Forgive as We Have Been Forgiven
Rev. Robert A. Sain
Henri Nouwen once said: “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly.” The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We make mistakes. We mess up. We hurt others. Who hasn’t been hurt or wound up hurting someone else?”
That’s just life in this world. We screw up. Which means that forgiveness is perhaps the essential ingredient in our relationships at home, work, school, church, and all the rest.
We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour, probably every hour! As followers of Jesus, this is the business to which we have been called. And the Gospel passage from the 14th Sunday after Pentecost can help us do exactly that.
As we look at this text, it is imperative that we do so, looking at the context of Matthew’s entire 18th chapter. Jesus’ disciples have come to Jesus with a question. “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” This question, by the way, had followed Jesus second announcement, that “the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” The text also indicates that his disciples were “greatly distressed” by this announcement.
Jesus must have thought to himself, “are you fellows serious? Have you not been listening to anything that I have been saying?” Time after time Jesus taught His disciples that God’s Kingdom was not like the Kingdoms of this world. Jesus focused his attention upon the marginalized; a hungry crowd, a Canaanite Woman with a sick child, along with sinners and tax collectors.
Jesus responds, not by chastising them. Instead, He teaches them that Discipleship, is about loving and serving others. And, he begins to focus his attention upon the ethic of all, who respond to His call to follow him. Again, as I mentioned in last week’s sermon, one’s relationship with God is never private or for that matter, personal. A relationship with God is always set within the context of community. To Love and Serve God, is to Love and Serve one’s neighbor. Followers of Jesus never live in isolation from others. Jesus‘ presence among his followers is always “where at least two or three are gathered together.” Even in the Our Father prayer, being forgiven by God is tied into how one forgives another. After all, Sin is The Reason, which the Son of God entered into The Father’s creation.
Faith is never just a God and Me thing. Because of Sin, we human beings are always standing in need of forgiveness. And the object of our Sin, is not only God, but also our brothers and sisters. Yes, we are called to Love God, but we are also called to Love our neighbor, and yes, even our enemies.
For God so loved the World, that He Gave His only begotten Son. God’s Love is tied directly into his “emptying” of himself.
And our Love for God, is likewise tied into that same ethic, that same behavior. This section of Matthew’s 18th chapter offers followers of Jesus, an outline of how we are to behave with others. And in this outline, we are shown that the way to forgiveness comes by way of getting our differences with each other, out into the open.
Many of us do not enjoy confrontation. In fact, we seem to prefer to stay angry with one another; gossip about others, and blame others for our problems. But whenever Jesus intervened into people’s lives, he brought the darkness out into the light. When it was brought into the light, the darkness, perhaps we should call it Sin, no longer had power. We are going to have our differences and disagreements. However, we have been given a new ethic called Love. Loving others begins by getting out of self, with honest sharing; by understanding where we have been wrong, and then become willing to make things right.
In our worship, we get our differences with each other resolved during confession. We make peace with each other, by sharing God’s peace. And then we are made right with God as we eat and drink his body, given and shed for you. God has made peace with us. God commands us to make peace with others; in Jesus name. Amen.
12th Sunday After Pentecost
August 27th, 2017
“What is Your Title?”
What is your title? Everyone wants or has a title. My title is Pastor. My physician is “Doctor”, and so is my dentist, and even my Son. But other folks want titles as well. A young man in our congregation on his Facebook page describes his work history with titles. While working for his father, his title was “Metal Preparation Coordinator/Packing and Logistics Specialist. And, earlier, when working for a local florist his title was: “Hydration Systems Efficiency Management Specialist”.
In Matthew’s 16th chapter, one learns that Simeon Peter gave Jesus a title. This title came about when Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought that he was. Peter was the first to respond. He said, “You are Messiah”!
Now “Messiah” is a Jewish title. It is wrapped up in the history and expectation of the People of Israel. Peter understood this title in the same way that his contemporary Jews understood it. Messiah was a name that had originally been used as a designation for Israel’s King. It had even been used to describe honorable King Cyrus of Persia.
The Old Testament Prophets, most notably Isaiah, offered what would become the “classical understanding” of the term “Messiah”. In Isaiah 9:1-7, the Prophet speaks of how “Messiah” will be born and grow up to be a new King like David, who will restore Israel to her former glory.
