Note: I don’t have time to post the video. I’ll do it when I return. My next sermon will be July 13th.
Pentecost 2, Year A
As some of you know, three adult leaders, 10 youth, and I will be embarking on a pilgrimage to Ireland today.
To prepare, I purchased some travelling necessities.
I have this backpack with a built in water bottle, my inflatable neck pillow for the plane, my eye mask for sleeping, anti-bacterial gel, snacks, books, etc, and this is only my carry on.
This is what I need for the plane ride.
After Jesus commissioned his 12 apostles, he sent them on a mission. He advised them to take no money, no extra clothes, only 1 pair of shoes…nothing but what they were wearing.
Then he told them that they would be rejected and probably beaten.
He also empowered them with authority over unclean spirits and the ability to heal people.
I think I would have rather had the authority over the people who were going to beat me and imprison me, but I guess that misses the point.
In today’s reading we hear part two of this rather bizarre pep talk.
Once again, he mixes the good with the bad.
He tells them they are valued by God.
God knows us so well that he can tell us how many hairs are on our head.
God knows every time a sparrow even touches the ground, and of course we are worth far more than sparrows.
The disciples are told not to fear those who can kill the body but not the soul.
In other words, they should fear no human.
In fact, Jesus tells them not to be afraid three different times.
After the third time he tells them: “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 whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Woh…what happened to the warm and fuzzy Jesus who knows how many hairs we have on our head and holds the little children in his lap? And why would he tell them not to be afraid, when there are clearly a couple very good reasons to be afraid?
For the disciples and early Christians, there were many reasons to be afraid. They were being persecuted by the Romans and some of the Jewish leadership was ostracizing them. When Jesus said, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master…,” he was telling them that they could not expect better treatment than he had. At this point in the story, Jesus had not been crucified. This was the first time the cross was even mentioned. But the people who Matthew was writing to knew what happened to Jesus. They knew what it meant to carry the cross.
Today most Christians in America are not afraid of being persecuted for their faith. However, it would appear that fear and anxiety are at an all-time high. We are barraged by tales of what has happened to others and what might happen to us. In a world with 24 hour news, we know all the bad things that are happening everywhere. Then there are some of the more mundane fears we deal with. One of the newest major fears is called namophobia—fear of losing your phone. This is especially prevalent with teenagers and young adults.
On the pilgrimage, we are not supposed to use anything digital so that we can disconnect. I have to confess, I am kind of freaking out about it. And I am ashamed of that because the disciples had to go off with nothing and I am merely being deprived of a phone and internet access. We are not going to hostile territory. We will not have to beg for our food as the disciples did. We just don’t have a phone. I can only assume that there is something deeper going on in our need to have a phone at all times. Now, we are accustomed to being connected to hundreds of friends at any moment. If you have a smart phone, or you are near a computer, you can find someone to talk to any hour of the day. You are never really alone….or so it seems.
Not only is the internet and social media a means of connection, it can define our self-worth. If you post a picture, how many people will like your picture? If you send a tweet…will it be retweeted? How many friends do you have on facebook? How many people follow you on twitter? This is how we measure worth now. There are certain websites that can tell you how popular or influential you are by your internet presence. I think this all comes from a need to be worthy—to be worthy of love. Unfortunately, now that manifests itself in rather shallow ways. What scares me is that is an incredibly fragile way to measure your worth. If your worth is based on an internet algorithm…then potentially the guy who makes all the crazy cat videos is worth more than you.
While these kinds of standards for measuring worth did not exist in Jesus time, there were still superficial ways of measuring worth. People were measured by their gender, where they were born, who they born to, what region they were from. In making his comments about potential divisions in families, Jesus was creating a new paradigm. He was telling people their worth was not dependent on where they came from. It was only dependent on their willingness to follow Jesus, to let go of those connections that previously determined their worth and follow him. And it is no different today. I think in many ways things like phones and social media keep us from a closer relationship with Jesus as well as other people. It gives us the illusion of being connected and being valued but it is a very fragile connection. Any connection or measure of self-worth that is dependent on the acceptance and affirmation of other people will always be precarious.
It is scary and unfathomable when Jesus tells us that he has come to bring not peace but a sword…that he is here to separate us from our family. Jesus was known for using a bit of hyperbole and that is certainly true here. He didn’t really want people to separate from their families. But he did want them to be free from those things that determined worth– like who they were or were not connected with. Jesus wanted people free of those earthly connections so that they would be more dependent on Jesus and also be open to creating new families in their faith communities.
Maybe you are not a big cell phone person because you have spent most of your life without them or you have simply resisted the draw. That does not mean that you don’t have some place where you get your affirmation and your sense of connection. It might be a person or even a memory. What I want us all to ask ourselves is whether these things really measure what we are worth? Are these the things that protect our soul? If it’s a phone, I am going out on a limb and say no. Why is it that when we believe in God, we accept such cheap substitutes to comfort us, to know us, so that we do not have to be alone? Perhaps because none of those things or people expect what God expects of us. Your iphone will never ask you to carry a cross. Jesus does. Your iphone will never ask you to love your enemy. Jesus does. Jesus asks for sacrifice and that is something that can be terrifying. But he also promises something: that we are precious in his eyes, that he loves us more than any person can love us. In this passage he does not promise to protect us from physical harm but he promises that our souls will be safe in his care. He will never abandon us. We can lose Jesus. We can even lose faith. But God will never lose us.