Sermon – June 25, 2017 – Third Sunday after Pentecost

Grace and peace to you, this day and everyday, from God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, who gives us faith. Amen.

 

When did you know things were different? … Did you know things were different at the birth of your first child; astounded at the miracle of life and hopeful for new experiences of growth and relationship? Was it when you got your first full-time job; validated for your endeavors and ready to jump into new ventures? Maybe it was when you heard a diagnosis from the doctor; jolted by the lack of control and uneasy with the myriad of factors and potential outcomes. Did it feel different when you shared “I Do’s” at the altar; the swelling of joy, appreciation, and hope for your new life as a partner in love? Was it when you learned that someone you loved had died; abandoned, isolated, afraid in your grief? Maybe it was when you graduated after pursuing an educational or vocational goal? Did it feel like things had changed when you moved away from home? …. Each one of us has had moments in our lives when it seems as if ‘a switch was flipped’ on our whole way of living, when it felt like we’d transitioned from black-and-white to color. Sometimes these moments are internalized as those of joyful excitement. We’ve entered new chapters or phases and are eager to discover, embrace, nurture, and cherish every new facet that is now available to us. Other times, we are struck with a sense of despair. We’ve felt shaken, encountered by an unpleasant surprise, and find our previous sense of certainty or stability, rattled with questions and doubts all around. …

I suspect, as they heard the words of Jesus in our Gospel today, the disciples felt similar sensations of anxious concern. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus is commissioning them to go unto the lost sheep of Israel and to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. In our Gospel reading today, Christ is instructing the disciples on things to expect as they go out in mission, and these words probably left them feeling a strange mixture of hope and dread. Thusfar in Matthew’s gospel, they’ve been following Jesus as He proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom of God, as He casts out demons, as He heals diseases and afflictions, as He teaches with authority, as He commands the winds and waves, as He welcomes the outcasts and eats with sinners. There’s a routine they’re used to. But here in this chapter, Jesus is flipping a switch and things are different now. This is no longer a ministry wherein Jesus is alone in the preaching, teaching, and healing, with his motley crew of disciple groupies along for the ride. This chapter represents a departure from that way of doing ministry and a beginning wherein Christ is bringing about the Kingdom of God in and through His disciples. … And that newness of ministry, will come at a cost.

In a way, this is sort of like a commencement speech from Christ to the disciples. Not that they’ve graduated from discipling (they, and we, still have a long way to go). But insofar as Christ is sending them into a new way of living, sending them into communities to preach, and to love, and to serve. They, and we, might expect that therefore this ‘commencement speech’ would be encouraging and almost flowery. However, it seems to be quite the opposite. “Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” …. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.” …. “For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother.” …. Goodness gracious Lord, can we go back to that stuff on the Mount about “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” That was much more to our liking! … We shouldn’t forget however, that Christ knows what He is doing. He knows who He is sending, where they are going, and what they are going to get themselves into. Christ knows that when His disciples, and we as well, preach, love, and serve, then the devil takes notice. And when the devil takes notice, suffering comes and death itself also comes. It is for this reason that Jesus’ commencement speech is not flowery, but despite being uncomfortable, is rather wholly realistic.

When I was in seminary, some professors would categorize Biblical texts into two groups as if they were poultry meat; there was the light meat, the popular words like “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” and there was the category filled with texts like our reading today, the dark meat. The ‘light meat’ texts being typically more popular verses to which our hearts are drawn to in times of praise and prayer. The ‘dark meat’ texts being those verses that are usually glossed over because they don’t typically embody the cherished vibrant sentimentality of the life of faith.

Sarah and I recently spent a week in our nation’s capital. While we were there we visited the Library of Congress, where we got to see a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible, printed by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450. The Library of Congress also has in its collection, the Jefferson Bible, wherein Thomas Jefferson took a razor and glue to a copy of the King James Bible and removed portions of the Gospels he found disagreeable. When we find ourselves confronted by uncomfortable passages in scripture, it’s tempting to do the same. We want to feast on the light meat and leave the dark meat. Our reading from Romans on baptism and resurrection and Christ’s cherished words of faithfulness and grace are very important. And it’s tempting to cling exclusively to ‘light meat’ texts like these, to the exclusion of ‘dark meat’ verses like those in our Gospel text today. Not to get too theological here, but if we are to cling to the comforting ‘light meat’ of God’s Word and cherish it as Holy, so too we must cling to and cherish the discomforting ‘dark meat’ in the Bible, for it too is God’s Holy Word.  Martin Luther, in his Table Talk, writes, “The Holy Scripture is the highest and best of books, abounding in comfort under all afflictions and trials. It teaches us to see, to feel, to grasp, and to comprehend faith, hope, and charity, far otherwise than mere human reason can; and when evil oppresses us, it teaches how these virtues throw light upon the darkness, and how, after this poor, miserable existence of ours on earth, there is another and an eternal life.”