This expectation along with Peter’s recognition, that Jesus not only resembled, but embodied the characteristics of such a king, made him bold to announce to Jesus, “You are Messiah!”
Now, on the one hand, Peter got it right. Jesus announces that the Church will be built upon such a confession as Peters. However, the reader will soon discover (next week), that Peter also got it wrong. For Jesus’ own understanding of himself as “Messiah”, was not exactly the classical definition that Jewish people had in mind.
For Jesus, “Messiah” was not a King, in the same sense that the people of his day understood it to be. And “Messiah” for Jesus, was certainly not a powerful military leader, who would overthrow the oppressive regime of the Roman Empire.
On the contrary, Jesus saw himself as the “Suffering Servant”, of whom Isaiah speaks. “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity.”
From his Letters and Papers From Prison, Dietrich Bonheoffer grasps how Jesus understood himself as “Messiah” when he wrote: “God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto a cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.”1
We want a Messiah as did Peter. We want God to be all-powerful, all encompassing, omniscient, and transcendental. We want God to deliver us out of our foxholes and predicaments that we find ourselves in, and in which we get ourselves into. We pray to this God who will deliver us from all of our problems, including those of body, mind and spirit.
But in Jesus, that is not the God that we get. In Jesus, the Messiah we get a “powerless God”. If this weren’t ridiculous enough, consider who this “Jesus/God” chooses to associate himself with: prostitutes, lepers, peasants, fishermen, shepherds, tax collectors and the destitute. 2
One doesn’t have to believe that God is powerless in the sense that He is impotent and incapable of doing anything. Instead, through the person of Christ, we are shown a God whose love compels Him to bear with us in all of our suffering, so that we might be liberated even as He has been.
The suffering God is the powerless God, and as Bonheoffer points out, this is the only way He can truly help us. This is not to say that God in Christ is not our supreme Lord. His Lordship, however, is shown through His example.
The warrior king is the suffering servant. The Alpha-Omega is the slaughtered lamb. The King of Kings is homeless and a failed insurrectionist. This is His Title; will it be your title too? Amen.
1 Letters and Paper From Prison, Bonehoffer
2 The Progressive Prophet, 2010; Adam Dickinson, Blog.
Robert A. Sain
Old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Newton, North Carolina
Sunday Sermon for The 10th Sunday after Pentecost
August 13th, 2017
“One Small Step….. One Giant Leap!”
We all remember Neil Armstrong’s famous words recorded on July 20th, 1969: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!” Those were the first words and the first sentence recorded by a human being on the moon.
The Apostle Peter could also have used those words as he climbed out of his boat, and began to walk toward Jesus, as recorded by Matthew, in today’s Gospel lesson.
Yes, that was one small step indeed, but a gigantic leap of faith, and it would be the 1st of several opportunities Peter would have within his own journey of faith.
In the very next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Peter will announce: “Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God!”
Yes, Peter always seems to “be the man;” the guy upon whom Jesus will build his church. and who asks all the hard questions.
But Peter is also “the man” who often gets it all wrong. Upon hearing that Jesus will suffer and die, Peter says, “no!” Upon watching Jesus trial, he is asks if he knows who Jesus is. Peter responds three times, “no, I do not know who he is.”
And here in our story today, yes, Peter is willing to leap out of the boat into faith, but shortly thereafter, he begins to sink.
So what turns Peter, “the great man of faith”, into peter, who Jesus calls a doubter, Satan, and one who will deny him three times? The answer appears to be that of fear.
When Peter hears that Jesus will suffer and die, there is good cause for his humanity to be afraid. When Peter is watching Jesus on trial, and he himself, is about to be brought in, as one of his associates, there is a good reason to be afraid. And finally, as he steps out of his boat and walks onto the water, and then begins to sink, there is a good reason to be afraid.
Matthew’s Gospel could be called “the Gospel of fear”. The word fear or afraid appears 18 times within the text; that is about once every chapter and a half.
Jesus speaks to our fears, because as human beings, we are constantly facing things that stir up our fears. Worry over home, possessions, and even our health lead us to purchase insurance.
Fear causes us to buy locks and security systems. Other than for sport, fear causes us to purchase guns. Fear drives our nation’s economy as we have a need for a large military and defense system. Fear necessitates our need for police.
Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear does motivate us to be responsible. But what happens when our fears paralyze us? What happens when fear takes over, and prevents us from being the people God intended us to be?
