Friday, June 23, 2017

Paying the Price: Reflections on Matthew 10.24-39 (RCL Proper 12A, 25 June 2017)

Paying the Price
Reflections on Matthew 10.24-39

RCL Proper 12A
25 June 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

Matthew 10.24-39

                  10.24 [Jesus said,] “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 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!

                  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.  27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.  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.  29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

                  32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

                  34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  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; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.  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; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

            On the 23rd of June 1987 Paula, David and I entered Canada at the Peace Arch border crossing and began our life here.  Within a year we found ourselves caught up in the throes of a federal election campaign that pitted John Turner against Brian Mulroney.  For newcomers to Canada it was a fascinating short course on the political differences between the US and Canada.
            You may remember this campaign as the so-called ‘free trade’ campaign.  Mulroney was committed to a free trade agreement between the US and Canada, while Turner and Ed Broadbent were critical of the proposal.  I remember a cartoon in which a bald eagle was shown swooping down on a beaver with talons poised for the kill.

            It was during one debate that John Turner made a comment that has remained with me ever since.  Mulroney was touting the benefits of a free trade agreement with the US by arguing it would lower costs for Canadian industry and prices for Canadian consumers.  Turner pugnaciously responded, ‘If there’s a price to be paid for being a Canadian, I’m willing to pay it!’  Turner lost.  Mulroney won.  NAFTA came into being.

            Today’s gospel is not an easy one to hear because it asks each one of us this question:  Are you willing to pay the price for being a follower of Jesus?  For people living in a country such as Canada, paying the price for being a follower of Jesus is not an issue we tend to think about often.  But there is a price.

            With the rise of the so-called ‘new atheist’ movement and the growth of religious fundamentalism in all of the major religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism, it is now possible for reasonable and intelligent people to question whether religious faith is a force for good or a force for evil.  Are we willing to raise our voices to challenge such simplistic caricatures and talk about how our life of discipleship is committed to the common good of all God’s creatures and the whole of creation?

            Then there are the people who say that religious faith is fine so long as it stays behind closed doors and does not dare to speak in public forums.  Religious leaders who dare to make public statements about public affairs are often criticized.  Within the last month the leader of the Liberal Democratic party in the United Kingdom was forced to resign because some of his religious beliefs were not in keeping with his party’s platform.  Do we dare contradict this view of religious faith and proclaim to others that our faith, our commitment to being disciples of Jesus, informs who we are outside the confines of our homes and places of worship?

            When Jesus talks about his disciples finding themselves at odds with members of their own families, I know that there are members of this congregation who know this all too well.  Some members of our own family think Paula and me are a bit odd.  When one member of my family learned that I was going to prepare for ordination, this person said to my mother, ‘Why, Jane?  He did so well in school and now has a good teaching job.’  I have lost friends because of positions I have taken on various issues in the life of the church.

            When Jesus talks about taking up the cross, he is not talking about minor inconveniences and nuisances.  His audience knew what crucifixion looked like and may have even had members of their own extended families executed by the Romans in this fashion.  He is talking about laying one’s life on the line, spiritually and emotionally if not physically.

            These are not easy questions to ponder, especially as we move into the summer months when our minds turn to other matters.  But perhaps this is precisely the time of year when we all need to consider whether we are prepared to pay the price for being disciples of Jesus.  Each one of us will face this question in ways that are unique to our lives.  Perhaps our commitment to the stewardship of God’s creation will lead us to make decisions that add complexity at the cost of convenience.  Perhaps a conversation among family and friends will lead us to confess that we are disciples of Jesus and that our faith does influence how we live and, most dangerously, how we vote.  Perhaps a public encounter with racism or religious bigotry will test our courage to make a stand for God’s love for all of us, gay and straight, Christian and non-Christian, women and men.

            I hope that when those moments come, and they will, God will grant us the courage to say, ‘If there’s a price to pay for being a disciple of Jesus,  I’m willing to pay it.’

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