Indifference; Laziness; Unconcern; Apathy. I know some of you know what I’m talking about.
Remember the old Smothers Brothers Show. One of their early routines had Tom and Dick discussing politics and the world in general. Dick turns to Tom and says, “You know, Tom, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. Some people don’t get involved in anything. Is it ignorance or apathy?” Tom, who hasn’t really been paying attention, says, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
Some Christians actually live out their faith like that. Some of us live like Jesus never died on the cross or rose from the grave. And if they do acknowledge that He died and rose from the grave, they act as if they really don’t care. They are only moderately committed to him. They are only moderately Christian and sometimes only when it’s convenient.
Sort of like the guy who the preacher stopped on the way out of church one Sunday. “Hey, Joe, we need to find something for you to do. You’re here nearly every Sunday. You tithe. What are you doing in the Service of the Lord?”
To which Joe replied, “Frankly preacher, I consider myself in the Secret Service.” There are folks like that.
Unfortunately or fortunately there is no such thing as the Secret Service in God’s Kingdom. And fortunately there are those who really get it, who live like Jesus rose from the dead. And it makes all the difference in their outlook on the world and in their lives. Their lives reflect the message of the Scripture for today: 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.
Fortunately there are people who are trying to live as Disciples, trying to live like Jesus taught. Their lives reflect the idea that “a disciple is not above the teacher.” They live confidently and “acknowledge Jesus before others.” Their lives are filled with the assurance of eternal life. Their faith is alive as they daily “take up their cross.” These folks have FOUND THEIR LIFE AND NOT LOST IT.
I. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?:
This is sort of a weird passage, filled with lots of different sorts of sayings. The stuff about loving family more than God is a little strange, especially considering Jesus’ other teachings about family. All of this stuff is sort of like religious one liners you’d expect to see on some calendar like the sayings of Kahil Gibrahn. What are we to make of it?
Have you ever tried to condense a whole boatload of thoughts and feelings into a very short and memorable form? It’s sort of like describing your whole vacation on a postcard. In a sense, that is what Jesus is doing in this text. He is giving instructions to the disciples to prepare them for the hostility and suffering they will encounter on their mission journey. And he is trying to help them hold on to the life and faith they have experienced with him.
Back in the prehistoric days when I was a Senior at Central Methodist College, I was the teaching assistant for Dr. Ken Burres, the Old and New Testament Professor. Dr. Burres was a detail man. He found absolutely everything about the Bible fascinating. He was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about scripture and the culture and history surrounding the Bible.
As a result, sometimes he would get off on tangents and wind up being two or three weeks behind in his overview courses but his exams were already set up for a certain period of time and a certain amount of materials and he didn’t want ot have to rewrite them. So, he would have me come in and do sort of a Reader’s Digest Condensed version to get everybody caught up and on the right track with the information they needed for the exam.
I think that’s sort of what Jesus was doing with the Disciples. If we look at these teachings like that, this passage doesn’t seem quite so disjointed, but more like instructions for the journey. You can almost feel comfortable with this passage.
I say almost because then Jesus ends with this paradoxical saying about gaining your life by losing it. “What’s up with that!” “What did he mean by that?”
II. FORGIVENESS EMPOWERS:
According to Dr. D. James Kennedy, founder of Evangelism Explosion, there is an unmarked tombstone outside of Sydney, New York which has just one word on it. That word is: “Forgiven”
I think that’s the most appropriate word for a Christian’s tombstone. “Forgiven.” Forgiveness and the assurance of God’s love through Christ is what empowers our faith. It makes all the difference in our lives. It gives us new life. It brings about reconciliation.
The movie Wondrous Oblivion is about a Jewish Family in England in the 60’s and their son David who is obsessed with cricket. He has all the equipment but none of the skill. One day a Jamaican family moves next door. The father, a former professional cricket player, builds a cricket net in the backyard. David and the daughter, Judy, become friends and he begins to learn the skills. As he does David gets better and better at Cricket and soon is part of the team. As things tense up in the neighborhood, David’s family takes a stand with the neighbors. At his birthday party, David sends his friend Judy home, afraid his NEW Cricket friends might find out. Filled with remorse he seeks forgiveness. WATCH
Forgiveness empowers our faith. It gives us new life. It brings about reconciliation.
Toward the end of his life, Albert Einstein removed the portraits of two scientists, Newton and Maxwell, from his wall and replaced them with portraits of Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer. He said it was time to replace the image of success with the image of service.
As Jesus talked to the disciples, he challenged them to take on, not only the image, but the attitude of service, through the forgiveness they have received. Part of that image, part of that attitude is to put God first. Jesus says that our relationship with God has to come first before family and before self. GAINING OUR LIFE BY LOSING OUR LIFE SIMPLY MEANS PUTTING GOD FIRST IN EVERYTHING.
III. LOSING YOUR LIFE AND GAINING IT:
A. In his book FINDING GOD AT HOME, Ernest Boyer, Jr. tells of a woman named Sarah whose life reflects this idea of GAINING YOUR LIFE BY LOSING IT.
