Reflections for June 21st
Reflections for June 21st
Called to Worship:
There is no one like you, God of Abraham and Sarah.
We ask for signs, and you fill us with surprises.
There is no one like you, God of Hagar and Ishmael.
We cry out in our need, and you see us, listen to our voices.
There is no one like you, God of us all, of each and every person.
We ask for power, and you give us the humility to serve all your children.
Holy and Almighty God,
We are so accustomed to ascribing to you powerful names and descriptions,For indeed, you are powerful, and Holy.But you are so much more…You are High and lifted up, enthroned upon the Cherubim…And you are also the God of those who are cast out and the abandoned…You enter into the chaos of our lives and restore with the stillness and silence of love;As we choke on bitter memories, you touch us with healing;When we wander through the barren wilderness of our world,You bring us home to your heart.As your psalmist reminds us, where can we ever go to escape your presence?From highest mountain to deepest sea, from East and to West, and even to the grave,You are the God who holds us secure.And so, who need we fear?And yet, we are afraid. We confess our fear… we confess our faith is weak.And so as we take time to sit in your presence, fill our vision with yourself.Help us to fully be aware of your magnitude, and the immensity and immeasurability of your love… and let the awareness of your love squeeze out our fear.Let nothing remain save the full assurance that your strong hands hold us secure.Bless this time of worship… let it lift us to you…In the precious name of the One who is Love incarnate,
and who intercedes for us even now,Jesus Christ,Amen.
O Lord, you misled me, and I allowed myself to be misled.Matt 10:24-39
You are stronger than I am, and you overpowered me.
Now I am mocked every day; everyone laughs at me.
When I speak, the words burst out.
“Violence and destruction!” I shout.
So these messages from the Lord have made me a household joke.
But if I say I’ll never mention the Lord or speak in his name,
his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones!
I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!
I have heard the many rumors about me.
They call me “The Man Who Lives in Terror.”
They threaten, “If you say anything, we will report it.”
Even my old friends are watching me, waiting for a fatal slip.
“He will trap himself,” they say, “and then we will get our revenge on him.”
But the Lord stands beside me like a great warrior.
Before him my persecutors will stumble. They cannot defeat me.
They will fail and be thoroughly humiliated. Their dishonor will never be forgotten.
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, you test those who are righteous,
and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets.
Let me see your vengeance against them, for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord!
For though I was poor and needy, he rescued me from my oppressors.
“Students are not greater than their teacher, and slaves are not greater than their master. Students are to be like their teacher, and slaves are to be like their master. And since I, the master of the household, have been called the prince of demons, the members of my household will be called by even worse names!
“But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!
“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
“Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.
“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.
‘I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household!’
“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
It is, arguably, the most basic, instinctual emotion, and no more pervasive or powerful motivating force in human experience. From birth, we learn… we are taught… to fear the world around us. Certainly to fear the stranger, but often to fear even those who are closest to us. Political leaders have long recognized the power of fear in motivating and securing obedience to the structures and systems of this world… even when doing so does not serve our best interests. Fear is the number one driving force behind vast segments of our economy, our national and local interests, as well as, increasingly, our political priorities.
Fear confronts us on a daily basis as we read our newspapers, as we listen to the radio… our TV shows and movies are frequently shaped by fear. And every day we make a million decision that are driven by fear… fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness… fear of being known.
In our spiritual lives, too often Fear has been used to shape our understanding of God, and our practice of life. Consider the constant threat of hell and damnation… the judgement of God… that condemnation of Church…
In our reading today, Jesus speaks to the reality of Fear in the lives of his disciples. They have already courageously acted in leaving family and homes and jobs, chosen to attach themselves to a little know Rabbi with no evidence of earthly reward. And Jesus knows that Fear will cause the failure of discipleship…. all too soon the disciples will know, and ultimately bow, before the power of fear. Faithful proclamation and the living out of the gospel ultimately puts disciples on a collision course with the powers of this world. So, to prepare his disciples for their mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus is starkly realistic about the threats they will face; yet, at the same time he builds the case for why they should not let this fear master them or hinder their witness.
There is much of importance for us in this passage.