As we cling to God’s Word, dark meat and all, there is another temptation here. It’s tempting to take Christ’s words that are so disquieting and ponder, ‘What are we going to do with this Jesus?’ Personally, I find myself befuddled when Christ in His Word and in our world goes outside the ‘box’ of my preconceived notions I had for how God works. It’s a slippery slope to go from ‘oh Christ is outside the box’ to ‘oh it’s time to build another box.’ Perhaps the question we struggle with as we cherish and cling to the ‘dark meat’ of scripture, isn’t ‘What are we going to do with this Jesus?,’ but rather ‘What is this Jesus going to do with us?’ And that … is precisely what Paul is after in our Romans reading on baptism.

Paul knows that in our baptism, a switch has been flipped, and a new reality has broken into our lives and into our world in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sin and death have been conquered and destroyed in Christ’s victory on the cross. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Paul knows that in and through our baptisms, you and I belong to Christ in whom we have been baptized. Alleluia. Alleluia. This new sense of belonging is the ultimate switch, the ultimate difference, the ultimate new reality. This newness of life supersedes numerous facets of the life knew as our ‘old selves.’ The life of the baptized, supersedes our old ways of understanding identity and community, of understanding self-worth, of understanding value and security, of understanding familial relationships, and of understanding worthiness. This supersession can get scary in its newness.

 

Luther, when he found himself in dark moments of the soul, in corners of existential plight, would comfort himself by returning to the words “I Am Baptized.” Not, “I was baptized,” but “I Am Baptized.” For Luther, and for you and me, baptism is not a memorialism that we look back on in fond recollection and think ‘Gee wasn’t that great, and remember how good the cheese danish was afterwards!’ Baptism for us is ontological. It is a state of being. It is the Word of God spoken in, over, under, and through water that joins us to Christ in His suffering and death, liberates and forgives us from sin, and unites us with Him in His resurrection and eternal life. … In his Large Catechism, Luther writes about Baptism saying “Faith must have something in which it believes, that is something it clings to, something on which to plant its feet and into which to sink its roots.” We are to place our faith, cling to, plant ourselves on, and sink our roots into the nourishing and sustaining Word of Christ, of His love, of His sacrifice, and of His gift of new life.

You and I both know that this New Life in Christ is not without its difficulties. Each one of us is stumbling into the resurrected life, sometimes through tears. It is tempting to ignore Christ’s difficult words this morning because of how uncomfortable they are. However, we must together pay attention to thsse difficult words precisely because of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. Because we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, we may find our gracious missional words and deeds, spoken and done in secret. We will find our emotions, reputation, and bodies threatened and injured as we seek life and salvation for our neighbor. We will need to recognize that friends and family are gifts from God and that we need to be good stewards of these gifts and not cling to them as ends in of themselves. We will need to take up our cross. This is not to say that we take up a cross of difficult circumstances that are thrust upon us and over which we have no control, as if rush-hour traffic was our cross to bear.

The cross we take up, is the missional cross we choose in sacrificial self-giving of Love and Grace for Christ and for our neighbor. It is the attentive conversation, the intentional self-giving, the restraint of our own will in order that God’s Will be done. It is the losing of our own lives for the sake of Christ.

In these experiences of self-giving for the sake of Christ and our neighbor, we are free. In Christian ministry, we are no longer bound to the death-dealing reality of sin. In Christian ministry, we are able to live, and move, and have our being in the resurrected life of He who is, quite literally, the resurrection and the life. As we face suffering and death in our ministerial, pastoral, and missional self-giving, the comfort of God’s Grace through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection becomes of paramount importance. Because in baptism, self-giving is not a loss. Self-giving is the hallmark of the New Creation which Christ is creating in you, and in me, and in all those for whom we serve and pray. In and through our baptism we are grounded in the ultimate reality of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection for all creation, and therefore we are empowered to risk ministerial and missional experiences for all people.

When we confess our faith together using the words of the Nicene Creed, we as a community of believers say that “we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” This is the answer to that question: “What is this Christ going to do with us?”  In and through Christ, we are offered resurrection of hope, healing of body and spirit, and we then are able to act as His Hands sowing the seeds of His Kingdom for the life of the world to come. Thanks Be To God. Amen.