Sarah lived a humble life and yet she lived it with such purpose that she influenced everyone around her. She was born in 1906, the last of eight children. Her father was a miner and her mother ran a boardinghouse for miners. While growing-up, she spent most of her time working at the boardinghouse and playing with her brothers and sisters.
At eighteen, she married a man from Italy, whom she had only met three times before. His family knew her family back in the Old Country, and it was considered the proper thing to do. Sarah and her husband moved to the city, where he opened up a barbershop, and they started a family.
First they had a son, then a daughter. And then another son. There was something different about their third child. The boy was soon diagnosed as having muscular dystrophy, a horrible disease that would destroy his muscles and render him unable to care for himself in the smallest way. Doctors said he wouldn’t make to his fifth birthday.
This was in the midst of the Depression, when there was barely enough money for the basics of life, and this child would need extensive medical care. So Sarah went to work. She took on all kinds of odd jobs, such as cleaning houses, baking bread, taking in laundry. And every morning Sarah went to Mass and prayed for her children, especially for her youngest son.
Years passed, and the boy outlived his 5th birthday, and his 6th, and his 7th. Sarah did whatever she could to care for her son. She even wrote President Roosevelt, hoping that his own infirmities would give him compassion for others who were suffering. The President arranged for the boy to be sent to a prestigious clinic in Maryland.
Sarah took her son to that clinic, where the astonished doctors told her that the boy’s continued survival and slow disease progression were nothing short of a miracle. Evidently, Sarah’s loving care was keeping her son alive and in fair condition. The doctors suggested that Sarah take him home and continue to care for him as she had always done. Her care seemed to work some kind of magic that the doctors couldn’t match.
At fourteen, Sarah’s son died. Her husband took to his bed with grief, and died six months later. In addition to her regular jobs, Sarah began taking classes at beauty school, and eventually turned her husband’s barbershop into a beauty shop to support herself and her other children. But something kept nagging at Sarah.
Throughout the years of her son’s illness, she had spent lots of time in hospital wards, and was aware of the many suffering children in those wards who had no one to visit them. So she began visiting the children’s wards of the local hospitals to let children know she cared. But the hospitals had a strict policy of only allowing family members to visit. So they barred Sarah from the wards.
When she protested that many of these children didn’t have family, the hospital staff told her that many of these children weren’t used to that kind of caring, and if they got out of the hospital they wouldn’t know what to do when they no longer received it.
Sarah left the hospital, sat down on a park bench, and cried. Then she resolved to do something to show love and care to children who had no one else to love them. Sarah became a foster mother, and her house became a home to many young girls who needed her.
Her life followed a simple routine. Every morning she went to early Mass, then came home and cooked breakfast for her foster children. Next she worked at her beauty parlor, then she went home and baked bread. Bread was Sarah’s gift to the world around her. She never baked it for herself. Instead she gave away her loaves to churches, soup kitchens, family, friends, and neighbors in need.
One day, Sarah got a call from one of her granddaughters asking her to go to afternoon Mass with her. When Sarah showed up at the church that afternoon, she saw her whole family waiting for her. They lead her into the church. It was filled with Sarah’s family, friends, neighbors, and former and current foster children.
Some people had traveled hours to get there. Some were friends that she hadn’t seen in years. And when she entered the church, they all stood and applauded. As Sarah stood there crying tears of humble joy, her youngest great-grandchild walked up and presented her with a bouquet of flowers. “Here Great-grandma. These are yours.”
Sarah took the flowers, walked to the front of the church and gently placed the flowers in front of a statue of Mary with the baby Jesus. And she said softly, “Here. These are yours.” (1)
Sarah took up her cross daily and followed Christ. She lost her life in giving it for and to others but in the process she gained more than life; simply by following the example of Christ.
Jesus gave his life on the cross to show us how much we are loved. He calls us to take up our cross and He commissions us to go out into the world each day and to lay down our lives for others, like Sarah and others like her. He calls us to FIND OUR LIVES, NOT LOSE THEM.
Our purpose, as a Church and as God’s people is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in all that we do and all that we say. Like the disciples in today’s passage, we are sent into the world with this purpose in mind. Every program, every ministry we develop, every class we teach, every mission project we work in; every Vacation Bible School or choir practice has behind it this directive to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. When we do that, we are the Church in action.
In two weeks we are having a brunch between services, a time of fellowship and food together. But it will also be a time in which you will have an opportunity to share with the various ministries of the church and discover what they do, but more importantly, where you can plug in. Where you fit.
The challenge for today is to accept the challenge of Jesus, to continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins and life eternal in all that we do and say. We’re called to find our lives by losing them in serving and proclaiming Christ. Are you up to it? Do you have what it takes to give your life in service to this church? To this community? To those around you? Are you up to it? Or will you plead like Tom Smothers, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Ernest Boyer, Jr., FINDING GOD AT HOME, (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1984), p. 45-51.