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    Jun 25, 2017

    Year A, Proper 7, June 24/25, 2017

    Preacher: The Rev. Ted Foley Deacon

    Series: Deacons

    Category: Weekly Sermon


    As I may have mentioned before, I love the Gospels. I fell in love with the Gospels many years ago and I still regard them as my gateway to experience God.

    As a result, and you’ve probably noticed this, when I preach, most of the time I preach on the Gospel reading for the day.

    So, when I saw that I would be preaching this week, the first thing I did was read to the assigned Gospel passage. And my reaction was, “Oh boy!” and “What the heck?”

    In today’s passage, we hear Jesus talking about Beelzebul. Then he talks about things that are covered and not covered. We hear him talking about sparrows falling to the ground and hairs on your head. Honestly, the first time I read this I was wondering whether these were just some miscellaneous phrases of Jesus that Matthew may have randomly strung together. It really made no sense to me.

    On top of that, the reading continues and we hear some very un-Jesus like words coming out of his mouth. He says that he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword and division. He says that he came to set son against father, daughter against mother, etc.  In the Gospel of Luke the language is even stronger, saying that you need to “hate” your father and mother for my sake.

    So, the passage starts out by not making a lot of sense to me and then ends with some very un-Jesus like words. As you can imagine, my gut reaction to today’s Gospel passage was not very positive.

    So, I was wondering how you felt about the reading when you heard it proclaimed a few minutes ago?

    Well, it’s probably not fair of me to ask your reaction to a passage you just heard a few minutes ago. However, I’ve had the benefit of having a couple of weeks to research this passage and reflect on it. So, let me tell you what I’ve learned along the way.

    So, the Holy Spirit sometimes works in strange ways.

    A couple of weeks ago, Kathy and I were sitting on the beach and relaxing when I noticed a young man dressed in his bathing suit and walking towards the surf. He’s walking straight towards the water with this determined look. But, just as he reaches the water, he stops in his tracks. Remember, it’s early June and the ocean is still pretty cool. He tentatively takes a few of more steps, gets to about ankle deep, hangs there for a few seconds, and then turns around and walks back to his chair on the beach. As he’s walking past me, he says, “It’s hard to be all-in when the water is this cold.”

    That was it. His words were like an epiphany to me. I think the lesson that Matthew gives us today is that he wants us to be ‘all-in’ for Jesus. No more hedging your bets. No more playing both sides. No more standing in ankle deep water. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you need to be all-in and live your life accordingly.

    Going back to the reading, Jesus is warning us that Beelzebul (Satan) will be pressuring us to turn our back and do things that are contrary to Jesus’ teachings. But Jesus warns us, ‘Don’t go there. I need you to be all-in for me.”

    In the reading, Jesus is saying that sometimes this pressure can even come from your friends or your family. (I can just imagine the disciples and those early Christians. They were mostly from Jewish families. I’m sure when they went home their families or friends would say things like, “Why are you following that guy? He doesn’t observe the sabbath. He commits blasphemy. And worse yet, he even loves Samaritans. Samaritans are a scourge. And yet he says that they’re our neighbors.”)

    So, the disciples would come back to Jesus and tell him, ‘My mother, my father, my friends all warned me against everything you’re teaching us. We feel so conflicted.’ So, Jesus needed to let them know, ‘Look, you need to make a decision here. You can’t stand in the ankle-deep water. You’re either one of my followers or not. And, if you want to be in you need to be all-in.’

    Most NT scholars agree that Jesus teachings were so radical that it must have caused a great deal of friction and division among families and friends.

    Unfortunately, we too have a lot of experience with ‘division’ in the world around us. There is division in our news media, and even within our churches, and families and friendships. And, if we think about it, these divisions can lead to a great deal of conflict within ourselves. Do I side with my friends or with Jesus?

    Sometimes our friends or families say things that are totally inconsistent with the Gospel message of God’s love for us and God’s call for us to love one another. So, when that happens, what do we do?

    Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, spoke about this type of division in a recently. He said, when these types of conflicts occur, we need to be bold. We need to be a “Christian [who] dares to follow Jesus, to love the way of Jesus, giving and forgiving as Jesus did, while loving justice and mercy and walking humbly before God.”

    Bishop Michael is saying the same as Jesus is telling us today – when we are faced with division within our friendships, within our families, or even within ourselves – as Christians, we need to be all-in for Jesus.

    Now, neither Jesus or Bishop Curry is saying that this is easy. Neither is saying, “Don’t worry. The water’s warm. Jump right in. You’re gonna’ love it.” No. Jesus is saying that it’s hard. The water’s cold but I’m still asking you to be all-in. It’s a hard message to follow. I know that I’ve certainly failed at it often enough.

    This morning I heard an interview with the actor Martin Sheen who played President Bartlett on the show “West Wing”. Besides being an actor, he’s also known for being a social activist – sometimes for causes that are not particularly popular. It’s hard work but he feels called by his faith to continue to do that work. When asked what keeps him going, he said that it’s God’s awesome, limitless, and never-ending love for him that keeps him going.

    And that message too is in today’s reading. Jesus says that, going against popular culture for his sake, can be difficult but God loves us and will never abandon us just like he doesn’t abandon the lowly sparrow that falls to the ground. God’s got your back. Be strong. Be true to yourself. Be ‘all-in’ for Jesus.

    So, let us pray that, when the time comes, we too will have the courage, and wisdom, and faith to be ‘all-in’ for Jesus.