Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
1st Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
2nd Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
I have to say that once I read these scriptures I honestly thought about not preaching this Sunday and doing something else entirely. This is one of those Sundays when it is hard to say, “This is the Gospel of the Lord” and “Thanks be to God.” The readings cover themes of terror and abandonment, weariness, death, sin, slavery, fear, hell, foes, loss, and unworthiness. Maybe an evangelical preacher would be looking forward to a Sunday like this, but I have a tough time. Sometimes, when I struggle with a reading, I wonder to myself if Jesus really said this stuff. But this is one of those times I am pretty certain he did. I also don’t want to gloss over all the trouble in the Bible and just make it a nice, gentle, easy book to read. We are challenged in the Bible. We are challenged by Jesus. Part of the reason we are here at church is to be challenged. If we are going to be Christians, we are saying we want to follow Jesus. This means a change of direction, so we are going to have a changed life, we are going to encounter difficulties.
The Gospel, especially, this morning, challenges our sense of entitlement. We think that kids today feel entitled—they are lazy, they want to be handed everything, they are spoiled. But before we start pointing fingers at their sense of entitlement, we have to ask ourselves about the ways we feel entitled. I know I have felt a lot of frustration that I couldn’t work hard all summer and afford my college education on my income. The generation before me could do that. I have felt entitled to the same or more compensation than the previous generation. I feel entitled to my good health. I am young. I go to the gym and try to eat right. I take my health for granted and when I get sick, I actually get angry about it, especially when my toddler brings home an illness a month for 7 months in a row. Most of us probably feel entitled to having loving family relationships. We think we’re entitled to our possessions, as many as our neighbors and friends have. We think we’re entitled to a car for each driver. We may feel, now that we have a paid custodian, that we don’t have to pick up after ourselves here at church. We may feel that since we’ve been coming to this church for a long time that we should be entitled to the kind of music and bulletin and worship and coffee treats that we’re used to. And we may think that because we are good people, that we are faithful people, that we are entitled to an easier life, with as little suffering as possible.
But Jesus tells us this morning that life is hard. That’s the bad news. But we already know the bad news. We’ve already found out that life isn’t fair. We’ve been sick. We’ve lost loved ones. We’ve endured family arguments and the silent treatment. We’ve had friends abandon us and talk behind our back. We’ve endured abuse and divorce and adultery. We’ve had children and grandchildren with mental illness, drug addiction, disability and at times experienced it ourselves. But what Jesus is talking about is even more than that.
We call ourselves Christians. We are followers of Jesus Christ. We want to be like the teacher or at least associated with him. Now Jesus is telling his Disciples that their life of devotion may not be rewarded in the short term. To follow Jesus isn’t just to act in ways that he would, but is also to endure the consequences that he did, to face the cross. It is no longer WWJD, “What would Jesus do?” but WWHTJ, “What would happen to Jesus?” That’s what we could expect would happen to us. When we are followers of Christ, we challenge the power structures in place. We challenge the usual way of things. God’s Kingdom world collides with the unjust world we live in and there is direct conflict. Jesus promises that we will be on the front lines of that.
Jesus is teaching the disciples, preparing them for ministry. They know about healing and feeding people. So far, they have followed him and learned from him. Now, is the next step in their learning. They are going to try out what they’ve learned and they are going to do this ministry. Jesus tells them a few paragraphs earlier in this chapter, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” And in case their next question regards their hourly pay or yearly salary, he says, “You received without payment, give without payment.” Then he tells them not to take anything extra with them. Finally, he tells them that not only will they not get paid, they will suffer and experience hardship because of Christ and their faithfulness. Christ’s Disciples will follow him to the cross. They are not entitled to anything special, just God’s love and a place in God’s family forever.
This is about letting go of any sense of entitlement. This is about growing up. This is about getting a thicker skin. This is about developing self-differentiation, basically the idea that you know who you are and that no matter what others say about you or what they do to you, you stand firm by your values and act on them. This is about maturing in faith.
I am reminded of the song, “I will Survive.” This is a song about someone who has made herself vulnerable, given her love to someone, and experienced betrayal. Yet, a stronger sense of self emerges. The singer can let the experience drag her down and crush her. Or she can stand up and sing this “in-your-face” song about the person she’s become out of this hardship. She says, “As long as I know how to love, I know I’ll be alive.” Instead of feeling entitled to the love of the other person or entitled not to be hurt, instead of blaming the other person, instead of feeling fear and shame because her expectations haven’t been met, she sees what a strong person she is. She is a survivor. She has new life and new meaning. She is living in the resurrection.
There is good news here in these readings. When all these bad things are happening, when our faith leads us to the cross and we find ourselves betrayed and suffering, when we’ve lost everything, Jesus says do not fear. You do not need to fear because someday this tiny movement will grow and become much louder and stronger—“what you hear whispered, proclaim from the rooftops.” What is secret now, will someday be revealed and people will know what is really important. What is a small movement now will catch on and have a big effect on this world.
You do not need to fear because we are more than bodies and cannot be ultimately destroyed. Although people were being imprisoned and killed for their faith, God would never forsake them. Although we may face many hardships and challenges, God will be with us. God gives new life whether it is here on earth or in God’s realm and even in the memory and life of the community that learned and appreciated the sacrifice of each martyr.
Finally, we do not need to fear because God cares about us. Even if we never mattered to anyone else, we matter to God. And we matter to our community of faith. God is keeping track of us. God hurts when we hurt. God is adopting us into God’s family. We belong to God. One of our greatest fears is not to matter, but Jesus assures us that we do. We are all important. We all have gifts. God put energy and intention into making us the person we are and giving us new life.
When we lose our life for Christ’s sake, that is how life is experienced and truly discovered. How many times have you seen this at work? Maybe there was a time you quit worrying about what others thought and find yourself truly free to be yourself. Maybe there was a time when you realized you had a drinking problem and you had to let go of your pride and get some help, but you got a whole new life out of it. Maybe there was a time when you had to let your kids make their own mistakes and it hurt to see them suffering, but they eventually came through stronger. Maybe there was a time you thought you could do something all yourself, and you had to ask for help, and you realized that we are all connected and we need each other.
Sometimes as a person of faith, we are walking this path, following Jesus and wonder if it makes any difference at all. If I do the right thing, if I am kind, if I am loving, if I forgive, if I care for God’s good creation, what difference does it make? Paul puts it this way in Romans, “Should we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” In other words, “Shall I just keep going the way I have been because I can’t see it is making any difference?” He answers himself and those to whom he is writing, “By no means!” “No way!” he says. So what if you can’t see the immediate good results of your actions. You are not entitled to see that. God has a trajectory for this world and God’s way of love will win in the end. Will you let God’s way of love rule in your life and your decisions no matter whether the outcome is good or bad, less or more suffering for yourself? It is up to us to say that we will, because in the long-run it will mean newness of life for us and for others. Maybe only God will ever see what a difference it made. We have to let go of the outcome. In the face of suffering, “You will survive! As long as you know how to love, you’ll know you’ll be alive.” So let yourself love and come alive to God in Christ Jesus.