Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Sermon, June 25, 2023

'We stand when the Gospel is read because when the Gospel is read in the midst of us, the living Jesus is addressing us in our time and place. It’s not simply a story about what Jesus did a long time ago, but it is Jesus’ message to us for today.'

Proper 7A/The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 25, 2023

St Stephen Lutheran Church

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III


…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.


One way of approaching the Bible is to read it like a history of what happened to ancient Israel, to Jesus, and to the Church. In reading the Bible in this way, we try to understand what happened when and to whom. This is an important way to encounter the Scripture. One of the things that the American Church has forgotten is how important it is for every Christian to know the story of the Bible – not simply the stories we heard in Sunday School, but its grand overarching story.


In the survey you received in your e-mail boxes on Friday there is a section on how you currently engage the Bible and what would help you in furthering your engagement with the Bible. Read that section and answer the questions, and the other sections as well. If we as a congregation wish to grow in faith and discipleship, we will have to take seriously the call to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures.


If we approach today’s reading from Matthew as a history, we would learn that it is from the part of the story when Jesus sends out his twelve disciples to proclaim the kingdom and do acts of healing in his name; a precursor of the mission they will take up after his death and resurrection and ascension. Before he sends them, he is preparing them for the opposition they will face and the conflict that is inevitable. His words are meant to both steel them for the spiritual conflict and comfort them in adversity.


So far, so good. But I have a question: does one ever stand for the reading of a history book?


No offense, of course, to history books. But you see, I hope, where I’m going here. You don’t stand when a history book is read, but you stand when someone who is important is coming among you. And I’m not talking about me.


We stand when the Gospel is read because when the Gospel is read in the midst of us, the living Jesus is addressing us in our time and place. It’s not simply a story about what Jesus did a long time ago, but it is Jesus’ message to us for today.


Such an understanding is more exciting, certainly, but it’s also a lot scarier. For Jesus is telling the disciples that they will be maligned, that their lives will be threatened, that there will be division and conflict in households, that there is a cross prepared for each of them to take up.


Sounds like it’s time for us to go back to reading the Bible as a story that happened to someone else. But our standing for the Gospel reading suggests that the words Jesus said to his disciples are also for us. Each of our personal experiences are different, but if these words are the words of our Lord, they apply to us.


Our relationship to our Lord, our creator and our redeemer, is at the center of our existence. It is not one loyalty we have among others. Even to say we put God first in our lives implies that there are a number of considerations in our life which have nothing to do with him, that can come second or third or fourth or fourteenth and so forth. Soon God gets relegated to a tiny, tiny space at the top, and that which is ‘less important’ but still ‘important’ takes up all the room.  


Instead, our Lord is in the center. For God is not a thing among other things. He is not even the one ‘thing’ we cannot do without. For a thing is that which is created. But God is the being from whom all things in creation flow. Everything in creation assumes importance only because it is a gift from God.


But we human beings tend to put self in the center and God on the periphery. God becomes another ‘thing’ in our lives, along with family, country, money, time, etc. Once we do so, if there is any ‘give’ in our lives that needs to be given, it is the Lord’s commandment and promise that gets laid aside, as the ‘thing’ that can be easily sacrificed with no cost to our earthly life.


If you’re asking whether you are seeking to put the Lord in the center of your life, then you might ask yourself: are there consequences for your confession of faith? Are there things you must say or do, or must not say and don’t dare do, because of what you believe? Does living from the center take your time, your energy, your resources? Do you treat anyone differently, with more charity, more patience? If you can say, ‘yes,’ then you can keep seeking to go farther. If you say ‘no’ to these questions, then you may wish to consider whether God has become simply another ‘thing’ in your life.


Whenever we turn to the Lord and seek to put him in the center, to live out of our baptismal identities, we arouse opposition within and without. The old Adam or old Eve in us seeks the dominion of the self, but in others can be aroused jealousy, anger, and fear. For after all, if you are living from a center other than self, what is to prevent them from having to give up their selfhood?

Jesus tells his disciples, and tells us today, that there will be consequences for the confession of his name. The world, the flesh, and the devil, as Luther would say, bands together against us. We need to be prepared to take up the cross.


He seems to go to the extreme case, families divided for the Gospel’s sake. And yet is this so rare? Or, if not common, at least it is not unheard of. More common is those families and friendships, or churches, which are divided or at least strained when one or more within them are convinced of some essential truth of the Gospel which the others do not share. Part of our responsibility is to treat each other with gentleness when we disagree and as far as possible strive for unity, bearing with each other in love, but articulating the truth. Jesus says that we will face opposition, but he never indicates that we should become persecutors.


I have been talking mainly about the division that Jesus says will occur because of his presence in the world. But he does not only warn, but comforts. Several times in this passage he tells the disciples not to be afraid. And he promises that if they acknowledge him in the world he also will acknowledge as his own before the Father. In the same way that the warnings to the disciples were not simply meant for them but for us, the promises also are for us. We who seek to live from the center we have been given in baptism will be sustained in that life by the one who sustains all creation. And when all the things of this world will have passed away, we will be with the Trinity whose very being is being. Amen