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Sermon for June 25, 2017

Anna V. Copeland, Preaching

Matthew 10:24-33and 40-42

Matthew 10:24-42 New Revised Standard Version

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 Beelzebub, 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. [a] 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.

sake will find it…

40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

                             

Daring Faith

It’s hard to believe it, but twenty-five years have passed since the launch of the movie “A League of Her Own”. You may remember the movie or have seen it on the late night movie channels about the All American Girl’s Baseball League that started during World War II. From 1943-1954, a league of women played professional baseball long before Title IX legislation supported the expansion of women’s sports in public schools. The year was 1972 when the law was finally passed that prohibited discrimination based on gender to participate in any sport that received Federal Funding.  

Inviting others to the team is never easy. There’s a scene in the movie when one of the women players breaks into tears after the coach played by Tom Hanks gets in her face over something that has happened on the field. When he stops screaming, she bursts into tears. He’s incredulous. After all, His coach yelled him at when He messed up as a baseball player, even, he says, when his parents drove all the way up to wherever to watch him play.

“Are you crying? Are you crying?” he asks. “There’s no crying in baseball. No crying in baseball.”

Tom Hanks says, “There’s no crying in baseball. Jesus says, there’s no fear in love.”  In today’s lesson, Jesus is both tender and fierce. Like any good coach, he reminds his disciples how precious they are, how innately good they are. And then he challenges them to act like champions on his team.

“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.”

The members of Jesus team are clearly afraid of something or someone. They’re reluctant to stand up in public for what they believe. They are anxious about who might be their enemy and what it will cost them to talk about the remarkable things they’ve heard and seen in Jesus.

Jesus comforts them and reassures them:

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body.”

Jesus doesn’t promise them that they won’t get hurt. Yes, there are those in the world who hurt other people with whom they do not agree. They misuse their power: physical, political, and emotional to cause others harm. Yet Jesus says, dear ones, even so, you don’t have to be afraid.

Having tenderly supported his disciples in their fear, and then comforted and cared for them, his coaching shifts from comfort to confrontation. Here Jesus more closely resembles Tom Hanks, urging the disciples to step up to the plate, to express their daring faith through action regardless of the consequences.

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven…

 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Give a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, one of these vulnerable ones. Care for the least of these my brothers and sisters as if you were caring for me. If you do, Jesus said, you will receive the reward of righteousness for your righteous behavior. But if you keep your faith hidden, if you go along with the crowd treating the Other as enemy, you deny Jesus, and if you deny Jesus, then Jesus says he will deny you before God.

This is fierce talk from the Lord of Life and Love. What could he possibly mean? I wonder if Jesus wants us to stop overthinking who’s on our side and who is our enemy. I wonder if Jesus is more interested in how we serve one another than in who’s right and who’s wrong. I wonder if Jesus wants us to treat one another not only the way we want to be treated, but also the way we would treat Jesus were he to come to our home for dinner.

In a newly published and important little book called “Fear of the Other”, former Dean of Duke Divinity School and Methodist bishop William H. Willimon writes about the peculiar time in which we live. In unflinching terms, he characterizes our increasing tendency to demonize those who are most different from us: those who are different from us nationally and religiously, as well as those who are different from us politically. It used to be that to keep peace in the family, people avoided talking about money, sex and politics. The list of things we can’t talk about continues to grow. We keep quiet because we’re afraid of the consequences if we speak up or act on our convictions.

Jesus knew that fear could paralyze us from living rich and faithful lives. Fear has the power to cause us more harm than any outside enemy. That’s why Jesus relentlessly talked about the power of fear and the necessity to let it go. There’s nothing scarier than frightened people. Fear is dangerous because we cannot love when we’re afraid. It’s not love and hate that are opposites. It’s love and fear, oil and water. From the beginning of his work to his final hours, Jesus taught us that if we want to love one another as he said, we have to let go of fear.

Fear is unchristian.  Treating others as enemy is unchristian. Demonizing those who see the world differently than we do is unchristian. Bishop Willimon writes about our task as preachers in this way. ”My peculiar vocation is to help the church think like Christians so that we might be given the grace to act like Jesus.”

In times like these, fear mongering makes big news. We want to get off that wheel but we don’t know how. When we see some else succeed at something we want to know the secret sauce, right? What did they do? We hear stories of impossible reconciliation between a courtroom criminal and their victim who forgave and we wonder how they did it? Most of us can do anything once, if we want it enough. But if we want to become less anxious and afraid, we have to make a conscious decision to work for it. We have to work for it even when we don’t feel like working for it. And we have to ask for God’s help.

