June 22, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Have No Fear
Kate Huey expresses the belief that “This long passage brings together a number of the sayings of Jesus to create a set of instructions for ‘the twelve,’ his apostles, before he sends them out on a mission that carries some risks.” Instructions indeed! The first line, verse 24 says to us “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” When Jesus said these words to his disciples they didn’t fully understand the magnitude of the commitment they had made when they agreed to follow Jesus. They understood that Jesus was committed to his ministry and they were excited to follow him, but they never imagined that he was going to sacrifice his life! No! They had not grasped the full extent to which Jesus was prepared to go as he taught his disciples about the true cost of following him, following their teacher.
Jesus goes on with his lesson saying: “If they have called the master of the house Be-el’zebul, (meaning Satan) how much more will they malign those of his household.” Jesus is telling them that his enemies shall refer to him badly, as bad as calling someone the Devil Himself! And the slanderous language, the hurtful and damaging things said of Jesus, the teacher, will be said of them as well because they are his followers. And the price Jesus pays, they shall pay also! Another writer, John Howard Yoder, opens up this conversation with his view on this thought. “Jesus’ cross was the price to pay for being the kind of person he was in the kind of world he was in; the cross that he chose was the price of his representing a new way of life in a world that did not want a new way of life. That is what he called his followers to do.”
Brennan Manning tells us that: “[Jesus] had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.” Perhaps Jesus didn’t, but my gut tells me that those early followers, the original twelve, did have a bit of a naiveté as they followed Jesus, getting caught up in the awe of the miracles he performed and virtually mesmerized by his magnetism and his charismatic style of speaking. It is very plausible, very reasonable to believe that they did not yet understand that to fully believe in Jesus as The Son of God, The Messiah, that there would be a cost to be paid.
There they were in the presence of Jesus hearing his words, and here we are listening to our tradition’s understanding of those conversations. Now, in the context of the Twenty-First Century, we must make a decision to follow the teacher, and we must consider the cost of our conviction to do so at some point, if we are to remain committed in the faith. Donald Miller said it so well: “The trouble with deep belief is that it costs something. And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them.”
With this as our backdrop, as we enter into this conversation that Jesus is having with his disciples, we go forward with our scripture lesson as Jesus tells them, He also tells us: “So have no fear of them.” The argument that Jesus comes up with to not be fearful needs to be very persuasive, for the deeper we get into this set of instructions, instructions Jesus is laying out for his followers, the harder it is to not get a bit anxious! In some sense, it is harder for us then those early followers simply because we know – we know the rest of the story! We know the price Jesus paid and the price others pay for their belief, for their willingness to follow the Teacher!
Kate Huey, the theologian I often quote, lifts up this thought as she reflects on today’s gospel lesson: [I’m reminded of the 1990 film, “The Long Walk Home,” about the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, Bus Boycott and the struggles, even divisions, within families, churches, and communities when some people were willing to go all the way for the sake of what was right and just, and others were not. Not just unwilling, but unable to see the difference – and still able to think of themselves as “good Christians” in either case. Still, we know that God hears what we say, sees what we do, and knows what’s in our hearts – and God cares about it all. It all matters to God, this decision about what “sort” of Christians we’re going to be.]
As we consider these provocative words from Kate Huey we need to look to the heart of our scripture lesson this morning; which is a key lesson meant to reassure us and those early disciples, that we shall not be left alone, as we strive to be the loyal followers of Christ – which we are meant to be. Jesus puts forth His illustration about the value of a sparrow. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” As beautiful and precious as a sparrow is: you, all of us as individuals, are more valuable than a sparrow or any other of God’s creatures! It is important to grasp this simple thought and to do just that: keep it simple! This is meant by Jesus to be a very simple illustration; nothing more and nothing less. Jesus was being open and honest with the disciples. “Following Me, follow the Son of God, and your reward will be great in the kingdom of God, yet the price will be hefty here on earth!” As a proof text of how clearly our Creator will care for us each one of us, is Jesus’ conversation about the sparrow, clarifying that we are of more value then these and look how fully God cares for them!
And Jesus said: “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
/Nancy Pearcey/ A respected writer, puts forth this provocative thought: “In every historical period, the religious groups that grow most rapidly are those that set believers at odds with the surrounding culture.” The calendar reads June the 22nd in the year 2014, in the Twenty-First Century, yet there are still Christians that believe a woman ought to be kept out of leadership positions within the church! Let me remind you, The Christian Church, one of the four core groups forming The United Church of Christ, back in 1957, was among the first to ordain and consecrate woman into Ordained Christian Ministry. The United Church of Christ was also there marching and standing beside early civil rights leaders; and even stood on the picket lines in California, for migrant farm workers, seeking fair wages. In the same manner the United Church of Christ has taken a leadership role in standing up for the rights of the Gay community, in many and various venues. Social Justice is what we call this, and frequently these progressive stands – set local United Church of Christ Churches – at odds with their surrounding culture.
There are those who do not and choose not to agree, yet I and many others, firmly believe that this church and like minded churches of the United Church of Christ, are on the threshold of springing forth with new growth. As I say this I need to clarify for all of us, that growth is not measured in numbers. Growth is about maturity and influence. Growth for a Christian, especially an active and vocal preacher, is boldly daring to put into practice, what one preaches! Growth for all those that hear the preacher’s voice, is boldly daring to embrace and share the faith and heritage passed to us through Christ, as an active and practicing Christian believer.
Going a bit deeper, if you embrace a set of values or beliefs, you need to be prepared to stand up for the principals they stand for. If you believe we are all created equal, then you cannot sit idly by while a person is excluded from anything because of their race, creed, color or sexual orientation! What this means is that: if we believe in something like social equality, we need to begin by standing up for the marginalized in our community; then we need to follow through, thus stepping up and stepping out of the crowd, and do exactly that… at whatever the cost! If we believe the hungry need to be fed then we must do whatever it takes to feed them! Likewise, if we believe in social justice, then we need to speak out when it is uncomfortable, even when it may cost us the loss of a relationship we once thought was important. This is the new growth that I and others believe is springing forth. Will the masses follow us? This we do not know, yet I strongly believe, and other theologians agree, that something is stirring in our society. You and I, we need to acknowledge that great strides, great growth has been made in these areas in this church, yes the Riviera United Church of Christ is a part of the growth, the great ‘forward moving’ stirrings within the Universal Church of Jesus the Christ, are very apparent and present here!
Jesus has outlined the instructions for the early disciples and for us. Jesus has given us a simple lesson about the value of a sparrow, thus moving us to grasp the enormity of love, compassion and care that is there for us from our Everlasting God. Yes, the true task & test still lies ahead of us, yet the reassuring words of Jesus, carried to us via the Living and Moving Spirit of God, lift up our spirits, strengthens our resolve as we face down our tasks, one by one!
Look to the words of that most moving of songs that begins with these words: “His eye is on the sparrow; why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come, why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home, when Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches over me.” (Lyrics by: Civilla Durfee Martin)
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Be-el’zebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 And 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. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.