The Cost of Life

Gospel: Mathew 10:24-39

24 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

 

Sermon

Here we are at the Anniversary of the Uniting Church, and the gospel reading is all about persecution, the results of following Jesus. Happy Birthday!

When I was a teenager I said something fairly condemnatory about one of the folk who lived in our district. In many ways it was a reasonable criticism, but my Mum gently suggested that I didn't know the full story of what that man had to live with. Life was hard. She said, "Everyone's a hero, Andrew. Everyone's a hero. Everyone lives with pain. We need to be gentle and understanding. Life is not easy."

It's not that Mum was saying it doesn't matter how we live; far from it. My parents had high expectations of good and correct behaviour from us. We were expected to be model citizens. But we were also to be gentle and compassionate.

My mum taught me the gospel.

The thing about this incident was that I felt a bit chastened by her. The bloke was, in many ways, not a nice man. And I learned later that his behaviour was worse than I had imagined. But on that day my Mum was offering me a choice.

She was saying, "Andrew, you can be hard and self-righteous, and judge people. Or… you can learn to live in another way which is gentle and healing and Christ like."

She was offering me a better way of being human and discovering the deeper joys of life. And I had a choice. I could choose to feel judged by her, because she had shown me that I was wrong, and that I was not living the best way I could, and reject her and resent her… or I could choose to accept the invitation to a life of compassion and openness to which she was pointing me.

All good invitations to live well have an unavoidable element of judgement in them. When you stop to help the person who has collapsed on the footpath, you unavoidably say to those who just walked past that their way of living was at that moment lacking humanity and decency.

That's why the church has always been persecuted. The more gently and more faithfully we live the gospel, the more brightly it shines a light on the shortcomings of lives that are lived for themselves and their own benefit.

Some people will see us, and our lives as disciples, as an invitation to a new and healing way of living, and some will simply hate us because they know their falling short is exposed.

It's the anniversary of the Uniting Church. There was a seven fold sending out from the Inaugural Service. It remains so fresh that it could have been written last week! It goes like this, and it's on the screen.

♦ Preach Christ the risen crucified One and confess him as Lord;
♦ bear witness to the unity of faith and life in Christ, rising above cultural economic racial and national boundaries;
♦ engage in fearless prophetic ministry in relation to social ills which deny God's active will for justice and peace;
♦ act with God alongside the oppressed, the hurt and the poor;
♦ accept responsibility for the wise use and conservation of the finite resources of this earth for the benefit of all;
♦ recognise, treasure and use the gifts of the Spirit given to all God's people for ministering;
♦ live a creative, adventurous life of faith, characterised by openness and flexibility, hope and joy.

With the best will in the world, this will leave us, and others, feeling judged. It is a vision for life, straight out of Scripture and the Basis of Union, which pulls us up short. It shines the light of Christ upon our shortcomings as Christians and as human beings. It either invites us to a new way of living, or it leaves us feeling judged. And the bitter facts of life are... that the better we live out this vision of being Christ's church, the more some people will feel criticised, and will attack us!

I've lived in a manse that had  anti-terrorist film on the windows. It was there to stop right wing extremists from throwing tires and worse into the children's bedrooms. Some of our congregations have had racist graffiti painted on their church buildings. Colleagues have had excrement smeared on their door handles and dumped in their letter boxes. Officers of the Assembly have been ostentatiously followed by (presumably) ASIO operatives as the leave for overseas trips, and met and conspicuously followed by security agents when they arrive overseas; acts of deliberate intimidation. UCA visitors on an overseas trip wondered why they were spending so much time stopping and waiting when they were on a visit to a partner church. They found out it was so their hosts could make sure they would avoid the military on the next step of the tour.

It's not new; I am told that in Methodist days the League of Rights made dire threats against ministers in South Australia. And we have the least of this; few of us die for our faith in Australia, unlike other parts of the world. But let us not forget Uniting Church member Donald Mackay.

And many, many of us know the pain and alienation that comes from family who resent our affiliation with church, and respond with hatred to our attempts to live well.

Jesus says

24 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

and he says,

Have no fear….  29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

He also says "whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me." It is a hard saying. It challenges all our desires for comfort and safety, and a quiet life. But it is the invitation to a better life, a life that frees us from the unworthy trivia of society and, paradoxically, allows us to rise above the violence of society, and to be healed.

As the Uniting Church, we too, are questioned by Jesus about the worth of our life, and the worthiness of our being church. Will we be chastened as we realise he finds us wanting, and renew ourselves, and take up again the cross of our discipleship…. or will we simply be judged, and become angry with him and shut him out?

Let us take up the challenge and be church, the Church of Christ… for he also said, "those who lose their life for my sake will find it." Amen-May it be so.




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