Saturday, June 21, 2014

Jesus Will Confess You before His Father

Sermon on Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
June 22, 2014 (Second Sunday after Pentecost)

The way the three-year series is structured in Lutheran Service Book is different from the way it was laid out in our Synod’s previous hymnal, Lutheran Worship.  Where LW started from the Second Sunday after Pentecost and went through the summer and fall readings until November, when the 3 last Sundays in the Church Year were observed every year.  Several Sundays before those last 3 would be omitted depending on how early or late Easter was that year.  In LSB, each set of readings is assigned a particular seven-day period during which it is read, and that same set of readings is read during that same seven-day period every three years during the summer and fall.  This means that when Easter is relatively late (as it is this year), Sundays are left out at the very beginning of the “green season.”  What makes it more confusing is that we continue to name the Sundays the First, Second, Third, and so on Sunday after Pentecost, which means that while the same readings will be read, for example, on whichever day between June 19th and the 25th happens to be a Sunday (June 22nd this year), that Sunday might still be named the First or the Third or the Fourth (or whatever) Sunday after Pentecost, depending on how early or late Easter (and therefore Pentecost and Trinity) was that year.  I know, it’s confusing.  Don’t blame me.  Blame the Commission on Worship.

One unintended result of all this is that, since in the three-year series the Gospel lessons are more or less continuous readings from one Sunday to the next of the same section of the Gospel for that year (this year it’s St. Matthew), instead of starting at the beginning of the series of continuous readings after Trinity Sunday, we end up jumping into things in the middle of a continuous reading.  Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t work nearly so well.  This year is one of the times it really doesn’t work.

Today’s Gospel is the second part of a much longer speech by Jesus, instructing the twelve disciples before sending them out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  What we missed was the first part of those instructions, where Jesus instructs them what to do when a town either receives them or rejects them, and then warns them that they will be persecuted, and comforts them with the promise that the Holy Spirit will bring to mind what words they should speak, since He is the Spirit of the Father who works through the Word.

That’s where today’s text picks up.  While Jesus is speaking first and foremost to the twelve disciples He is sending out in His day to the towns and villages of ancient Israel, it applies to the Christian Church as well as we go about making disciples of all nations.  This isn’t going to be an easy thing.  Making disciples doesn’t necessarily mean worldly success for a congregation or a church body.  What Jesus says here means, instead, that often persecution and even martyrdom are what await those who are faithful in carrying out Christ’s commission.  In some ways it’s too easy to call oneself a Christian in America today.  Yes, there are storm clouds on the horizon that might possibly indicate that blatant persecution may be drawing near, especially over the subjects of marriage, homosexuality, and life issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and the like.  But there is no direct threat to life and limb when we speak out on these issues yet.

There are parts of the world, however, where what Jesus says in v. 21ff is literally true.  We’ve seen the news reports of how relatives are, in fact, being executed by their own family members, especially in the Muslim world, for becoming Christians or for preaching in such a way that other Muslims become Christians.  This is real, and it is happening.  And the “right” to murder one’s own family for the faith is being claimed even by some Muslims that live in Western countries, and in some cases they are even getting away with it.  And it wasn’t so very long ago (and this also is still the case in a few nations) that atheistic Communists taught school children to report their own parents if those parents were doing something considered to be contrary to the interests of the State, such as teaching their children religion (or, for that matter, teaching them that there is any higher power than the almighty and all-wise government).

But that’s why Jesus then reassures us that our citizenship is in heaven.  When He orders us not to fear them but to proclaim from the housetops what He tells us, even when His message is preached in an underground, persecuted church, He is telling us that we have a citizenship which no earthly government (and no earthly mob, for that matter) can take away from us.  Jesus was persecuted and executed for His preaching, and so it’s not surprising that Christians will be, too.  But we are bound to Him, part of His body, and therefore where He is there we are as well.  Mere earthly death cannot shake us or shut us up, precisely because we are bound to His death and made partakers of His resurrection by water and the Word.  We have a citizenship above which cannot be taken away.  Yes, we might suffer for His name.  Yes, the sparrows, like all living things, eventually die.  But what our text says is that they don’t die apart from the Father.  In other words, He’s the one that is in control of these things, and so we both should not, and need not worry about them.  Instead, we should seek to be faithful in confessing Him, both by what we speak and by our actions.  We confess Him by receiving His gifts and thereby acknowledging that He is the one who has given us life.  It is He who takes up residence in you by means of His body and blood, and that itself is a confession of who and Whose you are.  You are those who have been claimed by Jesus before His Father in heaven.  And so, everything you do in your vocation is also sanctified and become what God does in this world.  You confess before men what Jesus has made you to be before the Father by His body given and His blood poured out for you.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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