christians. They think we Christians are all Pharisees and religious snobs.
The very word “religious” is taking on a bad connotation in America, a new negative meaning. I even hear Christians say “I go to church every week, I help others. I’m a lifelong Christian. But I’m not religious.” By this they mean that they are not “in your face, have you been saved?” Christians. Isn’t it strange how language changes over time?
So if we follow Christ in this country in this age, we must assume that people will misunderstand us, we must assume people will misunderstand who we are and what we represent. If we follow Christ many people will assume we’re like Oral Roberts or Pat Robertson or Joel Osteen. People will assume that we believe in God’s law, but without God’s grace either for others or ourselves.
To be Christian in America today means millions will misunderstand who we are and what we stand for, just as those of Christ’s day misunderstood him. We servants are not greater than our master, and we must expect that. If we bear it with humility and persevere, with Christ’s help we will grow to be more Christ-like, and more able to do our master’s work here on earth.
But there is another, more important, reason that we will be persecuted if we’re Christians. Our values are not this world’s values. When we speak out against the injustice in this country, those who profit from injustice will not be pleased and may even try to kill us. That’s what happened to the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament. They threw him into a well. That’s what happened to Jesus, and despite our laws that’s what happens to many whistleblowers That’s what can happen to any of us Christians.
Even if we don’t speak out, our lives may speak for us, and make misguided people around us uncomfortable. Deep down, I think most people know right from wrong, and being good points out their faults, and their weakness.
When I was a freshman at Madison, I lived in a crazy dorm. Students drank heavily there, and used drugs freely; there was even a contest to see who could get drunk the most times a semester. I and another Christian were different, and they singled us out, just because we didn’t get wasted three times a week. They played pranks on us like shooting bottle rockets under our doors, they called us names. They also did something more subtle, and far more harmful to us. They invited us to join them. I had a guy down the hall who volunteered to pay for my drinks if I’d go out drinking with them. He wanted to see me drunk. A third guy invited me to smoke hashish with him. I didn’t want to drink or do drugs and so being around those people was rough. They wanted us Christians to do what they did, so they could say, “hypocrite, you do it!!! They may have even wanted to corrupt us just to see us fall. I got a reputation for being “holier than thou.” That’s why I didn’t tell the whole truth when I met that dorm mate on my way to my Christian group meeting. I was simply tired of being persecuted.
Jesus tells us today that if we follow Him we will be persecuted too. I remembered what Jesus said when I was persecuted in college. But I also was tired sometimes. We live in a discouraging world. But there are good reasons to have hope.
Reason #1 We have grace. Nobody can be the perfect disciple. God isn’t looking for perfect people. God is looking for people who are willing to allow the Holy Spirit to perfect them CS Lewis said” Christianity doesn’t make a perfect person. It simply makes a person better than he was before.
Reason #2 We have the Holy Spirit to help us be good disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s good if we ask for the Spirit’s help and we respond to that voice inside that helps us BE good.
Reason #3 We have the fellowship of other Christians. No matter how insane UW Madison was, I had my Christian friends on campus. You have the same sort of support group here at Zion only better. Here at Zion, you not only have other Christians, you have other Christians who have endured tragedies and with God’s help have come out the other side. Here at Zion you have a church that has stood the test of time for over 125 years. There is wisdom here: wisdom on how to survive a bad economy and how to handle the death of a child or a spouse. This church is a blessing for those who are world weary because it’s a shelter from the world. We don’t do things here the way the world does it. We listen, we support; we care for each other. We notice when things aren’t right with one another, and when friends are absent. It’s a marvelous legacy here, and over the decades one which few churches can match
But the last and most important reason is what Jesus said to us today. Those who lose their lives for the sake of Christ will find their lives. Those who are able to ignore the world’s standards and live like Christ will endure. It might be hard to take up our crosses and follow, but consider the alternative. What happens to the world if we ignore our crosses and live like the rest of the world? What happens to our families, to our kids and grandkids and great grandkids? What will happen to US and the rest of the world if we ignore the cross Jesus sets in front of us? What happens? Disaster! If you think the world is bad now just pause for a minute… think. Imagine a world where nobody tried to follow God; a world where nobody tried to do the right thing!
For those who follow Christ, Christ has a promise. Even though we may stumble from time to time, we will find our lives. By that Jesus means that our lives will have a purpose. Not just to live for pleasure or to pile up money or Be King of the biggest hill you can find. Not a selfish purpose, but GOD’s purpose. God’s purpose will bring us joy. We will look with joy upon what we’ve done to help others despite any hardships we endure doing it. We will enjoy it all the more BECAUSE of what we did to achieve that rich life. We will find our true selves, the ones God created us to be, and we will see God. And when we find ourselves, we will find heaven, the little bit of heaven that can exist in this world, and the true heaven that waits for us because of Christ’s cross. Thanks be to God! Amen!