Some people ask why anybody in our day and time would ever go to church. There are lots of reasons we come to church of course. But one of them is this. When it comes to loving our neighbor, the one we find scary, the one we don’t want to talk to, church gives us tools to work for love when we don’t feel like it. The church invites us to follow this Jesus, who takes us to an uncomfortable edge, holding our feet to fire. Jesus made synagogue leaders mad in the first century and still makes us squirm today. We squirm because we kind of enjoy talking smack about those Other guys who are so wrong about how they see the world.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are no Other guys.  The world isn’t black and white, good guys and bad guys regardless of what you may have see on television and in the movies. Life isn’t a movie with us as Americans and Christians always wearing the white hat of the hero. It’s not that because of God’s love there are no bad guys. Actually, the point is really that there are no good guys. Only God is truly good. There is no Other, no enemy out there, because we’re with them. We’re also broken, arrogant, and pride-filled, in need of God’s mercy.

Back in the day I loved to listen to the music of Arlo Guthrie. Those of you, who know me well, know that I resonate with all manner of folk, bluegrass and roots music. One of my favorites was his very long story called the “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”.

On Thanksgiving 1965, Arlo Guthrie visited friend Alice Brock and her husband at their home, a church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and did them a favor by taking out their garbage. The dump was closed that day, so Guthrie and a friend dropped the garbage off a cliff where other locals had previously dropped trash. Guthrie was arrested the following day, and the mark on his record “astoundingly” kept him out of Vietnam by making him ineligible for the draft.

Guthrie recalled the incident in hilarious detail in 1967's "Alice's Restaurant," which became his most beloved song and the subject of a 1969 movie, which is still played every year on the radio on Thanksgiving.

One of the things that strike me about his now famous story is what happened after he was arrested. When he was drafted for Vietnam, he spent the better part of the day as he says, getting inspected, dejected and ultimately rejected. At the end of the ordeal, after the physical and the paperwork and the visit to the psychiatrist, they asked him first if he’d ever been arrested, and then, if he’d ever been to court.

Arlo tells what happened next when he was sent to the group W bench with everybody else who had committed crimes. He describes his companions on the Group W bench as big, ugly, nasty people who had committed big, ugly, crimes. And they all moved towards him on the Group W bench as they described all the horrible, mean nasty, ugly things they’d done to people, and then they turned to Arlo and asked what he was in for and he said, “Littering”, and they all moved away from him on the bench.

We’re all on the Group W bench aren’t we? We like to think of ourselves as the good guys, the ones who have the story right. We humans tend to view the rest of the world as misguided, hostile, or dangerous if they don’t see the world as we do. We binge watch television and get ourselves into a lather over what’s happening in the world, and feel our blood pressure rise.

Our response is dangerous. It’s dangerous to Jesus. It’s dangerous if what we hope to be about is loving one another. It’s dangerous because the more the Other becomes scary, demonized, or wrong in our minds, the more we unwittingly participate in the violence of the world.

Just yesterday I watched a news clip about a nearly disastrous road rage incident in California. A driver cut off a motorcyclist in traffic and no doubt scared him. The motorcyclist in turn pulled up alongside the car while both were going at high speed down the interstate and kicked his car. When he got scared, he got mad. No doubt this scared the driver of the car, who responded violently when afraid. He swerved into the motorcyclist, trying to drive him into the retaining wall dividing the lanes of the interstate. In doing so, the driver of the car over-steered and his car flipped over and over, bursting into flames, and crashing into another vehicle, while the motorcyclist deftly navigated through the inferno and drove away. It’s stunning that anyone walked away, but they did. In any case, I suspect that they will all replay the terror they experienced on that highway for the rest of their lives.

Jesus said to us in every way he could think of. There’s a more excellent way. When someone threatens you in word or deed, don’t be afraid.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Love one another as I have loved you.

Love one another even when the Other scares you to death. Be not afraid.

This summer you will encounter the Other. For most of us, it won’t be some perceived enemy across the ocean. It won’t be someone from away who comes for a season and then leaves. The Other is one of our own, the ones with whom we share the group W bench, the ones like us who need a little love and a lot of God’s mercy just to make it through the day.

Jesus said, don’t be afraid; love one another, even it you don’t feel like it. If you don’t know what to do, start with sharing what you’ve got:  a kind word, a smile, or some small act of compassion. Make a phone call, lobby for change, tell the truth, stand up for somebody at risk even though you’ve already got what you need.

For Jesus said: “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

There’s no crying in baseball.

There’s no fear in love.

Amen