Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 25, 2017

2017.06.24 ‘The “Fine Print” of Following Jesus’ – Matthew 10: 24 – 39

Central United Methodist Church
The “Fine Print” of Following Jesus
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 10: 24 – 39
June 25th, 2017

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       “A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher.  A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content — pleased, even — when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, “Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?

       “Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are.  So don’t hesitate to go public now.

       “Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being.  Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life — body and soul — in his hands.

       “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right?  And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail — even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.

       “Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven.  If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you?

       “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut — make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law — cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.  Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies.  If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me.

       “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me.   If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”  – Matthew 10: 24 – 39, from The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson)

 

The “fine print.” We all know the fine print, it is the playground of lawyers, the paperwork which accompanies purchases which we rarely read, at least not fully. Whether software, healthcare, cars, or houses, there are pages of it. In fact it seems the bigger or more complicated the item we buy, the longer the fine print and the stack of paperwork that accompanies it. If it weren’t for laws and regulations – such as lemon laws, for example, which allow you to return a car if it turns out to be defective despite the fine print – honestly, I don’t know how most people would ever manage, and not be taken advantage of, by what’s in the “fine print.”

Of course, most of us have learned this lesson the hard way, when we found out afterwards that because we didn’t read the fine print: no, the item we bought is not returnable; no, the payment we made is not refundable; and surprise, the interest rate, taxes, fees, and service charges were more than we bargained for, because we didn’t read the “fine print.”

In fact, you may not know it, but when you joined Central Church – the fine print stipulated at the bottom of the baptismal statement states that at the time of your joining we took a lien on your house and car and lifetimes savings such that – should you ever leave (including by death) – they are no longer yours but ours, so don’t even think about it (Just kidding!)

Whether or not think you think is funny, you might be surprised to know that in the United Methodist Discipline, there is indeed a Trust Clause not for people but for churches, stating that should a congregation decide to leave the United Methodist Church, the property or the proceeds from its sale reverts to the denomination, not to the congregation. Yes, even the United Methodist Church has lawyers, and they are no fools. In the years to come – as congregations talk about leaving the United Methodist Church, they are in for a shock, as they will literally have to leave everything behind, and start over, as some congregations have done.

But what about in the Christian life? Is there “fine print?” When we hear some preachers tell it – especially some very prosperous preachers (I’m looking at you, Joel Osteen!) – the Christian life is a pathway to paradise strown with roses – and if you do it right –with money and prosperity. So why then – you may ask, when we try to live a Christian life – do we experience so much hardship and difficulty and discord and division?

If you were reading Matthew’s Gospel, and you got to the part where we are today – of which today’s reading is only a part – you might think Jesus was indeed getting to the “fine print” of what it means to follow him. You might even be tempted to say, “Thanks, but no thanks; my life is difficult enough already; I don’t need this.

Last Sunday we heard the need, as Jesus looked out upon the crowds and felt compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. As harvest hands, Jesus calls twelve apostles and sends them out, to do the work he is doing. But he didn’t do it like we sometimes do in the church, when we invite someone to a position of responsbility and say, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s only on Sundays, it’s only what you can afford to give, it’s only a few meetings a year, it’s nothing!”

On the contrary, Jesus lays out some serious stuff – the “fine print” – of what will happen sooner or later to anyone who follows him, who says the kind of things Jesus said and does the kind of things Jesus did. Just listen some of them:

“Stay alert, This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves.

“Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me.

“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family.

“A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content —pleased, even — when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?

“Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.

“Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life — body and soul — in his hands.

And finally:

“Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut — make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law — cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me.

You might be thinking: “Wait: is this what I signed up for? Whatever happened to Christian family values and peace and harmony and joy? Did I miss something?

It helps to know the situation and the people to whom Jesus is speaking. When Matthew’s Gospel was written some 50 years after Jesus, Christians were viewed as atheists (oddly enough), because they refused to worship Caesar, the “official religion” of the Roman empire. Rumors were spread about them how in their secret meetings Christians had orgies (love feasts) and practiced cannibalism (eating body and blood), such that some Christians were even reported to the authorities by the members of their own families.

