Whom to Fear
26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 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.[a] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
Not Peace, but a Sword
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 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;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 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; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Well friends, here we are in week 2, back in the sanctuary, and in the midst of a new chapter in our church’s life. The good news is that in this new chapter of the book of Fleming Road UCC if you will, we’ve had some great chapters before, and we still have some great chapters to write after this one.
And, this one is a wild chapter, full of all sorts of disruptions, adaptations, deepening friendships, hard cultural conversations, and growth.
This is a hard text. In a world where there is so much fear, how do we not fear as well? Seems to be what the text is sharing is that God knows us, is with us, that nothing that happens in this world or in our lives is separate from God’s knowing it and knowing us. It doesn’t promise that life is easy, just that God is with us.
It also has this wild saying about bringing a sword and not peace. Now, we know that Jesus advocated non-violence, so what does this mean? Well, following Jesus, having hard conversations around loving ourselves and our neighbors, making tough choices to be with folks like Jesus was, including them, can bring division. I mean, let’s face it, sometimes we have those proverbial tough conversations around different issues at the family dinner table, or extended family meals like Thanksgiving. Or even Facebook! They can be divisive when you follow the practices of Jesus.
But, then there’s this piece about loving God more than your mother, father, brother, sister? What’s that all about? And why is that in the lectionary on Father’s day!? I want my kids to love me, especially today! Here’s a thought: I don’t think Jesus is saying not to love your family members, but to remember that our family and tribal identities, as important as they can be in formation, do not define who we are becoming. God’s love for us and our love for God is transformative, it moves us into a deeper identity of being connected to all things and all people in a way that makes us think in different ways and practice friendship in different ways.
Then there’s this last bit, which is the hardest for me at times throughout my life. Losing my life in order to gain it.
In thinking of stories, and that’s been a theme in our church for the past year or so, I thought of a couple of stories as I was reading this week’s lectionary text and what it means to lose life in order to gain something, and how when we hold on to something to long, we miss an opportunity for growth.
When I was in high school, a freshman, there was this amazing girl who was so sweet and simply good. (Of course, this was a long time before I met Debbie). I really wanted to ask her out. I remember one conversation in the hallway, I was about to ask her. But, I didn’t. Being in the south, I was afraid of what my friends and family would say. She was black. I did not want to die to an image that day, therefore I missed an opportunity for growth. I knew my thinking was wrong, even then. I felt horrible, but not enough to open up to a new friendship.
Years later, I was driving back from a revival meeting (I was Southern Baptist growing up, remember). I was a bit more mature at this moment, a bit more aware. I was a leader in my youth group, president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Good News Club at my school, and had started a ministry called Campus Life at my high school. I was immersed in a wold with a specific worldview, not all bad, but part of it was pretty narrow. So, here I was giving a friend of mine a ride home. During the car ride, the conversation got deep, he took a risk, and told me that he was gay. My first thought was to stop the car, I did not know what to do. But, I didn’t. I stayed in the conversation. Even though my cousin was gay, she was much older, I had never had a good friend, a peer, identify as gay to me. I stayed curious, and learned something that night. One, in a moment of humor, he said that he wasn’t attracted to me because I was too skinny. Our friendship grew as I listened. I had to lose conceptions, and in its place, new life emerged.
Losing old ways of being, thinking, and attitudes, some of our understandings of life can be hard. It does seem like we are losing. Yet, we know we have to lose some things in order to live, grow, and find new ways of being.
If we want new chapters to read or be written, we have to close or move beyond the chapters we just read.
Last story, in our weekly council check in during the pandemic this past week, we were talking about how fun it would be to have worship services outside this summer, we could have something like the old time tent revivals! We have some great tents here at the church that we bring out on rally day!
It reminded me of the revivals that I grew up going to in our church. We had altar calls at every single one of them. I’ve said this before, but I think I came forward every time!
Altar calls are a recent phenomenon in history. They started in the early 1800’s. Charles Finney, the great Presbyterian revivalist preacher started them.
But, it wasn’t simply to come forward to give your life to Christ. Charles was an abolitionist. He would become the president of Oberlin College here in Ohio and made it the first college in America to accept woman and blacks as students. He started the altar call as a call to lose your life based on the notion that the status quo of slavery was ok. He was calling folks to stand and move forward to the front of the congregation to pledge their lives to end slavery. It was effective, and it helped to bring about one the greatest revivals in world history.
Individuals were coming to pivotal moments in their lives with the backdrop of a pivotal moment in history that led to the resurgence of the church and the ending of slavery.
It meant losing in order to gain life.
Friends, we are all in a similar moment in our history, our lives, and our stories. I’m not going to have an altar call. But, our culture is asking great questions, so are we. We don’t have anything to fear, other than letting go of ways of thinking that probably are not working as well for us.
So, what do you say to this? Let’s lose, together, with God, in order to have life, life to the full!