Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42
When Jesus sends his disciples out as missionaries, he warns them of persecution and hardships they will face. He also promises to reward any who aid his followers and support their ministry.
[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Some weeks, I write a sermon and think back on it and say – “Hey, that turned out pretty good!” Other weeks, I look back and think, “You were a little over the top there, Erin.” Last week I talked about the consequences of being a disciple and giving up one’s life for the gospel. I cannot in good faith say I have given up my life, when I know those who have literally put their life on the line for my safety and our right to practice our faith. And those who have died…
Barbara Brown Taylor once preached a great sermon on discipleship, noting “the romans may have built great roads, but they were not famous for understanding the subtleties of Jewish religion or standing by while great crowds of Jews gathered to discuss things for themselves. It was not a good time for big groups of people to go following someone who said and did unusual things.” Being a disciple was literally dangerous. Not just figuratively dangerous.
She went on to say that most of us are more like “friends of the disciples” than actual disciples. And that’s ok. The world needs those who give up their entire lives for the sake of the gospel. But the world also desperately needs those who remember the good news of the gospel in their daily lives.
“Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Whoa Jesus. Major spoiler. We know the end of the story and where the cross fits in that story of salvation. What must the disciples have thought? Jesus goes from living a fearless life of faith to family division and violence – and then drops the cross bomb. “What?! There are crosses now?!”
But here’s the thing that we don’t talk about – Jesus wasn’t anything special to the Romans. He wasn’t the first to be crucified nor the last. We wear necklaces with a Roman instrument of torture and humiliation. But not just anyone was tortured. It was a particular method of execution for the lower class and for rebels or instigators.
Taking up the cross implies identification with the marginal people (slaves and rebels) who were subject to Roman crucifixion, because they did not align themselves with or submit themselves to Rome’s authority. But Jesus promises that those who “lose their life” for him will in fact “find it,” while those who “find their lives” in the world will lose them (10:39).”
The cross exposed that autocracy kills that which threatens its toppling; that totalitarianism silences that which rises up against it; that dictatorships sit on the neck of those whose suffering is inconvenient. The cross reminds us again that God brings low the powerful and lifts up the lowly. He fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.
We cannot forget that this also is the good news of the cross.
“For nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known,” (Matthew 10:26). The Gospel was good news–good news for the poor in spirit, good news for the marginalized, good news for those overlooked, beaten down, good news for the vulnerable and the discriminated, good news for those who mourn, for the meek, for those persecuted for standing up for righteousness and justice–it was and is very bad news for those whose power banks on chokeholds; whose power takes advantage of anyone it can; whose power is hellbent on keeping power any way it can–and will threaten with force and charge with death to do so.” Karoline Lewis – Working Preacher.
This morning’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah lets us know very honestly that prophets don’t have many friends. Prophets say unpopular things, do unpopular things, speak out against the popular people doing popular things, in ways that could cost them their lives.
But Jesus only ever called around twelve people to drop everything, give up their lives and follow him. Many more, he healed, and set free, and changed their life – and told them to go home, and declare how much God has done for you.
Tell your neighbors about what happened to you. Glorify and thank God.
So instead of wringing our hands at Jesus words to give up everything or pretending like we’ve given up everything to follow him, we think carefully about the costs of speaking truth to power. And then in our homes, in our neighborhoods, at our work, we remember Jesus’ teaching about that cross.
We care for the marginalized, and those the system would rather execute than listen to. We study scripture and practice Jesus’ teachings as best we can, confessing our failures and asking forgiveness when we fall short. We practice living fearlessly now, trusting God with the small things. We practice knowing our worth and knowing that the job of saving the world has already been taken. There may be few disciples, but we as their friends, stand ready to encourage, support, and shelter those who would give up their lives. Amen.
Pastor Erin Evans