Matthew 10: 24-39
Good morning, and grace and peace as we roll on now in summer, officially as of 6:51 yesterday morning, and today, Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7A , at the beginning of the long green season of ordinary time following Trinity Sunday that will carry us through the summer and fall with a couple of festival interruptions all the way to Advent. In the far, far distance perhaps we can already hear the children of St. Andrew’s beginning to rehearse the traditional carols of the Christmas Pageant!
In any event--through this “Year A” in the Sunday lectionary we are continuing to read a good deal through the Gospel of St. Matthew, and this morning in the 10th chapter I found myself humming along with the well-known Martin Luther hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” remember especially the great rousing and triumphant conclusion of the fourth stanza,
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Jesus tells his disciples, “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. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “
“Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Back in the early 18th century the great English Biblical scholar Matthew Henry wrote of this passage, “Our Lord warned his disciples to prepare for persecution . . . . Christ foretold troubles, not only that the troubles might not be a surprise, but that they might confirm their faith. He tells them what they should suffer, and from whom. Thus Christ has dealt fairly and faithfully with us, in telling us the worst we can meet with his service; and he would have us deal so with ourselves, in sitting down and counting the cost.”
That we might then hear this passage this summer morning, be confirmed in our faith, and that we might be prepared and strengthened in heart and mind and body for the steeper climbs that are bound to come sooner or later as we walk with him the Way of the Cross. Persecution turns out in some difficult way to be good news. Not that we would seek it out, but that when it comes, it comes with the assurance that we continue in his care. That we experience a reinforcement in faith, as we share in his suffering. Remembering the unsettling conclusion of the opening Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
In recent weeks of course we’ve read and heard a good deal about renewed and reenergized and horrific persecution of Christians in places like Nigeria and Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt. Story in the New York Times this morning about a young Christian convert from Afghanistan who lives in hiding and fearful of attack from his own family. Assaults and murders, homes and churches fire-bombed, women and children brutalized. Whole communities living under a shadow, in fear, because they are associated with the name of Christ. And in those moments some amazing stories of courage and faith. To read about them, to remember them daily in our thoughts and our prayers. (And please do.) Inspiring and I think humbling, and perhaps their stories and those prayers as we open our hearts and our imaginations will re-frame our own stories with a gentle discipline. Seems odd to read about these things while I’m eating my Cheerios and drinking my coffee in the early morning, before heading out into the sunshine of a bright Pittsburgh day. Thinking about priorities and identity, and with questions of character and value. What is really important in my life? Could I withstand the challenges they face? Just so hard to know.
Certainly to be thankful to live in a local context where this kind of suffering isn’t a part of our day to day reality. But not closing ears to the cries of those who are suffering so far away, and as well and importantly to have in our minds that well-known word from Jesus in the 12th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, about stewardship. Including I suppose how we use our material resources, but in a wider frame than the annual pledge campaign. What we do with our lives. In any event, Luke 12: 48, “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required.” As we pray for our brothers and sisters and fellow Christians around the world, probably to say that the best way to put that prayer into action has to do with being faithful where we are.
At the conference I attended last week one of the points of reflection and conversation about our lives and ministries we explored by brainstorming some familiar phrases about vocation, and what came to my mind at one point with great affection, but also in a way that was and is a little challenging, was the title of the Oswald Chambers famous book of meditations, “My Utmost for His Highest.” Is that what we can be about? Every day, every day, to be a day of discernment and stewardship, and to offer my best gifts, as we so often say in one of the Post-communion Prayers, “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord, with gladness and singleness of heart.” For this first Sunday of the summer. My utmost, for his highest.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.