Fourth Sunday After Pentecost – Pr. Smith

Message for June 25, 2023

Preached at OSL, Raleigh



Grace and peace to you…

1. (Upset the equilibrium)

Today’s Gospel reading carries on from last week’s where Jesus is preparing the Twelve to go out and preach the kingdom of God. And unlike a locker-room pep talk, He’s telling them what’s really going to happen. Last week, He told them, “[men] will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness.” This is the world’s thank you for “healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons.”

Today’s Gospel reading picks up from there and continues to show how the world will react to the preaching of the Gospel. “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”

I have never understood why Christianity is sometimes preached as a way to get your life in order. The world hated Jesus and it will continue to hate those who follow Him as it always has.

Welcome to uncomfortable moments with Jesus. I’m Pastor Andy Smith, I’ll be your host today.


2. (Analyze the discrepancy)

It’s really one of the biggest things I’ve struggled with throughout my ministry. It’s really, the thing I’ve thought most about not only in my previous congregation, but in all my time in parish ministry and a chief difference between my time in the parish compared with my time as a Navy chaplain. I’ll try to show the difference.

One day, at the hospital, I called on a patient, a Marine Staff Sergeant from Iowa, if memory serves. This was late 2004 and he had been wounded in an improvised explosive attack. His mom was there. And she was worried, as a mom would be, but she was also proud of her son, because of what he said to her. He said something to the effect of “I’m not worried about getting hurt, Mom, if I can be the last one to get hurt, and everyone else stays safe, that’s fine with me.” Now, this is a Marine staff sergeant. Especially in infantry units, his chief purpose is to care for his Marines. I digress a little here to say that I came to realize all that shouting is really a form of love. So, he said what he said and his mom was so proud and still very scared. And it occurred to me, this is the Gospel angle. Her son isn’t the last one to get hurt, but God’s Son is. And no matter what happens, Jesus has acted. He is with them. The one who is the last one to get hurt is protecting them both. It was a good day to be a chaplain and speak the Good News of the kingdom, to heal the sick, and to speak Good News to those downcast.

Fast forward to parish ministry, not just my last one, pick any of them. Pick any parish…. except here. (Grin) Something bad happens. It can run the whole gamut from the daughter of a prominent family who wasn’t picked to play Mary in the Christmas play to the pastor decided to grow a beard, and a family leaves the church. To something a little bigger, say the school principal attempts to cancel Concordia insurance and retirement plans for the whole staff and steal the school and then threatens to sue the pastor and the church for defamation, to… well, to finding out a trusted staff member has broken trust.

Now you say, ‘people don’t leave churches because their kid wasn’t picked for the play or because the pastor grew a beard,’ but I will tell you those are real examples. It’s taken me a long time to figure it out, but I think the way to look at it is to put them in the same category as the others, as struggles against the chaos, the disequilibrium, the disorder of the world.

Think about it. The world is chaotic. If the past 30 years of cable news have taught us anything, audiences rebel against the actual telling of news and prefer to know what’s happening with the Kardashians. Even the way politics and national issues are covered are less Walter Cronkite and more National Enquire. And so we argue less and less about what’s actually right and wrong and more about whether we’re on the side of the Hatfields or the McCoys. Tribalism is a natural human response to the world’s chaos. That family who got mad because their daughter wasn’t in the Christmas play thought they were a valued part of a tribe and symbolic of that is the honor of the tribe for their daughter. It was part of how they saw the world rightly ordered and their part in it. Apparently, even unexpected facial hair, (on a pastor, no less!) can expose the world to be not as rightly ordered as was thought. It’s no worder we get thrown for a loop when people break trust or our truck in the convoy sets off the bomb.


3. (Disclose the clue to resolution)

Tribalism is not Jesus’ answer but it is an answer. Jesus’ answer is the true antidote to chaos.