Just as fear is often mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel, so to is the encouragement to “fear not”.
Jesus response to the disciples and to Peter’s fear is that of announcing who he is. Jesus says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Remember the call of Moses, at the burning bush? Moses wanted to know for sure, just whose voice this was, who was calling him to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. The voice answered: “Yahweh”, “I Am Who I Am.
So Jesus, is “I Am”. Jesus, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the one entity who ever has been, is, and will ever be. This “I Am” has created everything that has ever been and will ever be.
Therefore, there is nothing to be afraid of. “I Am” is present. Today, that is God’s good news for us. “I Am” is here. There is nothing for us to fear. We can take small steps and giant leaps, and as long as we walk in the will of God, we have nothing to fear. And even when we don’t, there is still nothing to fear, because God will forgive us.
And our response to this Good News is what? It is worship. Whenever God has addressed one’s fear, one is to worship. We see it in our text today, and we see it time after time in Matthew’s Gospel.
We have come here today to receive Good News. Fear will not have the last word. Let us worship. Amen.
6th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
AUGUST 6, 2017
IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE DAILY BLOGPOSTS
WRITTEN BY OUR LYNC MEMBERS
ON THEIR RECENT MISSION TRIP….
THEY ARE A MUST READ.
BY THE WAY, THE DOCUMENT CONTAING THEM
ARE AVAILABLE TODAY IN WRITTEN FORM
FROM ONE OF OUR USHERS….
OR YOU CAN FIND THE BLOG ON OUR WEBSITE….
EACH PERSON TOOK ONE DAY, AND WROTE ABOUT IT,
WITH THE EXCEPTION OF KELLY PARKER,
WHO WROTE BOTH, THE BEGINNING DAY
AND THE ENDING DAY….
KELLY ALSO EDITED THE FINISHED VERSION,
CORRECTING ANY OF OUR GRAMMATICAL MISTAKES,
AND CHANGING A FEW THINGS HERE AND THERE
TO MAKE THE BLOG MORE INTERSTING TO READ.
DEBBIE WENTZ TOOK ALL OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS,
AND I PICKED AND CHOSE WHICH PHOTOGRAPHS
TO ACCOMPANY EACH OF THE INDIVIDUAL POSTS.
IT IS INTERESTING FOR ME TO READ EACH ENTRY,
PARTICULARLY SINCE I EXPERIENCED
MOST OF THE SAME THINGS
THAT OUR YOUTH EXPERIENCE EACH DAY.
EVEN THOUGH WE ALL SAW THE SAME THINGS,
BECAUSE EVERY ONE OF US IS UNIQUE,
WE EACH EXPERIENCED THEM DIFFERENTLY.
THE SAME IS TRUE FOR THE GOSPEL WRITERS.
EACH OF THE FOUR GOSPELS ESSENTIALLY
TELLS THE SAME STORY OF OUR LORD’S
LIFE, MINISTRY, DEATH AND RESURRECTION,
BUT EACH AUTHOR HAS THEIR OWN WAY
OF DESCRIBING THE GOOD NEWS
TO THEIR OWN SET OF LISTENERS.
AS YOU KNOW, ONLY MATTHEW AND LUKE TELL THE STORY OF JESUS’ BIRTH.
ONLY JOHN LIKENS THE COMING OF JESUS TO THE WORD OF GOD TAKING ON A HUMAN FORM.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT IS UNIQUE TO MATTHEW
AND ONLY LUKE TELLS THE WONDERFUL STORIES OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN AND THE PRODIGAL SON.
BUT ALL FOUR GOSPEL WRITERS INCLUDE THE STORY OF THE FEEDING OF THE MULTITUDE.
THE PRESENCE OF THIS STORY IN ALL THE GOSPELS
IS A CLEAR INDICATION THAT THIS EVENT
WAS IMPORTANT TO THOSE FIRST BELIEVERS.
THE STORY’S EVEN MORE REMARKABLE
WHEN WE UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON
BEHIND THE SCENE OF THE STORY ITSELF.
TO FIND THAT OUT,
ONE MUST LOOK AT THE VERSES
THAT PRECEDE OUR TEXT….
HEROD, HEARING WHAT JESUS IS DOING,
HEALING PEOPLE…..RAISING THE DEAD….
