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Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity
By Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor
Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
The composer Beethoven, was apparently, a mercurial and sometimes ill-tempered man. When asked to play piano for polite company, he would begin with some of his slow and gentle melodies, lyrical and easy on the ear, everyone swooned at the music; it was beautiful and inoffensive. But just as the piece came to an end, he would bang down with the length of his arm on the keyboard to disturb his listeners and give them the shock of their lives. Music for Beethoven was a reflection of a world which was full of beauty and tragedy, joy and pain, music sounded the depths of human passion and was not merely the soundtrack to polite conversation. It wasn’t just a hobby – it was life or death. I think Jesus was doing much the same thing in our gospel reading. Metaphorically slamming his hands down on the piano.
As he sent out his disciples into the world he wasn’t inclined to sugar coat his message. He tells his disciples that they will be hated for following him. There was nothing covered up with Jesus that wasn’t going to be uncovered. He wasn’t going to hide the truth or the seriousness of the Gospel message. There were no secrets that wouldn’t become known.
But wait, didn’t Jesus come to bring peace to the world? Don’t we call Jesus the Prince of Peace? Jesus says ‘do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you but a sword’ The division that he brings will divide families, Father against son, daughter in law against mother in law. Finally, Jesus tells those who claim to be his disciples that that they will need to take up their own cross and follow him. They need to lose their life, to gain their life. These were hard words to hear.
From the beginning Jesus never claimed that following him would be comfortable. Throughout the gospels we are presented with an image of Jesus as a man who turns the world upside down and challenges expectations. Sing Mary’s Magnificat and know that this child, hailed as the prince of peace, would also raise up the poor, send the rich away empty handed and bring down the mighty and privileged from their thrones. He was always destined to be dangerous to those who were content with the status quo and turn a blind eye to injustice. His message is one which many through the ages have found unpalatable.
There are still those today who want to silence the message of Jesus, to sweeten it so it doesn’t offend. There are still those who want to make Jesus and his message ‘safe’, by colluding with sin, silencing protest and victimizing those who speak out about racism, injustice, poverty and oppression. There are those who want to maintain that Jesus music was always ‘easy on the ear’. But sometimes the song that Jesus calls us to sing, isn’t easy for the world to listen to, sometimes it isn’t even an easy message for the church to hear, so it’s not surprising that now as then, some would rather the message of Jesus was kept private and personal. Jesus once again challenges this and says ‘what I say to you in the dark, tell in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops’. That doesn’t sound very private. It sounds gloriously and dangerously public.
Anyone who saw Jesus as representing ‘business as usual’ was misreading the signs just as surely as someone who saw a dark cloud and predicted sunshine. Jesus was a radical reformer and he was never willing to conform or collude with expectations. He brings about a new social order, we call it the Kingdom of God and this Kingdom sometimes clashes with the Kingdoms of this earth and the old order of sin and death; like the encounter between hot and cold air there will be rumbles of thunder along the way.
People thought Jesus was a king and he acted like a servant, he was fully God but fully human, he said he would bring peace and yet he also brought division, he taught in the temple and ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, he would die and then he would rise again and bring us all new life. People have long tried to make Jesus more palatable for polite company. People wanted Jesus to look and behave like them. They wanted to hear the nice kind things he had to say, and leave the difficult bits out.
Jesus is the living God who turns things upside down, and constantly challenges us. He can shock us, and he doesn’t promise us an easy ride. Jesus doesn’t want to move into the house of our hearts just to slap on a few coats of fresh paint and nice new curtains. God’s word is like fire, and he is like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces.
No, when Jesus moves in to our lives he brings a bulldozer to tear down whole walls, gut the rooms down to the foundations and basically build a whole new house. That’s why the image of rebirth is such a strong one in Christianity. We have to be constantly re-born and re-built. This is why the image of losing life to gain a life is so central to the gospel message. It’s perhaps why Christian’s claim the cross to be theirs: a sign of suffering, a sign of subversion, a sign of resurrection.
These images of re-birth and re-building are ones which we as the church of today might hold on to as we emerge from Lockdown. The last few months have certainly uncovered and exposed the cracks and fractures in our world as well as revealing new futures. What kind of church are we re-building? How have our hearts been re-born? What kind of world do we want to fashion? What kind of Kingdom do we proclaim?
Anyone who follows Jesus, knows that the way of faith is not always smooth. It’s certainly not easy. Remember Paul’s journey in the book of Acts (Acts 27:1-12), as he recounts the dangers and perils he faced as he followed Christ to proclaim the good news. He said, ‘I can see that the voyage will be with danger, and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives’…he understood the challenge of the Gospel.
If we sign up to this way of life, we come to expect that we will be metaphorically moving house quite a lot, we will be setting sail sometimes in the midst of a storm. We will have the rug pulled from under our feet fairly frequently. We will be re-born regularly, we will be called to rebuild again, and again and again. We will face change in our own lives, and we will all at some point see the division and discord that following Christ brings and the peace that he promises. Just when we get too comfortable, Jesus wades into our lives stirs things up and slams down his hands on the keyboard.
However, do not be afraid, he says again and again, do not fear. If we persevere, as St Paul did, if we run the race that is set before us as best as we can, if we proclaim the gospel and live it- we will be rewarded, not with an easy plastic-fantastic kind of life which is risk free, or anaesthetized to pain or challenge, but we will be rewarded with a life which exhilarates, and defies our expectations and creates within us the capacity for profound love and the deepest kind of peace and contentment.
Jesus always keeps it real, life is messy, it’s sometimes difficult but through of all this, the God we worship, the Christ we follow, knows every hair of our head. We do not travel on this journey alone. So do not be afraid of following Christ, and proclaiming the Gospel. For the one whom we follow knows life will not be trouble, need or adversity, but the one whom we follow is full of mercy and love beyond our imagining and with him beside us, we will all make a better music. For a new day has dawned, and the way to life stands open.
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