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Sermon for June 28, 2020, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 10:34-42 (Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)

“Like Our Lord unto Life Eternal”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

June 28, 2020

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel for today recorded in Matthew 10:

[Jesus said,] 34“Do not think that I came so as to bring peace on the earth. I did not come so as to bring peace, rather, a sword. 35For I came so as to turn a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, 36and a person’s enemies will be members of his household. 37The one who loves a father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and the one who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. 39The one who finds his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life on account of me will find it. 40The one who receives you receives me, and the one who receives me receives the One who sent me. 41The one who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive the reward of a prophet, and the one who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive the reward of a righteous man. 42And whoever gives a drink of only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, truly I say to you, shall surely not lose his reward.”

 

          The Teacher would face opposition. The Master would be persecuted and receive the death sentence from His enemies—crucifixion, the method of execution for slaves. A slave is not above His Master. A disciple is not above His Teacher. So Jesus says, “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:25).

          By the very nature of your Baptism, you have been made disciples—followers—of Jesus Christ by faith. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you are being sanctified, made holy, being formed as a new creation more and more into the likeness of your Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, whom you serve with your very lives as “living sacrifices” (Rom 8:28; 12:1; 1 Pet 2:5). But do not think for a moment that you are somehow better than Christ. Do not think that you are exempt from hatred, persecution, suffering, and cross. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matt. 10:24).

          In His Missionary Discourse, Jesus spells out for the Twelve Apostles and for all His followers that their (and our) relationship with Jesus Christ by faith will bring them (and us) into persecution and suffering. We who share in the ministry of Christ as baptized disciples also share in the sorrows of Christ. Jesus said to the Twelve prior to our Gospel reading, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.  . . . Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:16–23 ESV).

          Jesus couples this saying with today’s words, “Do not think that I came so as to bring peace on the earth. I did not come so as to bring peace, rather, a sword. For I came so as to turn a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a person’s enemies will be members of his household. The one who loves a father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and the one who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

The effect of Jesus’ coming as well as His proclamation of the reign and rule of God in the Gospel is inevitably conflict and strife. Jesus Himself caused division between people, a division so severe that it is pictured with the brutal image of a “sword.” Some will hear the preaching of repentance and faith in the Gospel, and by God’s gracious action through the power of the Holy Spirit, will repent and believe. But others will not because of their own ingrained sin and stubbornness. They will reject Christ who calls them to salvation from sin, death, and hell. Even families will become divided over the Gospel. Unbelieving loved ones may issue an ultimatum, “Choose me and my ways rather than your Jesus and His ways.” Here, the disciple must love Jesus more than father or mother or son or daughter. And that is bitter and painful for the believer in Christ as they carry with their Lord His sorrows even as He carried theirs all the way to the cross.

When a Christian receives Baptism and its attendant gifts of forgiveness, faith, and a new life in Christ, the Christian also accepts the sword, carries the cross, and suffers the loss of former relationships and status, even to the point of giving up one’s own bodily life. At different times and places in the Roman Empire, to be a Christian and to refuse to offer worship to Caesar and the pagan gods was considered a traitorous capital crime. Many Christians literally bore a “cross” or died by fire or wild animals or gladiators. Disciples of Jesus in less-hostile regions, like our state and nation, may not always face bodily harm, but still may lose cherished relationships, status, or job because of their confession of faith that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Newsweek magazine once published a piece on “The Toughest Job in the World,” a reference to making decisions. Let’s replace “making decisions” with “being a disciple.” It reads like this: “It can be more fatiguing than a day of stonecutting. It can be more nerve-racking than a day of heart surgery. It can bring success, happiness, life . . . or failure, unhappiness, death. In today’s security conscious society, it’s a job fewer people want to tackle. It’s not for the fainthearted who are afraid to fail. It’s not for the reckless who can be dangerous. It invites ridicule, criticism, and unpopularity. But without it the world stands still. It is the lonely, ulcerous, precarious job of being a disciple.”

Nevertheless, our Lord attaches His promise to following Him by faith. He says, “The one who receives you receives me, and the one who receives me receives the One who sent me.” Here again is the truth that we as Jesus’ disciples are not only joined to Him, but He is joined to us. Jesus identifies with His followers as we go out in mission. Not only were Jesus’ Twelve with Him, He would continue to be with them as He sent them out. Jesus will also be with all subsequent disciples as we carry out His mission as He sends us out in our daily vocations. It is Jesus who tells His disciples in Matthew 28, “Behold! I am with you for all the days, until the consummation of the age.” As disciples who are going about our various daily tasks, making other disciples by baptizing and teaching, Jesus is with us! He comes alongside us in His mission. What’s more, the Father also is with us in our lives and in the mission He has given to us as His followers who make known the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the salvation of the whole world from sin, Satan, and death.

The identification, then, of the Father and the Son with us disciples gives meaning and strength for the task set before us as Christians. The person who hears your words about Jesus is hearing the words of the Father and the Son through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. The person who witnesses your love in action as you show mercy to whomever you can receives the love of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is with you. And this means that our Triune God is with us even in the midst of conflict, trials, persecutions, and suffering for the Name of Christ. You, as the Lord’s Christians, are sent as prophets who proclaim the Word of the Lord to others. You are the righteous people whom Christ has made righteous by His blood shed for you on the cross. As forgiven believers, you seek to make known in your lives the righteousness that flows from your trust in Jesus as you show mercy and love in righteousness to others. And yes, you will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. So you are also the “little ones” because you are vulnerable, subject to attack, and in the eyes of the world, of little or no significance. But you are indeed disciples, followers of the Lord Christ by grace through the gift of baptismal faith. You’ve been called by Jesus to follow, to learn from Him, and then to extend the Gospel invitation to others. And you shall surely not lose your reward.

Your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a life of eternal significance. Your reward of resurrection to eternal life is guaranteed by the death and resurrection of Christ, into whose Name you have been Baptized and are saved. “A noble army, men and boys, The matron and the maid, Around the Savior’s throne rejoice, In robes of light arrayed. They climbed the steep ascent of heav’n Through peril, toil, and pain. O God, to us may grace be giv’n To follow in their train!” (LSB 661:4). As disciples, we follow Christ through this life, carrying out His mission to speak of Him and His saving work to all humankind. We freely give the Gospel even as it has been freely given to us by grace. We endure, with Him alongside us, the rejection of loved ones and friends, the hateful words spoken against us, and the suffering placed upon us by those who will not hear. By the grace of God, you and I will be faithful unto death and so receive the reward that Christ won for us with His cross—a crown of life forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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