CASTING OUT DEMONS….
HE FIGURES JESUS TO BE JOHN THE BAPTIST,
RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD…..
AFTER ALL, HEROD ORDERED JOHN’S BEHEADING.
SO JESUS WITHDRAWS TO THIS LONELY PLACE
…..PERHAPS WORRIED….. MAYBE FEARFUL……
WITH FULL AWARENESS
OF HIS OWN EVENTUAL FATE.
BUT HIS WITHDRAWAL IS NOT FOR LONG….
REGARDLESS OF HIS OWN NEEDS…..
WHEN PEOPLE CALL UPON JESUS AND NEED HIM,
HE ALWAYS RESPONDS,
JUST AS HIS FATHER HAD RESPONDED BEFORE
IN THE STORIES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
GOD PROVIDED MANNA IN THE WILDERNESS
TO FEED THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
DURING THE EXODUS FROM EGYPT
TO THE PROMISED LAND.
THROUGH THE PROPHET ELISHA
A HUNDRED HUNGRY MEN WERE FED
WITH TWENTY BARLEY LOAVES.
AND ELIJAH WAS FED IN THE WILDERNESS
WHEN HE HAD FLED FROM THE WRATH
OF KING AHAB AND HIS WIFE JEZEBEL.
FOR US TODAY, THIS STORY IS IMPORTANT
FOR WE ARE REMINDED OF THE MIRACULOUS MEAL
THAT THE DISCIPLES REGULARLY CELEBRATED
WHENEVER THEY GATHERED FOR WORSHIP.
FOR HERE IN MATTHEW’S ACCOUNT:
JESUS TOOK THE BREAD … BLESSED … AND BROKE IT
AND GAVE IT TO THEM.
THE SAME WORDS IN THE ROAD TO EMMAUS STORY
JESUS BLESSED AND BROKE THE BREAD….
AND IN SO DOING, THE TWO DISCIPLES,
IMMEDIATELY RECOGNIZED HIM.
TWO THOUSAND YEARS LATER
WE STILL GATHER IN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
IN THE SAME HOPE OF EXPERIENCING JESUS
IN OUR OWN LIVES
THROUGH THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD.
THIS STORY REMINDS US THAT GOD ALWAYS,
ALWAYS IS AVAILABLE TO FEED US….
TO HEAL US, AND TO MAKE US WHOLE……
REGARDLESS OF OUR INTENT…..
REGARDLESS OF OUR ABILITY…..
TO RECOGNIZE HIM AND KNOW WHO HE IS.
SO WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT…..
TODAY…..YOU COME HERE HUNGRY….
YOU ARE HUNGRY FOR THE WORD…..
THAT TELLS YOU ABOUT GOD AND HIS LOVE,
BUT WORDS ALONE WILL NOT FEED YOU.
WHENEVER MOM SAID TO US:
DINNER IS READY, I WENT TO THE TABLE.
HER WORDS WERE GREAT…..
BUT THE MEAL WAS BETTER.
IF I TELL YOU RIGHT NOW…..
THAT YOU ARE GOING TO EAT WELL
AFTER THIS SERVICE…..
THAT MAY ENTICE YOUR HUNGER…..
BUT IT WILL NOT FEED YOU.
I HOPE THAT YOU ARE HUNGRY…..
FOR YOU WILL SOON BE FED….
WITH THE TRUE BREAD
THAT COMES FROM HEAVEN,
OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.
Blog for 2017 LYNC Mission Trip
Sermon for the 6th Sunday After Pentecost
July 16th, 2017
Rev. Robert A. Sain
Old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
One of Jesus’ most popular teaching methods was his use of parables. Dr. Mark l. Bailey, of Dallas Theological Seminary says: “Jesus utilized parables to motivate listeners for several distinctive reasons. He used them for the purpose of revealing truth for some, and concealing truth from others.”
Jesus parables were used metaphorically for those who were open-minded to his teaching. On the one hand, they helped some to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. On the other hand, some people did not respond positively to Jesus because their hearts were hardened, and because they were jealous, critical, and unreceptive to his purpose. As such, these people were unable to comprehend what his parables meant. And even those who did comprehend his parables learned not to take them at face value.
Jesus’ parables are downright shocking. They often ended with unexpected outcomes. They mystified all of his listeners, even those who did get their point. Even Jesus own disciples had questions about them and needed him to explain them.
