"Fear or Faith"           Matthew 10:24-39     June 22, 2008

Today's Gospel provides an opportunity for us to remember the joy as well as the sacrifice of discipleship. It stresses that specific moments of decision and dedication lie at the center of what it means to be Jesus' disciple. To be a disciple is to make a deliberate break with the world we know in order to live according to the new world that Jesus is bringing into being.
This break with the old world inevitably involves conflict, even violence. The decision to be a disciple is not something that happens organically or in the normal course of events. It is a moment in which we decide to stand with Jesus and for Jesus regardless of the outcome. Danaher[1]
However, we do not understand the call to discipleship rightly unless we see the trials depicted against a backdrop of God's abundance and generosity. (Danaher)
There is an intriguing interplay of caution and promise in the words of Jesus. Upon close inspection we recognize that the words of warning seem to apply to difficulties that we will face in this life. The words of hope, however, seem to be directed toward the future. This takes us into the territory of "eschatology," literally, the doctrine of end times; or, the doctrine of Christian hope.
Many Christians are reticent to venture into eschatology, largely because the attention it receives often involves wild speculation or strained interpretation.  One theologian, however, has sought in recent decades to offer a fresh vision of the doctrine of the Christian hope for the contemporary church.
JürgenMoltmann[2] understands hope as the driving reality of the Christian faith. This hope is not characterized by a naïve underestimation of sin, but it does refuse to collapse under the weight of sin.
Since the publication of his book Theology of Hope some 40 years ago, Moltmann steers a path between unrealistic optimism and passive resignation. He insists that the path of Christian hope does not run around the cross, rather, it runs directly through it. Only when we face the reality of suffering, injustice, and death in the world—represented by the cross—can we feel the force of the hope promised by God.
The result of this understanding of the cross is that we should not expect the life of hope to be free from struggle. On the contrary, our experience on the way of discipleship (the here & now) seems to contradict the promise & content of our hope (our eschatological future).
Moltmann puts the point sharply: "Present and future, experience and hope, stand in contradiction to each other in Christian eschatology, with the result that [humanity] is not brought into harmony and agreement with the given situation, but is drawn into the conflict between hope and experience." I find this to be a great description of the Christian walk. Our spiritual journey takes us through times of early conflict and crisis.
The challenge for the church in light of this situation is twofold. First, the church is called to witness to hope actively, proclaiming God’s promise to heal and redeem creation in the midst of a reality that seems to contradict that hope.
Second, despite the persistence of sin, evil, and suffering, the church is called to stand fast in its hope. Giving into despair is just as dangerous as expecting an easy path, and the loss of hope runs the risk of undermining the church’s witness. This shows the importance of keeping our eyes on Jesus and the eternal promises of God as found in His Word.
The promise of divine protection Jesus gives to his disciples in verses 29-30 does not indicate that they may expect to be free from danger; God's knowledge of a sparrow's fall (v. 29) does not prevent the fall. What the disciples are promised is God's presence in their potential suffering. "Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age."
Jesus is saying to the disciples and Jesus says to us, "Do not be afraid of that which you can see, but be afraid of the One who has eternal control over you." It is a radical reorientation of how we understand persecution, but it is also an invitation to a radical reorientation of our perception of peace. (Winbush)[3]

Let me clarify.
Jesus said, "I did not come to bring peace, but I came to bring a sword." Now that's hard for us to comprehend because we like to talk about the Prince of Peace. But Jesus is saying to the disciples and saying to us that peace is not the maintenance of the status quo. It is not the absence of conflict, but peace is the refining practice of all that is not part of God's righteous realm, so that righteousness and justice may reign. Peace is the realignment of our priorities and our relationships. (Winbush)
There's a radical boldness that comes over us when we dare to stand firm, we dare to proclaim and to do the work that God is sending us to do, and our relationships become radical, as they become a reflection not of what we want but of God's highest purpose for us. (Winbush)

The disciples were a given a stark vision of the kind of disruptive discipleship to which they were called. They should not expect the way of the cross to be easy (v. 34), and they should not be surprised if close relationships are uprooted.
The key to understanding the depth of Jesus' meaning here is to think beyond the current narrow meaning of the term "family." In Jesus' day, family meant a vast, extended network of relationships forming an economic and sometimes political entity known as a "clan."
Loyalty to the clan was expected above all else. Understood in this context we begin to see the implications of Jesus' mandate. Jesus' words put each person in a position of responsibility for his or her own heart and soul. This was borderline heretical in His time.

Following Jesus down the way of discipleship requires ultimate loyalty, even to the point of losing one’s life for the sake of Jesus (v. 39).
The disciples' calling is not only to follow Jesus, but also to witness to the hope that is grounded in Jesus. In the midst of persecution they are to "tell" and "proclaim" openly the message with which their Lord has entrusted them (v. 27). By doing so they will acknowledge Jesus publicly with the promise of divine recognition (v. 32).
This promise demonstrates the way in which the Church’s hope for the future impacts its life in the present, for a significant part of our immediate task is to proclaim that the cross is not the last word. In words and in action, the church witnesses to the coming transformation of darkness to light, of violence to peace, and of death to life.
Those who share in the suffering of Jesus and fulfill their calling can take heart in this hope. Jesus assures his disciples that unseen injustices will ultimately be made known and made right (v. 26). Despite the disruption that radical discipleship often brings, there is no need to give in to fear. Trust is wisely placed in God, who ultimately protects and gives life to those willing to walk the way of the cross (vv. 29-31, v. 39).
Jesus suggests that there will be a shared solidarity of suffering between himself and his disciples. No one, not the strangers who physically torture the body, not the family members who emotionally tear at the loyalty of our hearts, can take away the life that Jesus offers to share with us.

Gracious God, it's not easy doing what you've asked us to do, but because you go with us, we dare to submit ourselves to your work in our lives. We thank you for your Holy Spirit which allows us to have courage to stand firm, to die to ourselves, to rise to you, and to do the work you have called us to. In the name of Jesus, the living and resurrected Lord, we pray. Amen.

 Rev.Rosemary Stelz, Pastor


[1]The Rev. Dr. William J. Danaher, "Dare We Be Disciples?" June 18, 2005
[2] JürgenMoltmann, Theology of Hope (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993), 18
[3]The Rev. Robina Marie Winbush, "A Radical Reorientation" June 23, 2002
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