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June 21, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Jun 21, 2020 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7A)

June 21, 2020

This small iron ox is one of a pair made by my great grandfather. He was apprenticed to an ironmonger and continued with him until he could demonstrate sufficient skill to be admitted to the Ironmonger’s Master Guild. These oxen were his proving project to conclude his apprenticeship and begin for himself the work he was now trained to do. I imagine a man with a young family, proudly ready to begin this new work, hoping these years of watching and learning will serve him well and pay off. He’s both excited and a bit worried about how well he’ll do or if he’ll fail. What might he get to create and do? Will it be too hard? Too risky? It’s good work and yet often dangerous, as his mentor’s scars and burns has well taught him. Can he put to work all he’s learned, and did he miss anything?

The men and women walking in discipleship to Jesus that day were like the graduating apprentices. They’ve been watching and listening, learning and growing alongside Jesus all this time. They have been as apprentices with the master. Jesus has shown the way, given them instructions, and explained how they must do this. Now he’s telling them what to expect as they go out on their first mission apart from him. His warning words are serious, and even so they have good reason to hope and a readiness to try to walk his path with their own feet.

We seldom hear of anyone being apprenticed these days; if we need to repair a pipe or lamp or wall there’s a YouTube for that. Want to learn a new craft like sewing? We can google it or find it on Pinterest. Still, there are some things that we still must learn from another human being. Kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and love to name a few. In those areas we apprentice our whole lives. Some learn them from parents, and we also find our mentors in relatives, teachers, clergy, and people at church. We remember them because the bond in doing so was special. What mentor created and shared that bond with you? Who helped you become the person you are? We find it in following Christ Jesus, by being his disciples. We each find it in our unique way, in order to become an authentic messenger of his Word.

Then as they readied to go out to share the good news, Jesus says he has not come to bring peace, but a sword, to set even family members against each other. How unlike what they wanted to hear, what we want to hear! Won’t he soon be telling Peter to put away his sword? Jesus doesn’t ask for what he isn’t ready to do, and we remember his family outside of the crowd around him, wanting to speak to him. Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then pointing to his disciples, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” We remember he commends his mother to John from the cross itself. He isn’t cutting them off or disowning them, he’s explaining that the bond we choose with him surpasses any other in life, and will be with us when others come and go. We often hear politicians speak of ‘family values’ and whomever their opponent is, it’s always someone who hasn’t got the right ‘family values.’ Most of us have also had a time when we had to say what we believed was right or just, even though it angered a family member or threatened to break the relationship. Jesus isn’t asking us to shun or forsake our relationship that with parents, sons, or daughters who disapprove of our faith, he’s saying that being a Christian surpasses it. To be faithful and follow his ways will ‘relativize’ those familial allegiances. Loving one’s family is as real as ever, but the Christian path we choose will redefine our values and relationships.

It’s impossible not to think of all this in terms of Father’s Day, and rather than see it as diminishing the fathers in our lives or the children who call you their father, this scripture offers us another facet of how we honor fathers and father-figures in our lives, and how the presence of those who love and mentor and teach us has shaped us. It is said a child’s first concept of the idea of God is their parents — because of course we’re all powerful, all knowing, indestructible, forgiving, and loving. (That’s pretty well over by the time they hit double digits!) Humans form bonds with that loving parent figure which helps point them to the greater bond of love we have with the Holy One. Even as Jesus warns of the rejection, suffering, division and persecution they may face, he has also speaks of God the Father who knows every hair on your head, who won’t even fail that falling penny sparrow — “So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Finally Jesus speaks of those who do not take up the cross and follow him as “unworthy” of him. This isn’t a shaming word or meant as degradation of character. The word is ἄξιος (axios) meaning of not of the same weight, not equal on a scale, and how could we be? It is unlikely any of us will literally carry the cross on which we die, so instead we might hear it as taking up that life which reflects our beliefs, a life revealing love of God and a mission to serve, a way which will always be a cruciform life.

We can’t fully share in that exalting Easter glory and the joy of new life without also knowing the cost of choosing it, the potential for rejection and pain. The vertical axis of a cross is about our relationship with God, and the horizontal is about God working through us to spread the good news, to reach out to heal the brokenness in the world around us. In this, we are all apprentices to the master. Jesus’ sending gift is to equip them to deal with opposition, to persevere in the face of rejection. Their time with Jesus is like ours; it is their ‘internship’ with him that makes them, and us, who we are. In so doing we become capable of what God gives us to do and aligns us with God’s grace and love.

This relates to Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, as he speaks of embodying resurrection life ourselves. Through baptism into Christ’s death our old self dies, Paul says, and our new self is “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” For Paul, baptism is a journey, a process continuing beyond the moment and unfolding through one’s whole life. Though in this passage alone he mentions “sin” seven times (!), he saw baptism as less about washing sin away and more about curbing or neutralizing it. A baptized believer sees boundaries on their actions – what is right or not, and strives to choose accordingly. For Paul, this means sin loses much of its power over us, identifying with Christ is cooperating less with sin. When we live as baptized into his death, we more and more embody resurrection life. This life in Christ is to be liberation from sin and death. Personally the idea of this as a lifelong process is comforting, and I’m often frustrated by those sins I fall prey to all too often, even while I manage to curb others!

Sin has been characterized like an outside domination over us which can diminish and dehumanize us. Lately we see people deteriorating into only opposing sides, accusing ‘the other’ of sins before seeing our own. Politicians and activists look so angry lately, not without reason, yet too often more oppositional than hopeful. People move further into the corners of our nation’s boxing ring, and I’m here to say, there is no freedom from sin holding on to that, nor does it quell our fears or build up the kingdom of God. Have we perhaps become more energized by who and what we are against than the values we we hold and the wounded we stand in support of? If we dismantle systemic sins are we equipped to fill that void with God’s peace and grace? I know so many us have tried not to let hostility and loathing be so seductive it pre-empts positive and generative values, hallmarks of a loving God and followers of Christ. I dreaded news of last night’s event in Tulsa, fearing more threats, bloodshed, and death on the streets. And then miraculously it didn’t happen. Yes, there were still voices raised and cruel things said, and yet I saw more protesters with signs calling for peace and equity, more messages of hope raised up, than signs about what is so wretchedly wrong. Some said things like “Jesus loves you!” and “love your neighbor, no matter what color.” How can this be nurtured and grown? It takes people willing to face their own sins, and engage constructively to seek change, even so few as twelve. The good news is that we need not wait for perfection or for a rally, an election, the Second Coming, or even the end of covid-19! We become the apprentices who are ready, sent to embody and reveal Christ, to listen to what God’s people are crying out for. We know costly or cruel responses may wound us as Jesus warned, and so in our hearts dwells the One who overcame death and gave us new life, and we put our feet on his path to go where he sends.

Amen.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.


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