In the parable of the sower, before Jesus begins to tell the parable, he frames it with a word of emphasis, “listen!” Listen, is a word intended to get one’s attention. Whenever Paul Sain (my Father) used that word, my ears perked up! So, listen, and pay attention! Jesus is saying, “what I am about to say means something. It is vitally important!”
“Listen, a farmer goes out to sow seed.” Now what's so surprising about that? Farmers sow seed all the time. What is surprising is the farmer’s method. Farmers do not sow seed, in the middle of the road, in a field of rocks, or in a patch of thorns. That is the shock value of this parable.
In God’s kingdom, God is not only willing, but also sows seed among people of every kind, regardless of their faith, or desire to respond to God. No one expects that seed sown in such places will ever grow or produce fruit. What is surprising is that “Farmer God”, is willing to sow seeds of the kingdom everywhere!
Therefore, listen! Listen! Listen! Now Jesus doesn’t qualify the parable by suggesting that this sower had extra seeds or lots of money. No. This parable is about an ordinary farmer who sows his seeds in an extraordinary way. No farmer in today’s world would ever attempt to drill seed on interstate 40, or in the parking lot of Wal-Mart.
The parable doesn’t make any sense. But that is exactly the point! In God’s Kingdom, grace is extravagant! God doesn’t hold back. God doesn’t care where his grace flows. God’s only intent is to offer God’s grace abundantly.
So many other things about Father God do not make sense either. Does it really make sense for God’s Son to enter into God’s created world? Does it really make sense for God to forgive unforgiveable people? Does it really make sense for God to offer His blessings to people who do not deserve it?
Listen! Listen! Listen! None of this truly makes sense. This parable is not about outcomes. This parable is not about seeds sprouting. This parable is not about an abundant harvest. No, not at all! Listen! This parable is about an extravagant sower who is only concerned about potential, my potential, and your potential. Our potential.
Listen! God’s kingdom is near. Just as God has sown his seed lovingly and extravagantly, so we too, are blessed. We can sow seeds extravagantly, and without judgment too! For the seeds of God’s grace that do take root in and around us, bless us richly and abundantly!
God bet his life on you, and on me. When we were absolutely undeserving, when our lives look like briar and honeysuckle patches, when our lives look like a hot parking lot at Wal-Mart, our great sower said, “listen!” Our great sower scatters his seed with joy! May we do so as well! Listen!
Sermon for the 5th Sunday After Pentecost
July 9th, 2017
Rev. Robert A. Sain
Old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Zechariah 9:9-12 and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
What keeps people going when times are tough? What gives people hope when things feel hopeless? Faith tells the Christian, that God keeps believers going! But, does God’s work keep a believer going, in the same way that the world, teaches people, how to keep going? Several passages of Holy Scripture this morning, may provide an answer, or at least, some direction, as one lives life into God’s future.
Leading up to the time of Jesus, the Jewish people, the descendants of Israel, were looking to God for hope; actually, looking to God for deliverance and a regime-change from their Roman oppressors! Life under political domination had gone on for a very long time. Even before the Romans, there were the Greeks, led by the wicked Antiochus Epiphanies. Prior to Epiphanies, was Alexander the Great, who had also dominated the political landscape of the former Israel and Judah. Give or take a few years here or there, since the time of the Exile to Babylon, the people of Judah was an oppressed people.
Oh how these Jews wanted deliverance and to experience freedom! And based upon the biblical narrative of the Old Testament, the Jews anticipated a Messiah who would bring about this change! So, in anticipation of this change, they thought, "when messiah comes, we will be delivered from this present situation. And our enemy will be defeated!”
But as the New Testament story unfolds, first, John the Baptist shows up. He appears as a wild sort of prophet who fasted and lived in the desert. The Jewish religious leaders along with the political puppet Herod, were threatened by John, and called him a demon.
Then Jesus appears with John. Jesus begins to teach, preach, heal the sick and cast out demons. The religious leaders are threatened by Jesus’ presence and suggest that he is a drunkard and a glutton who parties with sinners and tax collectors!
So, today, when followers of Jesus, study the New Testament Gospels, it becomes clear that
The descendants of Abraham were looking for the wrong messiah. Hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, the Prophet Zechariah announced that when Messiah comes, that he will enter Jerusalem, riding on a foal of an ass. In other words, Messiah will arrive, not appearing as a political figure riding on a white horse and firing silver bullets!
