McFarland

Fourth Sunday of Pentecost June 27/28, 2020

Readings

First Reading: Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-1
Second Reading: Romans 6:12-23
Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42

Prayer of the Day:
O God, you direct our lives by your grace, and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world. Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Hymns of the Day

If you don’t have hymnals at home,
look up the hymns on YouTube or other websites.

Lift High the Cross (ELW #660)

I Love to Tell the Story (ELW #661)

We Know That Christ Is Raised (ELW #449)

O Christ, Your Heart, Compassionate (ELW #722)

Sparrow (Audrey Assad/Kyle Lee)

Reflection on Matthew 10:24-39

by Pastor Tim Dean

This text from Matthew is one that most preachers want to avoid—including me! It’s a good week to take a vacation. Hmmm…Pastor Kelli is on vacation. No, she’s not avoiding this text—I scheduled myself to preach this week. What was I thinking?

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” (10:34) Then he goes on to describe how he has brought division between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and within households. My first reaction is, “O Lord, don’t we have enough division, divisive, mean-spirited realities, right now? And Jesus comes to divide us? That doesn’t sound like good news!”

So what do we do with this text, other than avoid it? Can it proclaim good news in our world where we are so aware of painful divisions separating us from one another?

Maybe the first thing to look at is the historical context. This is part of Matthew’s missionary instructions, most of chapter 10.

In Matthew’s church in the first century, there were missionaries who went from town to town, preaching God’s kingdom. Some did encounter persecution, suffering, and even martyrdom. Also, some disciples were rejected by their family of origin—their fathers, mothers, or mothers-in-law—when they started following Jesus.

Jesus’ words about division are descriptive—not prescriptive. They describe what was likely happening to some disciples in Matthew’s time; his words are not a prescription for what we are called to do in our own time and place.

The second point to emphasize is that the “sword” Jesus describes is not political or military might. Jesus preaches non-violent love in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:43-45). Later in the story, when Jesus is about to be arrested, one of his disciples takes out a sword and tries to defend him. But Jesus replies, “Put your sword back into your place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

The “sword” in today’s text is not literally or figuratively a weapon used to bully people. It’s something more like speaking the truth in love. (See Ephesians 4:15 and Hebrews 4:12-13)

The third point—and perhaps most relevant for us—is that Jesus is describing the way of the cross. This is the first time Matthew mentions the cross in his story. “Whoever does not take up the cross the follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)

Disciples who engage in the mission of the church will not be met with spectacular success. Yes, they will receive Jesus’ power and authority, but they will also share in his suffering. You and I know the end of the story, where Jesus experiences suffering, a brutal Roman execution and death, and then three days later, is raised to new life.

Matthew’s words today anticipate this: when we lose our lives in Jesus’ cross and resurrection, we will in fact find them. Losing and finding, dying, and rising—this is the way of the cross, discipleship, following Jesus.

This week I have been drawn again to the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his writing about “cheap grace” versus “costly grace.” He wrote about this in his classic book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” which was written while Bonhoeffer was actively resisting the Nazi government in Germany in the 1930s.

Bonhoeffer writes, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate… Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” (Cost of Discipleship, p. 45)

Dear friends, in the cross, we receive costly grace. It is grace because the Living God became human and gave his life for us, once for all. It is grace because we are not the Savior; Jesus is.

Yet it is costly because we are called to follow him and to do his work of non-violent love and compassionate care for the vulnerable. It is costly, because daily we die to self-centeredness, fear or worry, and rise to share the Living Word of grace.

The way of the cross is what Jesus offers for us. Not a “cheap peace” where conflicts are patched over, but not healed. Not a “cheap grace” where everyone is superficially nice. Not a “cheap justice” where systems of oppression remain unchanged, unreformed.

We are invited, dear friends, to die to sin and become alive in Christ, as our first reading from Romans puts it. Costly grace enables us to shed the skin of our old selves, the deceptions, failures, and complacency, and put on the new skin of Jesus and his love.

Pastor Emily Heath describes costly grace as risking love for others. “Love is risky…. We can love God enough to risk loving the world. We can choose love as our way of resistance.” (Christian Century, June 20, 2018)

Dying and rising, costly grace, choosing love. This is what Jesus has in mind when he invites you and I to follow him. In a time where there is so much hate and despair, uncertainty, and fear of the stranger and the future, we need to risk sharing the love of God by loving others. That is how we take up the cross.

And remember this, dear people: Jesus tells us not to be afraid because God cares for us like God cares for tiny sparrows. “Do not be afraid,” he says, “you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

God cares for us deeply, treasures us as beloved children, as we follow the way of the cross.

Don’t be afraid to risk loving others, as God continues to love you.

Don’t be afraid of dying and letting go, because every new day, we rise with him again.

Amen.

Let Us Pray

God of costly grace, you have set us free from bondage in the cross and resurrection of your Son. Empower us to die to ourselves, let go of our fears and worries, and rise to newness of life in him. Help us to resist evil and all forms of oppression with your risky, non-violent love. Shower this love upon all who suffer in mind, body and spirit, especially those who live in poverty, fear and loneliness. Thank you for the unfathomable love you have given us in the humanity of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.