First Congregational Church
June 25, 2017
Third Sunday after Pentecost
“Against the Grain”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I would guess that there are few people who wonder about the real life of a pastor. I would guess that people think that pastors spend a great deal of time praying and reading the Bible and visiting the sick. I would guess that few people know that the life of a pastor is constantly filled with good news and bad news.
The good news? Seven people were baptized today in the river. The bad news? Two of them were lost in the swift current. The good news? The Personnel Committee accepted your job description the way you wrote it. The bad news? They were so inspired by it, they also formed a search committee to find someone capable of filling the position. The good news? Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks. The bad news? You were on vacation. The really, really good news? Six people officially became members of this church family today. The bad news? This morning’s scripture passage.
It takes place shortly after last week’s passage, in which a sort of mission-themed message arose, laced with elements of doing the right thing, the loving thing, because Jesus said. Matthew’s chapter 10 begins gently enough with Jesus naming all twelve disciples to go and do ministry in Jesus’ name because ‘freely they received, so they were to freely give. We skip a dozen verses that mentions things like shaking the dust off your feet if anyone doesn’t welcome you and that Jesus is sending the disciples out as sheep among wolves, so they are to be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. And then we get to this morning’s passage.
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Thank you, Reagan. Perhaps now you understand a little bit of why I was grousing about this passage. A real barn-burner - not just for official new members, or for visitors, or for any of us! And yet….
The irony wasn’t lost in the little section about the sparrows - as we have a nest of sparrows on the side door of the church. And it was particularly pointed as I had to remove one of the day old darlings from the wreath and move it to it’s burial place behind the forsythia bush.
While there is comfort that God knows about all 10,000 hairs on the average head, it can be a little uncomfortable in that God also knows everyone’s real hair color, too, including mine. And yet….
Scott Hoezee, of Calvin Theological Seminary has asked a great question: Why is the gospel sometimes hated? The more obvious reason has not so much to do with the actual gospel, but the bearers of the gospel - the ones who preach, who embrace, who espouse Christianity and at the same time, don’t act anything like Christ or loving.
There are those who try really hard to do as Christ has asked of us, and probably most all of us in this room would like to hope we are in that camp. And yet, even with the purest of motives, we can still feel a resistance to this thing that we call Good News - at least in sections like the one for this morning.
Scott Hoezee’s idea about that resistance comes from the idea of surrender. He said, “The heartbeat of the gospel is grace and love, forgiveness and renewal, hope and joy. These are commodities so precious that on the surface you can’t imagine anyone’s not wanting them. Rejecting the gospel would be similar to someone’s just hating the site of adorable kittens and puppies. How can you not like puppies!? They’re so cute! So also how can you not like the gospel: it drips with love, grace, and hope!
But, he pointed out, that “it’s what lies behind the love, grace, and hope that nettles people. God’s forgiveness is great until you realize that accepting it means acknowledging” - and I’ll paraphrase here - that you have issues.
For instance, suppose Sven came up to me and said, “Dinah, I would like to forgive you for that completely rude and inappropriate thing you said to me a few months ago after that committee meeting.” Well, if I happen to believe that I didn’t say anything that was even remotely out of line after that meeting, then I might very well react, “You can keep your lousy forgiveness! I don’t want it because I don’t need it.”
But going back to the gospel resistance idea of surrender, maybe the issue isn’t about Sven’s forgiveness, but my need for forgiveness. Maybe it’s about my need to surrender to God’s whisper in my ear - that came out of Sven’s mouth. Maybe I did say something that was out of line. Here’s one - maybe I (or you) don’t remember saying something that I thought was out of line. What would it really cost me (or you) to go back to Sven - or whoever - and explain that A., my last reaction wasn’t one that revealed my best side, and B., if I did offend whenever it was, I am sorry.
What does an apology really cost us in the long run of things? What does surrendering ourselves to God’s whispers really cost - in terms of the big picture and our reputations as being honest and forthright? Peace with our family, friends and neighbors? A minuscule step toward world peace? A better night’s sleep? Family and household cohesion?
In this morning’s passage, Jesus said this sentence in a number of different ways: Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. I wonder if we take that sentiment too much on the surface, because below the surface, if we give up our need to stifle hurting feelings to keep fragile peace, to pussy foot around or avoid difficult discussions, then aren’t we - in a really goofy way - really loving father and mother, brother and sister, whomever, more than God? In not heeding God’s whispers about our need to surrender our pride and/or need to be right, then are we feeding our relationships with junk food, rather than good, organic honesty and sincerity?
Listening to God’s voice, even when it’s uncomfortable, sometimes goes against our grain. But when those cross-grain moments come, maybe, most likely, those are the times when God is whispering into our ear that we need to do a little surrendering to God’s leading, a little less to our own nose-following, to come out healthier, happier - in the long run - and more congruent with and toward the life we know God is leading us.
For a life of depth and integrity, let us pray. Loving God, we are well aware that sometimes we aren’t so good at the hard parts of life. We would much rather have a life of puppies and kittens, rather than discussions and revelation of hearts. But we know or somehow understand that there is a depth to life that comes from doing the difficult, of getting off our self-soapboxes and allowing the light of good honesty to shine through us. We are reminded once again, that this life you have given us is not really about us, but about you, and so we ask for your forgiveness when we get that backwards. Help us, en-courage us, strengthen us and guide us to surrender to your will, that we may be happier and genuinely more glad than a life lived on the surface. For those individuals that have risked and exposed their hearts to us, we ask for a special blessing on them today. For anyone to whom we may need to make amends, we pray for their reception of our surrender to your will. For your blessings of honesty, forgiveness, mercy and love, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.