Indeed, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus does appear announcing relief to the captive, the blind, and the lame. He does suggest that those who follow him, will receive relief from their trouble. But notice what happens in the narrative. Matthew reveals that followers of Jesus, are yoked to Jesus. And what is a yoke? It is a harness for farm animals.
In other words, Jesus comes, announcing that with his presence, there is hope. However this hope does not come about through a military warrior who will bring regime change. No hope will come about, by being yoked to Jesus himself. And Jesus’ yoke is not a burden.
Harnessed to Jesus yoke, is not a work that is full of retaliation and retribution, but a work where one gets out of self, and doesn’t worry about winning or losing, or getting ahead in the end.
It is that, “getting out of self” that is hard! Ironically, it doesn’t take effort to let go, which is what one does, when one is yoked to Jesus Christ.
The struggle of “getting out of self” is to fight it, and try to hang onto people and things by attempting to control outcomes. Ironically, Jesus did not come to deliver his followers out of life’s problems, but to enter into life’s problems with his followers! That is what one understands to be incarnation! Jesus came into the world and became the bread of life, so that his followers would no longer hunger; so that his followers would be fed and nourished by his very real presence.
As one is yoked to Christ, though Holy Baptism; as one is fed and nourished with the Word and the Sacraments, followers of Jesus are sent out into the world, yoked to Jesus, to embody Jesus in a world of hurting people.
As a disciple of Jesus, one is not responsible to fix other peoples problems. But it is the duty and obligation of a follower of Christ, to embody the presence of Christ into this world that longs for hope.
When a disciple of Jesus feels weak and hopeless, that disciple gathers with her peers to be fed on the Word and Sacraments. As one receives the presence of Christ, he/she receives strength and empowerment that enables them to go forth in the world to change the world, even when the world pushes back.
Followers of Jesus, come eat the bread to be the bread. Come be yoked with Christ. With the world, come be transformed and made new with a living hope that is enjoyed today and forever! Amen!
Fear Not! Let Go! Let God!
Fly for God Sake!
By Pastor Robert Sain
Old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Newton NC
The 3RD Sunday after Pentecost
Do you remember six months ago when we heared the words of the Angel directed toward the Shepherds? “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people!” That seems strange, in light of Jesus’ words in the 10th chapter of Matthew: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Here Jesus is preparing his followers for the mission field, Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel they have been warned that will not always be welcomed. But here his words seem more threatening; son will be set against father, daughter against mother. Why? Doesn’t this seem strange in a Gospel where peace and love are lifted up as norms that believers are to follow?
Do not be afraid! Those words appear eighteen times in Matthew’s Gospel; and three times in today’s text. More and more, as Matthew’s Gospel unfolds, occasions to be afraid are unfolding right before his disciples eyes. And, eventually, there will be a cross for him to bear.
As Jesus encourages the disciples not to have fear, it seems to me that he is also indicating that there are things for them to be afraid of. We must consider however, the various layers through which the Gospel is directed. In the original context, Jesus instructs his disciples about their future mission; following his death and resurrection. But there is a second context; the context of the community of people, to whom Matthew is writing. Matthew has taken oral traditions about Jesus, and formed his Gospel to address the needs of a persecuted community of believers living in the last quarter of the first century.
Jesus seems to sweep one’s fears under the carpet. He doesn’t seem very pastoral; actually more confrontational; kind of like, “just get over your fear!” He acknowledges that believers will live a perilous life where indeed one may lose not only one’s close family relationships, but even life itself. But the challenge to relinquish holding onto one’s life and family, also contains comfort and hope, that things will get better.
Jesus does not sugar coat what it means to follow him. Walking the walk of faith is challenging; and perhaps dangerous. Indeed the cross is the lense through which a follower of Christ sees the world. Remember that Jesus himself had a rocky relationship with his own family. Jesus himself, bore his own cross, and endured suffering. “Lose your life to find it.” “Pick up your cross and follow me.” Difficult and strange sayings.
Yet listen to what Jesus says: “trust me”, “acknowledge me and I will acknowledge you before my Father in heaven.” When Jesus speaks of how believers are valued by both He and His Father, Jesus is suggesting that followers of Christ, have an incredible value. Through one’s connection with Christ, one can make a difference in the world. Being connected to Christ, means that Christ is always with us.