Thus, to be a Christian might mean a break with family, it might mean social disgrace and economic loss, and if turned in and arrested it might mean at the very least flogging, and at worst facing wild beasts in the Coliseum. No wonder some were tempted to deny their Christian faith to save their lives and the lives of their family members. During such time, to choose to be a Christian was not a choice, made lightly, just as it is still not a choice made lightly in some countries today.

So you can understand how consoling it was for these Christians to hear what Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, which was this.

First, that division and discord in life are to be expected, so don’t be surprised or put off when it happens. These days, every headline seems to blare this; every family experiences this; ever one of us has known discord in our lives, which – depending upon how personal it was – was at the same time both sad and disappointing.

But sometimes there is this attitude out there that if we could only get along together – join hands and sing “Kum-ba-yah” – we could live happily ever after. That’s not going to happen; even now in the Christian Church, there are some 9,000 Christian denominations in the world, so we are not of one mind. Jesus warned us long ago that there is going to be division and discord, among family, friends, and even church.

Yes, some of it is avoidable, especially when we Christians become judgmental and hypocritical, or when we begin to think that we have God’s ear and know God’s mind, as no one else does.

On the contrary, there are also times when our Christian commitment to truth and justice is important, even vital. Many would say that now is such a time; when we need to carefully discern what God is calling us to say and to do and to bear faithful witness. Now – more than ever – we need to speak the truth as we believe it and to advocate for justice and the right as we perceive it. It is not easy; it has never been easy. This is the point Jesus was trying to make: trying to be faithful to God and the values of God, has never been, is not, and never will be easy. But if we don’t do it, who will?

The second word Jesus says is also important. When we reap the harsh consequences of attempting to be faithful, we may be tempted to believe that God doesn’t care about us. In fact, if we only knew how many people live this way, who do not feel valued due to their job or lack of one, due to their skin color rather than their character, due to their health (pre-existing condition), or even valued by family, friends, or church, we might be surprised.

And so Jesus says:

“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail — even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.”

In 1905, these words inspired Canadian school teacher Civilla Martin to write the words to “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” a gospel hymn that declares with assurance, “I know he watches me.”  It has been a much-loved in the African-American Church, and it’s not hard to understand why. In a world that insists that black lives do not matter, Jesus declares that even apparently overlooked lives are of importance to God. In a world that says that the life of a rich person is worth 28 times as much as the life of a working person, Jesus says that God pays special attention to those who are poor, those who are struggling, and suffering. God cares, and so should we. In fact, sometimes we are the people God uses to demonstrate this.

Lawyer Kenneth Feinberg chaired the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which gave money to the family of each person who died in the 2001 terror attacks. Starting with the formula and then using his discretion, Feinberg considered a victim’s age, their dependents, whether they had life insurance, and their income and earning potential. Value assigned these loss lives very dramatically: as little as two learn $50,000 for blue collar workers, as much as 7.1 million for executives.

Later, Feinberg reflected on his experience. He said, “As I met with the 9/11 families and wrestled with issues surrounding valuation of lives lost, I begin to question this basic premise of our legal system.” He told NPR: “I had always accepted that no two lives were worth the same in financial terms. But now I found the law in conflict with my growing belief in the equality of all life.”

After the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund completed it’s work, Feinberg received a call from the president of Virginia Tech, asking him to manage the fund that would distribute compensation to the families of the students and faculty killed in 2007 mass shooting. “I realized that Feinberg the citizen should Trump Feinberg the lawyer,” he said. “My legal training would no longer stand in the way. This time all victims – students and faculty alike – would receive the same compensation.” (Liddy Barlow, Living the Word, The Christian Century, Vol. 134, No. 12, June 7, 2017)

The “fine print,” for us as Christians, is this: there is discord in this world, some of which is avoidable, and some of which is not, because it is in the cause of love and truth. In either case, we are called to live with the kind of integrity that values both truth and the person with whom we debate it.

But the greater truth is this: God knows our discord (oh how God knows!), but God’s eye is upon the sparrow, and it is also upon us. In the sight of God, there are no unimportant lives. God values us, each and every one. So don’t worry too much about the fine print. Amen.

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