FIRST LESSON Genesis 21:8-21 (p. 29)
SECOND LESSON Matthew 10:24-39 (p. 1511)
SERMON: “Follow the Leader” “Who Is My Leader?”
The mother of four young boys often had difficulty curbing their energy, especially in church. But when her minister preached on “turning the other cheek,” the boys gave him their undivided attention. “No matter what others do to us,” he said, “we should never try to ‘get even.’”
That afternoon the youngest boy came into the house crying. Between sobs he said he’d kicked one of his brothers, who then kicked him in return.
“I’m sorry you’re hurt,” his mother said. “But you shouldn’t go
around kicking people.”
Still choking back tears, he replied, “But the preacher said he isn’t supposed to kick me back.”
There may be times in life when we feel like the world is against us, kicking us, including our family members.
37 ”Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Jesus said, 34 ”Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
That sounds like pretty serious stuff. People who earnestly and sincerely profess that they are followers of Jesus Christ frequently disagree, sometimes about trivial matters and sometimes about deeply held convictions. It rarely convinces the rest of the world to believe in Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Some claim the others will not go to heaven; retaliate with name-calling and intimidation. One of the strengths of our Presbyterian tradition is an understanding that people of good conscience can disagree – sometimes vehemently.
Whenever a person follows the Word of God there will always be someone to oppose him/her. Anyway you look at it, when you follow Jesus, you will have opposition at times.
In the text from Matthew, Jesus tells us not to be afraid of those
who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. I am discovering more and more that many people are much more concerned with the here and now, with what is happening today, than they are with what will happen for all eternity. I have to work to wrap my mind around that because logic tells me that eternity is going to be a lot longer than this present life.
As many of you, though perhaps not all of you, know, during this past week the General Assembly of the PCUSA has been meeting in Detroit. Of all the issues up for consideration, surely none is as controversial as that of marriage. The assembly approved what is called an “Authoritative Interpretation,” recommended by the Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues. That it is an “Authoritative Interpretation means that unlike overtures to change the Book of Order that must go to the presbyteries for approval, it takes effect immediately. This Authoritative Interpretation allows for pastoral discretion to perform “any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform where legal by state law.
They also approved a change of language in the Book of Order to indicate that ‘marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” This will require ratification by the presbyteries.
A pastoral letter was sent to the churches from the Moderator of the General Assembly, the Stated Clerk and the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission agency, announcing these decisions and commenting that they “came with much thought, discussion and prayer” and acknowledging that the PCUSA will be interpreting these actions for some time.
“Please know that the same triune God in whom we place our hope, faith, and trust in is still in control, and that the assembly’s action today is the result of deep discernment to hear God’s voice and discern God’s will. We concur with the feelings expressed by Teaching Elder Commissioner Jeffrey Bridgeman, moderator of the Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues, during his presentation to the assembly. “The apostle Paul tells us that ours is, in fact, ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ as ‘ambassadors of Christ,’ and he died for us so that we might be reconciled, that we might become reconcilers,” Bridgeman said. In this season of both happiness and sadness over the assembly’s decisions, we call on you to remember the overflowing grace and love God gifts us with, and to take seriously our charge to bestow the same grace and love on one another.”
These are issues that have been debated since before I started seminary 27 years ago. We will continue to debate and interpret these issues for years to come. This morning I ask each of you to remember that some of our members and friends are deeply grieved by these decisions and some are pleased and glad that much long, hard work has brought about this result. People within the church will disagree, family members will disagree; there will be people in the places where you work, socialize, go to school and play sports who will disagree. While this is fresh in the news strangers when they realize you are Presbyterian may slap you on the back and congratulate you and there will be those who will shake their heads in condemnation and pity.
The denomination has lost members and whole churches over the ordination decisions made in 2010 and there is every reason to believe that there will be more departures over these decisions.
I would tell you this morning to just get biblical in your response, your personal decision process, but over the years I have heard arguments eloquently made on both sides of the issues that are solidly grounded in scripture. If I were clergy in certain other Christian denominations I would stand here and tell you what you ought to think about these things, but that is not the Presbyterian way. As one of you reminds us frequently, God alone is Lord of the conscience. We hold space in the Presbyterian Church for diverse opinions on many matters.
But I will encourage you this morning to follow the leader – not the pastor, not the elders, not even the General Assembly, but the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus was preparing his disciples to go out into the world to spread the Good News, he warned them of theological and cultural resistance: “ Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 In other words, follow the leader. Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation puts it this way:
26-27 ”Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now. 28 ”Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.
Our greatest honor and respect should be for God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, not those who can only harm our bodies. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus was asked. “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you mind and with all your soul, and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.” He never said only love those who agree with you. He never said love only those who are without sin. He never said use every tactic you can muster to intimidate the opposition. He said, “Love your enemies.”
I don’t generally tend to think of evil as devil in a red suit with a pitchfork in his hand, but at times like these I can visualize a devil. And I see him comfortably sitting back, grinning ear to ear, laughing even, pleased that Christians are so divided that they aren’t even sure who their leader is. I hear him chuckle that we spend so much energy and spill so much ink on divisive issues that we are hampered, debilitated, prevented from our mission of proclaiming the love of God in Christ. I see his lazy butt in his easy chair as he sits back waiting for Christians to do his dirty work, to destroy the Church by fighting and quarreling and being so focused on the sin of others that they forget that God so loves the world that he sent Jesus into the world to pay the price for sin, that we might all be redeemed through faith in him.
My leader is Jesus Christ, Son of God who reminds me by the power of the Holy Spirit that God loves you and me.
Who is your leader?