The Marines closed ranks around their own and let them know they’re not alone. I wasn’t the only visitor that Staff Sergeant and his mom had. And her son exhibited the kind of strength that comes in tightly knit communities with a common character. And the community honored his strength and sacrifice. I merely pointed out to her Jesus was actually Jesus and it took so much of the burden off her and pointed her fear not at her son’s strength but at Jesus’ weakness for her son, for her, for me, for you.

The Gospel reading today is Jesus teaching the Twelve what to expect when they go out preaching. It is not a lecture I remember from my seminary days at all. I swear to you that I remembered sitting in the hallowed classrooms and chapel pews of St. Louis and hearing “Just preach the Gospel and “’all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” And then I graduated and I had no church building, an organist in the Lodge, and a building program. And very little was well at all and I was afraid.

The Good News is not a building program. The Good News is Jesus and His kingdom.

The Good News is not “community” aka tribalism. The Good News is Jesus and His kingdom.

The Good News is not the sense of order we find for ourselves. The Good News is Jesus and His kingdom.

The Good News is not that you won’t get arrested for being a Christian, the Good News is that when you get arrested, you’ll know what to say.

I might have known that on paper when I left seminary, but I wasn’t confident about it. And when it happened, as it was bound to happen, I confess it, I was afraid.

The Good News isn’t that if you’re a Christian, everyone will love you. The Good News comes in the midst of “you will be hated by all for Jesus’ name.” Don’t be afraid.

And the Good News is not that Christian don’t have enemies. The Good News is that God is not your enemy. Jesus has made sure of that by His death and resurrection, by welcoming you into the kingdom of God. Of course, now you have a whole ‘nother set of enemies that hate that you’re one of God’s own now. One of my teachers points out here that Jesus is really warning us about demonic powers greedy to take the lives, or souls, of God’s own. And that we should especially be mindful that the people of light are never more at risk than when they are lured into fighting the darkness with more darkness. That is the road straight to the smoldering rubbish heap of Gehenna. Jesus says, if you want to be afraid of something, be afraid of this. Be very afraid.

The Good News is that Jesus says, “don’t be afraid” “for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

That’s the real fear that the world and the devil and our own weak flesh whispers in our ears. “Jesus is a nice fellow but the Son of God? Really?” “You really think that there is an infinite God out there somewhere who cares about you?”


4. (Experiencing the Gospel)

And Jesus says, “Yes, of course, the infinite God of the heavens and earth cares about you. He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground. And you are worth so much more than a sparrow. So don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid, the Gospel is real. The other stuff that seems like antidotes for chaos will not last. The Gospel is real and Jesus is real and His ministry and life and death and resurrection are real. There will come a day when all of it will be revealed. And there will come a day when your fear, my fear, will melt away and we will be vindicated for having been loyal to Jesus, for trusting Him.

Jesus assures the disciples, not that all manner of things in this world will be well but rather that who He is and what He’s come to do is true and real and is the antidote to the chaos in the world, in us.

Jesus assured the staff sergeant and his mom that His death on the cross is the real end of it all. Yes, some more people will get hurt, but the pain the world can inflict is finished with Him.

And so the real antidote to the chaos of the world is being with Jesus, being where He is, where He welcomes you, and speaks to you, and feeds you, and draws you close to Himself.


5. (Anticipating the consequences)

It often doesn’t feel that way, of course, because the world can find us even in here. But I encourage you not to look for the world’s antidotes to chaos here and look only for Jesus. Here, he says, again and again, “It’s all real. Every story you learned from childhood. Every orthodox teaching you learned about how I am with you to the very end of the age, really present even if hidden under bread and wine. It’s all true.” “And it’s meant to give you strength and courage and faith and hope and love in face of the world and its terrible threats.”

Every time we gather, Jesus in effect says, “I know you. I know what you’re afraid of. And yet, you’re still here. Your sins are forgiven. I have put in a good word for you with my Father. You’re welcome here. You’re in good company. It’s not over yet, but don’t be afraid. I will sustain you to the end.” Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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