Sermon: “Stressed Disciples”

June 25, 2017

Matthew 10:24-39

Sometimes you just can’t count on Jesus.

Take this week, for instance. I had a plan. Some weeks ago, I read over the Scriptures for these Sundays in June, I chose the ones that I’d preach about, and I chose the themes I’d speak about. I was particularly fond of the transition from last Sunday to today. Last week, with “Discipling Light,” I’d talk about taking the challenge of discipleship which calls you to give things up. And I did.

I encouraged you to give up anxiety and greed, which are probably things you’d just as soon leave behind anyway, but it was still a message of challenge. At least, it was supposed to be.

In this week’s text from Matthew, Jesus speaks at length about other stresses of discipleship. “Stressed Disciples,” I thought. “That’s the time for a message of reassurance, of Jesus’ constant presence and support.” I held on to that idea for most of this week.

But sometimes, you just can’t count on Jesus. At least, not if you’re counting on him to tell you what you want to hear. Sometimes, he just won’t do it.

There’s comfort in this text, of a sort. In Bible Study this week, we read this section about how God marks the fall of every sparrow, and how we’re worth more than many sparrows. Which is nice to hear. But it’s just a pause between worrying about those who call Jesus the prince of demons – and if they’re calling him that, what will they call us? – and then hearing that we’ll see families divided and broken over this message we bear.

So I asked the folks in the study groups if they found this comforting. And, well, nobody did. Including me.

Sometimes you just can’t count on Jesus to tell you what you want to hear.

Lance Pape writes (in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3): “If Jesus were really the enlightened and affirming nice guy we often insist on imagining, should he not have been able to stay out of trouble? What incited people to call him such appalling names (prince, not of peace, but of demons!)? Why would following him wreck families? How did he end up on a cross?”

Those are good questions. And finally I got it through my thick skull that Jesus does not have comforting words for stressed disciples here. He has a warning that disciples will be stressed.

Sometimes you just can’t count on Jesus to tell you what you want to hear.

So let’s look straight at it.

Karoline Lewis writes, “When you are called to speak your truth, stand up for what you believe, a serene and untroubled reception is not always the result.”

That’s a gentle way of saying, things can go pretty badly pretty quickly.

It’s not an absolute. Sometimes, when people hear the truth, they consider it, test it, and even embrace it. It happens all the time. Somebody asks you for directions, you give them the turns and the street names and such, and away they go, both of you hoping that you know what you’re talking about.

That’s a kind of truth that most people will consider, and accept, at least until they try it.

But what about a question like, say, the participation of women in the Christian Church? In the United Church of Christ, we are blessed by women in many leadership roles. But some communions and denominations still limit the scope of women’s leadership despite the overwhelming evidence of God’s call to individual women and the abundance of their gifts for ministry. A church that rejects female leadership is a church impoverishing itself.

Spoken to some audiences, that’s a pretty divisive statement, isn’t it?

Some years back, as the United Church of Christ began considering that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons might also be called to leadership in the Church, my home pastor preached a sermon one Sunday opposing the idea. As far as he was concerned, affection between man and man or woman and woman was sinful, and unrepentant sinners should not be leaders. They also shouldn’t be regular worshipers.

I was in college at the time, and my father decided to send me a copy of the sermon. This was long enough ago that he used actual paper in an actual envelope.

I read the sermon and realized that I had a different view. I’d come to know gay and lesbian people by then, and knew them to be loving and considerate people – and also, from time to time, inconsiderate and unkind, too. Much like I was. In other words, they were compassionate and selfish pretty much the same way as I. So I had to say something, especially if I was going to serve honestly as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

I wrote three letters – one to my pastor, one to my father, and one to my girlfriend (who attended another college). I rather melodramatically told myself that I’d put everything on the line: my career, my family relationships, and my love life. That was probably overstated, but I had taken a significant risk. I just didn’t know how risky it wasn’t or was.

Well, my pastor disagreed with me but continued to support my progress toward ministry. My father was proud of me for standing up for what I believed.

The young woman broke up with me shortly thereafter.

Two out of three ain’t bad.

Let me be clear. Jesus did not say, “Go and insult your neighbors. Go and offend your family. Go and grab a sword. Go and use the sword on your neighbors.” No. He did not say that.

He said: Proclaim that the realm of God is close at hand. Make that a liberating proclamation. See that the sick find healing, and that the outcasts are welcomed in. Bring healing. Bring freedom. And be warned that people may not take that very well.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because I took it from last week’s sermon.

Healing. Which might have something to do with health care. Which has been in the news this week.

I do not pretend that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is perfect. It’s not. I look at it as a step forward toward the goal of making health care available to people without regard to their material wealth.

This week’s bill put before the United States Senate, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, is a step backward. A big one. If expanded coverage for people is even a goal, it’s spectacularly mistaken about its impact. I don’t think the authors are that unaware. They’re driving toward other goals, including a reduced tax burden on the wealthiest Americans. And that takes priority over access to health care for impoverished Americans, disabled Americans, and Americans over 65.

Well. That’s just wrong.

Go heal the sick, Jesus said. Go heal the sick.

They’ll call us names. They’ve done it for some time. Family members may disagree. We’ve faced that before, too.

But friends, we dare not stay silent on this Better Care Reconciliation Act, because its very name is a fraud, and a betrayal of the citizens of this nation. It serves the strong, and it burdens the weak.

From Karoline Lewis again, because her words this week really struck a spark in my heart:

“God’s peace expects justice. God’s peace asks for righteousness. God’s peace demands value for and regard of all. And God’s peace is what will save us all.”

Well, stressed disciples, I assure you that God is with you, and with us, as we endure the taunts. God is with you, and with us, as we proclaim compassion.

God is with you, and with us, as we speak a good word to those at the summit of power. God is with you, and with us, as we lovingly yet forthrightly face the tensions of our families.

God is with you, and with us, as we proclaim Good News.


The image is Carl Bloch’s painting of the Sermon on the Mount. Today’s text from Matthew is not from the Sermon on the Mount, but this image has become a foundation for many memes in recent years, and has become nearly synonymous with Jesus refusing to tell us what we want to hear.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , , | Posted on June 25, 2017

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