As one lives the way of Jesus, we relinquish our preconceived ideas about what we think is valuable in life. Instead we embrace the unchartered waters of what life with Jesus may be like.
In Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he is saying the same thing that Jesus says, but he uses the metaphor of Baptism. Death is a necessary step toward resurrection. One day you/we will experience the death of our body. Until then, we will experience many other deaths and losses along life’s way.
Change is a difficult thing. But imagine what would happen, if a caterpillar would announce, “I want to stay like this.” If so, that caterpillar would never experience the beauty or experience of what it is like to fly!
People of God, fear not, On account of God through Christ, you will die. But on account of Christ: Fear Not! Let Go! Let God! Fly for God Sake! Amen! Amen!
By Pastor Robert Sain
Old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Newton NC
June 18, 2017
If your over 40 years old, you may remember Charles Kuralt, who hosted a regular feature on the CBS Evening News called, On The Road. On the Road was a heartwarming, nostalgic vignette about some aspect of American life; or about an interesting American character.
Kuralt and his team traveled all over the country in a motorhome (he wore out 6 of them in 25 years), along the backroads. He avoided the interstate highways. Kuralt often said “that interstate highways allow you to drive coast to coast without seeing a dadgum thing.”
On the Road, might also be an alternate title for the earliest portions of the Old Testament narrative. Beginning with chapter 12 of the Book of Genesis and continuing throughout Exodus is the story of God’s chosen people traveling a sort of On the Road journey that led them to “The Promised Land”. When recalling the Exodus event, God’s people left slavery behind in Egypt, and traveled toward freedom on a journey that would take 40 years to complete; a rough and tumbled, up and down journey.
Moving through the Old Testament, and into The New Testament Gospels one meets a man named Jesus, who travels On the Road with a group of twelve disciples throughout the land of Galilee and Judea. Along this road, Jesus proclaims the “Good News” that the Kingdom of God is drawing near. As the expedition nears Jerusalem, Jesus sends his disciples out On the Road in groups of two or three. This experienc not only served as an internship, but was necessitated by the fact that Jesus saw how, “the harvest was plentiful, and the laborers few”.
So as Jesus and His disciples traveled along this dusty, unpredictable road, they met many people who were being harrassed by the world and it’s leaders, and who as Jesus said, were like “sheep without a shepherd.” On the Road, Jesus saw how people longed for healing, and cried out for justice. Being not only human, but divine, Jesus, full of compassion, had a burning desire to reach out to this convalutd world with His love and grace. Having become incarnate Jesus experienced firsthand how the world was compromised by sin, death and Satan himself. Jesus would experience how the world would turn one of his own disciples against him; Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him by turning him over to be crucified.
So, On the Road they went, bearing the “Good News” of a new kingdom not comprised of territory, but a kingdom beyond the world. This kingdom did not conform to the world, but transformed the world. On the Road Jesus met the blind and lame, widows and orphans, tax collectors and sinners, and lepers and outcasts. These individuals and groups found welcome relief from the world in this new Kingdom of God. Eventually this road would lead to a cross, and beyond, to a mountain in Galilee, where Jesus authorized his disciples to continue their journey out into the world to make disciples of others.
And make disciples they did! They made a disciple out of a man named Saul; a fellow Jew whose life was focused on stopping this fledgling “Jesus’ Journey”. Along his own road, Saul met the resurrected and ascended Jesus and was rendered blind. His vision of persecuting Jesus followers, was transformed. He was not only given a new vision and purpose, but a new identity. Through his baptism into Jesus life, death,and resurrection, he became Paul, and began traveling a new journey through life; a journey On the Road with Jesus. Paul would travel across the Mediterranean world, spreading this Good News of love and grace. Paul would proclaim “that while he was still a sinner, Christ died for him.”
Today, we are reminded of our own new vision, our own new identity and purpose; that through our own Baptism into Christ, we too travel with Jesus on this road. Like the People of Israel, our journey moves us toward the Promised Land. Like Jesus’ own disciples, we are interns reaching out to the blind and lame, widows and orphans, tax collectors and sinners, lepers and outcasts. Like Paul, we have a new vision and a new identity. We don’t have to merely exist, we can live On the Road with Jesus”. Forever! Amen.