Pentecost 3 A: Two Timely Truths

Matthew 10: 24-39

Dear Partner in Preaching,

There are two words here, both important for our people to hear.

Division and discord are an inescapable part of our life in this world. Trust me, this won’t be news to your people. Every headline or news caption seems to blare this reality. Every family experiences the pain of this reality at one point or another. Every person in your congregation has been marked by this reality. No, this won’t be news.

Much of that discord is avoidable and unnecessary. That’s the tragedy, but also the truth, of our condition, and we can commit ourselves to healing it where possible.

But some of that discord is unavoidable and a result of living with integrity, of sharing the truth of the Gospel, and of bearing witness to the grace of God we have encountered in Christ. This is also a tragedy – that people should suffer for bearing witness to the Jesus – but one that, to be perfectly honest, will be far less a reality in most of our people’s lives than in the lives of the first-century Christian community to whom Matthew is writing.

So what do we do with this element – in many ways the central element – of the passage? One temptation – and, yes, I use that word deliberately – will be to ignore these situational differences and hear Jesus’ encouragement to disciples who were suffering for their confession that he was the Messiah to be an endorsement of whatever particular cause or stance we believe is most important in the moment. If we make this interpretive move, then our sermon will likely charge us to go forth and risk discord, to stand for justice no matter what the cost, to be a truth-teller and let the chips fall where they may. (There may be good reason for doing this, mind you, but let’s be honest about what we’re doing.)

Why do I describe that as a temptation? Not because I don’t think there are times when that kind of commitment to truth and justice is important, even vital. There are indeed such times, and I pray for all of us the wisdom to discern them and the courage to bear faithful witness during them. At the same time, I know from my own experience that once I decide I’m the truth-teller or standard bearer for justice I can quickly, even if somewhat unconsciously, stop listening to those who feel or believe differently from me and even label them as untruthful and unjust.

Just now, I think our culture has enough division and discord and that there are enough people who have decided that those who disagree with them are not just opponents but the enemy. So, recognizing that our situation is different than the one Matthew addresses, I’d suggest that we encourage our folks – and ourselves! – to speak the truth as we believe we’ve received it and to advocate for justice as we perceive it. But precisely because we know that truth is something we can confess but never possess (that is, I think, part of the reality of human sin), to do so in a way that doesn’t shut down other voices, refuse to listen to other opinions, or cut off folks who believe differently.

Well, that’s the first word. Not easy. But who said trying to be faithful was supposed to be easy!

The second word Jesus offers is more straightforward: amid this discord – whether necessary or not, whether noble or self-inflicted – Jesus is with us. Still. Jesus was with those disciples in his day and among Matthew’s community who suffered for their faith. Jesus is with those disciples today who live in parts of the country where they continue to suffer for their faith in ways we will likely never experience and can scarce imagine. And Jesus is with us amid the discords in our personal lives, families, communities, congregations, nation, and world.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” “Do not be afraid” – the hallmark of the Gospel and words we cannot say too frequently in a world so marked by fear. “You are of great value” – the promise of God in Jesus and words we need to say and hear again and again in a world that values us more for what we can buy than almost anything else. If we could measure how many of our folks live in fear – of being alone, of not having a job, of being judged for their skin color rather than character, of losing their health – or who do not feel valued (by friends, family, even their church), I think it would take our breath away.

So let folks know, Dear Partner, that there is discord in this world, some of which is unnecessary, some of which is unavoidable, and some of which is in the cause of truth, and that in all these situations we are called to live with the kind of integrity that values both truth and the person with whom we are debating truth. And then tell folks that God knows about that discord, that Jesus is with them through it, and that God will not give up on them because God values them, each and every one, more than we can imagine.

These two words – cross and resurrection words – are as timely as they are timeless, and I’m grateful for your willingness to share them. Blessings on your proclamation.

Yours in Christ,