"From Embarrassed to Emboldened as Disciples" – Matthew 10:24-39
“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it 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!
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever 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; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Jack and Max and I had a good laugh about an online list of “19 Pictures that Scream ‘DAD!’” when it showed up in my Facebook feed, just in time for Father’s Day a week or so ago. This will be funnier for women and for everyone under the age of 40 or so, I imagine than it will be for the rest of us, so please accept my apologies in advance. But I give you some of the 19 pictures that scream “Dad!” according to your children and grandchildren, anyway:
The white crew socks (with accompanying tan line, I’m sure):
The Jean Shorts (not so affectionately known as ‘JORTS’):
… these sandals:
the tucked-in Tommy Bahama shirt:
I’ve heard cargo shorts are on that list, but I’m having a hard time giving those up, I have to say.
I won’t ask for a show of hands and I’m not confessing any of it, but all of that might be the reason your children or grandchildren wish sometimes you would drop them off without getting out of the car; or maybe it’s the reason they let go of your hand when they see their friends headed your direction when you’re out in the world; or maybe it’s why they hope you won’t volunteer to chaperone the dance or the field trip or show your face on school property, if at all possible. Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, but knowledge is power, nonetheless.
It’s funny to think about – especially if you’re 13. It’s a little sad and maddening if you’re on the other end of it all. And all this stuff, in a strange way, had me thinking about some of what I hear Jesus saying in this morning’s Gospel. Specifically, it made me think of what it means – and what it looks like – to acknowledge or deny God, the Father, in our daily lives, for all the reasons that we do.
See, what Jesus is doing– using all sorts images, illustrations and hyperbole – is nothing more and nothing less than naming the seriousness of our call to be disciples and followers of Christ in the world. I don’t think he means for us to take him as literally as he does mean for us to take him seriously. Because discipleship is a serious thing. It was in the days of the Jesus and it is meant to be, still. It calls for bold confession, faithful practice, and courageous action.
And, Jesus is talking to his first disciples knowing all sorts of persecutions and temptations are in store for them because of what he’s asking them to do. When he talks about coming “not for peace, but with a sword,” he’s not doing away with his title as the Prince of Peace or with his command to love one another above all else. Jesus is saying that, too often, the kind of amazing, radical, counter-cultural, life-changing grace, mercy and peace God offers is more than some people can handle. And that in order to really get it and to truly proclaim it and to faithfully share it means to surprise and to separate and to send people reeling from time to time. So he wants us to be realistic about and ready for the consequences of what real faithful, kingdom living may lead to in our lives and in the world.
Because doing that well – living faithfully, I mean – is hard work. When you stand up for justice for the “least of these,” that often means challenging the systems that protect the powerful. When you speak truth to power, power doesn’t always like what you have to say. When you speak the truth, even in love, the response is often denial and fear and hatred of that very truth and of those bold enough to proclaim it.
These are just some of the ways our lives as disciples acknowledge Jesus before others – and sometimes the ways, we have to admit, we deny him, just the same. That kind of faithful living gets people like Martin Luther excommunicated; people like Larycia Hawkins fired; people like Nelson Mandela thrown into jail; people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., the White Helmets in Syria, killed. And of course all of it got Jesus, himself, crucified.
And those are some tough shoes to fill. I wonder how many of us have had the opportunity or would have the courage or the faith to live out our faith like some of these giants. But we do our denying on a smaller scale, don’t we? When we drive by the hungry person on the street corner… When we let the racist comment slide… When we laugh with the bullies... When we add our two cents to gossip mill.
So what are we to do with Jesus’ promise that, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. And everyone who denies me before others, I will also deny before my father in heaven”?
What I hear him saying isn’t so much that those who deny Christ and the call to discipleship are doomed or damned for all eternity. It’s not that if we don’t live up to the standards of King or Mandela or Bonhoeffer, we’re out of luck. Remember, it is “enough that the disciple be like the teacher” and remember, he promises we hold more value than many sparrows, who, even though they fall, are never beyond the reach of God’s care.
What I hear Jesus acknowledging is that God – the Father of all creation – knows, like so many good parents know, what it feels like to have his children drop his hand at the grocery store; or rush by with friends to avoid any awkward conversations; or shrink down in the seat and hurry from the car hoping no one notices who’s in the driver’s seat.
What I hear Jesus saying to his disciples and to each of us, is that it’s time to grow up. He’s inviting us to embrace the claim of God, the Father, on our lives and to start living in the joy and the responsibility of that holy calling.
Just like it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when children begin distancing themselves from their annoying, embarrassing, nagging parents, it’s hard to pinpoint a precise moment when they begin to turn around and start re-building those bridges of relationship, connection, respect and admiration, too.
But, believe it or not, kids, it happens. I think even my parents would say it’s true.
There comes a time when the bad clothes and lame jokes and all the other embarrassing stuff of parenthood begin to seem pretty small in the grand scheme of things. And I hear Jesus calling our attention to that same reality when it comes to our relationship with God. He’s inviting us to embrace our call to discipleship – and all the things an immature faith might resist about it – because following Jesus puts everything into a different perspective.
It’s an invitation because Jesus knows that when we do it – when we let the call to discipleship change the way we live, what once seemed like work (things like generosity, gratitude and grace) will become a way of life. What once seemed beyond us (things like sacrifice, selflessness, and suffering, even) prove to bear fruit. What once seemed unbelievable (things like healing, wholeness, and real joy) will become Truth for our lives. And what once seemed impossible (forgiveness, freedom and eternal life) will belong to us all.