First, Jesus does not diminish or deny the threats and dangers that his disciples will face. They are told they are going on a difficult mission, and they are denied money, supplies, a staff for protection or comfort… even spare shoes! They go in this apparent state of inadequate preparation to highlight their vulnerability and their total need for dependence on God… for that is where the power of the Gospel comes from. (“For we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power comes from God, and not from us.” 2 Cor. 4:7)
I know that this conflicts with other thoughts about considering the cost and preparation… But Scripture almost exclusively speaks of God calling inadequate people for impossible circumstances. Should it be different for us? God asks us to change the world… but who are we to do such a thing? And that is exactly the wrong question! Who is God… that he can use someone like us to do such a thing as that? That is right thinking.
It is too easy to allow such thinking to run away with us though… “if God be for us, then who can be against us?” “We will be more than conquerors!” And so we begin to think that we will simply walk over all opposition, avoid all trial… but Jesus does not leave room for such thinking. Instead, he paints a necessary and grim picture. If we are to be like the teacher (the whole point of being a disciple!) then we must expect the same treatment as the teacher… and Jesus’ life has been a constant story of opposition and persecution. So… why do we think that it will be different for us?
Even now… why is it that we think following Jesus will lead to prosperity and popularity? Everything that Jesus stands for is in stark opposition to what the world values: Power and position, and the tools of violence and fear.
Jesus has been very clear that the life we embark on is dangerous and hostile… such brutal honest helps to free us from fear because we can now see what we face. But more importantly, Jesus reminds us that we face this opposition not alone. “Yes, people can kill you. Governments can kill you. But fear the one who can kill the body and the soul… God.”
Wait… that doesn’t sound right! Is Jesus equating God with the earthly powers that oppose us? Yes, he shows us that God (who calls us) is greater, far greater than the earthly powers…. Even measuring with the same criterion. God’s power is far greater. But there is a necessary corrective: God’s compassion and attentiveness. “Not a sparrow falls without His notice… and you are worth much more than a sparrow.”
Again, it is important to point out that Jesus does NOT say that we will not experience opposition, or even violence, or even death. These things are immutably rooted in our world’s economy. It lies at the basis of all human power structures… the right to kill… and we cannot escape that. But, that power can never threaten the soul… that right belongs only to God who has special interest in us. And so, when threatened… though real danger exists… it is limited.
I think this is an extremely important point to recognize. Christianity has sometimes been painted as a safe thing. Following Jesus will keep you safe and healthy. But, this is no where promised. In fact, Jesus will go to great extremes to point out the opposite. “In this world you WILL have tribulations.” And here, “Don’t imagine that I have come to bring peace… but a sword…” Following Jesus, being a disciple, puts us in direct opposition to the power structures of this world. And that is dangerous business.
None of this seems like a message of comfort… It’s like Jesus is saying that we will face danger and persecution, and get used to it. But in a way, don’t we face danger and the threat of persecution all the time? We play our games of trying to fit in so we don’t get singled out… and the fear of failure grows. But Jesus offers this as an answer: “Find your identity in me.”
The verses about hating parents or children have been misused so badly… We run from them. But they form an important piece to a vital life of faith. Where do we turn to in order to find security and identity? To love is to turn towards… to hate, to turn away from. Like the needle of a compass… to what (or whom) do we swing in looking for identity and meaning?
Some typical answers include family… children or spouse… cultural background… political leaning… national identity… work title or accomplishments… clubs or associations.
Jesus is very clear… if anything becomes True North for us other than him… we are not a disciple. In fact, choosing Jesus as our True North will often cause conflict in our relationships because they will feel threatened… unless they, also, are similarly oriented.
Coming to Jesus, becoming a disciple of Jesus, is risky business. Practicing and proclaiming the Gospel places us in direct conflict with ALL that the World holds dear. And this can be a very fear-inducing experience… if we do not know the fuller story. We are all seeking to find a secure place to find our identity, one that is unassailable. That can only be found in the one who made us. But claiming this will cause continual conflict with the people and powers around us who want to take that authority for themselves.
The answer to Fear is facing the dangers that are around us, and recognizing their extreme limited abilities when faced with the greater power that takes careful note of us.
My friends… the truth is, we are all going to die. The death rate is 100%
But the real question is… are we going to live? Not everyone does. Many are caught endlessly chasing something that will never be granted them… because the only one who can give it is the one they will not turn to. But, in becoming a disciple, in living a life of vulnerability and dependence on God, and in accepting the risk… we find freedom from fear, we experience God’s love, we learn how to truly live, abundantly… and this becomes our powerful proclamation of the Gospel.