Lost to the world, God finds us


Sermon: June 21, 2020

illustration artist Cerezo Barredo

Matt. 10:24 ¶ “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;

Matt. 10:25 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!

Matt. 10:26 ¶ “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.

Matt. 10:27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

Matt. 10:28 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.

Matt. 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

Matt. 10:30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted.

Matt. 10:31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Matt. 10:32 ¶ “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven;

Matt. 10:33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

Matt. 10:34 ¶ “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Matt. 10:35 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;

Matt. 10:36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Matt. 10:37 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;

Matt. 10:38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matt. 10:39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

This is one of the strangest passages to read on the day we celebrate Father’s Day and families. Jesus says,

Matt. 10:37 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;

God wants top billing in our lives, no matter what, no exceptions. Jesus is telling his disciples that to follow him will mean losing things. Living to serve God will mean telling the truth, healing wounds, and serving the poor and outcast. And people are not always going to like the truth, or want old wounds to be seen and touched to be healed. People are not always going to like you serving some one who is in need instead of paying attention to them.

But doing it anyway, putting God first, following Jesus, is the only way to life. Doing the hard thing, doing the right thing, will eventually put things right. A good father loves God, does good. And eventually, that right thinking and right action will be the strong foundation of good parenting and healthy relationships with children. Putting some one—one human person—ahead of all other things is never good, it is a relationship out of balance. Putting God first, however, helps balance everything else out.

It is hard to pray, sometimes. It is harder, sometimes to wait for— and listen to— the response to prayer. It is hard to accept the answers to prayer when they mean doing something difficult. God’s voice feels sometimes like intuition, a feeling of what we should do next. God’s voice sometimes seems like just an unsettled feeling - when going ahead doing what seems normal in the world, just feels wrong. I think these strong statements from Jesus are about balance. We can so easily put other things first in our lives.

The disciples, like us, loved their families. And they had to leave them to go out and follow Jesus and do his work. They had to put that first. And Jesus wanted people to love each other. But he is using extreme examples to make a point.

The point is no attachments, period. The reality is that you are rarely going to be asked to leave your family to serve Jesus: you are much more likely to be serving Jesus by serving your family, because serving others is serving God. But when a person becomes your whole focus, they become an idol. When an image of the perfect family becomes your whole focus, and you’ll do anything to keep up that perfect, peaceful family image - that image is an idol. Following Jesus means looking at our lives honestly, and honestly assessing our priorities, and that is hard. That is taking up the cross, “and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” Jesus says to his disciples. It’s what we call a “come to Jesus moment.”

It looks different for each of us, and it looks different in each situation and phase of our lives. We can all look back and see those moments when we had to make tough choices, and do what we were called to do, even when it was hard. “ “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” says Jesus to his disciples.

But there is promise here, and hope, and good news. Because Jesus is the Word of God, and the kingdom of heaven has come near in him.

Matt. 10:39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

The way of Jesus, the way of the cross is hard. The truth is hard, loving our enemies is hard. Healing is hard. Letting go of things is hard. Trusting God is hard. But it is also the way to true life. On the other side of hard things, we find life.

That’s the sermon. We can all fill in the example— the sermon illustration— for ourselves by looking back and seeing where faced hard things to do the right thing or to follow our intuition, trusting it was the voice of God answering our prayer, or that the unsettled feeling was a nudge of the Spirit to try something new—or unearth something old to bring it to light and let it go.

These words of Jesus are to us, and we each find them in our own stories.

In my story, this is one of those hard moments. In my relationship with you, my beloved New Life faith community. It is time for me to leave this call: God has made it clear to me that my time as the pastor of New Life is ending. I’m sure that God is calling me to other things - to moving to a new place, to a time of discernment, a pause to pray more and determine what is next.

For this community, that means a transition. And I think that is part of the call: I am called to make room for the next person here. No pastor stays forever, and a church cannot be one leader. A church is a faith community. It is a community of people. When the pastor of the first church I ever joined as an adult left, I was shocked. I felt like I chose that church because of him - his leadership, his sermons. And then I had to think about why I worship - not to hear a great sermon, but to take time to give thanks and praise to God. Not for me, for God. And I had to think about why I was part of a church - not to have a nice group of friends, but to be a friend, to commit to being there for others. Not for me, for them. Praising God, serving others. That is church. Church is practice for following Jesus in all aspects of our lives.

It is about priorities, as Jesus says, and this is a place to practice that. And this is a time to practice that.

This is a wonderful community, and it is heart-wrenching to prepare to leave it. And I know that is my work for now.

This is God’s church, and God is preparing the next leader for this congregation. They will bring new gifts, ideas and energy. We are making space, together, for what is going to happen next. It is hard, but it is good work, to trust that God has this. God has God’s church. God has this outdoor faith community. God is working in this, and in every letting go we have the opportunity to trust that the Spirit is at work, Jesus is holding us, and God is in charge.

I know that in all of the change in the world right now, and in all of the lettings go we are and have been doing, this is just one of them, and a small one, relatively, for me and for this church. But also, in times of change and challenge, we do lean into relationships, and find comfort in them and in community. I think Jesus’ words call us to that, to imagining relationships and community in new ways, in God’s ways, in God’s plans and priority.

Adelante. Amen.

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