Sunday, June 29 Salem Lutheran, West St Paul (and then tweaked for Humble Walk)
"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.
Wear that outfit and everyone will laugh at you. Make that recipe and your family will leave the house running. Admit you went to that movie and your friends will never talk to you again. Buy that car and your coworkers will talk behind your back.
In our Gospel story today...
Jesus is naming worst case scenarios. These hearers were living under Roman rule—when they could actually be persecuted for being a follower of Jesus. Where neighbors or family members could turn them in as political agitators—under-miners of the government. Where followers of Jesus could be beaten, jailed, flogged or worse. If that's the case, it's not so surprising that Jesus uses these intense words and gives them worse case scenarios. And then, just in case that isn't enough, Jesus says—you are going to need to lose your life in order to find it.
That's a bit much for the lovely months of summer—don't you think? Perhaps a few of us are worst case scenario people. But most of us would rather just do all we can to even go down that thought process. We can numb out fear with food, Netflix, alcohol, Worldcup, denial. But our fear is there—under the surface.
What is it that is on your list of things to fear this week? Yellow teeth? A secret addiction? Your bank account? Lyme's Disease? It wouldn't take long to come up with pages and pages of things we fear.
Think for a minute what is on your list. Not the Sunday morning -cleaned up for worship list. But the real list. The one that keeps you up at night. The one causing tension in your body and in your home.
While these things feel real—quite real. They are not what define us. You are not your worst case scenario. The answer to fear is to recognize the facades of human power. The things that seek to control us. The difference is that the God of Creation—who has counted the hair on your head—leads with mercy and love. The One who knows even the sparrows. God promises to tend every living thing—which includes you. This is who and whose we are—we are God's beloved.
Somewhere along the line, we were led to believe that life—life as people of faith—would be easy. Or at least easier. Jesus seems to know that this is hard. Which is why in today's Gospel we hear Jesus say, “Have no fear. Have no fear. Do not be afraid.” In the Bible, when you hear a prophet, priest or angel say “Do not fear,” you are about to hear some Good News. It's Good News in that it will set you free. But it will also, as writer Flannery O Conner says, make you odd. Jesus says you will know the truth and it will set you free. Flannery O Conner says You will know the truth and it will make you odd.
Here's the deal: Jesus says take up your cross and follow. Lose yourself to find your life. I know we would like all this to be easy. Yet the nature of our life together is cruciform—it's shaped by the Christ we meet at the cross. But it IS Good News. You will lose your life. You are set free from all those fears. You are set free from all the ridiculous powers that tell you lies about you who are.
What does it look like to lose your life in order to find it?
We tend to hear this verse as an individual call. And it absolutely can be. And it absolutely is a call to a community. What does it look like for church to lose it's life together?
1. It looks like what happens around times of tragedy and death. As a church, we mess up a lot of things. But, we know how to do tragedy and death. When someone in our community dies, we stop what we are doing. Work stops. Productivity stops. And we surround the family and those who mourn. We bring food. We sit together. We pray. And nothing much else matters in that moment. This is what it looks like to lose your life in order to find it.
- It also looks like community garden building. This spring, Humble Walk was awarded an ELCA Hunger Grant to build and plant a community garden. With the idea that we would share the vegetables, herbs and flowers with our neighborhood. And then use some of the produce for the meals during our August Wild Week in the Park. Think of Wild Week as a loose VBS in a local city park. And each evening, whoever shows up participates. And at the end of each evening, we sit down in the grass for a full meal. We do this in mid-August because that's when kids are bored, parents are at the end of their patience, and people are most strapped for cash. This Hunger Grant allows us to build a garden and grow healthy food to serve at these meals. So, one Sunday afternoon—Humble Walk gathered to build raised bed gardens. Guess what? Almost everyone showed up. For 3 ½ hours, we built beds and then filled them with soil. All the while, people lingered over conversations with one another. Kids ran and played. New connections were made. Everyone got sunburned. And nothing else mattered. This is what it looks like for a community to lose it's life in order to find it.
- Losing your life can also look like the kids leading us. On Monday evening, Humble Walk had a small group of folks who were going to meet to hand out our summer fliers. We go door to door with a flier that tells about everything going on in the park this summer. But it rained on Monday, so we had to reschedule it for Tuesday. When 6pm rolled around, I didn't actually want to do it anymore. It was so humid—I was tired from the day's work—and our group was smaller. But guess what? I'm the pastor. Showed up. There was one another adult and four kids. I tell everyone, “Let's just do these two blocks and call it good.”Guess what? Those kids were so excited about this job that they sprinted from door to door. I could barely keep up. And the thing that always happens, happened. Our group grew. We picked up help along the way. Others who wanted to come along and help. There enthusiasm was outlandishly contagious. It pulled me out and along. I got caught up in it. Here's the other thing: one five-year-old with pretend cell phone quickly figures out he can't hold flyers and his cell phone so he asks me to hold it. His sister does the same thing with her stuffed dog. One thing at a time is enough. Were these kids thinking? “Wow, it's really great to lose ourselves in order to find life?” Nope. They were likely thinking, “Wild Events in the park are so fun. There is ice scream. And games. This is a party we don't want anyone to miss.” For that hour on sticky humid Tuesday night, nothing else mattered.
So how do we live like nothing else matters? How do we lose our life of fear and find our life in Christ? We say yes to what God is already doing. We show up, because God already has. We participate, because God--who keeps track of every hair on your head, every sparrow-- is already participating with us. We join in God's work. Not because it's easy but because it gives life.